Visual art exhibitions and events with a platform for critical writing
Ideas? Technical issues?
» Feedback to a-n
By: Jean McEwan
Striving to retain my practice and sanity after a recent double whammy of bereavement, currently to make a piece of work for The Independents Liverpool Biennial.
# 21 [5 October 2012]
Arrival in Liverpool, Monday 1 October, 1.45pm
A pack of schoolboys zigzagging up and down the steps of St George's Hall blazers flapping in the wind all jonpaulgeorgeandringo, taking photos
A beach flip-flop on the pavement
Japanese students standing in the street gazing up: they are drawing
3 of the drunkest men I've any seen leaning against the outside of a pub
A young woman strolling down Bold Street in green rollers, chewing gum. Gallus.
The Divine Mercy Shop 'Jesus I Trust in You'
There's no quicker way of getting to know a city, or your fellow exhibiting artists and curators, than installing a show as soon as you get there. Luckily, I had an hour after being welcomed at Bridewell Studios and Galleries with a cup of tea and some shortbread by studio holder Ed Bruce, to place my work within the gallery before anyone else arrived. I had been nervous about how the piece would work in the space - as a small scale piece, directly pinned on to the wall, so much is dependent on where is placed, and how the light falls on it. In the end I intuitively knew where to place it - behind the door, in a kind of 'no place', alongside the functional parts of the room - the buzzer and the gas meter. This worked absolutely for the piece - inhospitable, opaque, reluctant to give itself up. Opposite the high windows, the light falls on it as I want, showing the material qualities of the carbon paper; the creases, the imprint of the typewritten text, the black shine.
So here come exhibition co-curator Bruce Davies of Basement Art Project in Leeds and artist Phil Hopkins with a van full of art to put up before the exhibition opening the next day. All hands on deck. Banter and joshing instant. After installing the bulk of the work, we jumped in the van, like some kind of shonky art A Team, and made our way to the unit in Albert Dock, to install more work in the second of the spaces for the SCIBase contribution to the Independents Biennial. There we met co-curator Wendy Williams, and artist Lydia Catterall. A couple of hours there, placing work and then done for day, exhausted. The following day brought slightly more panicked tempo of install at Albert Dock, and for me a sprint across the city with a box of artwork from Sweden, collected from Wendy at Tate, against the clock to Bridewell, to get there before Ed had to leave. Then a run, literally, down to the station to meet Nigel, my husband who was arriving for the day from W Yorks. A whiz round the John Moore’s, a pint before buying booze for the pv, then to the opening. Job done, happy with my piece, and how it works, happy to meet such lovely and open Liverpool artists, and delighted to catch up with Leeds Met Uni old pal Mike Lill who runs the ace Kazimier venue in Liverpool with some friends.
There was only time to see small bits of the Biennial. From the little I saw I was taken by the work of Jacob Holding and John Akomfrah at Bluecoat and Akram Zaatari at FACT. Also enjoyed the The John Moore’s more than I expected, the Biggs and Collings stunning.
My art adventure in Liverpool was exhausting, immersive, intense, and also fun. I truly felt alive. The experience took me out of my own head, away from the griefs of my losses. It has been good for me. Maria and Nana are still in my thoughts, every day, and I'm still struggling to believe they are gone. Normally I would be instant messaging Maria, asking her opinion, and writing to Nana about the exhibition, after, with photos, but instead I'm talking to you.
Doing a creative project in the midst of bereavement, hasn't magicked the grief away, or even lessened it. But attempting to honestly document the creative process of the work has felt like honouring those two people who I have lost.
This seems a good place to end this blog.
Thank you for listening, thank you for reading.
# 20 [30 September 2012]
Getting ready to go to Liverpool tomorrow to install my work for 'Inhospitable' at the Bridewell.
So off with the frumpsome chefs hat and on with the groovesome artist's beret (not really but you get the idea).
But I am looking forward to my 2 day art adventure and all that intails in taking part in the show - installing my work, meeting up with the curators Wendy Williams and Bruce Davies, and the other artists, private view, invigiliation... and seeing as many Biennial and Independents Bienial shows as I can fit in in the times in between .. shout me if you've got any recommendations!
I'm particularly happy to be there in person for this show. My association with SCIBase began a year ago when my work "I'm Sorry" (http://jeanmcewan.com/work/other/im-sorry/) was selected for the 'Speakeasy' exhibition at Basement Arts in Leeds, by Bruce Davies and my old Leeds Met tutor, Derek Horton. Following that, I was invited by Basement to submit work for a collaborative project with Liverpool collective SCI to go to Supermarket, Stockholm Independent Art Fair, organised by Wendy Williams. I was delighted to chosen though sadly my paltry finances didn't allow for me to go to Sweden with the group. And now the show in Liverpool.
I'm very happy to be associated with this group. I rate the work of the other artists who have been involved with both Basement and SCI and I like the attitude of Wendy and Bruce - they are incredibly hard working, and from what I have seen they realise projectscreatively professionally with an openness and approacability which is refreshing.
