Visual art exhibitions and events with a platform for critical writing
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By: Emily Speed
Rather than talk about my work on here (I have tried it and it seems to make me quite despondent) I have decided it will be far more helpful for me to explore some of the issues facing artists trying to make a living out of this business...
# 221 [10 October 2010]
Tiny space blog:
I have just got back from doing the Showreel project in Milan and it has given me much to think about.
Aside from the joy of amazing food and sunshine, the whole experience was a pleasure. The curator, Paola Caravati, has worked on Showreel for at least 18 months alongside her job at Francesca Minini Gallery in Milan. I was the last artist to exhibit out of five, the first four being Teresa Gillespie, Alice Channer, Sinta Werner and Adam Thompson. The work was displayed in a tiny shop window, with a photographer's studio across the street used as an area to display a slideshow of works along with copies of a commissioned interview and in my case, some artists books.
My interview with curator Ciara Ennis:
This interview was done via email as Ciara is based in L.A. and I really enojyed the whole process. She asked some difficult questions that I don't normally have to deal with, so I appreciated the chance to get into some issues in my work.
It may have been the way I was treated in Milan, the fact that all the costs were covered, or just the long conversation involved in realising the project that made it such a valuable experience. Paola's approach was to use the event as an introduction to the artist (rather than a straightforward exhibition), so the opening was mainly peopled by curators and gallery owners. Interestingly there was no alcohol and it was still a busy and engaged evening!
The space used was the window of a workshop in the Isola area of the city (an equivalent to Soho or something I guess), where incredibly intricate baroque parchment roses were made:
The owner, Elena, lived and worked in the space, with this incredibly economic use of space, but also with everything she could need. Her handmade tools and workspace were really inspiring and I am very glad I could see inside it.
The walls in her workshop (the front room that faced onto the street) were clad in marble. A lot of things in Italy are, given that it's a local material. But this got me thinking about the quality of things, and how investing in better materials often makes more economic sense. Same with the exhibitions, and in retrospect I can see it was far more worthwhile taking so long to make a piece for a space not much bigger than a square metre than many other projects I have done recently. I still haven't got to the point where I am saying no to things that I know in my gut are probably best avoided. I think this basically boils down to vanity, or insecurity, I'm not sure which, but it is to do with being flattered that people are interested in my work.
Already I have had an email from another curator I met in Milan, about taking part in an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Lausanne in December so I am excited to see how this develops. But generally, I am thankful to Paola for making me so welcome and all her hard work on the project. This is also proof that an Axis profile can bring good things, as this is where Paola came across my work.
# 222 [11 October 2010]
I just found out that I didn't get the residency in Japan I applied for - the one I wanted so much it made me sick. Funny thing is, I'm actually quite relieved and I realised that I really just want to concentrate working at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. I didn't know that before so that was a surprise. Don't get me wrong, I would love to go and work in Japan again, but I'm sure it will happen at another point in my life. Instead, Dan and I shall be going for a holiday instead, which will allow more time for stationery shopping. I guess part of my relief is just that I know what I'm doing for the next six months - wherever I'm spending it! This also means that I can definately be on the panel for a seminar in New York at the end of January. This is not a bad thing by any means!
I also just commented on Susan Francis' blog, on the subject of open exhibition fees - because I just applied for one and paid £10 for the privilage. I feel a bit dirty and a bit of a hypocrite to be honest; perhaps I should be heeding my own advice. But, then, it's usually a good exhibition and I wouldn't mind being in it, but should I have paid to enter? I suspect not....Oh well, it's too late now - I shall just have to see what they decide and take it from there. If I do get in, it may also be a good chance to ask them how they can justify charging a fee in the first place!
# 223 [13 October 2010]
When I was in Milan last week I saw a huge demonstration by students against cuts to University budgets. The last time I saw anything like that here was when they brought in fees - at eca we all went and sat in the road at the main traffic lights on Princes Street. It didn't do any good in the end, but at least it made very visible our opposition to the move.
