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By: Lucy Harvey
I am artist in residence at a ruined Abbey until mid August. Aside from producing temporal installations across the site the residency will provide me with some well needed time and space to reflect on my practice. This blog aims to provide a soundboard as I tackle my professional development as a visual artist and maker.
I'm on Twitter @LucyOwl
My creative development is over on www.airvallecrucis.wordpress.com
# 8 [9 May 2013]
I have worked with non art audiences before but this is the first time I’ve worked without the direct management of an art organisation behind me. I’ve always felt it was important to make creativity accessible and I’ve always felt that the narrative and making behind my work provided plenty of different access points to diverse audiences. This assumption is being challenged as I encounter everyone else’s assumptions about art and my head is spinning a little. When you’re not a person interested in art, art is: silly (guilty as charged), pointless (same goes), a children’s activity, a tourist attraction and a cultural event which sits in the company of anything else under the header of “cultural”. I also have the “where is the monk?” party which is exclusive to the studio I am in and refers to an animatronic monk who used to sit roughly where I am sat right now surrounded by historical info-boards. The ‘where’s-the-monk-er’s’ are normally disappointed to find me here, I tell them I can don the robe and do the robot if they’d like. No one has taken me up on it yet surprisingly, I only wish to please.
The dawning realisation that I am an authority on art and working with artists came last month. This is not a comfortable position to find myself in, I only learnt to say “no” last year and I was still a part time jeweller 18 months ago. It certainly wasn’t on the job spec but I am finding my voice, shakily. My sensitivity to these demands made me lose focus on my work and it’s been tough to section off that responsibility but I’m getting there, it’s a steep learning curve. (When do the learning curve’s stop by the way?)
Add to all this, albeit in an intensely more creative and exciting way, that this is also the first time I’ve worked site specifically for any great period of time. My head feels like a just filled water-bomb. Until last week I was ambitiously approaching each intervention as a culmination of the entire human history of the site reduced to a simple pairing of figurative form, silk and stone. This is the trappings of my usual working practice in motion, a total consolidation of ideas in intimate pieces brought together after ‘x’ weeks of research and ‘y’ weeks of making. Both 'x' and 'y' are never long enough but now I have time for once. I am now breaking down the site’s vast context into much richer pieces which communicate one or two ideas, safe in the knowledge that there is time still is explore all the other areas.
I had my first vandalism/thefts over bank holiday weekend which was more interesting than you might think, the non-theived objects and pieces had been reordered and moved which I found pretty inspiring. There's more about that on my residency blog but it's funny how these kind of unexpected events don't phase me whilst the professional side does. Turns out, the legacy of human interaction is inspiring regardless of whether it was a gate-jumping reveller last Friday or a illiterate stone mason 800 years ago.
# 7 [28 March 2013]
This is the first time I've been a 'full time' artist for any real length of time since my last residency, over three years ago. Having recently graduated I was simply excited then to have someone facilitate my practice and I didn't feel any external pressures except to focus completely on making new work.
I wish that hadn't changed but I'm now a month into my current residency and I can at least feel this pressure fading away a little. I can also see how my working practice is expanding again, I have the time to consult many more resources and take more risks. In the past year I was left with two days a week to rather militantly respond to completely new subject matter, it took me to a lot of new places in a few years, but with the luxury of time on my side I am thinking about how this way of working might change in the future. How I might move towards a more cohesive body of work rather than the cut and thrust project work I've so far worked on.
This was an idea which came up too following a session on websites and social media with Axis at the Castlefield Gallery last week - to let images of my work lead the viewer and relinquish the arbitrary nature of project titles and concepts. I had always felt that my work in its various projects existed almost exclusively of each other but this isn't actually the case. I wonder if this was only my obsession with ordering collection and what I was inadvertently doing was in fact, building my own museum - department by department, floor by floor. That would actually make a lot of sense.
# 6 [8 March 2013]
I actually started this blog in March 2012 in the midst of a particularly potent brand of career crisis; the previous five posts on this blog briefly stayed up until I completely flipped out and unpublished the entire thing. There are reams of similarly bewildered blog posts which never made the internet at all, saved onto my laptop for posterity (or an incredibly boring read).
I felt the issues were too raw to share and what was meant to be an exorcism of the issues facing me ended up adding to the list of vague anxieties. In fact, writing, rewriting, and not sharing helped a lot. It’s a bit like writing that angry email and then saving it as a draft, or the long hand letter that gets folded up and put in a drawer. Anyway, now that my practice and I are best friends again they’re back up for posterity, it is an important part of my professional development and it might help other people make tough choices (but that might be just the egotism talking).
