Visual art exhibitions and events with a platform for critical writing
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By: Trevor Smith
I've just graduated, and for the three years of my degree I assumed that next would be a Fine Art masters, but it isn't. Next is four exhibitions in a month, next is writing for a new magazine, next is working with artists to produce articles about their work, and next is also raising my six-week old son, born bang in the middle of final assessment and degree show preparations. NEXT IS NOW!
# 5 [7 February 2013]
Since I graduated last summer I haven’t really had an opportunity to reflect on my practice, although it seems that every time I've sat down to do something, I've ended up looking back, trying to take stock of what happened, and where I am now.
Suffice to say not very successfully, because here I am attempting it again. But this time is different. This blog isn't called NEXT IS NOW for no reason, it's not supposed to be about what already happened, but what's happening now.
There was a recent exhibition, Out Of Office, a group show curated by a friend, in which I showed some of my letterpress work from last year. These works have now featured in five different shows - Dis.Locate, Number 16, Grey Area, Meanwhile II, and Out of Office - that's some mileage for three pieces of work. Most of those shows included other works too but here's the big resolution...I think it’s about time I retired the letterpress stuff from exhibitions. Not least because they have become quite battered, what with all the posting and re-posting.
So that’s that decision made - no more shows for the same tired old letterpress work. Which means I now have to make new work. Which brings with it a whole host of new hurdles!
So watch this space - I have a timetable and I'm not afraid to use it.
# 4 [15 December 2012]
THE DATE POSTED IS JANUARY 22nd, NOT DECEMBER 15th!
I always felt I was an artist. At school I certainly was - I was the one that was good at drawing, but after leaving school I developed some kind of fear of not being the best, and so despite my instincts I avoided art for a decade. Then, on starting my degree in Fine Art at the age of 32, I wrote a mini-manifesto. The main point being that art should not be judged for its exchange value. I felt that since Warhol, but more so in the era of rampant capitalism ushered in by the Reagan and Thatcher years, the intelligence of art, the inquiry, the creativeness of thought that it encouraged in both its creators and its viewers, had been undermined by the market. Particularly in the UK by Charles Saatchi.
I still feel this way.
This led me to creating a body of work that has no monetary value; that could be owned by all, starting with short text pieces that became the property of anyone that had read them. Such work is as easy to share as it is to own - its physical nature was inconsequential to its meaning, so the work could be spoken and not lose any of its potency.
This ideology continued last year when I created Cards, a series of business-card sized works that were given away to anyone that would take them. The work held no practical business information whatsoever - I didn't even sign them, I just wanted people to have them.
The text on Cards was created using letterpress, and it set me thinking about the medium through which I delivered my work. I realised that I could manipulate the format to influence the reading of the piece. For example - if I just write 'exquisite tenderness' on a blackboard, or on a wall in vinyl lettering, you might draw any number of conclusions about the phrase, it's origin, and its meaning. If I take an A3 piece of good quality hand-made paper and emboss the phrase into it, I create a piece that might demonstrate the phrase in physical form. If I take a small business card sized piece of that thick, grainy paper, and hand-print the phrase onto it in crimson lettering then an altogether different reading appears - one of luxury or indulgence.
A consequence of using letterpress and paper that comes in enormous sheets is that I can work on editions - I can create a short print run of physical works each minutely (or markedly) different to the rest. I now find myself having work that is for sale, and having a bunch of people who seem to be pleased at pointing to my manifesto from four years ago, and my subsequent turn around, telling me that it represents a dropping of ideals; a lowering of standards; a changing of principles to suit my needs.
To such cynics I hastily point out that I was never against art that could be bought - how else does an artist earn a living, after all? - no, I was and remain against art that is elevated above other art because of how much money has changed hands in exchange for the work. That Damien Hirst can sell a collection at auction, without ever having exhibited it, for £111m is fine by me (although I'm not exactly shouting 'Go Hirsty' from the rooftops), but this and other publicity-seeking ventures do not a good artist make.
I will continue to make work that is free to all, because there is nothing better than sharing ideas, and that happens best when money is not involved. However, I also now have editioned work up for sale on Artolo - a new artist network, encouraging users to judge art on its artistic merits, and then buy it.
Don't worry, it's mostly cheaper than £111m.
