‘Critical Friends’ began with an invitation from Stream, an arts organisation based in North Greenwich, London to evaluate a series of public and collaborative art commissions in this area of regeneration, from 2008-2011. In response to this invitation, Sophie Hope and Rebecca Maguire developed an alternative proposal to establish a group of participants of past and present Stream art projects to devise questions to ask of the role of art in the neighbourhood. This group of ‘Critical Friends’ became the participant observers and evaluators of the projects themselves. In this way, the project was an attempt to re-distribute acts of critical reflection from the hands of evaluators, curators and artists of socially engaged art commissions to include that of the participants.
Since Autumn 2008, Hope and Maguire hosted monthly workshops at Stream consisting of between 3 and 7 local residents. The group has evolved as an experiment in collectively deciding who, what and how art commissions are researched and evaluated and has involved the ‘Critical Friends’ interviewing commissioned artists, staff of Stream, a Board member of Stream, recording responses from neighbours, visiting other examples of commissioning art and observing and participating in the projects themselves. There has also been an ongoing process of the group constantly rethinking and questioning the role of ‘Critical Friends’ as a project itself. A self-made photocopied magazine and monthly workshops have been sites for the writings, documentation, performances and presentations created by ‘Critical Friends’ which aim to communicate some of that research so that it can feed into the process of commissioning, producing, critiquing and participating in public and collaborative art.
Sophie Hope’s work inspects the uncertain relationships between art and society. This involves establishing how to declare her politics through her practice; rethinking what it means to be paid to be critical and devising tactics to challenge notions of authorship.