In Milan the students were being cheered by the passers-by and they were shouting support to the students and joining in the chants. I think most of the public in Edinburgh avoided eye contact to be honest. I saw in Variant magazine that it has also happened in Rome. The public support may be a general feeling of anger towards Berlusconi and an increasing mistrust in the Italian political system, but I can't imagine students being taken really seriously like that over here. To be honest, the students kind of negated their actions by then going to McDonalds and leaving the Duomo square and the connected streets literally covered (like a blanket) with litter. Support and respect goes two ways and this was kind of rude - just an arrogant gesture of teenagers I suppose, but I felt less inclined to support them afterwards!
If you haven't seen the news already about the un-capping of tuition fees in England then there are some details here.
Another unbelivable barrier in the way of those from low-income households.
It got me thinking that I have no idea what the best form of protest is, especially as all the save the arts campaigns etc don't seem to be very far reaching at the moment. The art has been thought provoking and there is a lot of support for it, but I don't think much of that is from outside the arts. That opinion is only gathered from taking to people I know, so it is a small sample indeed. But it is easy to see that people wouldn't care too much when everything is being slashed and there are more immediate and personal worries to deal with. I hope it doesn't get to the stage where people are asking what happened to free museums and all the holiday activities there used to be for kids etc - after it has been cut out of budgets.
Here is the latest great contribution to Save The Arts by Bob and Roberta Smith.
On a personal note, I had a good conversation with Emma Gregory at the Bluecoat yesterday. She is an artist and the print studio manager, and also like a wise bird. I was asking advice on whether I should take up an offer I've had from a gallery, something I feel I should take but my gut says no. I had made my decision already I suppose, but wanted to somone to tell me it was the right one. She pointed out that I was talking about the offer like the owner had asked me on a date - i.e. I was worried about turning him down and upsetting him, and ultimately I was flattered by his interest and didn't want to disappoint.
Correct. It appears I am completely transparent.
I really have to stop seeing things through a personal lens and to disconnect feelings and personal relationships from making the correct decision for the long term. It would be easier to say yes now, but it would be very hard to make it work over time. MUST REMEMBER! Any ideas how anyone?
# 224 [25 October 2010]
Cardboard Folly had a modest launch last week and although the house is still full of paper and cardboard, it was great to have it completed on some level. Now I really must attend to the website and get photographing. The work is on display at the Bluecoat until 14th November, but given it's vulnerability, I will be impressed if nothing is damaged or stolen before then. I really hope not...
I've also been thinking a fair bit about protest and different ways of going about it. I have seen a few discussions going on in quite small groups (certain types of artists). This seems like an easy way to start conversation from common ground, as well as getting a lot done, but on the negatve side, these groups could be in danger of being slightly esoteric and diluting the argument as a whole. There were demonstrations against the cuts on 20th October around the country. Certainly a direct way to protest, but it seems easily forgotten, and there wasn't much press coverage - the news mentioned it in stories of the day, but it wasn't headline. I saw most about it on twitter.
Then there are the strikes in France against proposed pension cuts. Cutting off petrol supplies pretty much gets the job done doesn't it? It hits those people driving massive vehicles pretty hard at least - if your Range Rover tank takes £100 worth of fuel in each pop, then you're going to feel it very quickly.
Then I saw this this morning:
A residency at the ICA that will result in performances (at the ICA and across London) by the 'Paid not Played Choir'. The invitation to join asks for people's complaints. This terminology makes me uneasy because it is really negative - why not a call for ideas for change? Complaints sounds like someone else will be expected to fix it. The advert also states:
Participation is free // Food will be served at each rehearsal // Everybody will receive a complimentary DVD of the performance // No singing skills required!!
