Sign up for our weekly newsletter
Metronome Sessions

Tender Coven: The Monthly Subscription Box That Merges Wxtchcraft and Support for Emerging Artists

24 October 20 words: Alex Stubbs

Alex Stubbs catches up with artist, curator and educator Wingshan Smith to discuss Tender Coven, an online community and monthly subscription spell box that merges wxtchcraft with support for emerging artists...

Youth programme co-ordinator. One-third of Nottingham-based Soft Estate. Founder of Tender Coven. These are the labels and achievements that are attached to Wingshan Smith, an interdisciplinary artist, curator, and educator based in Nottingham, though they aren’t what define her completely. Politically, Smith makes it clear that the label of “wxtch” is something she thoroughly embraces: “Being a wxtch is inherently subversive and this is one of the last things I’d want to change. I identify as a wxtch politically first and foremost.” For Smith, being a wxtch means taking a stand against “everything that is currently wrong with society and any society throughout the ages.” These are values that she takes with her into her artistic practice, and which build the foundations of the educational and curatorial work she does with Tender Coven, an online coven community and monthly subscription spell box curated to “merge wxtchcraft with support for emerging artists.”

Education, public programming, and curation are “are all ways to connect with and to share art,” according to Smith who, through her work as the Youth Programmer at Nottingham Contemporary, helps to run 1525 Collective, a programme that encourages young people to connect and collaborate with each other across multi-disciplinary channels. Tender Coven, Smith’s latest project, brings together education, curation, and public programming through the creation of an “online coven community.” Through Tender Coven, Smith educates through the zine, produces a public programme through events and workshops, and uses her curatorial skill to feature new artists and objects each month. Speaking with Smith about the project, which offers users a monthly zine and subscription box as well as online live tarot readings, it becomes clear that building a sense of community is something she feels a strong affinity towards and which is fundamental to Tender Coven’s aims. “I am drawn to the subjective ways culture can impact people on deep social, emotional, and spiritual aspects of life,” Smith notes, going on to say that choosing between separate practices brings with it complications that misunderstand the fact that they all “feed into the same pot.” 

Emerging out of the circumstances of a global pandemic, Tender Coven was initially conceived as a ritual performance commissioned for Mansions of the Future. But, with a nationwide lockdown making in-person performances impossible, Smith reimagined the piece through video. By sending out materials to participants and conducting the performance virtually, the piece became “part-tutorial, part-spell” that could be experienced “in your own time, space, and pace.” The increased distance may have been a difficult barrier for others to overcome, but it doesn’t appear to have slowed Smith down. “I found a new way to connect with people through my craft at a distance,” she says, noting how the term “coven” represents a “declaration of solidarity,” a sense that being part of it means navigating the world collectively. “Tender” represents a certain pensiveness and reflection: “[it] is a melancholic word which embraces a misty understanding of care, conjuring feelings of a remembered pain that is gently soothed but might still linger.” In Tender Coven, solidarity and mutuality are paired together to create a place that offers acceptance and guidance equally through light as it does through darkness.        

Fostering a sense of community is at the heart of what Smith does. Community functions as “a cornerstone of my work and something I actively pursue,” she says, but it doesn’t come without a sense of reservation and criticisms of exactly what is meant when we say “community.” Talking about the community-driven aspect of Tender Coven, as well as Soft Estate’s latest work engaging with the history of a nineteenth-century asylum that stood in King Edward Park in Sneinton, there is the feeling that Smith is attempting to actively reconfigure our conceptions of community. For Smith, there is an exploitative industry surrounding self-care and community that “emphasises the responsibility of the individual and does little to hold society accountable.” Her artistic practice does a lot to combat this, with focus placed directly on “building relationships with people to call on for help but also to be that help or collaborate with.” Through her work with 1525 Collective, Smith highlights the importance placed on “checking in, and talking about issues young people want to talk about,” while Tender Coven functions, in part, as Smith’s platform to give exposure to artists she is excited about.    

There’s an ethical side to all of this, too. The artists that are featured in Tender Coven receive a share of the profits “paying your artists is important!” Smith declares a proactive way of supporting the collaboration between curator and artist. Whether supporting communities economically, or establishing relationships through collaborative and supportive programmes, Smith places ethics at the forefront of her work in a unique and encouraging way.

As an esoteric practice, Tender Coven is rooted firmly in its celebration of wxtches and wxtchcraft. “On a foundational level, wxtchcraft is meditation with props. It’s a playful tool to engage all your senses and bring intention into your life,” says Smith, positioning Tender Coven as an outlet “accessible to the widest range of beliefs to suit the most secular of casual wxtches to the most traditional and dedicated.” Accessibility is key to Tender Coven’s success, with each subscription box curated in such a way that newcomers are able to engage with the materials through Smith’s guidance and tutorials. Smith has, quite impressively, managed to marry intriguing elements of wxtchcraft with a desire to celebrate the artists that, as she puts it, “share some sort of mysterious affinity to the esoteric.” 

As Smith says, “art, after all, is a kind of magic,” and certainly there is a fascinating magical quality to be found in her work.

tendercoven.com

We have a favour to ask…

LeftLion is Nottingham’s meeting point for information about what’s going on in our city, from the established organisations to the grassroots. We want to keep what we do free to all to access, but increasingly we are relying on revenue from our readers to continue. Can you spare a few quid each month to support us?

Support LeftLion now