In this blog I will discuss the studio visits and feedback from curators, how this has affected my on going practice and fed into future plans and directions. Looking at the challenges and the support and insights they provide, how this helps me to move forward, change the direction of the work (or not!) and better plan, focus and strategise. I will examine how this process helps me to review my position at this stage in my career as an older female artist and what this means in the art world. I wish to make the work I really want to make rather than feeling I’m producing work for other peoples agendas. It will be interesting to see how the curators perceive this and what they advise.
Later I will examine how I can take this experience into my community of students, peers, artists, mentees, assistants and social media.
In the meantime I am continuing to draw, while working on my current commission for the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, Holland.
I also broke my foot which has slowed down the results of the mentoring process but it’s getting better and I will get back to doing big expressive drawings. This space has enabled me to consider my position as an artist and producer, I have read Martin Herbert’s book Tell Them I Said No, which has provided food for though and I am going forward with a different way of working. I have got lots of new ideas for sculptures that I want to make, both large and small and I am going to let the process of play and experimentation take over.
Having professional development mentoring over a period of time from these three women has been very supportive and helped built my confidence, knowledge and resilience. I feel clearer and have a more solid path ahead. I am very grateful for all of this and for the support that receiving this grant has afforded me.
My next Mentor was Pauline de Souza, Founding Director of Diversity Arts Forum and Senior Lecturer at the University of East London. Pauline knows my work as we teach together at the University Of East London and are both members of Salon 16, a supportive meet up group for women, artists, writers and curators, where she has seen me talk about my practice.
Pauline came to my studio in late October 2017. She was very hands on and made some helpful suggestions about the work as well as proving me with contacts of people to contact in different institutions that might be of help to me.
We discussed my recent terrible experience with the Migration Museum and she suggested that I contact the Arts Council and other bodies for advice and though I should make them aware of how myself and other artists are disrespected by this museums unethical practices. Since then she has also given me direction on issues of copyright, confidentiality, proposal writing and making connections.
After much questioning and discussion Pauline suggested I stop doing commissions, for a while at least and spend some time making the work I want to make. That I take time to play and explore processes and materials without content and agenda, “to let my brain and hands breathe”, I thought she articulated this very well. Her observations and advice also reflected my earlier conversation with Rosie and seems a clear way forward, emphasising how I can best nurture myself and build resilience in order to thrive.
Finding the next mentor was more problematic and took a long time. The people I approached were too busy but the Whitechapel kindly connected me with Rosie Cooper, Head of Exhibitions at the Dell la War Pavilion. We talked on the phone and discussed what I wanted from this mentoring and then made a date in October for Rosie to visit my studio. We discussed possibly using a commission that I was working on for the Tropenmuseum as a starting point but decided that would be complicated and was separate from this mentoring process so we left it open.
Rosie was a breath of fresh air, asking some provocative and challenging questions, which made me think more deeply about what I was doing and how I wanted to move my practice forward. We discussed many issues including; artists use of cultural appropriation; my position in the art world as an older female artist and how I’m perceived differently now by institutions and other artists; my recent very upsetting and disturbing experiences with the Migration Museum in London, the morals and ethics of the way they work with artists, treated me and how I could best manage this and that I didn’t need to work with institutions like this; what I was gaining from different commissions and exhibitions and ultimately how it would be healthy for me to have some time away from producing work for outputs and have a period of time to nourish and grow my practice without the pressures and agendas involved with the professionalization of the work and practice.
Rosie suggested to begin with that I take a leap in the dark and do some drawing without thought or agendas as a way of freeing my mind and thoughts. We talked about me drawing loosely and freely on a large scale with materials such as charcoal. Rosie also suggested dancing as a physical embodiment and way to literally free myself up. This visit, the discussion and the ideas that evolved were inspiring and exciting. I began drawing and this quickly felt very freeing and energetic.
Here are some images of the works that Caroline thought I should develop in the context of proposals for future exhibitions built around my ideas concerned with issues if trading histories, geopolitics, migration and cultural mapping.
Soon after our first meeting I took part in a group exhibition called Boîte-en-Valise: Generator which toured to Venice during the Biennale, May 2017. Then in October 2017 the exhibition went to Point of Contact Gallery in Syracuse, USA. Boîte-en-Valise: Generator encouraged transportability of practice and the nurturing of collaboration and cross-fertilisation of artistic practice. Each artist transported the means to generate their work in Venice and Syracuse in a normal sized suitcase, which went as luggage on a flight, train and bus journey and was taken from the suitcase for presentation and development in the two venues. Including sculpture, performance, video, photography and sound as well as collaborations, interventions and conversations. I made a version of Sail Away in Venice and a piece called Dream Boat in Syracuse, which was a collaboration with the Syracuse based Cuban artist Abisay Puentes. This was a totally new piece, based on an idea I’d been nurturing for a while about boats as metaphors acting as carriers for our dreams, vessels for our adventures and often symbolic of the transition from the material to the spiritual world. Abisay drew text in charcoal on the wall behind the boat telling the moving story of his journey from Cuba to North America. The old clinker boat was borrowed for the show. People were encouraged to sit in it and tell or write their dream, leaving them behind in the boat on a piece of paper. Dream Boat was a popular and successful piece and collaboration. It was great to work in this unexpected way and make a totally new work that was very much the result of a collaboration between two artists from different continents and yet at the same time contained ideas and elements that were very individual to us both.
I felt that this second stage of the exhibition opened up new ways of working for me that the mentoring was helping with.
My plan was to invite three different curators to my studio for two visits each over a period of months so we could develop a dialogue and I had chance to respond to feedback, suggestions and ideas over time.
I considered what I wanted from this mentoring, who would be relevant, helpful and challenging. As an older female sculptor there were some obvious choices – people I admire and respect. I invited a few big names but they were too busy so then got real and looked at who would be helpful and might be able to fulfil this role.
I invited Caroline Worthington the new Director of the Royal Society of Sculptors, who quickly accepted and came to the studio. She provided insightful comments on my work and pointers as to how she thought I could best develop my ideas in the future, which series of works to take forward and which she found problematic and why. She had some interesting strategic suggestions about putting work and ideas together and approaching showing venues that fitted with the content of the work such as museums in Manchester, Plymouth and Liverpool. All port towns with a history of trade and shipping. Caroline also suggested ways to develop the works longer term and with collaborative, socially inclusive elements, something I was already thinking about. This was very clear and inspiring, giving me clarity and a sense of a positive route forward. I gained confidence and buoyancy from this feedback and visit and we have since discussed progress via email and another meeting.