I bloody well hope participation is free! It's a protest about not getting paid for goodness sake. The choir is also therefore inaccurately and misleadingly named isn't it? Who's getting paid? I'm sure the question has been asked already of their 'Dissent ' programme, but can you successfully stage a protest within an institution like the ICA? This is an especially pertinent question given the recent contraversy about its funding/financial situation (which involved pouring rather more cash into fancy sponsorship events and marketing budgets than it did artists). There is a very informative piece on the ICA by J.J. Charlesworth here:
in which he says,
"With the ICA facing one of the most serious financial crises in its 63-year existence, its programme for the next year appears to be a radical-sounding ‘experiment in de-institutionalisation', with radical artists and academics co-opted to provide content on a shoestring budget"
So many things seem to be at odds here that my head is spinning a bit trying to work it all out. For the moment, I am very suspicious and I shall be following it to see what comes out of the final events.
I won't be volunteering.
# 225 [28 October 2010]
urk. It's all caught up with me a bit. Got back from hanging at Manchester Contemporary yesterday and just felt rotten. Anyway I sort of fell into a bath, boiled myself for a while and then slept for about 3 hours. It seems to have done the trick. I normally get up with my husband, but today I woke up and plodded downstairs to find him already leaving for work. I got marched back upstairs (dragged by my elbow I might add), shoved back in bed and told to stay there for at least another hour. Tough love eh. So, feeling a bit more human now, I'm looking forward to the opening tonight, especially as I don't have to drive for a change! The space (although very small) was looking pretty good when I left and I'm very happy to be part of it. Axis are not taking comission as artists brought and hung their own work, I hope someone sells something!
But, generally I feel a bit behind with EVERYTHING. Firstly, my accounts, and then everything else. I have done my usual thing of thinking that I have a couple of months coming up where I can just go to the studio and chill out a bit. What I forget is that nothing is planned that far in advance, so if I don't keep an eye on things, my diary slowly fills up until there is no time left. I am still not in a position where I want to turn down work, BUT, a promise to myself - put in writing as a reminder - after a couple of days lecturing at the start of December, I am not doing anything other than studio work. Right? Right.
Last night I booked some flights to Geneva for a show I'm in at the start of December (before the lecturing so it's allowed). It's part of the 'Roaming' project by Ermanno Cristini and curated by Alessandro Castiglioni and Noah Stolz in Lausanne at the Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts. There are a lot of things about this project that I like - the theme, the response to the work in the permanent collection (currently curated under the theme of light) and the other artists. Especially Victor Man, whose show at Galleria Zero was fantastc, and Alice Cattaneo, who I met in Milan and whose work I really like.
The most amazing thing about this is that Dan is coming with me! Hooray. I do so much going away for work on my own, that it feels a real treat to have company. Happy days.
# 226 [2 November 2010]
I'm just putting the final touches to a short piece about how artists are handling the cuts to the arts (always the longest part of the process these 'touches'). It's been a good reminder that the conversations that go on on Twitter and Facebook are just as relevant to the discussion around making a living as an artist as more formal channels. I think people may even be more honest in these spheres. I certainly find more meat here than I often do when I go to an event and there is a moderated discussion/irrelevant questions to be answered.
Speaking of which, a tweet and facebook update that I posted this morning -
"Just counted and I'm waiting on 9 invoices, the oldest from June. Gonna have to get cranky."
resulted in a nice bit of conversation. A couple of people shared this link, which has information about adding penalty fees to invoices and how to calculate interest:
Late Payment Of Commerical Debts Act 1998
as well as this information leaflet here:
So far two invoices have been paid. All through the power of the tweet - and the threat of being named and shamed probably :D
The image is of my cat - this represents working from home and having this furry limpet constantly attached.
I also just want to say what a lovely experience Manchester Contemporary with Axis was. Some great emails and a big whoosh of visits to my website. Also just a straightforward, pleasant and well-communicated install/de-stall. Not to be underestimated.
For a future post, I have been accepted into the open I applied for. This deserves a post of its own, especially given the interesting letters in this month's a-n. It's the CUBE open in Manchester. Installing next week, so I shall update as and when....
# 227 [2 November 2010]
A great piece of writing from Lewis Biggs, Director of the Liverpool Biennial on how the cuts affect those on a low income and the whole bank/gambling issue.
