Unanticipated good things

The re:view bursary has had some good aspects that I did not expect:

1) I have been thinking a lot about my own work in preparation for the re:view meetings. It goes without saying that much that my mentors say is very insightful and gets me reflecting further, but I hadn’t considered the effect of having to articulate what I do. At each meeting I probably speak about it slightly differently, or start from a slightly different point. Deciding what works to show and what questions to ask of them is useful in itself. Writing this blog (and even avoiding writing it) has also been helpful. I spend quite a lot of time thinking about posts even if I don’t end up writing some of them!

2) I have visited various exhibitions and galleries during my forays to other cities. Normally I try to go to exhibitions a lot anyway, I think it’s an important part of being an artist. But there are always pressures of money and time-planning that limit me travelling as much as I would like. As I wrote in the last post I recently visited NGCA (the first time I had been there) and trips to London included visiting The Showroom and Parasol Unit amongst others. These were places that had been on my ‘sounds interesting’ list for a while so it was good to finally get there.

3) Getting into the habit of talking to people about my work/their work has been great. I have always liked having a good-old art ‘crit’ session but don’t have the chance to do this often enough. The bursary came at a time when I was already seeking to make more discussion opportunities for myself and has certainly expanded the scope of who I have been able to talk to. It has encouraged me to speak to people not just about specific pieces of work (crit format) but also about my work and the context for it more generally. It has also helped to build my confidence at asking for feedback within my existing peer network. Now when I am making new work and feel stuck, I have been asking friends/fellow artists who I think can help me out. These are people who I have a relationship with already; I have worked with them, exhibited with them, studied with them etc. They are people whose opinions I value and with whom I would like to develop a more critical ongoing two-way relationship. I have moreover enjoyed becoming part of a regular meet up group with fellow bursary recipient Jean McEwan and blogger Louise Atkinson. This includes other artists who I did not previously know, or who I only knew a bit via social media or occasional ‘hellos’.



Last week I had my penultimate bursary meeting with curator Matthew Hearn. I have been terrible at updating this blog, so at some point will do some back tracking to previous meetings but let me pick up with where I am now!

One of the things Matthew suggested about my work, is that it is to do with ‘information.’ I replied that no-one had said this before. Then I remembered that I have some work in an upcoming exhibition where, now I think back to the invite to show, it included the text:

“It is the idea of information and centralization that is pushed forward as the premise of this exhibition. The artist that are chosen for this exhibition are all working with worldly information, pulling this to themselves and projecting it to world, universalizing it again. The focus here lies on concrete data-notification in opposition to personal mythologies. By using data in a way that it becomes a subject itself an abstraction is created. This can give a new view on reality, or even a suggestion for a new reality.”

How many times do you need someone to tell you something about your own work?!

I suppose that when working as an artist you have a lot of different things going on in your head. Often I find that when somebody makes a suggestion it’s easy to think of the exceptions rather than why their comment is pertinent (i.e. sometimes my work does include personal stuff). The bursary meetings are definitely making me think more about active listening and how to take on board what people are saying, rather than just hoping that they will say what I would like to hear! Another of Matthew’s comments was that I should query works/formats that I don’t like or that feel ‘wrong’ for my own work and question why.

For a while I have had the sense that I talk about my work slightly wrongly. I have got into the habit of saying that I am an artist who uses text/language and that I often work site-responsively. But I am not sure if this is the crux of things. So now I need to think about this idea of ‘information.’ How is it useful for me?

After meeting Matthew I visited the exhibition ‘Learn To Read Differently’ at NGCA. It was an accident of good timing that the meeting coincided with this exhibiton by Circa projects and Information as Material. I know iam’s work to some extent already but of course the conversation with Matthew made me think about my relationship to what they do slightly differently. A short tagline form their website suggests they are an: “independent imprint that publishes work by artists who use extant material — selecting it and reframing it to generate new meanings — and who, in doing so, disrupt the existing order of things.”

This particular exhibition starts from a premise of language being both a material and social signifier, that art cannot be purely conceptual but is always aesthetic as well. This is an idea that I agree with. The exhibition also got me thinking about types of information – from the literary to the vernacular – and about where my work sits in relation to this. I have no grand conclusions but definitely food for thought.

…and continuing the theme of ‘food for thought’… I also went on the Baltic to see Heather Phillipson’s current exhibition there. One of her videos muddles the words ‘French Cuisine’ with ‘French Kissing,’ there’s a lot of wordplay in the soundtracks to her videos. The image tracks are apparently all made using video footage culled form elsewhere (a form of visual ‘information’). I really like how she plays with words and references to the body and physicality. It is in an aesthetically very different way to what I do but I find some resonances and things for me to learn from her approach.


