Sadia Hameed and Beau Beakhouse are a duo of ‘untrained’ arts practitioners living and working in Cardiff. Disaffected with the city’s academic and arts scene, they joined forces and started LUMIN, an arts collective and independent publisher interested in the deconstruction, deinstitutionalisation and grassroot dissemination of the arts. Keen to find out more about the driving force behind Sadia and Beau’s joint venture and their experiences and thoughts on the complexities of operating in the arts, we caught up with them at SHIFT ‒ a new artist-led space in the heart of the city ‒ with the occasion of “Communion”, a multidisciplinary event that has brought together a number of Cardiff’s dialogue-driven and socially engaged arts practitioners, where they launched the second issue of LUMIN Journal.
Who are Sadia and Beau, the co-creators and editors behind Lumin? Tell us a bit about your backgrounds.
Beau: I’m originally from Bournemouth but moved around, ending up in Herefordshire for most of my teenage years. I come from a nature & craft background ‒ I suppose I can say that. My parents were self-employed gardeners, who then went into woodcraft, so I grew up around these influences; and growing up I also had an early introduction to books and films from my dad, who’s also a musician. Eventually, I managed to study English Literature at Cardiff University, and after this (maybe because of my resistance to the university system) I found myself drawn towards the more experimental and avant-garde areas of literature which led me towards what’s now Lumin.
Sadia: I’m from London. I also came to Cardiff to study English Literature at uni and decided to stay ‒ in part because I didn’t really have the money to pursue the arts back in London, but also because I really liked how open the arts scene in Wales is. I didn’t have much artistic influence from my parents; that was more cultural influence. I began to develop an early practice of writing and painting mainly influenced by my environment in North West London and central. I’d now describe Beau & I as ‘untrained’ arts practitioners, since neither of us have formal arts school education but pursue the arts just in how we live.
What are your most vivid childhood memories?
Beau: Jumping across the huge rocks of the breakwater at Barton-on-Sea.
Sadia: Forcing my parents to take me on the ‘Small World’ ride at Disneyland Paris six times in a row.
What about your first memories of art?
Sadia: When I was a kid we would go to Pakistan in the summer to see my grandparents, and I remember reading these pages of poetry stuck up on a doorway that turned out to be written by my granddad. He told me he had written them while he was a military officer (during the Indian partition), though the poetry was on spiritualism and pacifism. I think that was when I maybe started to grasp art.
Beau: My dad’s music was a constant presence. My mum actually made some art pieces at one point. Kind of abstract psychedelic intersecting lines/colours that were up on the wall. I think I really liked those without realising it.
Take us back to the beginning of your collaboration. When and why did you start working together?
By second year, we were both disappointed with university: how the arts were being taught and generally the lack of care for it by other students and tutors outside of mark schemes. We met that same year when we both became editors for our university’s culture magazine; Sadia was film editor, Beau was culture editor. And from then, we had found in each other someone else who also wanted to create and experience art. From then, we began making art together constantly.
Tell us about the inception of Lumin. When and in what context did you first contemplate the idea of launching an arts publication and what made it worth pursuing?
We were made co-editors of the magazine’s yearly arts supplement, Tŷ Celf. This sparked ideas about publishing art. We were also really aware that the kind of work we liked was not being represented anywhere. Sadia had had some interaction with zines & DIY art publishing from London. But we knew from our experiences that this energy of art and creation that we wanted to experience was not at all present or accessible in Cardiff.
How would you describe Lumin’s voice alongside other independent arts publications?
When we first made LUMIN, we were looking at a lot of other arts publications to see if what we were doing was as needed as we thought it was. We really enjoyed reading zines and journals like Zarf and Concrete Flux, but also appreciated the DIY nature of City Lights chapbooks from the 50s. In the end, we figured that Lumin was going to be something that was in the DIY press world, but more importantly had real energy and implications for right now.
And what we found when we released the first issue was that its voice was even more urgent when read in the context of Cardiff. On the shelf in artist-book stores like Good Press or Arnolfini, it’s a handmade journal with experimental works by artists whose experimentation is intuitive ‒ and not that art-school-brand of aesthetics & artist statements. But when read in Cardiff, Lumin’s voice was a provocation; it somehow seemed like it was directing something at the city’s art scene, and wanted a response. It represented us, two artists, showing that you could bypass the art-school route of getting into the scene ‒ something that’s not at all present, encouraged or made easy here. So to us at least, Lumin voices a need for non-institutional forms of disseminating art.
Lumin seems to be concerned with the deconstruction, deinstitutionalisation and dissemination of the arts. What specific role does art play, both in cultural resistance and political struggles, and why do you feel it’s important for Cardiff to have a platform for critical thinking, creative practice and social change?
For a long time, we felt like the art scene here was very apolitical. To be political was to not be artistic, there was a forced binary. And if there was anything politically themed in the arts, it was almost framed as something performative, or even tokenistic. But then we met arts organisation Gentle/Radical soon after publishing our first journal, and it gave us an understanding of art’s active role. There were similarities between our self-motivated publishing that could only function with meaning outside of institutions, and Gentle/Radical’s grass-roots approach to creating social change. The energy was similar, as was the feeling of being part of real cultural resistance, and the frustrations at privileged distribution of funds and resources to less impactful corporate organisations.
