Featured Artist: Liz Sergeant

Liz Sergeant - Performing Charlotte

Bubbling over with enthusiasm for art of many kinds, Liz Sergeant is a socially engaged, performance artist as well as an accomplished painter of landscapes and abstracts. As well as selling her work, she makes a part-time living as a freelance artist working on projects with schools and winning Arts Council funding for innovative projects. There is a strong emphasis on team working in her CV, and she loves creating art projects in collaboration with other artists. Fiona Gaskell explores how she got to where she is now, and finds out what it means to be a socially engaged, performance artist.

“Ever since I can remember, I loved art” says Liz, “and funnily enough the beginnings of my performance art date back to the age of four. I was asked to be the narrator of my infant school play, and I stood at the front dressed as an artist, explaining the story to the audience. As an adult I have found myself engaged in performance art doing much the same thing.” Despite loving art as a subject, Liz was encouraged to study languages at university. She then went into human resources, first with Marks & Spencer and then with Accenture, where she was able to use her language skills working on international projects. It was not until her son went to nursery school that she rediscovered her love of painting at a weekly art class with the Oaklands lecturer Marsden Hammant. This class was a revelation, and she was encouraged to progress to a 2-year Access course in Fine Art at Oaklands College in St Albans. This led to an offer to study for a part-time B.A. in Fine Art at Central Saint Martin’s, which meant that Liz was able to develop her art more seriously. She started the degree as a painter, but gradually discovered that she enjoyed performance art and creating work that directly engaged the viewer. Her final degree show was a video of Liz re-enacting a speech by the little known suffragist Charlotte Despard, standing on the plinth of Nelson’s column and addressing a crowd with a large banner in the background, conveying the message ‘It’s Never too Late (to make a difference)’.

 “In my practice I try to bring contemporary issues to people’s attention in a humorous way, inviting the viewer to respond, " explains Liz “Socially engaged art is also referred to as relational aesthetics, in that it is about this two-way relationship with the audience. " I suggest that this could now be seen in literature and in drama as well, in that authors and dramatists do not necessarily see themselves in a position of authority, but rather as co-producers with the reader and the audience. “The current debate focuses on whether this type of art can bring about any form of social change, or whether it is even art at all," continues Liz. “But there are some great examples of artists who use their work to raise awareness of specific issues, such as American artist Suzanne Lacy, whose collaborative performance ‘The Crystal Quilt’ explores the place of older women in society. “ Liz was thrilled to see another of Suzanne Lacy’s projects ‘Silver Action’ performed live at Tate Modern in February 2013.

“There are three strands to my practice” says Liz. “The first is the sheer joy of painting, and having lived in France and Italy I am inspired by the Mediterranean light and landscape. The second strand is my socially engaged art to bring more people into the sphere of art and make it more accessible. The third is performance art, such as the Charlotte Despard project."

Liz is proudest of her team work with Cross Arts Projects (XAP), fellow graduates from CSM, who were recently invited to be guest artists at Yinka Shonibare’s Hackney studio. The team took over the space in January and curated an interactive exhibition, ‘The Psychotropic House’ based on a short story by J.G.Ballard entitled ‘A Thousand Dreams of Stella Vista’. The story describes a dystopian future, where houses are living beings which reflect the feelings of their occupants. The exhibition featured a Screaming Attic and an Interactive Lounge, where the wallpaper responded to the people in the room. One of Liz’s contributions was ‘The Stairwell’, a video work, framed by bannisters, which captured the movement and sounds of people ascending and descending the beautiful and historic stairwell at Central St Martin’s. ‘The Psychotropic House’ included all sorts of fascinating rooms such as a study with a 1950s typewriter, a Bakelite telephone and a Thermo-hygrograph , an instrument which records temperature and humidity, loaned from the Rothamsted scientific research centre in Harpenden.

“In total we had 840 visitors,” says Liz. “We ran a family drawing workshop inviting people to respond to the House, and a Symposium which explored the different themes raised by the exhibition. Two ‘A’ level classes visited from a local girls’ school, and we held evening promenade performances to encourage people to engage with the work and look at art in a different way.” The project received funding from Arts Council England and from XAP’s crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. There are plans to take the project on tour, starting with Newcastle, and there are commissions for future work building on this project.

“I feel an artist has to be self-sufficient and self-motivated, taking every opportunity to get out there” says Liz. “The web and social media are a great resource, and I always write a different CV for every opportunity as I need to highlight particular aspects of my work.” She follows up opportunities advertised through HVA and Creative Hertfordshire. Liz is always busy with a variety of exhibitions and projects; recent ones have included commissions to create a Brazilian rainforest mural for St Nicholas Primary School and a backdrop for an outdoor classroom at Crabtree Junior School, both in Harpenden. She has exhibited her work at solicitors’ offices in St Albans and Harpenden, and she sold her work at a ‘Meet the Artist’ evening for their clients. She also exhibits with Re:Kindle Public Arts in Queens Wood, Highgate. Currently she is working with a team of artists, including HVA member Sarah Poppleton, to put on the second Art@St John’s, an exhibition to help raise funds for the church in Harpenden. Follow the links below to find out more.

See more of Liz’s work on www.lizsergeant.co.uk
Contact her on liz@lizsergeant.co.uk
X Arts Projects is on www.xartsprojects.org
17-18 May 2014 Art@St John’s, St John’s Church, St John’s Road, Harpenden Saturday 10 -4pm Sunday 12-4pm Admission free. Refreshments available.
Kickstarter www.kickstarter.com
For more on crowdfunding see Jo’s WebWizardry article in HVA newsletter October 2013