Visual Artist Unit are an exciting, young Scottish company focused on empowering art school graduates and offering support once they have flown the nest of academia. Knowing many of the members from art school, I follow the company on social media and have watched with interest as they have grown and developed. I reached out to one of VAUs founders, artist Vivian Ross-Smith, to find out more about VAU, their projects and her practice.

Eilidh McCormick: So where are you at the moment? 

Vivian Ross-Smith: Right now I am living and working in Shetland. I have lived in several places, Aberdeen, Finland and, briefly, in Glasgow but for now I am happy to be in remote Shetland. I plan on moving back down to Glasgow soon though. VAU is based in Glasgow and although I can be very involved in the organisation from afar, as I take care of the media side of things, I would still like to be more hands on in person. But I do enjoy moving around.

EM: How is your practice going?

VRS: My practice is going well, I am working out of a studio in Shetland and continue to make work regularly. Although I still miss the days of art school where all day, every day was spent in the studio! I have a few interesting personal projects in the pipeline currently so look forward to pushing my practice further over this next while.

The current statement of my practice:

The predominant focus in my art practice is the study of our natural world, especially relating to extreme and remote landscapes. My use of traditional methods of craftsmanship explores relationships between material and surface; and between man made and natural. Tying together both painting and traditional craft methods in a contemporary way, I reference how ancestrally collected skills, that would have aided the struggles of everyday life, can now be observed from a different perspective.
As well as considering the effects and uses of the land by the people who inhabit it, I consider the formation of the land itself. Geology, especially the formation and layering of crystal and rock, is a main inspiration. Exploring and contrasting materials within my work, I use natural and chemical materials and processes that are familiar but not normally associated with fine art, to challenge the viewer’s perception.

VAU’s main aims are to support emerging artists based in Scotland and to improve public engagement and access to contemporary art for the wider community. We offer affordable and sizely studio spaces to rent in Glasgow as well as an artist and student membership options. Our memberships allows other artists to get involved with VAU and use their skills in our public engagement programme which includes workshops, talks, commissions, events and exhibitions.

EM: How does your practice fit into the Visual Artist Unit you are involved in?

VRS: Visual Artist Unit is a completely artist led Community Interest Company, everyone involved is a practicing artist with their own individual work. We ask for each member, as well as the management team, to bring their unique skill set to VAU. We promote skill sharing and often have things such as crits and members nights so we can all have a chance to share our work and ensure creative conversation is a regular feature of our practices.

EM: Where did VAU come from? I remember some conversations while still at Gray’s? And can you tell me more about the Scotland based company?

VRS: Visual Artist Unit started off when we were all studying in art school. The collective is made up of 7 graduates of Gray’s School of Art and 1 graduate of Duncan of Jordanstone. As a year group we worked very well together and got a lot from our time in art school. Basically we didn’t want it to end and wanted to figure out a way to keep working together and to ensure that the art school community and peer support wasn’t lost. We registered as a Community Interest Company in 2014 and now work out of studios in East Glasgow.

EM: Were you inspired by any other collectives/organisations/companies?

VRS: There are so many amazing Scottish arts organisations to be inspired by but I would say that we were more inspired by the lack of other collectives and organisations doing what we wanted to do! When an artist comes out of art school they are on their own and the fantastic support network is lost, it can be a pretty daunting time. As we ourselves had only been out of art school for less than a year when we set up VAU, we wanted to focus on emerging artists, supporting them (and us) to use their hard work, skills and knowledge to continue their practice and open up new opportunities. It’s hard to break into the art world and we believe that doing it collectively can be a great benefit.

EM: Having been involved in VAU I can imagine you have been introduced to a lot of interesting Scottish art organisations, can you recommend any to keep an eye on?

VRS: There is a lot going on in Scotland and I think we have a very vibrant and enthusiastic art scene. New arts organisations on the scene that come to mind are 2-1-4-1, The Number Shop, CC, Dundee Print Collective, Interview Room 11 and Little Book of Transfers. Some more established favourites of VAU include Glasgow Sculpture Studios, David Dale, Market Gallery, Project Ability, I could go on and on!

EM: If you don’t mind me asking; how are you funded?

VRS: Our funds come from Artist Memberships, Student Memberships, donations and event fees.

EM: What have been the highlights for the company so far? And you personally? 

VRS: VAU have had some great opportunities and experiences right from the start we have already had a member’s show which we held in the Old Hairdressers which was a great success. In January we had the first of our artist talks named “Pillow Talk”, this featured a discussion on their emerging years by artists The Brownlee Brothers, Peter Chalmers, Toby Paterson and David Shrigley. We are currently planning a whole series of Pillow Talk so keep tuned for that! We have also furthered out public engagement programme by completing a series of workshops with North Lanarkshire Schools resulting in an exhibition of their work. We made a video of our time with them which you can see here

VAU North Lanarkshire Primary Schools Projects from Visual Artist Unit on Vimeo.

EM: What are the plans for the future?

VRS: VAU’s plan is to continue our growth as a Scotland-wide arts organisation, furthering our public engagement programme and continuing to offer opportunities and support to Scottish artists. If interested people can keep up to date on all VAU’s plans and events on Twitter and Instagram (@vaunit), on our Facebook page and our website vau.org.uk

I want to thank Vivian for this fantastic interview and for giving us insight into Visual Artists Unit. Check out the company website www.vau.org.uk and from this page follow them on social media to be kept up to date with upcoming events and projects.

Eilidh McCormick

Eilidh McCormick graduated from Gray’s School of Art with a first class honours degree in Sculpture in 2014. Having moved here from Scotland to study, she is also working as an intern at the Cynthia Corbett Gallery with the Young Masters Art Prize.

Images Courtesy of Craig Gibson

Logo Images Courtesy of Visual Artist unit

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