Deborah Duffin

Commission for British Telecommunications, 1995

In 1995, Deborah was asked by British Telecommunications to create a sculpture with their old telephone wire to celebrate their change over from analogue to digital communications. 'I was taken to one of their communications centres and they gave me a tour. I saw walls covered in multicoloured wires, a feast for the eyes, and I could choose anything I wanted to work with! This was so exciting and I was overwhelmed with choice. They delivered everything I asked for and more, to my studio and I spent a fascinating few days sorting through great mounds of materials. I struggled to focus on any one idea at first. Then I was leaving the studio one evening and saw something interesting in the piece I had been dismantling that day. I created a piece consisting of four fans, which were then mounted on boards and delivered to the Hemel Hempstead Head Quarters, where the piece was to be installed in 1996. By that time I was heavily pregnant, and before they managed to install the work, I went into premature labour, rushed to hospital where myself and my son stayed for 3 weeks. I never saw the piece installed as we were both ill on and off for his first year.'

Research and Development project on Professional Practise for London Arts Board, 1994 - 96

Deborah had been an advisor to the London Arts Board, when she was asked to work on a professional practise project for the LAB. The idea was to establish a model of professional practise within Fine Art courses which could become a blueprint for the sector. She was asked to devise a comprehensive course, to be carried out in consultation with several London colleges. She worked with Central Saint Martins, Wimbledon School of Art and University of East London. She proposed three distinct approaches based on discussions with each institution. At CSM she devised workshops to integrate within their outreach work, in which students worked on projects in the community as part of their degree; at Wimbledon she devised a series of seminars which culminated in a student conference; at UEL she devised a research project via lists of graduates provided by the university. This enabled her to look at what worked for different institutions and how this matched the needs of graduates and the issues they faced on leaving graduating & developing careers. She then wrote a report on the project and the results of her research, providing a fascinating insight into the subject and a guide to the future of Fine Art education - much of which can be seen in today's arts education.

East End Open Studios, 1989

Having led the organisation of several Open Studio events over a number of years, Deborah Duffin was approached by the Whitechapel Gallery, to become the first co-ordinator of the East End Open Studios, to be organised in conjunction with the Whitechapel Open Exhibition, which was held every 18 months. By this time there were numerous studio groups within the catchment area of the show. Some managed by artists organisations, for example ACME & Space and others by groups of artists themselves. Deborah had been given complete freedom to approach the project in any way she chose: 'I was invited in to discuss the project, I was to outline a plan of action, write my own job description and organise and carry out the project. I acted as liaison between the gallery and artists groups. Each studio group nominated a lead artist, who I worked with directly. It was also my job to work on publicity and promotion in collaboration with Isabelle King, the galleries press officer and to liaise with Paul Bonaventura, the assistant director and to organise the artists information and images of their work. I came up with ideas to enlarge the audience for the event, for example guided coach tours, and worked with writers I knew to create features about the event.'  She then wrote a report as a blueprint for future events available for others to use.

ELA 1989

In 1986 East London Arts was jointly formed by Kay Roberts (founder of New Exhibitions of Contemporary Art) and artist, Deborah Duffin, to draw attention to the developing art scene in and around the East End of London. A publication was created, with the aim of listing galleries, exhibitions and events in the area and creating a context for this growing phenomenon, often under the radar at that time. The project received a Princes Trust Award and support from the London Docklands Development Corporation and Lloyds of London, contributing to the growing reputation of the area as an exciting creative hub: artists, galleries and events of local, national and international significance.

Rouge Press, 1987

Set up by Elaine Kowalsky, a group of women artists had been meeting to discuss their careers and exhibiting opportunities, with the aim of working together on group projects. Deborah says: 'I had noticed that most print portfolios were almost entirely male artists, Advanced Graphics had produced a series which were on show at 'J' Warehouse, while I was organising exhibitions there, & it had occurred to me we needed a female version. I went to see Elaine (a printmaker) & suggested that we put together a portfolio of women artists. She loved the idea & we asked who in our group would be interested in taking part. Eight of us agreed to work on the project. Those with printmaking experience taught the rest of us to make lino prints & we jointly chose which to include'. The print portfolio created a focal point for what became a touring show including other work made by the group - painting, sculpture, collage. The show was taken on by Clare Lilley (now Director, Yorkshire Sculpture Park), then curator at Oriel Gallery, Clwyd. The show opened at the Curwen Gallery and toured.

Tape/Slide, Whitechapel Gallery, 1986

In 1986 Deborah had been exploring a new range of media through her photographic work. She was invited by Caroline Wilkinson to produce a tape/slide as part of an event to take place at the Whitechapel Gallery. This was a new arena for Deborah: "I was excited by the idea, though rather worried by my lack of experience in the medium. Caroline was very supportive & had confidence in me. She kindly taught me some techniques and how to use the equipment. It was a lovely rich medium and I relished the opportunity to draw directly onto film & explore the interrelation between my sculpture, drawing and photography. Using sound was a relatively new experience for me too, I'd only had one previous experience - but I could draw on this and had help from a musician I was working with at the time.'

Open Studios through the 80's

Having visited Open Studios in Wapping, Deborah suggested that artists at Robinson Road, might do something similar. She called a meeting and a committee was formed to organise the event. Artists worked together; funds were raised to help with the costs and each artist made a contribution. Several took place through the 80's and subsequently became a regular part of the Whitechapel East End Open Studios. 

J Warehouse 1984

Having organised several shows of her own work, Deborah was offered a stunning warehouse gallery space within the offices of Advanced Graphics. The space was available for a period of 4 months. Deborah curated and organised a series of exhibitions, comprising 30 artists, showing drawing, painting, sculpture, installation and photography. 'This was an exciting prospect, to have a space to show some of the many interesting artists I had met ever the past few years. At that time opportunities to show seemed few and far between for many artists, and I was determined to use the opportunity to show as many as I could. It was a daunting challenge as it was rather short notice - I had around four months to select artists, work with them on what they wanted to show and organise the publicity and promotion. I ended up working 16-hour days just to fit everything in!' The artists were very supportive and many helped out with the work involved, the private views were well attended.' 

Publicity photograph by Edward Woodman (first image) Images of artists work: Deb Thomas; Sarah Hall-Craggs; Sandra Porter