Feast or Famine

IMG_4700The aspect I find most difficult to manage as an artist with a portfolio career is the fluid nature of projects, how there are no hard edges as such and one piece of work has a tendency to bleed over time wise and impose on another. When you add in a family of six to trail after with all of their work and social lives to co-ordinate, it gets a little messy. The nature of freelance work also means you rarely ever know what’s round the corner, paid work is either a feast or a famine, and in feast times, there’s still a temptation to hang onto all offers given in case famine lies ahead. Of course the diversity and unpredictability of the work is, at the same time, what makes it so compelling.

And so this is why I found myself in a coffee shop this morning discussing a possible project with a wonderfully innovative opera company who create hugely inspiring events with children with special needs, while I have also been awarded an ACE grant to create a film around the military events that have shaped Salisbury Plains and been selected for Solent University’s AA2A residency – (which will deal with a different body of work entirely). Now I’ve just got to create a box of time for them all, including ongoing work in a school – and I’ll be fine.

Earlier this summer, things were looking a little famine like in the paid work department and I could definitely feel an unspoken pressure to get my act together and start bringing in some income from a more mind numbing, but dependable source. My husband has been really supportive but even I was beginning to question my sanity as the bills were rising. Luckily, the Ace grant has come just in time, and as other small waves of work come in, I feel my practice is once again back on safe ground. But more of those projects later, what this blog is focusing on is the ongoing effect of the re:view bursary.

So far I have worked with two mentors, one of which has advised on a more practical level, the other of which approached me with a really personal interest in my work – both have been invaluable. Some advice was slightly conflicting but where both mentors crossed over on was the advantage of being connected in some way to a university. This fell into place when the AA2A scheme moved closer to home and as such I will now be one of Solent, Southampton University’s artists in residence for the foreseeable future. I am actually hugely excited about this as primarily it will help me experiment with presenting my ideas on a much larger and more complex scale digitally and entirely open up the possibilities in all sorts of media. Not only this, being part of the vibrant atmosphere of university life should inject a much needed boost of enthusiasm which is sometimes hard to maintain as an isolated artist.

Another area which Helen Sloan, the latter mentor, has helped me make sense of is how to departmentalise the different areas of my work and recognise that it’s OK to do so. At the time I discussed the potential Ace funded project which will be on a specific theme, quite different from the theme’s I am working on myself and I was concerned about this. Helen made me see really clearly that that commission could happily rest separately from the rest of my work and this shouldn’t create a conflict. She encouraged me then to select one or two main ideas from the other research I was doing and focus in on them, particularly resolving how they would come together in an exhibition space.  None of this was rocket science but sometimes you just need the calming encouragement of another voice to make you see through the fog. This has been a good year for me, not a busy year so far as exhibiting goes, but a good year for me to grow and an instrumental part of that has been re:view. Thank you a-n. A little funding is bearing a lot of fruit I feel.

 

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The Visit #2

Image0To carry on from the previous entry, as part of the a-n funded meetings, Helen Sloan came some days later in a rather different capacity. Helen approached me with the offer of mentorship coincidently at a similar time when this bursary was offered and has a particular interest in certain aspects of my work, particularly my explorations into social media and video. The session with Helen concentrated much more on the work itself, formulating a plan to select two or three ideas and purposefully develop them towards an exhibition. We talked in depth about artists she felt I should look at and about how to obtain a commission or funding to free up a large enough period of time to develop these ideas successfully. I found her input invaluable and with a clear plan to move forward we put the next meeting in the diary for autumn when we could look at taking the next step.

I said there were positive and negative aspects of the meetings, the negative were that bringing in two curators so close together with slightly different areas of focus on my work meant that once or twice advice conflicted and each had varying recommendations with regards to other colleagues.

The only other negative was that there was so much information I was a little overwhelmed and it will take a while to sieve through it.

What I will say though is that the reason why relationships have built up with these curators is mostly through the age-old advice of keeping your getting your work out there. Over the past few years I have emailed one or two links to videos/work as it was completed and invited curators to shows without really knowing whether they paid any attention or not. Quite often though, I am surprised to find out that someone has mentioned that they have been watching work my develop over the past few years when I was under the impression that my efforts which is disappearing into the ether. So the one thing to be learnt I guess is to keep at it.

