Wanderings in a self-sufficient universe
Artist, horticulturist and a-n Communications and partnerships team member Maggie Tran sowed the seeds of her practice through volunteering and event programming. As working life flourishes she takes us to the tip of her roots to tell the tale.
It would seem that a twist of fate always brought me back to art. I would avoid it and then get something like an art bursary at high school in a small nowhere town in Cheshire, end up going on an immersive art trip to Tuscany, and get my mind blown away seeing paintings, normally cited textbooks, in their full monastic glory.
I started an art degree at Northumbria University in 2003. At the time, being a northern girl and always a little contrary, I wanted to be as far away from London as possible. I refused to believe that it was the centre of the world and thought all cities like it were self-perpetuated myths. Wherever I was to go I would make my own universe.
I was always restless at Northumbria, things would never quite satisfy. What happened if you couldn’t be creative on tap, in time for meetings and deadlines? There seemed to be no room for that debate. Endless critical questioning made me uncomfortable and discontented: I just wasn’t sure of how constructive it all was.
Things changed for me when I did an Erasmus exchange in 2006, I ended up in an unexpected radical art school called AKI in a town in the east of Holland called Enschede. With 24-hour studio access (a luxury compared to 9–5 opening times back home) I would go in at midnight. There would be someone tinkering on the piano or sleeping with their artwork, someone hammering away at a sculpture or setting up a film club for the night. Tutors had conversations with you rather than austere tutorials, I was able to experiment and find my own rhythm. One of the biggest things that the school taught me was that, especially with a small town, if it didn’t exist then make your own: this infused activity ranging from exhibitions to full scale art festivals.
A more rigid structure was needed to finish my degree and I brought this inspiration home with me. I realised that some of the best support I could get was from my peers: the richest resource that I had. So when I had a work placement at a local artist run gallery called Waygood, I got lots of people on board, gathered some great ideas and helped make them happen. I was given amazing liberty and produced a sound happening in a busy café on a Saturday morning that got the public involved and brought together artists, students, amateurs and professional filmmakers to make 16mm Fluxus inspired films.
Upon graduating in 2007 I received a sculpture award for my performance installation degree show piece and was offered a fellowship, which gave me free studio space and access to university facilities.
But the best thing that came into fruition at this time was being asked to programme a series of performances for an artist bookshop project in Newcastle called Bookville. It became one of the most experimental things I have been part of. We were given an ex-hairdresser’s space to play with for four months: there was even funding. There was nothing like it in the city, we were breaking rules and learnt quickly from mistakes, developing and understanding what worked and what didn’t.
After Bookville I received funding from a-ns’ NAN bursary scheme to research creative uses of buildings and spaces in Rotterdam. I found a cheap place to live there from helping others set up their own artist run projects. I then lived in London for a while, concentrated on my own practice, and built on peer-to-peer networks. Then I moved to Brighton and now I live in Sussex where I am part the DIY community art space and studios Coachwerks.
I have been strongly influenced by a book called ‘How to be Free’ by Tom Hodgkinson, in it he references people he knows are happy to be, say, musicians as well as a plasterers. I like the separation of doing art things and something completely different too, and have stumbled into a love of plants and growing through studying Horticulture.
Slowly I have incorporated growing as part of my artwork and projects. As someone I know said, gardening is like a very slow installation. Different occupations can enhance art practice but being an artist can, in turn, add to other professions.
I don’t think I can stop feeling like an artist now in whatever I do.
First published: a-n.co.uk March 2012
Post your comment
No one has commented on this article yet, why not be the first?
To post a comment you need to login
© the artist(s), writer(s), photographer(s) and a-n The Artists Information Company
All rights reserved.
Artists who are current subscribers to a-n may download or print this text for the limited purpose of use in their business or professional practice as artists.
Parts of this text may be reproduced either in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (updated) or with written permission of the publishers.