Art, for us, is most powerful and meaningful when it’s within, or at least conscious of its role within, social practice; but this is contrary to the gallery-oriented art scene of Cardiff. But it’s important that this city has a platform for thinking outside of traditions and institutional modes because then it can actually be contemporary. It’s difficult for institutions to admit their entire models are flawed, but when they do then suddenly art will become so much more open than a white cube. It won’t just involve half-hearted ‘community engagement’ strategies but actual connection, openness and exchange with the people around us. Art will be in the hands of artists who couldn’t go to art school. Whole ideas of holding galleries as ‘sacred’ art spaces instead of real community spaces could be dismantled. Then art can play its role more authentically.
Do you see any dangers for artistic freedom?
There are a lot of smaller, supposedly indie spaces cropping up in the UK right now. These spaces act as if they are different from the large institutions, but actually the gatekeepers of these spaces tend to be less different than they think. They also have the added problem of having no one to answer to for what they do. And if there isn’t an environment of critique, calling out things that aren’t right, then it’s possible to get away with choosing whose artistic freedom is excluded, restricted or privileged ‒ including their own. In our personal experience, dangers to our artistic freedom are almost always to do with gatekeepers, and more specifically the lack of acknowledgement of their power.
How would you describe the landscape you are functioning in as writers, artists and publishers? Who are your allies and what is your tactic?
In Cardiff’s landscape there is apathy (though maybe this is something that’s everywhere). There is a proliferation of institutions, ‘artist-led’ structures replicating institutions, and there is very much a lack of ‘diversity’ despite it being used as a buzzword so frequently. In terms of literature, particularly in Wales, there are very traditionalist publishing structures that masquerade as progressive yet consistently tokenise. There is massive class privilege in these areas. For us working with a lot less privileges, particularly in terms of connections and resources, it has a tendency to create disillusionment for the prospects of ground-up arts to actually succeed.
Allies haven’t been found in places like our past university or artist-led spaces ‒ despite these types of spaces always promising support and understanding. Instead, we’ve found allyship in other people who might be in a similar situation to us. Where I’m Coming From & Gentle/Radical, amongst others, have been openly supporting us through the sharing of resources and opportunities, platforming, advice and friendship ‒ and we support each other not necessarily because our collectives do the exact same thing, but because we respect and believe in the worth of each others’ goals. Our most recent joint event with these two groups, Communion, was a culmination of all of this. It really gave us the chance to imagine together what a more grassroots-led arts scene might look like ‒ a scene based on support ‒ and how, given the space and resources that usually aren’t afforded us, things could really change.
Is there anything that you find frustrating about the art world? How would you change it?
The ‘art world’ has severed itself from the community and from other areas of society. Because of this it has cultivated, in many ways, an attitude of ‘viewing’ art; of ‘going to an art event’ as something separate to your everyday experiencing. It’s not active anymore. There’s no engagement, no agency; it has been bracketed off into a passive intellectualised sphere that is in many ways exclusive.
Changes to institutions often come from the influences of long, difficult work by grassroots groups ‒ and a lot of the time, those changes are usually a co-option of those groups. If we could choose, we would want to take apart these institutions and frameworks completely, and reimagine them. Reorganise their structure, their focus, take the keys away from gatekeepers and give them to active and socially engaged collectives of community and other practitioners. When this happens there would be a huge amount of transformative energy, which would provide what is completely lacking, and what is in many ways, causing the apathy and alienation in the arts (a sector that should be providing social resistance).
Can you tell us a bit about your own writing projects? What is of importance to you at the moment and how do you emulate it through your current work?
Sadia: Recently I’ve been really interested in ideas of telepathic communication and ancestral connections through dreaming ‒ the things we learn and inherit in the subconscious. Currently I’m writing a piece about an ‘ancestral theory’ of how, through generations, everything from traumas to recipes get transferred to us through dreams and oral histories. It feels significant to me right now. Another piece I’m working on, which is thematically similar, is a re-writing of Hélène Cixous’ book Philippines. It’s process-based; I continually re-read her text and reimagine her words to convey my own experience of reading her.
Beau: I’m always coming back to poetry and I’m now more consciously exploring experimentation; combining text and performance with visuals, films, sound pieces ‒ thinking up cross-collaborations with other artists and art forms. I’m also trying to search out what is still relevant for me from other avant-garde techniques, what hasn’t been academicised, and what the possibilities are for a new type of poetry. I’m always trying to write poetry that inspires the transcendent in others (both as performance and as text).
What other projects are you involved with?
High balcony com is an online text experiment we are part of. We’re also involved in processes of archiving/re-invigorating archives of the experimental with the recently initiated Instance project. And we’re working towards developing what our own project space would look like, starting off with a radical library & bookshop of publications from various small experimental & art presses.
What are three questions you don’t have an answer for?
Beau: 1. How much spiritual change is possible in this lifetime?
2. Is the transformation of cities possible?
3. What is the meaning of a certain indescribable recurring feeling I’ve had every so often since childhood?
Sadia: 1. Is my personal art practice not as significant a use of time/energy as my efforts to de-institutionalise the arts are, or do they intersect/rely on one another?
2. How do I become more present?
3. Am I being present right now?
Where do you see Lumin heading in 2019?
We’d like to have a space where we can explore building a community with a caring environment; one that is supporting and being supported enough that we can explore radical work and artistic freedom. It’s one of the only ways we can see ourselves really expanding our work right now. We’re also looking to develop our printing press, be part of more collaborations and soon be able to support artists to create new work.
And finally, what do you want to be remembered for?
For our efforts being (one day) partly responsible for returning art to the energy centre of community.