A blog looking at my activity during the 2018 a-n Professional Development Bursary
It was harder than I thought it might be to peel my fingers off the idea of ‘straightforward mentoring’. Disappointingly so. But I have learnt so much more (SO MUCH MORE) from these conversations. About how we might start things. About what holes and traps we need to look out for. Sometimes a tangential wandering conversation can be more direct than the arrow of a 5 year plan.
From my initial email invitation to interlocutors:
I’m getting in touch to invite you to a conversation. I am trying to look into the structures and systems that either aid or curb the work that we would most like to make and/or support. I am contacting close friends, acquaintances, artists whose work I admire & producers or curators who might be attempting to work towards a re-framing of a gallery, museum or performance space. I’d like to see if some thoughts can be exchanged that look at what gets in the way and what might act as a salve or spur when we come to think about making or exhibiting work. From the conversations, I will make a book of some sort. I’m not yet sure of the form it will take.
I am keen to talk to people in as frank a way as possible about the micro and the macro systems that dictate what we do. This might be about the form that you work in (live-ness, photo-chemical film, a room with 4 walls) or about the things that you navigate (opening hours, whiteness, a locale). I am aware that the word ‘systems’ has a kind of sticky death-kiss to it. I am using it to hint at the possibility of discussing both the small and the large and also to give a nod to the often totalising way in which disparate elements combine to make something that can be defined as a ‘system’. Perhaps a better word will emerge from the conversations.
I’d like to have these conversations on the following terms, if possible:
– I will come to the place you feel most comfortable having the conversation.
– The conversation will be recorded and transcribed by me, at which point I will send it to you and you can excise or adjust whatever you would rather was not considered for the publication.
– The fee will be £50 per hour of conversation, always rounded up. I don’t expect to have convs for longer than 4 hours but I guess you never know! In the case of the conversation being shorter than an hour, the fee is rounded up to £100.
– For those people who I sometimes collaborate with for free or for reduced rates, I would like to cap the fee for the conversations at £100. This is because I feel (hope) that there have been or will be situations in which we do things together that could stand in (gift economy style) for money. This is also absolutely open to chatting and negotiation though.
– As the budget is small, I would appreciate those who receive a regular and healthy salary donating their time in kind. This is in view of the fact that a conversation such as this could also feed into salaried work and also so that I can remunerate freelance/precarious art workers more fully. If this is problematic we can absolutely discuss.
– After I have spoken to everyone (probably around 10 individuals/orgs) I will work the material into a publication and will send the pdf to everyone involved to proof. At this point, any edits/vetoes are absolutely encouraged.
– All contributors will be cited in the book, unless you wish otherwise. Convs. can also be anonymised.
– If the resultant publication gets distribution of any sort, the profits from sales will be divided amongst all the people who were initially paid for their thoughts. I don’t yet know where the publication would be available. Apart from possibly the a-n website for members.
In terms of starting points for conversations, I have quite a few different ones in mind but these will depend on particular contexts and can be discussed with people individually before meeting up. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to have some flow that goes beyond the language that often gets used to talk about art but we’ll have to see. That kinda thing can be hard-won. Understandably.
If you have any questions, do please let me know. Thanks for reading.
As I thought about the sort of mentoring I might need, I wondered if it would be possible to come at it from another angle. To talk to artists and friends whose work and selves I loved and respected about how to get to the best zero point, what Barad calls a ‘ground state’, from which we can build a better, more resilient structure. There is always a sense of doom when thinking about fashioning other ways. But I wanted to see whether looking at these things askance and with half an eye closed (rather than the habitual 5 year projections of lots of mentoring schemes) we might be able to piece together a way through.
The following extract is from a conversation with G, a filmmaker. Soon I will publish the book of these conversations and make it available to a-n members. At that point the initials will be replaced by real names so it’s less like a 19th century novel.
G so what’s the image of a community? The image that is not people sitting for a portrait? And how do you show the system? How do you show this operation? Because you can film all the houses in a place or you can film all the people but neither of those talk to how that functions or how these things could or could not… And you could also film a discussion which is one of however many discussions. But I think these are really, you know, really rich and interesting… challenges?
H I guess so, I guess so…
G or stuff…? Those are reasons why we should try to do it
H do you think?
G they’re reasons…
H that’s so optimistic! I’m the opposite (laughs). I’m just like: that’s the reason you should never get involved in anyone else’s shit!
G but then I think: that’s a really hard image
H what’s a really hard image?
G the community
G how to make an image of this thing? They are images that can be valuable because they’re very difficult. For me. Because this is what I mean; this idea of ‘difficult’
H But then do you think it’s –
G because I feel like it’s easy to make images and I feel like the tendency, as soon as you start to think about what an image is of, then suddenly you realise it’s really hard. But that’s when it also gets exciting. And that’s what I mean by this tension… it’s difficult but it’s also exciting. Like it feels like the image has purchase and then it’s exciting…
H it’s high-stakes?