# 3 [15 December 2012]
A return to blogging in the form of an update.
The final time I shall mention him in the place where art should be: my son is now six months old, sleeping (like a baby), and I have managed a return to something approaching a reasonable amount of sleep.
I have left my energy-sapping, unsatisfying, uninspiring part-time job as a van driver, and am now pursuing a much more suitable career for an artist and writer. I work in the village deli.
People talk about post-graduates taking a job 'in the arts', but I always felt that the only job in the arts for me was that of artist and/or writer. Being the guy that works in the gallery and hopes to have a show one day was never going to be for me, I was always a sucker for the myth of the out-of-work actor waiting tables fifty weeks of the year, so now I appear to be living it.
Only I'm not so out-of-work as that suggests. Art-wise things have been a lot slower than in the summer, but there have still been three new shows featuring my work, in Abingdon, Oxford and Birmingham. The last two are with MadeScapes ^, a collective of recent graduates based in Bristol, Bath and Oxford, and although I am their Online Editor I still show work with them where appropriate, and will dedicate a future post to this aspect of my practice.
The main development of the past three months has been in my writing. I was awarded a professional development opportunity by Southwest and Wales arts collective Hand in Glove, and have been working with a mentor (Art critic and writer David Trigg) to polish up my writing.
The partnership has three stated goals:
1. To write a text, of between 500-800 words, to accompany a solo show by Josephine Sowden at Bristol's Motorcade Flashparade in the new year.
2. To regularly write reviews and have them critiqued by David, with a view to improving my technique. To publish these reviews online, either on my own blog or on reviews unedited.
3. To visit a show with David, write a review of it and to submit that review to a national arts periodical.
The text for the Sowden show is coming along nicely - she makes work about the distance man has put between himself and nature, so my angle is the formation of selfhood in the urban landscape, the built environment, the artificial world. I assume I'll be able to publish the text here once it's out in the world.
So far I have written two reviews - the first, of Rona Lee's That Oceanic Feeling at Southampton's Hansard Gallery, started out as an informal blog post, but I sent it to David as an example of my writing. He pointed out the many assumptions I had made about the work, and reminded me to keep the needs of the reader in mind - "It is a re-view, so describe the work" - which was a great help. You can read my review here.
The second review I wrote, of Ivan Seal's In Here Stands It, was again written as a blog post, and again made many assumptions and generalisations, but through Facebook I managed to strike up a relationship (relationship is a bit much - I commented on two of their posts) with Plymouth-based arts paper Nom de Strip, and they asked if they could publish it on their blog. Of course I accepted their offer, and emailed it to them immediately, explaining that I would be happy to amend it, so that it came across as more of a professionally written piece, but they published it anyway, commenting on it being "not too precious, not too long, but still considered and well thought out."
The trip to see a show will happen sometime in the new year, so I'm not even thinking of that at the moment.
Finally, on my mentor's recommendation, I have applied for the Jerwood Visual Arts Writer in Residence position, so watch this space. In the meantime, back to the delicatessen...freshly baked Danish pastry anyone? No? Flapjack? Baguette?
# 2 [15 December 2012]
This post was originally written on August 21st, 2012.
Since graduating I have been busier than at any time in my life, and that's not just because three days before my final assessment my wife gave birth to our first child (a boy, name of Hamish, 6lb 3oz).
So, a run-down of what's been happening and soon to be happening:
Site Unseen - 40 graduates from BathSpa came together for this contribution to the Truman Brewery's Free Range event, an annual gathering of non-London university graduate works. I included ELVISLIVES, never, and exquisite.
Server/Browser - Twin exhibitions in Bristol as part of the city's inaugural Biennial, shows put on by Madescapes^, an artist collaborative that I recently became a part of. I contributed some text, called #alwayson. I've also taken on the role of Online Editor for the group - follow @MadeScapes for more!
Meanwhile ptII - Exhibition curated by Southampton University's John Hansard Gallery, featuring work based around subtraction. My recent works exquisite and UNTITLED (And he was dead, everybody dies) are both included. Incidentally, that second piece was made in the first semester of my first year at university, which kind of makes me wonder if it was beginner's luck or whether I have wasted my time and money on studies, and that I already had what it takes from the start. I'm going for beginner's luck.
