Recently I learnt a new word. Phillip Davenport – in the introduction to ‘The Dark Would,’ a new anthology of language art – describes ‘parataxis’ as: “an archaic poetic technique found in haiku, which places two images side by side, allowing the reader to deduce their own conclusion.” This is a method pertinent to my work that I would probably previously have described simply as ‘juxtaposition.’ Though I don’t now intend to write ‘parataxis’ into my artist statement, it has made me think about how the same art practice may be contextualised or conceived of in different ways.
I am really pleased to have a piece of my artwork included in ‘The Dark Would’ alongside other artists, using language, whose work I admire and poets, working visually, whose work I know nothing about. This was one of Philip’s interests in compiling the anthology; to bring together artists using similar methods but perhaps drawing upon a different history or tradition. His thesis is that it is common for visual artists and poets not to be aware of each others’ similar practices. Certainly this is true in my case. Although I have some knowledge of concrete poetry and vispo, for example, poetry in general is largely outside my knowledge and experience. I’ve recently felt that this is a bit of a poor state of affairs, but not been quite sure how to begin to engage with a whole new field of materials.
These thoughts resonated with a conversation I had with a fellow creative. We were talking about what you can miss, because you are totally focussed on something else. When I look back at some of my early attempts to use text, the typography is terrible (and I’m not saying it’s brilliant now!) I was quite focused on the content of the language and neglected letter and line spacing, I just didn’t seem to notice them! He told me a funny story about putting on a gig in a tent, in a park, from afternoon to evening. They had been so concerned with sorting out the technicalities of sound that they completely forgot to get any lighting and had to hurry home to pick up desk and standard lamps.
I want to talk to you about curators, or perhaps about conversations. Who are the people that you have creative dialogue with in the course of creating an artwork?
When putting together my application for the bursary it dawned upon me that most of my projects have been developed without curatorial input. This is one of the reasons why I want to meet and speak to curators about my work. What do they think of it? How would they conceptualise or contextualise it? Recent projects have, for example, been commissioned by a literature festival or a country house (via a borough council). Within such projects there is often a project manager who can be helpful at talking through work, but more likely on a practical level of getting the work done. Sometimes I have found the attitude of “you are the artist, it’s up to you” when trying to converse about creative or conceptual decisions. In some sense this is nice, but it would also be nice to have more in depth conversations about the artwork and whether/how it is successful or what alternative approaches might be.
In artist led projects or gallery spaces there can sometimes be scope for more discussion (and people with the knowledge and experience willing to have it) but often there isn’t a ‘curator’ as such. I have been on the other side of the equation as a gallery manager or project manager and so understand the pressures on people’s time and resources in terms of making projects happen. If there isn’t a defined role, or recognition of the need to support critical discussion with artists, does it risk falling by the wayside?
I’d be interested in hearing about other artists’ thoughts and experiences here. How have you worked with curators either in one-off situations or with longer term dialogues? At the moment most of the ‘support’ I receive is from other artists who are friends or colleagues in my area, or from friends who are just good listeners. This is really valuable, so how important is it to have conversations with other people with more distance from you and your work?
Driver or pedestrian?
I am currently having driving lessons. On the first lesson I had to learn where to rest my gaze, further forwards along the road. Not directly in front of me, like a pedestrian. Yesterday my instructor was teaching me to look ahead, to anticipate and plan. This provides a rather pertinent (if slightly naff) metaphor for what I am also trying to learn to do as an artist. Rather than reacting to what is directly in front of me, I aim to plan for what is next and – taking another metaphor of life, or career, as a journey – to decide what route I want to take.
This is, of course, an ongoing process, not something I just suddenly want to do. And I find it gets easier as I get older. It is 10 years since I graduated from a BA in Fine Art and that time has seemingly gone fast. Looking back, I can put a narrative on what has happened in the intervening years and see the logic or illogic of some of my choices. It shouldn’t be too hard to extend that process and that narrative into the future should it? I’m quite good, I think, at planning for particular projects over, perhaps 3 months or 6 months. But I find it harder to plan for my practice overall. I can break it down into bits, but what are those little bits headed towards?
If I want to push a metaphor to breaking point, then I might also say that I like being a pedestrian and wandering along not always knowing where I am going. I am a reluctant driver for various reasons (danger, environment, cost), but just as it is becoming increasingly apparent that driving would be useful for me, to be able to get to and work in more places, it’s also becoming apparent to me that soon enough another 10 years will have passed and where will I be then?
How to title your blog
Should I admit that it took me a while to start this blog because I was trying to decide what to call it?
This morning, when ‘start blog’ reached the top of my ‘to do’ list, my method was to sit down and look through song titles in my music collection. Other rejected possibilities were You’ve won a prize (by Quack Quack) and Time is the diamond (by Low). The former perhaps related a bit too much to how I felt when I found out I had received a re:view bursary – a sentiment which is expressed in the daft, exuberant music of the track too – but it would be less appropriate if I continue this blog once the bursary is over. The latter is maybe a bit too obscure. I was thinking about how time to reflect and speak to people about your work is a precious thing.The song starts: “if I’m not a lion, and I’m not an island, if time is the diamond…” and I wondered about what it would mean to be a lion or an island as an artist. But here I am diverging (as the song then does). In the end I decided Anytime Soon (which got from a track title by Rachels) stands on its own. Perhaps some of the other rejected possibilities will pop up in later posts!
As you’re reading this blog on a-n, you probably know about the re:view bursaries already. I am really pleased to be one of 25 artists who has received funding to go and talk to curators and other artists about my work. It’s a sort of self-designed programme of professional development. I will write about who I am visiting and why I want to talk to them in later posts. Currently I am setting up definite meeting times with my conversants. I find myself with the attitude of “can we set up a meeting ‘anytime soon’?” i.e. wanting to be flexible and fit in with them, yet at the same time wanting to get on with it, wanting it to be SOON (not really that flexible!). I hope the title words also encapsulate a more general ambiguity I see within my situation as an artist, and perhaps the general state of being an artist. A sense of anticipation and of aspiration but with no clarity as to exactly where that’s headed. Being an artist is a balance of trying to make things happen and responding to opportunity as it comes. The bursary is partially about shifting that balance towards me being more proactive.