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Re:view gets underway

Conjuring the Archdeacon

Conjuring the Archdeacon

As I may have mentioned previously, I am currently the recipient of an a-n Re:view bursay, awarded solely to facilitate dialogue around my work with chosen professionals. As such I have been attempting to set up a series of studio visits. You know what they say about buses, well, it looks like the same can be applied to curators. After a number of cancelled and delayed dates for meetings, eventually they both came one after the other. The one thing that struck me reading through all the Re:view bursary AN blogs is the diversity of situations and relationships supported by the scheme. What has gradually been reinforced in my mind is that each artist’s path is entirely unique and there appears to be no one blueprint to a successful or satisfactory career. In other words, we each have to find our own way.

In my case the route to choosing curators to work with was a little bit more left field. The two women I have been working with this week do not have galleries as such to show work in. They are not solely the head of organisations although that is, at times, part of what they do, they are not names which many of you will know. They have however worked with some extraordinary artists and supported some respected and groundbreaking work.

Currently Judy Adam is working on Art South http://www3.hants.gov.uk/artsouth, a collaborative project involving artists such as Jordan baseman and Mel Brimfield both of whom I find incredibly interesting practitioners. Helen Sloan is director of Scan http://www.scansite.org/scan.php amongst her many other roles and again works with some artists I have great respect for.

Unlike other Re:view recipients, I am not working on one major project, funded and formalised, although that may evolve out of this. I’m not looking necessarily for practical and technical support. What I am building, I hope, are relationships. A mentoring which will encompass critical dialogue, information and understanding of the possibilities that lie ahead.

In this first post I will look at Judy Adam’s visit. There were positive and negative aspects of having the two curators so close together at the same time. Judy Adam concentrated largely on opportunities, looking at potential relationships and people who could helpful in my career. We looked at the work itself, at the strengths and weaknesses of past exhibitions and of whom Judy felt amongst her contacts the work would connect with. We looked at how the network of curators, head of organisations, and the academic community in the area and beyond are interlinked together and how, somehow, to break into that and retain your integrity as an artist. We had an interesting discussion on the value of practice based Ph.D.s and how often that opens up routes for funding and can make your work more visible within that network.

Judy took a lot of notes as did I and left to consider some points and get back to me at a later date. We agreed to meet up later in the year and I have already followed up one of her leads and will hopefully be having a further studio visit with another curator as a result.

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Putting the house in order

Presentation1I shouldn’t make rash statements as to potential commitments such as the daily sketchbook business in my last post. Needless to say, it died a death after a day or two. Just to keep anyone interested up to speed (and serve to remind myself when I look back as to what the heck I’ve been doing), I’ve been adopting a rather scatter gun approach to the focus of my work which, frankly, has got to stop. Film, sculpture, writing articles/statements, forging relationships with local art initiatives and having endless meetings to flesh out possible projects have made up much of my time. Also I have invested far too much unpaid time in the paid teaching/workshop projects recently which I’ve got to be more disciplined about. As such my thinking is somewhat fragmented and I feel a little like drowning. Two good, concrete things have emerged though which I can hang on to. One is the a-n bursary which I have been awarded to engage selected curators etc in critical dialogue about my work, and the other is the little film I have completed above which I will go into more detail about at another time. Shortly, I will be starting a blog on a-n again to chart the progression of my use of the bursary. Until then, I am determined to get the house (in my head) in order.

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IMG_4444 (523x800) (523x800)IMG_4450 (525x800)Images still fermenting from my time on Reside prompted me to do a few little monoprints a month or so ago. Just finding my feet in the studio again, gathering materials and focusing ideas, I’ve purposely kept my head low as far as applying for opportunites go etc to try and create a little studio head space. It’s an interesting process, how work comes about though,different I guess for different people. I’ve decided to go old school and write down a day by day diary of ideas and processes etc. At present I have three or four on the go, randomly selected with a jumbled history of scribbled thoughts. Time to get some order in my work though, now if I could just find one under the piles of materials.IMG_4440 (478x800)

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Artist statement blues

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Terry Smith, Parallax at John Hansard Gallery 2011

Recently I returned to college to take a brief course to tick the latest box demanded by the government’s ever shifting teaching structure. Not having studied in this sense for more years than I care to mention, I realised, to my shame, that that old knee-jerk response to flout whatever rules academia can set in front of me seemed not to have deserted me with the onset of maturity, if you can call it that.

And so it is with artist’s statements. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the written word, and totally see a home for it within the broad realm of artists communication (unlike the very closed, small minded opinion purported at a recent panel discussion I attended which went something like ‘If you have to read the text to appreciate a piece of artwork that artwork has failed’ – grrrrrrrr! What?) but I have a love/hate relationship with the artist’s statement.

