A divining tool for journeys through the restless territories and blurred boundaries of art in the social or public realm. Developed for a commission exploring contemporary art practice in rural or ‘inbetween’ areas, PRESENCE is a set of cards intended to be used open up and explore a project or practice, to be an informal companion on creative journeys. The 16 cards are navigational aids to help understand where we are and where we have been, as well as where we might be going. They can help articulate the aims, methods and values of a project or practice – from the interior, the exterior and the place where it sits.
PRESENCE is intended to offer a flexible resource that can be used with all participants, from initial creative meetings, to an evaluation process that might be ongoing or taking place at the end of a project. The cards are a way of opening and sustaining conversations with ourselves and with others. 

The Presence cards are a commissioned response to a national summit called Art_Inbetween about integrated arts practice in rural regions.

Blogs on Presence:

View the cards in more detail HERE

More about the Presence Cards:  

PRESENCE is a research led response to some of the questions that arose during the Art-Inbetween Summit held at The Stove Network, Dumfries during February 2016.  The summit attempted to describe the distinctiveness of an evolving ‘rural’ contemporary arts practice across the UK. The starting point was to try and understand this distinctiveness.  What are the differences between rural arts projects and projects in urban settings with similar intentions or processes?  After working with a number of artists, curators and producers using a word card process to explore core features of practice and context, our conclusion was that approach to practice was more important and distinctive than the location where it was situated.   During the research for this project it became clear that the language and meanings employed across practices that could be broadly described as socially engaged, participatory, situated or context led, was subtly different from project to project and from artist to artist.  PRESENCE attempts to sidestep these linguistic issues by creating a divining tool or navigational aid that enables the exploration process to be articulated in the language of all participants within a process or project. The role of the cards is to prompt, to disrupt habits, to revisit assumptions and reassess progress.  

Why a divining tool?

PRESENCE is an attempt to infuse the poetics of divination into the process of making creative work.  The workings of the cards are intended to be mysterious. At points, questions that are opaque to some will be clear to others.  For most, the answers will not be immediately available but must be looked for as the cards only point in useful directions. The cards are time and site-specific, the conversations that they provoke will illuminate the concerns and interests of those people in that place at that moment, however another reading on another day in another place may reveal different truths.   The points of interest in situated or social practice are not stationary and two dimensional, but three dimensional and moving, sometimes through time as well as space. PRESENCE creates a process that will result in a series of overlapping views from different positions – ideally revealing multiple pathways. This compound eye allows us to examine the same issues from different positions and so learn different things from each viewpoint. There is no one overall model that covers arts projects that rely so heavily on the relationships between the participants and place.  Each project and its becoming will be unique to that time, place and personnel, so the questions act as prompts for people to articulate their ideas, desires and needs freely and honestly and to be listened to in the same spirit.  

The Challenge for Artists

PRESENCE contains challenges for the artist or collective to examine their own role for themselves and their partners within a project.  As practitioners ourselves we feel that it is important to make time for regularly examining our own understanding of what is going on and our role within it.  

Collaborators and Community

There are no specific cards for community or for participants, instead the interests and concerns of these parties are spread throughout the card set.  

Not a Methodology

The cards are not instructions or a model to build a project around.  They have no opinions about the best way to conduct a project. The intention is to ask questions, to re-excite you and your collaborators about what you are doing and remind you that this is an adventure that you are sharing, and that the outcome is not fixed or scripted.  

Aesthetics and Quality

There are no clues in the cards about what is good, successful or beautiful, instead there are questions that might help reveal the internal logic and aspirations of the project. The understanding of these elements will maximize the chance of producing quality outcomes.

Evaluation and Reflection

The PRESENCE Cards might have a role in the assessment or evaluation of a project.  By finding a relevant and suitable way of recording the exploration provoked by the PRESENCE cards, a narrative version of a project could be produced and the information used later.  A further important role for the cards is as an ongoing reflection of practice for the participants.

Open Source Future
PRESENCE is an open source project:  all questions, concepts and card designs can be challenged, refuted or replaced.  Presence is a starting point from which new sets can be constructed specifically tailored to a project or practice.   PRESENCE is intended to be a resource and support for projects in the public realm; a way of exploring, mapping and evaluating an arts practice that is perhaps In-Between definitions.

The Presence cards come in a presentation box with accompanying twelve page booklet. The PDF can be downloaded below.

Please contact us if you’re interested in receiving a set of the cards.

The Card Images : Location Co-Ordinates

The images on the front of each of the Presence cards are modified photographs of small areas of buildings that have been affected by human activity and reveal layers of time. The accompanying booklet details the co-ordinates where each image was taken.

The images have been modified to represent versions of The Rorschach test

Process: ‘Collecting Conversations’

We worked with a number of artists and curators to identify core features of practice using a set of cards with key words (and blank area for annotations) which they arranged in response to centrality of the feature. At the same time that they were arranging the cards they talked their process through so that we could understand their thinking. We used the insights from this process to create 16 core elements, each of which became a card and which guide the questions on each of the Presence cards. Thanks to Nuno Sacramento, Chris Fremantle, Matt Baker, Katie Anderson, Martin O’Neil and Yvonne Billimore.

For a blog by artist Kate MacKay on using the cards in her work with Combine to Create (Culture Collective) with Findhorn Bay Arts in 2022 see the following link

Categories: 2017, Collaboration, Interactive, Participatory, Process, Research, Strategy

Jo Hodges

Jo Hodges is a multidisciplinary public artist based in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland
with a background in Human Ecology, community development and social justice.

Her work investigates ecological and socio-cultural systems, processes and relationships, and explores new strategies for working in public. Her practice takes many forms; temporary and permanent works, site specific installations and socially engaged projects and processes. She is often led by context, where the outcome is determined as a result of process.

She is interested in research, experimentation and collaboration at the intersection of environment, culture and technology and exploring the role of art in social change. She is joint Director-Curator of Sanctuary Lab, a public art laboratory in the Galloway Forest Dark Skies Park.