I wish more people in positions like his would state their opinions so openly.
Here's the end of it (it's a bit too lengthy to quote in full).
"Since there can be no economic stability, and no end to the economic devastation wreaked on the poor by the very rich, until international agreement on financial regulation has been adopted and enforced, all voting citizens should insist that their elected representatives put all other issues to one side until this one issue has been satisfactorily tackled.
Politicians often look for a leadership role on the world stage. At this moment, the only leader we need is one who is prepared to stake his or her career on persuading the G20 countries to agree unanimously, and impose rigorously, regulations that prevent rich people from gambling with the current and future right to quality of life of innocent bystanders."
# 228 [16 November 2010]
Well, I haven't had a two week break from blogging for a while! That wasn't intentional, it's just that well, there has been too much life for virtual activity. Thinking about it, this is probably the right way round!
I have been making a real effort not to work every day and evening of the week, and I count blogging as work, even though it doesn't seem like it. I'm sure a lot of people don't distinguish between work and life as they are so inextricably linked, but I have begun to realise (albeit incredibly slowly) that a) I work better with gaps b) I am more excited about my work after gaps and c) it is essential for mine and my husband's happiness that I am not a walking art bomb.
I have also been staying at Yorkshire Sculpture Park for a week, without internet - aside from the odd snippit of openzone on my mobile for twitter. I was in archway house and had the boathouse to work in. Although I have been to the park numerous times in the past 18 months, this is honestly the first time that I have explored. Wellies, thermals and waterproofs on, it was just a joy to walk around all day (it's big) and get soaked and exhausted. The technicians all go to the local every day at 5pm after work, so I happily joined in with those trips to get warmed and dry again. It was an eye-opener talking to the technicians about the park and other artists! No Diva-ing from me I promise guys! But no, their understanding (as artists some of them) about how much pressure artists are under is what enables them to support people through the exhibition process. One technician explained that, from what they've seen, it doesn't matter what stage of the career, artists always put themselves under an immense amount of pressure and they often go through the same process. Even if the stakes are higher, the pressure is (proportionate to experience) exactly the same. This makes sense, although I am a bit disillusioned that the image of being a calmer, older, more experienced artists has been taken away from me!
Honestly, I have struggled to get to grips with making work in a park, I just don't see my work in that setting or responding to that environment. However, this week something clicked and I began to see the park as a construction. It is built (landscaped) after all, and on the overcast days, the architecture in the park blended in with the trees and ground and it all just sort of became one. There are follies hidden in the conservation areas (so of course I haven't seen these as a member of public before) and I loved finding those.
A man called Cyril Peake, who taught at Bretton College in the park for 30 years, is incredibly knowledgable about the history of Bretton Hall and the family who built it. He gave a 3 hour walking history tour for staff on the Wednesday, so I got to tag along. This was a real turning point and just brought the place alive for me. In the afternoon he also gave a slide show, so I just spent the day in the past, and it was wonderful. The real point of interest for me though, is the student housing and communal areas that will get knocked down soon as part of a plan to return the park to it's original (18th Century) plan. These 60's buildings have begun to deteriorate so quickly, even though they have only been vacant for two years. It's fascinating to think about the decision of what stays and what goes, and how that may be seen in the future. The judgement about value here is based on a number of factors, but I hope in December I can get into them and take some photographs with the view to developing a site-specific performance.
# 229 [17 November 2010]
Tomorrow sees the opening of the CUBEopen exhibition. This is the one I applied for (without certainty) and mentioned in the blog. It's usually a good exhibition and this year I am excited to see the work and to be in it.
My personal experience has not been great however. There has been some broken communication from the start, the first instance of which was them asking to show 'Inhabitant', which was clearly marked IN AUSTRIA on my application form. Although I stated it would be a photograph on display, that hadn't been read and their audible disappointment completely battered my confidence.