I don't know most of the artists but part of my preparations for today has been to do a bit of research on each of them so that I can contextualise their work and hopefully it will be a richer experience encountering it in the show. Taking a wee bit of time to do this has been valuable and illuminating. I'm particularly looking forward to seeing the work of Phil Hopkins http://www.phill-hopkins.co.uk/ and Alan Dunn.
I have some coonections with some of the artists - I have shown the work of Kimbal Bumstead and Alan Dunn through projects I've curated (popup at South Square 2006, Bradford and P.S I Love You at Bradford Playhouse in 2010) and I know Stephen White through his tenure as curator at South Squarea few years back
It has been illuminating also to read co-curator Wendy William's blog about the show (http://www.a-n.co.uk/artists_talking/projects/sing...) and get the curator's experience.. one, I have to say, I admire but don't envy in this instance. Also to read Julie Dodd's blog posts about her work for the show http://www.a-n.co.uk/artists_talking/projects/sing...
Insights, sneak previews.. its good to get a flavour.
So, if you're in Liverpool on Tuesday, mibbe see you at the pv?
# 19 [29 September 2012]
Ah, paid work. The great leveller.
There's no time to be pondering about high falutin stuff like bourgeois models of art and social praxis and get your head around Glissant and rhizomes when you've got to feed a team of lairy Norwegian footballers ("give me more bacon") a group of surly posh schoolgirls (" aren't the rooms en-suite?") and assorted other customers who just want stuff, like, now. And then you get ridiculed by workmates when you mention your exhibition ("Do you have to stand in front of your art work? So you get a Blue Peter badge?")
You need to have a pretty robust sense of humour for this, which I have to admit, I had in short supply today. I have a part time job as a catering manager at a well known UK hostelling chain. The money is pretty terrible, so much is expected, and its mundane. I often have to put up with rudeness from customers, who seem to think because you are in kitchen whites you don't need a please or a thank you. I periodically vow to leave the job and find something with more money, more status, and which is more interesting.
I have days like today when I want to scream. WHY DO I HAVE TO PUT UP WITH THIS. I SHOULDN'T BE DOING THIS. And other such toys-out-the-pram stuff.
But, in honesty, the truth is, this job has worked for me. I only work 24 hours a week, the rest of the time is mine. My husband also works there, the same hours, its a 5 minute walk away, and most of our work colleagues are friends. In short, this crappy job gives me time for my art practice, the most important thing to me. MY work. The mundanity is actually good because I can switch my brain off and its fresh for when I get back home to think about, and do work.
I've resisted getting a 'proper' job for some years because I don't want the stress and to have my head space occupied by an organisation or institution. By choice I've scaled down my teaching and community art projects within the last two years because I've found that facilitating other peoples creativity comes at the detriment of my own and I've become too selfish with my creative energies.
Yeah, so what am I moaning about? It would be a stretch to say its character building but a job like this one is maybe good for me. I'm not in a rarefied art world, divorced from realities of life. Doing mundane, practical, very physical work is a good antidote to sitting in the studio for hours making work, reading or thinking, I meet all kinds of people from all over the world (including the rude ones) and I don't get to take myself too seriously.
And now I get to have some days from being a kitchen drudge to go Liverpool for the 'Inhospitable' show at the Independents Biennial and BE AN ARTIST. YESS. And I shouldn't mump about my job too much because I get freebie accomodation at the hostel in Liverpool.
So thank you, crappy job, rude customers, and see you on the other side of the Biennal. I'm off to drink some wine to celebrate. Happy Saturday everyone.
# 18 [28 September 2012]
“Jump over the wall of self and inhabit someone else"
David Foster Wallace
Thinking about art that is predicated on gift and generosity.
# 17 [27 September 2012]
Got back yesterday after a few days in Glasgow. I had been longing to reconnect with my mum, brothers, sister in law and nephew, I just needed to see them, be with them.
3 short days of laughter, meals together, afternoon beers, talking round the kitchen table, running about in the park after Hank, a sweet time and sometimes a sad time. The losses are there, we can feel them, but the love is strong between us.
The first time I'd been back to Scotland since Nana's funeral in July. We looked through some of her things including a huge pile of letters and cards which I'd sent her and she'd kept. From hand-drawn Christmas cards done when I was a child, letters from my student days ("we are having trouble with the bailiffs") to my wedding photos, here is a history of a relationship. I feel so happy to have these things, documents of love.
Me mum and Brian spent a late night at the kitchen table going through a huge box of old photos, some of them dating back to Nana's grandparents, again stories, laughter and sadness. I have offered to create an archive by scanning and sharing these photos around the family - which include relatives in Australia, New Zealand Scotland and England.
I have been working with family photography for some time within my practice - including research ( Jo Spence, Annette Kuhn) rephotographing, collage, restaging, re-placings - and I'm particularly interested in gesture. Here in this vast family archive created by one Glasgow woman over 90 years is a wealth of material - what a gift. Thank you Nana.
