Here’s a post I wrote a couple of months ago but must I must have failed to click the final ‘post’ button as I reliased it hadn’t gone live.
If you’ve read some of my earlier posts then you may have seen that my mentor Gill Park, from Pavilion, assisted me to put in an application for Arts Council funding. The bad news is, I didn’t get it. Frustratingly the feedback was that within my application all criteria were ‘strongly met’ but there is just too much competition for funds at the moment. So I am taking stock and thinking about putting in another application. However it will have to be revised since a lot of what was included in this one was time based and including support-in-kind that has now passed. So I need to put some more support and opportunities in place before applying again.
Over the period of this bursary, I feel as if I’ve made quite a lot of progress with my work and some decisions about focussing more on developing some new work in print, artists books and video. This is as an alternative to the route I was tending down over the past couple of years of making temporary site-responsive commissions and projects with a participatory element. This is still something I am interested in and a way I will continue to work if the right opportunity arises. But it has felt good to spend some time on my own in the studio without the pressure of specific commissions. I have made some new work for a recent exhibition in Leeds and Ghent and made a couple of videos which I am now touting around various places (and there are more video ideas in the pipeline). Importantly the work hasn’t been defined by these particular exhibition opportunities and it is work that could be exhibited again elsewhere. I am also making things that are potentially saleable, which I haven’t done before. I guess in the long term I am trying to diversify the way that I work so there is potential to have my work seen in lots more ways (publications, video screenings, exhibitions as well as temporary projects). Also I hope that this will diversify the way that I can make income from my work. But at the moment it has meant stopping earning for a little while which has been quite unnerving. Without getting some arts council funding it’s hard to see exactly how I will get any income from my work in the near future. I feel like I need another a-n bursary to talk to people specifically about fundraising and selling work!
I was interested to hear how the artists I spoke to conceptualise a context for their practice, how they locate it. i.e. as ‘art’, in terms of the galleries or locations they show in or potential audiences.
Emma Smith is interesting because she works with collaborators outside the field of art who may have their own (e.g. academic) interest in working with her. She suggested that she is not really bothered how others conceptualise it (as art or not). But it is important to her, and the core is about tacit knowledge. This is something that can be researched in art, it seems the most apt language mechanism for it. She thinks that in art you can ask things that you can’t in other disciplines. You can also translate and show what you are doing without having to make it fully articulate. I guess this latter point is in contrast to an academic who might write a paper as the outcome of a project and it needs to have clarity in verbal language.
Emma has worked at ‘art’ venues including Zabludowicz Collection, The Showroom, Tate Modern, Wysing Arts Centre, she is currently a resident on the ACME Fire Station scheme. So she is definitely positioned in an ‘art’ context but she is not commercially represented. She said there are some object outcomes to her work which are more easily commercially viable but this is not because she is interested in selling. Rather she is interested in distribution and how things shared. She would like her work to be broadly used and distributed. She expressed that she did not have a sense of ambition in the form of careerism but that she wants to “do it for my whole life.” This is what is most important to her, to be able to continue researching and making what she is interested in.
With Erica, I was very aware that she has an active online profile via social media and blogs. This was one reason I wanted to talk to her. These formats are conceptually relevant to her work but also serve an important role in building profile, audiences and relationships. She expressed it as a way of “always keeping in touch.” When I asked her about the relationship of her work online to exhibiting in gallery spaces, she thought that both have the same/overlapping audience and that showing in a gallery is a ‘crystallisation of moments.’ She considers her blog to be part of her work too.
Erica expressed similar feelings to Emma in relation to the idea of ‘success.’ Being an artist/making work is something that she wants to be able to continue through her life, but on her own terms. She said that the dynamic of London is that someone you’ve been down the pub with might become really successful. She didn’t understand this success when she was younger and how this dynamic can lead to a feeling of competition or keeping opportunities close to your chest (not mentioning residences/opportunities to other artists). For her sharing is important, for example she mentioned being involved in a crit group at Banner Repeater. It sounds like an attempt to create an environment that is supportive, recognising what others have done but acting with humbleness and without superiority.
Both artists who I spoke to have experience of making projects/artworks that are site or context responsive. We talked about how there can be a frustration with the process of applying for things. With open call opportunities, conceiving of project before getting paid is demanding and, as Emma put it, the “idea that you can make site specific work before knowing the site is crap.”
Methods for dealing with this are various:
It’s reassuring to know that Erica – who has undertaken tons of residencies and really interesting projects – hasn’t always been successful via open calls. One of her strategies is to write a project proposal for something she wants to do but that could have a ‘fit’ with various locations. For example her project ‘Woman, Nature, Alone’ was realised during a residency at Connecticut’s I-Park but could have happened in many possible locations. She spoke about the value of residencies in helping her to refine and work out projects but also their value for generating new relationships and ideas.
Curator Elaine Speight also suggested thinking about ‘types’ of locations rather than particular places. Or I could be more proactive about specific places/contexts I would like to make work and then initiate this myself, approaching the site and applying for funding.
This is a way that Emma Smith has worked, developing ongoing collaborative relationships, for example with academics for her project ‘Change in Energy=Work’, and writing project bids in collaboration with a particular organization/ for a particular site. She suggested when working with a partner where they are putting in some funding and then you are also going for other funding sources, one possibility is to negotiate a fee for your time to be paid whilst you are developing the bid. But the partner then only pays the fee if the bid is successful. i.e. they are match funding for a successful outcome so not bearing so much risk.