A few strategic changes seemed radical at the time but now seem straight forward and a little tame. Upping my bread and butter employment to relieve the financial strain a bit, getting a studio and giving up my jewellery sideline. The space to focus on one line of self employment and take more risks creatively paid off with one commission leading to another and then leading to a bloody brilliant opportunity for an “applied art practitioner” to “push the boundaries of their art form” across a heritage site. It’s the biggest commission I’ve worked on so far and it’s given me the financial freedom to up sticks and be a full time artist for six months, focusing on one thing, and it feels like a tremendous luxury. I am also lucky enough to have fantastic employers who keep me on despite my constant dicking around. So, I’ll be back to school in September but until then I am going to make the absolute most of this time to take risks, develop new work and my own understanding of what I do, and where I am going. I am also in a position to sort out driving this year, so needless to say I am glad I didn’t cave in and make the wrong choices last year.
I’m not sure how much I really believed my threats of full time work but all that time spent writing unpublishable blog posts at least functioned as a distraction tool when I could have been applying for jobs. Here’s to the patience, stubbornness and angry letters in the bottom drawer.
# 5 [13 August 2012]
I have been levelling out I think. The shock of having no deadlines and not having to consider the commerciality of my work finally sunk in toward the end of last week. Whilst working away this weekend all I could think about was ideas for new work which I suppose follows the research I've accrued so far sitting in the subconscious long enough to bear fruit. Last week I had that dull sinking feeling that nothing would come forth, I don't know why I fall for it every time. It feels really good to be in this situation again.
Fortuitously or not I wasn't even offered the job I was considering, I haven't requested feedback but I might still. After the embarrassment wore off I felt relieved, realistically I would have struggled to continue my practice and this forces my hand to build confidence in it. I am financially stable but aware that larger expenses such as driving and its accoutrements are currently out of reach. I can afford a bike though (!) and am going to sit down and work out a longer term plan once the creative side of my practice is rolling of its own accord.
Meanwhile I am enjoying the renewed scope in my work, already I have larger scale bits floating around the studio, I've been painting and am really keen to try a bit of printing. I also have clay today, looking forward to getting messy this afternoon.
# 4 [29 July 2012]
All change here, hence the quiet spell. I moved my studio into Bankley Studios in Levenshulme three weeks ago and last week I moved house. It feels great to have a fresh start and I love the "clean" space of my studio, I am refusing point blank to take my computer in there and have been using it solely to build a proper relationship with my sketchbooks again. Tomorrow I have an interview for a second part time job which I am hoping to take on in addition to my other job in a bid to raise money to learn to drive this year...but I am keeping an open mind until the offer is on the table. The compromise will be only having the weekends and school holidays in the studio but in the long term I will be able to ferry myself and my work about to opportunities that have previously been out of reach. We'll see anyway.
I've started new research and am forming a proper plan for what I'll actually be doing with my practice now. Although it's been pretty difficult to think about all that with everything else going on. The one thing that has stood out in changing my practice is feeling a bit uncomfortable with my (self generated) online presence which seems to me to be static whilst I am moving on. I feel a bit exposed. This is quite funny really because I have prided myself on the full complement of social media and newsletter mail outs - has this backfired? I feel conscious of my lack of "news" and a bit uncomfortable with how everything I've done in the last few years is recorded with a different focus to what I share now. I suppose this is the time to be selective and that's a luxury really.
# 3 [6 July 2012]
I need to develop the environments for my objects and work with a holistic narrative throughout the whole experience and encounter. I did this on my MA, my shed was my manifesto - I was excited about sensory overload akin to the spiritual and the archival space. It's been a while but I have been working with audio and film on an engagement/research project this year (http://collectinghistory.wordpress.com) and I'm excited about sound, dark spaces and movement. I popped into the new exhibition at the Chinese Arts Centre last night to see Hung Keung's animation/video works and was thinking about the combination of space, movement and sound afterwards.
I had forgotten how much my practice focuses on uncanny juxtaposition, this animate/inanimate, absence/presence, and literally the hair thin line between homely and unhomely, the closer the better. Subtley is exciting. When I look back at some of my metalwork the subtlety isn't quite there, the material is too harsh and controlled. Subtle narratives documenting the ambiguous legacies of human interaction through ownership and creation. I want to collect these narrative strands to make a whole landscape, each acting out their own part and place within the context of one another, as defined by the viewer.
I've had no space to do this working from home, I need a studio. Going for a look around a local one this Sunday but not sure if I should be looking at one in Manchester centre - will see how I feel on Sunday.
Things to do:
- rewrite my artists statement (feel like I could do this endlessly at the moment and still never hit the nail on the head)
- sell off jewellery stock, BOGOF sale stylee!?