Platform 2012 - South West-based arts collective Hand in Glove invited me to take part in their graduate showcase event at the Bristol Diving School, along with around ten graduates from Bath, Bristol, and Newport. I showed Some Work and an #alwayson poster.
Arising from the Platform show was an opportunity to apply for Hand in Glove's mentor scheme, which I did, and surprisingly won! I will be paired with a professional art writer from Bristol until June next year, so I will be bombarding that person with all sorts of articles from next month onwards. If I'm not a paid writer by the end of 2012, I'll only have myself to blame!
Challenging Art is for Everyone - A Madescapes^ group discussion, with a live audience and Artolo. A nerve-wracking but vital event, which helped us put across our ideas to a non-typical art audience and which showed that non-art people are alienated by the language artists use - biiig surprise there.
On the writing front I have been blogging and applying for jobs, I was short-listed from about 400 applicants for IdeasTap's The Columnist role, you can read my submission here. Having read it back I already hate it, but being short-listed from that many applicants has given me the confidence to carry on applying for writers jobs. I have also been involved in some website editorial work that I am as yet unable to disclose. Oh, and I have written and edited a few articles for local NCT magazines, about being a new dad.
I have also had to turn down a couple of exhibiting and mentor opportunities on account of me having to pay for them, money being in short supply right now. But my plate is already overloaded anyway, and now more than ever, it is important not to spread myself too thin.
So there it all is, the busiest two months of my life, and at the same time as having to tend to a brand new baby, to be part of a team with a brand new mother, and bring in some kind of wage from a very dull and un-rewarding part-time van-driving job. But let's not end on a sour note, life is the best it has ever been, and it's only getting better.
So leaving my home town, going to university, and actually trying to do something has already paid off, big time!
Thanks for reading.
# 1 [8 July 2012]
What no final critique?
A three year Fine Art degree presents countless opportunities to talk about one's work; with tutors, visiting artists, and one's contemporaries, through tutorials, group critiques, and informal studio chats - all of which are invaluable to the development of one's practice.
Then there's the degree show, which we spend maybe a month or two planning for, and a week setting up (for 'setting up' read completely binning best laid plans in favour of some ill-considered version of rebellion, followed by a last minute reversion to the old plan). I heard that during the setting-up period there were tutors hovering around - nodding in agreement about the height of works being hung - smiling as they recognise the annual scramble for white paint, sandpaper, and electric screwdrivers - and staring blankly when they don't want to say 'Get that down, it looks terrible, and in no way represents you, your philosophy, or your practice.' I say 'I heard' because during the entire setting-up period I was in the maternity ward at the RUH Bath, as the previous day my wife had gone into labour. The school granted me a three day extension, and I carried out my set-up in a single afternoon, alone in the space, tutorless.
So, I set up for the show without any tutorial negotiation. Working, as I do, with text, this show was my chance to show that over the last three years I have learned enough about presentation to absolutely nail this stuff. Whatever the weather, the content will out; regardless of medium, my areas of interest remain the same, but because I use text, the presentation is the key aspect of the work.
And I think I let myself down. There are many strands to my practice: there's social networking, and its effects on the presentation of self; there's the whole world's obsession with nostalgia; there's the tiny little phrases and incidents that sit around in my head for years before coming out as work; and there's all the other stuff, filed under 'other'. I tried to cram them all into the show, and I over filled it. My work is quite minimal, so perhaps that's why the volume of work in there slipped by me without my noticing. I included a billboard, Elvis Lives, Some work, and a table with Cards and a new piece consisting of stacks of A4 paper with pages from my #alwayson series.
I'm not saying that had my wife and I timed our pregnancy better, things would have been different. That is an unknown. What I know is that my selection for the degree show would still have come from the same body of work, but maybe with a little more sleep and perhaps a week long extension, I might not have tried to put so much of it in there.
I plan on emailing my tutors about the show, and trying to grab that final tutorial, even if I have to wait until October to get it. I think I know where I went wrong, but it would be nice to have some proper feedback from the ones that are supposed to know for sure(ish).
That said; we now have a son, which puts the entire universe into perspective. All right, maybe not the entire universe, but Art, at least, has been given a swift hoof into the world of nothing to worry about.
For the time being.
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