G yeah and then how to make that high-stakes not terrifying and that’s what I mean… that weird play of like making it difficult but also keeping it fun
H yeah yeah
G which is this liveness of the act of filming, that liveness, that ‘oh shit, we’re doing it now? and ‘we can only do it once?’ so it’s really fun because maybe we fuck it up but…
H yeah we live it
H yeah but the thing I was wondering about a lot when I watched the film and maybe more so the second time actually… was how… and I would think this because for me this is where co-organisation happens… I feel structures or systems are per-formed, as in they roll out as you go. So it’s the way in which we manage to be able to be with each other in terms of the care and the attention that we take with each other and how we’re able to listen or not listen. And so I was wondering when I was watching it a lot: I wonder how G and they were getting on? Were friendships formed? How did they communicate? How did they manage…? I suppose in a way, psychoanalytically, that’s the reason I’m asking about that slight tension in the voice when you say ‘go’ and you press the trigger on the camera. Because there is this… the person that says ‘go’, the person that’s pressing or holding or whatever the model of camera it is… do you know what I mean? They’re very influential and very set apart. Do you know what I mean? And I don’t think other people that you were collaborating with filmed so much, did they?
G yeah, exactly these questions are what makes the image interesting or difficult or messy. That’s what I mean when I say it was a directed collaboration, you know? Because it would be disingenuous to pretend it wasn’t. And yeah. Yeah like I shot everything you know…
An extract from a conversation we had as a group, post Reading Room: meeting the universe halfway. We were trying to worry at what another version might look like that wound in more support. Practical and otherwise…
H: I definitely thought about that. I was talking to Maz last night, my friend Marigold who happened to be in Durham, which was amazing, and she was like ‘take me through it, take me through Reading Room: meeting the universe halfway. What happened?’ and so I did and she said ‘it sounds like you needed a production manager’. And then she paused and said ‘oh no, hang on, not a production manager… a stage manager, oh, no, a PA’ and we couldn’t work out from what framework we would take the idea of support. Obviously you could just say ‘an assistant’ but I was like ‘shit, would I immediately kick against that in my shitty way? because I’d be like ‘oh, assistant, I don’t like that idea’ and not just because I find hierarchy tricky because I can get over myself in that regard but –
D: it’s structurally a bit square isn’t it, as I feel it out…
V: well I have a tiny tiny experience of working with a producer…
H: yeah? What do you think about that?
A: you need such a good producer because most of the time everyone I know who has worked with producers, like more than half the time, they did not find it a good experience
V: the tiny experience I’ve had is with Becky with G, who is really incredible
A: I also know a really amazing PA, who I think does what Becky does
H: it just feels sad, though, doesn’t it? It feels somehow like a patriarchal solution… it’s like saying: you just need a wife or a secretary. I’m not saying ‘oh, such a basic suggestion, D’ because I had exactly the same thought and Maz had the same thought yesterday and I’m sure that there was a lot more infrastructural help that was needed but…
D: no, it is predictable what I’m saying… but what’s the equivalent right?
A: is there a way of building that into a structure?
D: but is there an alternative structure? It would be important to find different ways to support what that role would have supported. The PA role, I mean
G: I think that in order for this to work we would have to have done the original reading room… which is good because we did! But I feel like if the next one was outside of the PhD and was commissioned by something like a gallery… It doesn’t necessarily have to be within that institution physically but if it’s just like there is someone at that place who is also invested in it. There’s maybe a curator who just comes and checks in… or not a curator… (all laugh). God, it’s hard, isn’t it?? Yeah like the sort of thing I used to do in Bristol. Because you have the support of the body and then the little tendril between them
D: if it was a film set, you would have runners. Just saying…
I applied to a-n in order to devise a programme of mentoring. Post-PhD completion I was feeling the need to gather myself and try to knot together the frayed ends that are perhaps frequently the result of too long spent with a certain type of language and approach. I had spent a fair amount of time researching a particular area and felt the need for an injection of something other than ‘methodology’. A Dr Feelgood re-entrance into what passes for the art realm. I felt (do we all feel??) that the mentorship would need to be verrry specific as I had lighted on a verrry specific way of working during my PhD. I was trying to work out what kind of support the methods I had researched would need in order for them to be possible beyond academia.
I’ll outline those methods here:
The trip was ‘expanded reading’. I was trying to see whether a book could be read in lots of different ways. Whether it could be absorbed via an atmosphere. Or edited into a song. Or papier-machéd into a small, mantle-piece sized sculpture. Or compressed into a score and put into motion. I made little essays with various books and one big essay with Karen Barad’s wet n wild text Meeting The Universe Halfway: Quantum Entanglements of Matter and Meaning. I say ‘I’ but it was actually ‘we’ because I worked with a group of artists to realise the page-to-atmos translation. The result was Reading Room: meeting the universe halfway. It was a collaborative venture in lots of ways but with the reins held by me and held as far away from an art world as I felt able to toddle. The work load was pretty intense and after it was over I found myself wondering how not to do that again. How to make the work better but not burn out. It seemed to me that a particular system of support would need to be in place that went beyond the regular curator/artist relationship in order to stay faithful to the ideas behind Reading Room and any further versions.
As a group of co-creators, we spoke a lot about what this might look like. It felt like trying to find an answer to an ill-defined question. Which, actually, felt very reminiscent of Reading Room in general. Something I wasn’t entirely unhappy with! I will transcribe one of these circular, hazy conversations for my next post.