During my bursary period I am meeting several times with Gill Park, director of Pavilion, a Leeds based commissioning organisation. I have known Pavilion for a while; first as a visitor to their exhibitions, then in 2008 I worked with them as a support artist on a summer education project. I also set up and now volunteer to help to run Leeds Art Walk with them. I have always been interested in what they do but have become especially so over the past 2-3 years as they have moved away from a focus on photography to explore image-making more broadly and to work with artists on commissions which involve significant research and exhibition outcomes in diverse non-gallery settings.

Gill Park became director of Pavilion last year and she is a colleague and a friend who, I expect, would have been happy to meet me any time to talk about my work. But somehow I had never asked her to do this before now. I suppose this is to do with not wanting to take advantage of people’s time and generosity and also perhaps because we always had other more pragmatic or immediate things to talk about. However, just prior to the bursary, I had decided to be brazen and take advantage of some of the people I know. Gill was one of several local artists/curators/professionals who I asked to give me some feedback on my work. She was also without doubt the one who seemed to ‘get it’ most immediately, who made suggestions that resonated with what I would like to achieve. So, when the bursary opportunity came up from a-n and I could seek to meet artists and curators further afield, it also seemed to make sense to ask Gill to be a mentor over this time period.

It is really useful to have someone I can go back to and talk to about conversations and ideas that come up from my one off meetings. Moreover Gill has specifically been helping me to make an application for Grants for the Arts…which I have just recently submitted. Fingers crossed! As I mentioned in my previous post, I am exploring the locations/context/framing of my work; initial conversations with Gill and Elaine Speight (more about that to come in another post), along with my own thinking and prior research, have led me to think that I need a period of time away from site-responsive projects and commissions. I want some research, development and studio time to make some video, print and artist book works that are not based on a particular site. Ideas for these have been vaguely buzzing around in my head for a while but have been shoved to the back of the queue by more time-dependent projects or projects that I prioritise because I am getting paid. I find it quite hard to make work speculatively without knowing there is a definite exhibition outcome. So partially the grant application has involved making a framework to develop new work, including outcomes – but ones I have more ownership over. Also I am trying to develop a way of working that is ultimately more sustainable (even though I hate the word ‘sustainable’ in this context) Can I make artwork that can be re-exhibited or exist in several instances or locations, even if in the long run site may still be important. I am also mindful about what happens beyond this bursary, how can I continue the conversations and self-reflection that the bursary has encouraged?


I have been neglecting this blog a bit whilst busy with various applications and projects, but I have started meeting with people as part of my re:view bursary. In fact I am nearly half way through my meetings. So perhaps I should at least put pixel to screen about who I am meeting and why. Already I have met curator Elaine Speight and artists Emma Smith and Erica Scourti. Next up I will be meeting curator and writer Matthew Hearn and Director of InSite Arts Sarah Collicott. Plus throughout the process Gill Park, Director of Pavilion, is acting as a mentor whereby I will meet with her several times.

I am asking the curators/directors to look at my portfolio and give some feedback on my work. Conversely I am asking the artists to tell me about their work – how they find or create opportunities, how they collaborate with others and how they frame or articulate what they do as artists.

A lot of my artwork over the past couple of years has been site or context responsive and more latterly has also developed with input from participants in a particular locality. Partially this is because I am interested in working in non-gallery public settings and in exploring collaboration with others; partially it has been pragmatic. 3 years ago I made the move from having a regular non-artist job in the arts – which gave me a stable although meagre income – to trying to earn more income from being an artist. Although I have continued with other freelance roles, I have actively been pursuing the possibility of earning money as an artist through residencies and commissions. The projects that have had the biggest budgets are the ones where I respond to a particular place or a particular people, often working with participants from the community.

Now I want to reflect on this period of working, to explore whether site-responsive or collaborative working is becoming intrinsic to what I do or if this is a distraction from my real concerns. Or more likely, it is one strategy amongst several. So I have chosen to meet with curators who work on programmes where site or place is particularly important, to get their perspective on my work. Plus I will talk with artists who work collaboratively or responsively in a research-based way in a variety of settings, but balance this with a profile in terms of gallery exhibitions or projects/residencies with arts organisations.


Hit list

Do you have a list of galleries, organisations, curators, artists and contexts in which or with whom you would like to work? I don’t have a list, but a couple of the people who I have met recently have told me to do this. Sometimes I start making a vague mental one. Sometimes I start putting some notes down on paper. But the next time I look at the list it often seems wrong and I start all over again. The problem is probably that I don’t spend enough time doing the list, I need to make it a proper project. Or the problem is that I don’t have the confidence to do it. I should start with ambition and them temper it with realism. Perhaps I should set myself a deadline…