- chase up leads for new work, look at venues
# 2 [2 July 2012]
I have a free diary for the first time in a few years; it's daunting and makes me feel a bit guilty. I've started some new work and started reading again, and have a few ideas about a solo exhibition which I am giving myself the vague deadline of next year. I have taken a few more steps towards this and I'm really excited about reclaiming my practice, it feels like a new start and I feel more confident already.
I had a portfolio session at the Castlefield Gallery with Sara-Jayne Parsons from the Bluecoat two weeks ago as part of the Creative Industries Trafford programme (highly recommend http://www.creativeindustriestrafford.org ) which really helped me clarify where I want to go with my work. It also made me realise how little I have been talking about my practice holistically, I can talk animatedly about the many avenues and minor tangents of my research, but when it comes to the whole issue of what I am actually doing I keep it bottled up. Sara-Jayne also pointed out I need to find my focus again, my cloud is vast and I haven't given myself the time to find the core. I need to rewrite my dreaded artist's statement.
Amongst all this I am worried about supporting myself financially. Normally I would have the pretence of selling jewellery, a project or two and some HE teaching to give me the bubble of security (and it was only a bubble). I am replacing the money that jewellery sales bought in with an extra day at the school but there are no projects or HE hours on the horizon. My options here stand at running jewellery classes (enjoy teaching it more than I ever enjoyed making it), applying for funding (what've I got to lose?) or taking on a second job.
I have applied for a second part-time art technician job which would mean I will be full time employed for 39 weeks of the year over two schools. It's initially a year's contract, so I am interested to try it out in a bid to remove the financial pressures from my practice and so I can put some money away and learn to drive. Is 13 weeks a year enough to be an artist? I am past the ridiculousness of an MA graduate and some time uni lecturer recycling clay and blending paper mulch, it's a nice low responsibility job – I enjoy it and I haven't spotted an alternative. I suppose it would help if I could decide what I want to do and stick to it.
# 1 [27 June 2012]
2012 has been a difficult year so far for my creative practice. When I decided to evaluate what I was doing, and where I was going, at the start of the year I really had no idea how lonely it can be to take something you've fought long and hard to make 'work', and flip it on its head.
Having graduating from my MA in 2008 I had decided to run a dual practice, my proper practice (small scale sculptures, projects and occasional installation) supported financially by making and selling a jewellery collection designed on my BA. My passion obviously lay with the sculptural side and I have done some really interesting commissions, residencies and projects so far with it. I originally marketed the jewellery collection under a pseudonym but dropped this as the contemporary craft audience I was marketing both aspects of my work did not seem to mind (plus I was beginning to sound like I had multiple personality syndrome when talking about it). I have kept myself frantically busy for the last 3.5 years with a mixture of enquiry led projects and exhibitions, the occasional residency, workshops and HE teaching, and jewellery production, stockists and retail events. After a flying start, sales in the jewellery dwindled and whilst most jewellers I know love what they do enough to take on the financial compromise and find new routes to trade, I feel this was the moment I knew it wasn’t for me. It sounds coarse to type it ‘out loud’ but simply if we’re going to be badly paid for something we better bloody love it.
There has been overlap between the two but generally I love the research opportunities that my proper practice has afforded me and the absolutely unexpected chances to develop myself, meet people and inspire new work, new understanding and new processes. But I am examining this too and this has where the real turmoil begins. The delicate balancing act of a dual practice and its trappings, alongside my blessed part time job (school art tech) and other bits of employment here and there have come at a price and I feel as if I have stopped peddling, careered downhill and my momentum has just run out. Stabilizers please.
After a series of failed applications for projects and commissions I know I need to buckle down and focus on taking my practice forward, one -because I have no ‘other’ projects this year, and two - because I need to make my practice stronger so that I have a better chance in achieving these opportunities in the future. I increase my part time hours in September which takes some of the financial strain away but I am worried that this won’t be enough. I have been brainstorming since January and swinging between excitement and total self-belief about a renewed focus and a new start, to disillusionment and lack of confidence. I hope this blog will help me make some of the decisions that lie ahead or at least function as a venting platform. Comments and advice gratefully received..
Main decisions floating in the ether today:
- Get studio so I can meet people, have access to space, leave the house (small home studio of 3 years has been a miserable experience)
- Fresh start on home studio, moving into a new house next month with enough space to do so (including cellar which will be great for installation play)? Try it out?
- Take on second job, upping employment to practically full time – put money aside to pay for studio rent & take time out to make without financial pressure? Take a whole year to evaluate practice and do research in spare time?
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Lucy’s work responds to the ways in which human legacy is recorded in objects, materials and place. Using collection and mimicry she creates nonsensical artefacts which explore themes of craftsmanship, repair and function. She’s based in Manchester and works from Bankley Gallery & Studios but likes to wander. She doesn’t always write in third person.