The term statement itself has a finality with it which seems to close down rather than open up. It opens and closes at either end, packaging ideas up and sealing them with neat edges. Rather like a *CRB check, it is really only valid at the point of publication, in a sense, once it is uttered it becomes devoid of value. Just as a CRB check attempts to pin down a living, changing personal history, so an artist’s work remains a living changing thing, shifting and undulating in response to the stimulus around it. That said, no one seems to have come up with a better idea so I guess I will continue to wrestle with the process.

As I attempt to reshape the introduction on my own website what can I say that has any meaning. I suppose, in my work, I’m still the child that lifted the loose slabs of stone in my father’s garden path, gazing for a moment, repulsed and absorbed by the writhing mass of life below, only to set it down again and try in vain to make sense of what I’ve seen. Or perhaps I’m still the child dawdling in the hairdressers while my mother had her weekly ‘shampoo and set’, making patterns on the floor in the piles of cut hair or intricate constructions with the discarded hairpins.

Every now and then though, I stumble across a statement which is refreshingly rebellious.

Of all those I’ve read however Terry Smith’s statement , published alongside his Parallax exhibition at the John Hansard gallery in 2011, must win the prize for the ultimate rebellion. Terry Smith, in his own words, has “no medium, no style, no continuity and no intention to change.” Go Terry.

*Please note CRB has now been updated to DRB, even government mandates need rewording on a regular basis.

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for Nobby

The wonderful thing about blogs is that the writer is answerable to no one and so today I’m going to take the time to remember my dear friend Nobby. Nobby died recently in her mid 90s, something I only discovered when I turned up at the nursing home she had been moved to, on a drizzly, grey, Monday morning with a small pot of hyacinths to brighten her room. She kindly took part in a piece of work I made called Night Vision, one of the first videos I ever produced and the one which continues to be the most successful.

Nobby was irreplaceable. My husband and the children met her blackberry picking one day and brought her home for tea. She introduced herself as Nobby, explaining her husband had given the nickname due to the knobbly shape of her head. From that afternoon on, she became part of my life. Nobby was never ordinary. Widowed young, she returned from a life in France needing to support her two children, and, undaunted by the fact that it was a man’s job, became the first ever woman thatcher.  Newspaper cuttings from the time show her hauling large bundles of thatch onto cottage rooftops. Her life was rich and complex, and by the time I met her in her early 90s, she had lost none of her fascination with living. Nobby had been a talented painter, her little bungalow full of portraits and paintings from France and we often discussed our work, comparing current arts training with her early experiences.

It was early on in our friendship when I mentioned that, as part of the Salisbury Festival, aborigines would be visiting Stonehenge and dancing at sunset. I hadn’t considered going but Nobby demanded we did and together we sat while the sun went down, watching the aborigines repeatedly emerge from behind the stones, stomp back and forward, brandish their decorated shields and retreat again. This appeared to be the full repertoire and after a while Nobby was heard to announce in a very loud voice ‘They’re rather limited don’t you think’.

From then on we took Nobby on several trips. She never wanted to stay indoors and took every invitation offered. The Christmas Carol service was a regular destination and she always made the children giggle by dripping wax from the candles and sticking them to the pew in front. It was more than once we had to blow out the hymn sheets.  As you can imagine, I was not Nobby’s only friend and she often had more than one invitation, particularly for Christmas dinner. The one year she did come, halfway through pudding there was an angry phone call from another villager demanding to know where Nobby was. She looked at me sheepishly and whispered, ‘They’re too boring and they haven’t got any children to talk to.’ In the end I had to deliver a subdued looking Nobby round for her second Christmas meal.

After some rather questionable driving, and many complaints from villagers, the police finally wrestled Nobby’s car keys off her and her life behind the wheel (which had included driving trucks in the war), was over. Undaunted, Nobby took  to hitchhiking and one hot summer’s day when I went around with an ice cream for her, it emerged that two drivers had stopped that day and there had been a tussle over who would get to drive her to the village coffee shop.

There are many more experiences with Nobby I will treasure but the making of the film was a very special time. During that interview she shared with me some of her most personal, honest and painful memories, most of which I didn’t include in the film but I am deeply aware of the responsibility and the trust she placed in me. Night Vision has been shown in galleries a number of times, including once alongside the wonderful and iconic ‘TheBlack Tower’ by John Smith, and I am indebted to all the women who allowed me to use their words.

It wouldn’t have been totally complete without Nobby though, and neither will we.

To view Night Vision go to https://vimeo.com/18890577

Night Vision

Night Vision

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