My name’s Nicola Shauerman and I’m part of the art group ‘Genetic Moo’.

I have always been interested in the audience and getting them doing something. And, because the audience is very important, Genetic Moo has always been looking at the audience, and learning from the audience. And the more we’ve been doing it, and we’ve now been doing interactive art for nearly nine years, we have become much more aware of our audience and the desire to connect with as many people as possible.

We’re intrigued about, ‘what does it take to be part of an interactive piece?’, ‘how little or how much do you have to do?’

One of the things that was… important for Genetic Moo was Spare Tyre’s interest in what we were doing. It was a, let’s say it was a developing relationship and then, at some point, it was y’know… established that we could do something together and we were invited to work on their ‘Once Upon A Time’… digital story-telling project. 

I learned very early on the fact that Spare Tyre do not put any pressure on the… on their being a product at the end of an activity. It’s this process. Now, someone can tell you that again and again and again, but until you actually participate in a project and actually discover ‘no it’s true – the emphasis is on the experience for the participant’; it’s not on the outcome it’s not on there being this finished photograph on the wall to ‘prove’ that you’ve met the targets – it’s actually being sure that everyone that you’re working with is getting something from the experience and attending to that. And again, that’s been very powerful for me… all these years that I’ve been working with Spare Tyre… have been about my skills development as well and my learning about how to reach people.

As an artist you’re encouraged, as I said before, to play together to develop things, y’know. I remember the first time that we got together with other artists to do ‘Once Upon A Time’ and I was kind of shocked because the-, it seemed like there was no… there was no sort of agenda. And I just thought ‘how can this be?’ y’know, I’ve come from years of teaching with massive agendas (laughs) and schemes of work and whatever else, and I just thought ‘my gosh why is there nothing there’ – but it was because they, Spare Tyre, wanted to learn as well. And so, what a generous thing to create this completely open space where mistakes can happen obviously - but you also then get to understand how the other artists work, what their interests are. So for us I think that has, that has been, y’know… if you like a privilege. And they’ve also… they take their artists seriously; they pay properly. Y’know it’s amazing how many people might want you to do things and they don’t... they don’t really take on board how much work is involved in what you’re doing so sometimes you get (…) ‘joke’ commissions really where people expect you to do something for nothing. So they’ve always been very serious about supporting people properly.

Art making… within a Spare Tyre activity is open, it’s experimental, it’s unfinished, it’s collaborative, and it’s shared. This environment encourages the confidence to try something out, and if you have the confidence to try something out… and… explore something with others – that automatically means that you’re communicating with others.

The experience is equal whoever you are; whether you’re a member of staff, whether you’re a patient, whether you’re a family member as a visitor… in these sort of things everyone is like ‘oh wow’ or whatever but y’know, or it reminds them of something. It’s a very equal situation.

Some people may be quite isolated, so to actually come in to an environment where you’re encouraged to try things out and to share with others, then also obviously… can encourage your sense of self-respect. And if you have more self-respect, then you develop more confidence and you can participate more and you can communicate.
 
Emphasis is on observation, on listening, on looking, and ensuring that there is a genuine participation with the people you’re working with. And I believe that there is a real respect for everyone’s contribution. So first of all Spare Tyre have that respect for peoples’ contribution, for their artists’ contribution  - but they also encourage you when you’re working with people to understand that whatever someone does or makes is a valid contribution to that moment; even if it’s a tiny, tiny, little thing.

I really admire the risks that Spare Tyre take (…) when I say risks, as in ‘let’s see what happens, let’s explore this, let’s… let’s follow this because actually this is working better than that, rather than just doggedly keeping at one thing and not really learning from it. (…) I went to a gathering a few, maybe 2 or 3 years ago, where they invited their volunteers, artists, people who’ve worked with Spare Tyre over the years, people who were interested – to come together to actually help think ‘the future’ if you like, for Spare Tyre (…) ‘what could we be doing?’ and I think, y’know, that sums it up is that they are… it’s not ego-led. It’s not brand led. It’s actually wanting to stay viable… and it’s wanting to have meaning. Genuinely. 

An interview with Nicola Schauerman as part of the ST40 Oral Histories project.

Nicola Schauerman is an artist and workshop leader. She has co-led the interactive arts group Genetic Moo since 2003.