I think all artists must have the experience of putting in applications for tons of stuff and a few of them being accepted. Hopefully the success rate goes up as you progress (I think I’ve got a bit better at tailoring applications and pitching for things I am genuinely interested in). But for any chance of a sustainable career as an artist this needs to go alongside initiating and creating your own opportunities and relationships with people.
Erica Scourti – collaboration
The second artist I met was Erica Scourti. I wanted to meet her for a couple of reasons. Firstly she is working in contexts that I would like to – regularly doing residencies and making video and digital work that has a presence online and in exhibitions and screenings. Secondly she sources and uses language/verbal content in interesting ways. Thirdly, she uses forms of participation or crowd sourcing to create her work and I wanted to ask her how she thinks about collaboration.
Erica’s work is well documented on her website (http://www.ericascourti.com/). Some of my favourite examples include ‘Life in AdWords’ for which she e-mailed her diary to Gmail and performed the resultant list of suggested key words in a series of videos. Also ‘Twenty Press Releases’ which used key words provided by artists to explain their work to generate quasi-nonsensical texts that were then shown alongside her work.
Not all of Erica’s work is collaborative but she often uses material generated or performed by others. For example ‘Reality Life’ involves the titles of reality TV shows being performed by teenage girls. I asked Erica about how she conceives of her relationship to the people she works with. I realised that the way she asks people to create content for her is the reverse of how I have been doing it. Where I have spoken to people as a starting point and then shaped an artwork depending on the content that comes from the conversations, she largely beings with quite a clear structure and a clear request of what she wants from people. Their content is inserted into a pre-given format. This sets her up very clearly as the author of the work and is perhaps a more efficient way of working as opposed to having a lot of content, much of which gets jettisoned. It also gives a clear request to people about what you want them to do and what is going to happen to that content.
Erica acknowledged that working this way can still be hard on a personal level. Essentially she is making relationships with people but seeing these relationships as ‘work.’ People give things to you and you are instrumentalising them as the material for your art piece. One way she manages this is to offer people something in return. Currently, for example, she is sending people video postcards as part of a project. Within particular project relationships with each individual will vary, sometimes she has very brief encounters with people and sometimes they might have a long conversation or have a relationship that goes unseen in the work. I guess that within Erica’s work, which deals very much with digital-content and the socially-networked word, the question of interpersonal relationships and power dynamics is pertinent. The fact that her work makes me think about the ethics of using teenage girls (who she sourced from a website for people who want to get into working in TV) is interesting. ‘Reality Life’ is a good artwork that makes me a bit uncomfortable, but then gets me reflecting on how young people are and behave online more generally.
Alongside her own practice, Erica works on commissions including community and education projects and at times the relationship between the two has blurred but she attempts to split them quite clearly. She has separate sections on her website and she thinks that it is useful for being seen as an ‘artist’ to keep your own work separate from what are commissioned, community based projects. I imagine there are also times when the converse is true, perhaps there are aspects of her artwork that she must keep separate. The power dynamics of a collaborative process in an education/community setting is different. She sees these projects as a collaborative process where she is not the ‘author’ but is working with, for example, a group of young people to create a work together. The outcome is not her artwork but something they have made together. The two ways of working can support and influence each other but also have to be kept distinct.
Emma Smith – collaboration (part 2)
…continued from the previous post
I was interested to hear from Emma how the Waterbeach project feels a bit less like her own work than her other pieces which she initiated. With her other projects she beings with the question ‘who do I want to work with and who wants to work with me?’ Often this will begin with meeting people in their own spaces on their terms, telling them about the project and asking if they would like to be involved. For example she talked about finding people to work with at The Showroom gallery for ‘Playback’ – a game of communication. She visited existing groups and introduced herself to them, to begin a discussion, rather than inviting people to the gallery in the first instance.
Another ongoing work ‘Change in Energy=Work was initially developed with an Artsadmin bursary based upon a research question asking what does it mean to have performance based, rather than object based outcomes? The work is research based and ongoing. Each performance is an iteration of the work, testing how far they have got with the project so far. In terms of the performance, Emma Smith is the artist and is credited as the author of the work but the other contributors get credited for their role too. Emma provided a good reasoning that it is very important for being clear about where responsibility for the piece lies. As part of the research process people may share some intimate stories or experiences. To create an environment of trust it is important that there is a person who is ultimately responsible and accountable for what happens.
The contributors for an iteration at Arnolfini (Jan 2013) were a phoneticist, particle physicist, musicologist, molecular biologist, tai-chi master and improvised movement practitioners. Other members of the public are invited to participate in rehearsals and an event/performance but are not involved in the core group of research collaborators.
I asked Emma whether she offers a fee to people she collaborates with. She said it depends on the situation. Generally if people need to be there for the project to happen then she would aim to pay them. Or if they are invited in to bring a specialism she requires. However in some instances she works with people that are being paid from elsewhere (e.g. academics) and who are working with her because it also furthers their own research. With the people who she works with ‘Change in Energy=Work’ she often develops ongoing research relationships from which both parties benefit.
I’ll write a bit more about my conversations with Emma in upcoming posts. I recommend having a look at her website to see more of her work, it provides a good example of collaboration being inherent to a really interesting body of work. http://www.emma-smith.com/