Home now to my love and my dog, a few days rest and reflection before going to Liverpool next week for the 'Inhospitable' show. My piece is ready, I'm excited. Reading Wendy William's blog on curating and organising the show, how much graft and stress involved, I feel grateful for all the hard work done by her and co-curator Bruce Davies in bringing the show together. I'm looking forward to pitching in where I can next week when I get to Liverpool.
Also feeding my head this week in no particular order:
-'Pig Iron' by Benjamin Myers - a compelling novel which won't leave my head.
-Peter Burger's "The Negation of The Autonomy of Art by the Avant-Garde". - Fantastically ballsy and provocative writing, which I keep returning to
- an excellent essay here on a-n by Becky Shaw on Continuous Practice http://www.a-n.co.uk/publications/article/1381399/... making some excellent points about quality.
-An intriguing poster work from collaborative research project 'Milky Way Hear Me Call' with some superb texts from Leeds based artist Emma Bolland http://youwillhearmecall.wordpress.com/2012/09/17/...
- stunning images from Edinburgh-based artist Alex Hetherington's current research and production project: 'Modern Edinburgh Film School, 2012-201' http://alexhetherington.tumblr.com/
My heart head and eyes are full.
# 16 [21 September 2012]
mucking about with typewriter carbon paper pencil and paper
# 15 [20 September 2012]
To frame or not to frame? AAARGH. Still mulling it over.
In the meantime some diversionary activity and hopefully an opportunity to get some distance, in the form of a social for HowDo magazine tonight at Hand Made in Bradford.
HowDo is a Bradford grassroots cultural magazine started late last year and is a thing of wit, wonder and beauty. I was asked to do the artwork for Issue 4 back in March this year and it was a joy to be involved. The people who run it are my cup of tea - open, collaborative, inclusive, and not afraid to take risks or be critical. I'm doing a stall of my zines at the event. and have been getting them ready this morning, So nice to do simple straightforward things like fold, and staple, rather than angsting about framing.
Looking through them I found a copy of 'Mad as Bad Tornado', a zine I curated last year about the visionary artist Henry Darger. Maria contributed two stunning pieces of work for the zine. I wanted to show one of them here, as a homage to her. Looking through old emails to find the image was hard, a reminder of how much we collaborated, talked and shared over the years we knew each other. so many projects, so many collaborations. How lucky we were to have this. Love you and miss you so much beautiful.
# 14 [19 September 2012]
After the buoyancy of yesterday I am beset by doubt about my piece today. This uncertainty and anxiety is probably been amplified by my less than robust emotional state at the moment. This morning I woke up from murky dreams, thinking about Maria, missing her, wishing I could talk to her about the piece, as we always did when either of us had a project. I still don't believe she's gone but the silence tells me she must be.
But i doing this blog helps - for one thing because I can look back to my previous posts and see that a couple of days ago I WAS feeling certain, and confident about the work. So maybe this seesawing of responses is nothing to get too worried about. In truth, though I am excited about going to Liverpool for the show, and all that comes with it - installing the work,meeting the pther artists, private view, invigilaition, etc, I am also nervous. I've been living in a little quiet bubble for the past few months, not seen many people, and barely been out of the village ( I jest not). So going to the art thing in a city feels like a bigger deal than normal.
I was chatting to N this morning about the presentation of the piece and my rationale for not framing it. Talking it through I began to realise this decision really important; another layer of meanng is there in how the work is presented.this is inescapable, and I hadn't thought about it enough. Formal v's informal presentation, pinned directly to the wall or framed - determines in (large?) part how the work may received and understood.
If the work is framed, the glass is further barrier adding to the ideas of denial and inhospitability. The decisiom to frame or not to frame, and if so how to frame - also involves art historical reference points - I'm looking at Matthew Higgs, Mel Ramsden.
Is the work art, artefact or documentation?
I don't know yet - and I'm late for work now.
The the work
# 13 [19 September 2012]
Dear Sue Tompkins
Yesterday I saw your work on the internet and in an old copy of Frieze magazine and it sparked me. For the rest of the day I saw the world through a different lense. I went for a walk into town and and it seemed like everything was waiting to be discovered. It felt that anything was possible and that things can be light.
Thank you for the feeling
# 12 [18 September 2012]
Fallen in love with he work of Sue Tompkins.
How she works with the materiality of paper, how she uses text as image, the informality with which how she presents her work.
Glad to be looking at her work after I've made my piece.
Sue Tompkins at Micky Schubert, Berlin, 2012: http://www.contemporaryartdaily.com/2012/08/sue-to...
Visual artist based in Haworth, West Yorkshire. Born Perth, Scotland, 1970, graduated BA (Hons) Fine Art, Leeds Metropolitan University, 2005.
After an English Literature degree and 10 years in community and social work in Glasgow, I retrained in art in my early 30's. It felt like coming home. Serial collaborator, frequently involved in curatorial and artist-run projects.