2011 Degrees: Keep moving
The weeks and months after graduation can be a daunting time. After three years or more of support and guidance suddenly its time to go it alone. There are many different ways to pursue your career as a professional artist and no two people will follow the same path. Here, four recent art graduates describe their journeys: from joining a peer-led network to working as an artists assistant, they each have a different story to tell.
When I was studying for my degree in Fine Art: Painting at Wimbledon College of Art, I really went for it. I was determined to excel at the course and jump at every opportunity that came along: assisting artists, running workshops, exhibiting whenever I possibly could, and even a research trip to Tokyo! I became aware that painting was not my entire practice and I took part in two site based art shows at Cannizaro Park, did an elective in site based art practice, and was excited to join POST.
Founded in 2008, POST is a peer-led network for artists who respond to place. POST artists stage site specific shows that reflect the diverse practices of the members. Projects often engage with overlooked and disused spaces and investigate notions of public space. My proposal for their major exhibition 'Away Day' across three South London parks was accepted, and I made a large free-standing 'Pylon Idol' sculpture for the show.
I worked towards a feverish crescendo with three important shows in the month leading up to my degree show - taking down my piece for 'Away Day' on the morning that degree show set-up began. It was an exciting time but once our show was up I couldn't help feeling a sense of anti-climax. I knew we were about to be spat out into the big bad world without studio friends around every day - and we'd have to think about money!
At the degree show though, my work was admired by Elizabeth Wewiora, the Programme Coordinator at the Chinese Arts Centre in Manchester. The Centre offered me a residency shortly after my degree. It was brilliant to have time and a great space to make heaps of work, and I had a solo open-studio event there afterwards.
After the residency I got a full-time internship with a bursary from a charity called Create, which runs arts workshops for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society. I absolutely loved it there, but also had to work part-time to make ends meet. Through the momentum and contacts I'd made at university I was involved in three shows, despite barely having enough time to sleep! One of these was with Q-Art London, a forum for student and graduate artists - a great way to keep up with critique after you graduate. I went to about three private views per week after work. This kept me in touch with people I studied with, tutors, and other artists whose work I'm interested in. Seeing art, and staying in tune with the scene, is really important.
After having a community of peers at university, it's helpful to join or start an artist network. I've been really dedicated to POST since they kindly let me join as an undergraduate and now I've recently been elected as their chair-person. I'm honoured and delighted, and look forward to building on the brilliant work the previous committees have achieved. I'm currently working on a collaboration with two other POST artists, passed to us by four members who collaborated with a Greek network of artists. Collaboration is a challenging and important element of artist networks which I relish. I'm also doing a great mini-residency on lightship LV21 invited by another network called figure ground.
It's a tough time to graduate with all the cuts going on. I marched with AIR at the anti-cuts demo on 26 March. There is fierce competition for jobs but it's a numbers game. You've just got to keep plugging away and it will come. Talking to alumni from the year above, they nearly all say how tricky the first year out is, but it gets easier. Good to know! The future for me - working in the arts and making my own work, which was always the aim of course - is looking rosy right now. Partly self-perpetuated, I was aware that it was going to be difficult to get any experience with even internships being difficult to get. So, I'm setting up an art space in Tooting Market with POST. We will use our shop as a project/ research/studio/exhibition/community workshop/ tea drinking space! Market POST: coming soon!
I started out doing a degree in textiles at Huddersfield University where I gained a lot of practical skills in material construction. I was working full time at a call centre when I got a studio with East Street Arts in Leeds. Being around other artists, being able to talk about my work and their work helped me to develop my practice to a professional standard. Some more established artists acted as mentors to me. In 2006 artist and curator Louise Atkinson put my work in a group show. Shortly after that Shaeron Caton-Rose put me forward for a show at Bradford Cathedral for which I realised Winged. This piece has since been shown at Durham Cathedral.
The interesting thing about Leeds for me is its location in relation to cities like Bradford, Wakefield and Sheffield. Bradford has a great spirit of social enterprise and there are a lot of excellent art organisations and galleries who want to work with emerging artists. Initially I worked part time as an administrator at a regional art organisation, Kala Sangam, which gave me a huge insight into how art organisations operate and what they expect from artists. At the time I also got involved in 'Enabling Artists Practice' with South Square Gallery in Thornton. It was a real turning point for me because I now had a strategy to be the kind of artist I wanted to be. It highlighted my desire to facilitate art in the public realm and also to have time and space dedicated to making art.
Encouraged by Rashmi Sudhir, an arts project manager, I started to volunteer for, and eventually lead community art projects. Artworks Creative Communities was running a course to train artists as creative facilitators. This was a timely opportunity and from there things started to happen for me. On the course I met Larna Campbell and Dawn Sharkey and we were successful in our application for a NAN New Collaboration Bursary. We built up a great working relationship and I gained a sound understanding of collaborative working that I could apply to my work in the community. In 2009, Leeds Visual Arts Forum commissioned our proposal for 'Light Night'. That same month I was invited to take part in AA2A at Leeds College of Art and Design.
In 2010 I was successful in my application for a residency at Polymer Culture Factory in Estonia. The residency allowed me to develop new work and to work alongside local and international artists who were also resident in the factory. Whilst there, I made the decision to study for an MA and began a part-time course at The Arts University College at Bournemouth in October 2010. Moving away was daunting but I'd been to visit artist Emma Dexter during her MA at West Dean and I saw how focused she was. I had some doubts about my writing skills so in December last year I decided to write a daily blog in order to keep track of my thoughts and to practise writing.