Their second choice was a work 3 metres high and it turned out they hadn't read the dimensions so it wouldn't actually fit in the gallery. Aside from those practicalities, there was also absolutely no budget for transport, so I couldn't have brought it in anyway. As there is no budget for anything, I have to wonder where the £10 entry fee goes. The prize money is not sponsored, so I guess all the entrants are just chipping in for that. This feels especially wrong, like a lottery controlled by judges. I don't know why, I just expected that money would go into making the exhibition happen.
After that it felt like 'oh well, anything else will do' like all my other work is a bit second rate. Anyway, that might all be inferred by me to be honest, but I just feel that I shouldn't have been put in that situation at all. Next I drop my work off, and then find out I have to go back a few days later to finish install as the gallery was not ready for hanging.
Lastly, and the spectacular icing on the cake, I get a phone call from them saying one of my pieces has gone missing from the gallery. It has not been found and I am going in tomorrow to finish installing the other work and talk about insurance. My gorgeous new bookbinding shears were packed in with the work too dagnamit.
Clearly (to me), it is in a bin somewhere and probably flat as a pancake. I was surprised how gutted I was to lose this work,. This is probably because the whole thing seems so uneccesary and because I didn't actually need to drop it off when I did. In theory I could re-make it, but I just can't see that happening. Ironically I had just talked with the curator at YSP about including it in my solo show and using it as one of the starting points for the exhibition. HA. Not so.
I'm a bit resigned to it now, I just hope we can sort out money to pay for it. I shall be going to the opening, but I am sad to only be showing one (teeny) piece. I hope something good comes out of the exhibition so that it ends up being a more positive experience overall.
I have to say though, twitter and facebook have been amazing. I put out a question asking if people knew anything about insurance and galleries losing work. I had SO many replies, some with personal experience, some pointing me to useful websites, some patting me on the head and saying 'there there'. I love the online art community, there are so many generous people out there. Thanks to everyone who replied and shared.
Gosh, MOAN OVER. Sorry about that. Cheer next time, I promise.
# 230 [19 November 2010]
Last night was really good, although I was mainly on edge watching my balanced plaster sculptures wibble a bit everytime someone walked past on the beautiful sprung floor. I met Ainsley Harriot (he's in theatre in Manchester) on my way to the gallery and then drank too much wine too early. Surreal. A couple of good friends came along too, which was really nice. I also spent the day (after hanging and before opening) looking round galleries in Manchester. It has a completely different feel to Liverpool and I really enjoyed myself.
I arrived to find my work really beautifully lit and placed and I just had to arrange it all. It actually took me a stupid amount of time, but that's just a result of indecision and my clumsy ham hands. Kit and the team at the gallery made a real effort to introduce all the artists to each other and to be welcoming. As another artist commented, it made a very nice change from the common scenario of communication ending when the work has been delivered.
The gallery is owned by Salford University so it seems that insurance may take a while to get sorted out. But hopefully it will.
I am going away for five days next week. As I looked back a bit through my blog I was a bit horrified at how often I refer to how tired I am. The last year has felt a bit relentless, in an incredibly progressive and exciting way, but I could do with a proper break. Wales in September was really nice, but going with masses of family was not actually that relaxing! I was also still working like an idiot most of the week as well, if I'm honest.
Husband is pretty exhausted too and he really needs a break from work. So on Monday Dan and I are going to Center Parcs, the height of culture and sophistication :D The plan is Grizedale on the way up (just one bit of art mind - it is a holiday right?) and then to be floating in the hot outdoor pool or getting a massage or lurking in the spa until Friday. We did book a badminton court for one session, but I am already thinking that might be a mistake! He he. We're also taking a suitcase of books and films and plenty of whisky. I'm looking forward to a pause; a gap that might just spark off some different thoughts and plans.
I sometimes think of places as grammatical symbols in relation to what effect they have on me. Some places are a comma (pause) and some a full stop. I hoping next week is more like a semi-colon so that there is a related point to follow as a result. That probably sounds very silly, but that's just the way my head does it.
Hope everyone is wrapped up warm as it gets chillier. My studio is getting more difficult but have thermals, will use them.
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