A few weeks ago I had a chat with Richard Taylor, which was the first time I really reflected on the impact of the blog on my work. I can say for certain that I feel more confident about writing and I can see the benefits of writing publicly. On more than one occasion when something has baffled me, I've been able to write it out as if explaining it to the reader. In this way it has been a very effective tool for me and one that I expect I will continue to use after the MA.
I almost felt like I had graduated before my degree was even over. Being part of S1 Artspace's Bursary Studio programme was when it really all began for me. It gave me the opportunity to integrate with Sheffield's art community and build relationships with other artists before leaving university.
The mentoring I was offered during this programme was a very important part of my development after university. The bursary gave all participating artists an exhibition after their degree show. I think this is a really positive aspect of the scheme, as it gives you the opportunity to think about the process of making artwork outside the context of university.
Since leaving university I have spent a lot of time finding a voice for my practice, something that I felt was really difficult whilst trying to balance the various tasks that come with being part of an educational institution. I think a really important aspect of this was working for another artist.
After the bursary ended Haroon Mirza, one of the studio holders at S1, offered bursary holders the opportunity to intern as an assistant. I sent him a letter of interest and ended up getting the job. After about three months of helping one day a week and being otherwise unemployed on job seekers' allowance, I found out about the Future Jobs Fund, an initiative set up by the previous (Labour) government, which offered unemployed people paid part-time work. Haroon was able to host the job I was already doing through this initiative and made it available three days a week. This has been really important in terms of my career to date.
One of the best things about working with Haroon was the mentorship that he offered during days spent in the studio - or in the car, driving between galleries. One thing Haroon stressed, which I believe is true, is how imperative it is for new graduates to keep making work and engaging with the art scene for the first six months after their degree. This is something that I have really tried to maintain, whether the work is for an exhibition or I am just having fun being really experimental in my studio.
I decided to keep my studio at S1 after the bursary ended. Being a studio member is something that is really important to me. A lot has changed since I became a studio member; recently we have moved to a large 1930s factory building. Studio members carried out a large amount of the renovation work, which has made a tight knit peer group of artists. This is one of the distinctive qualities of S1's community and something I am very grateful to be part of.
a-n has been a really strong part of my last few months too, especially the relationship I have developed with Degrees unedited's Richard Taylor, who has been conducting an ongoing interview with me for some time now. This has allowed me to be really reflective about my work and try out new ideas in a more discursive way.
These experiences have made a number of opportunities possible. I was selected to show my work as part of a northern art school survey exhibition, 'Graduate Show', and from this I went on to show my work in Leeds as part of the 'Umbrella one off's' series, curated by Simeon Barclay. Recently I was involved in a video interview for a website about my practice and being part of S1's move. These things would not have happened if it weren't for the mentoring, and the resourceful approach I have learnt to take in making and discussing my practice.
I recently presented my one-minute artist manifesto at the 'State of Play' symposium organised by the Scottish collaborative group AHM (Sam Ainsley, David Harding and Sandy Moffat) at the National Gallery Complex in Edinburgh.
Opportunities such as this go a very long way in keeping the momentum going. Much like receiving the Bram Stoker Award for most imaginative artwork at the Glasgow School of Art Degree Show 2010 and being featured on the front cover of a-n Magazine's July/August issue the same summer.
The past nine months have not been without hardships, but my decision to remain in Glasgow after graduating was sound. I am fortunate to have a studio at the Glasgow Sculpture Studios (GSS). This has been invaluable in cushioning the transition from being an art student to a practising artist. The positive energy gathered from being surrounded by and part of the GSS community has been absolutely key. It has also given me the opportunity to draw on the expertise of people such as Jimmy Durham, Christine Borland, AHM, as well as the other artists who work at GSS or undertake residencies there.
My work has had frequent airings and the space to develop and season. I have been able to take part in a group show at the Lansdowne Church in Glasgow titled the 'Cabinet of Curiosity' and I recently received a material sponsorship from Mandors fabric store in Glasgow. I suspect this was partly made possible due to the support and to some extent credibility that was given to me by a-n Magazine.
I am currently using the facilities at the Glasgow Sculpture Studios and the Glasgow School of Art to make new work. It is difficult to imagine how it would have been possible to make what I am making without these resources. For this reason alone, looking back at it now, staying in Glasgow was always a simple decision to make. Nothing really takes precedence over being able to make new work. I am most excited about the proposal I have been asked to write for a work in an exhibition at the Burrell Collection in Glasgow, where the 'Wagner' Garden Carpet - one of the three earliest surviving Persian carpets in the world - will be unveiled for the third time in the last thirty years. Because of my roots and background this will be an experience I will greatly treasure.
Over the past few months I have thought considerably about the idea of situation, and where I best situate myself to take care of my work in order for it to take care of me. I have come to understand the importance of community. Although the most natural, or perhaps familiar, thing for me is to be on the move, I have come to understand that I must learn to relish the comfort and opportunity that being in one place affords. The difficult and uncomfortable aspects of doing what is not my usual modus operandi is a tension I am sure I will be able to use in my work.
'Hold still, keep moving' was something I made a note of during a Friday Event talk given by Thomas Joshua Cooper at the Glasgow Film Theatre. It resonated with me then and still does, and thus for now I will be still but keep moving.
Rebecca Strain, Fiona Long, James Clarkson, Sogol Mabadi
First published: a-n.co.uk April 2011
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