I am circling like a stirred cup of tea.
I have been selected for the a-n Mentoring Bursary 2019 and will be working with Rosalind Davis to push myself and my practice forwards.
I am hoping that the judicious dunking of a digestive (chocolate naturally), will slow my spin.
I am used to working within a framework as a graphic designer. The framework is created by budget, or brief, or client, or timescale, or the combination of all of those. I am comfortable in my art practice where I have a similar framework through collaboration, or circumstance or perhaps a project defined by someone else. Now it is time to find the confidence and resilience to develop my own ideas on my own terms.
To focus on the journey, the outcome secondary.
In my last post I wrote about my A-N mentoring bursary coming to an end. What I didn’t mention was that the last activity I did with my mentor, Rosalind Davis, was to complete my application for a Develop Your Creative Practice (DYCP) grant from the Arts Council.
The amazing news is that I was successful and have been awarded a DYCP grant. Over the next 10 months I will be collaborating with Rosie Garland to develop a series of 10 poetry films. Its taken a long, slow path to get to this point, but I think my year of my mentoring bursary has without doubt helped improve the position I am in now, with better focus and more clarity on my aims.
I’d been dithering about funding for a long time – weighing up the benefits and the likelihood (or not) of success against the time it would take to prepare an application when I have very limited working time available. In the end it was finding a writing collaborator for the project in Rosie Garland that swung it in favour of making the application. She had previously been successful in an application for a DYCP award and so was on hand to advise me and encourage me. But most significantly I now was not only considering myself. Getting funding would mean that I could share this with Rosie. While she was entirely willing to collaborate with me funding or not – for which endorsement and encouragement I will be eternally grateful – but how could I proceed without trying my very hardest to secure funds for another creative.
This gave me focus and over the summer I drafted and redrafted, and drafted again when first of all only Project Grants were available, but then someone gave me the heads up that the DYCP would be reopened, and so I edited and redrafted yet again to be ready for when it would be open. The final step was to redraft with Rosalind to tighten it up with the benefit of her experience.
Thank you A-N, thank you Rosalind, thank you Rosie, and thank you to all the others who have helped me get to this point.
My year of my mentoring bursary is over. I feel sad to move on from this. It has been a positive experience. Working with Rosalind Davis has been very valuable. Having someone to be accountable to, but who is not there to judge or measure your output in quality or quantity, is definitely beneficial to me. I will need to look towards a way in which I can find something similar.
Working on a one-to-one basis has been very different to a group experience. Groups can be fantastic, and supportive in many ways. But I have not found them as helpful as the closer relationship of a single mentor has been over this last year. For me, it takes away the fear of saying what is on my mind – about myself, about my work, about my ideas, about my ambitions. It has felt safe to say what I think – and this has led to helpful conversation and pointers to push me forwards when I feel myself stumbling.
It is not that I feel a group will laugh at me, or not take me seriously. But a group of people – however lovely – can be intimidating. At the very least it can feel hard to have your share of time and be able to really think hard about your own work, while at the same time trying to be constructive and supportive in return for the rest of the group. I like to be helpful to others but it is hard to switch rapidly from your own work and thoughts to a different mindset to encourage others.
As to progress this year – it has been slow, but I think overall it has been steady. I have begun a new collaboration which I am really excited about. I have thought long and hard about self-worth and building this for myself and not relying on external measures. I have clarified my project and what I am aiming for with this body of work.
I am heading rapidly towards my final mentoring session. I have not achieved anything that I thought I would – yet. My goal was, and still is, to work on a body of work. Connected pieces, a series, a sequence.
I have been buffeted about by the circumstances and I’ve tried to take the side alleys. The side alleys have not worked out. They have not worked out for reasons beyond my control – pandemic, not being selected from not one but two shortlists, and opportunities that shift in the sand. I was hugely frustrated and whingy at the time, but now, I don’t really care about the side alleys and I *think* I might be more focussed on my main aim as a result.
I have always believed that I need to be flexible, adaptable and respond to change and circumstance. Take opportunities as they present themselves. This can be, and has been, very positive in much of my career. However – I can also see that this can lead me away from a central path. On the other side of being flexible is being easily waylaid and distracted.
Mentoring has allowed me to shift my perspective and foundation of what I am aiming for and try to establish the path that is important to me. A big part of this was the hour-long whinge that my third mentoring session became. It was a huge relief to get my frustrations off my chest with someone who understood where the frustration was coming from. It has helped dig me out of my hole, admit to myself that I do need to focus on just one project right now.
I can see at the outset of this blog I said that:
…Now it is time to find the confidence and resilience to develop my own ideas on my own terms…
Another reason for the side alleys is that they avoid my own ideas on my own terms. I have avoided posting to this blog (I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve pushed it back down in my to do list) for some long while because I’ve been afraid that I have already fallen and failed. But now, as I write, I think I am recognising my fears of my own ideas on my own terms, and that I can push past the fears and continue on. Ready and much clearer on what I want to do.
So I had been thinking about gesture as widely as possible …
How it is used in dance and choreography – the work of Bob Fosse (Chicago), the choreography of West Side Story, folk dance, Bollywood, Ballroom culture and the language of Vogueing, Madonna and Vogue, Christine and the Queens and Tilted, Edward Scissorhands, the work of Wayne McGregor and Radiohead Lotusflower.
How we use emojis constantly in text communications – we seem to need gesture replacements … thumbs ups, winks and many more.
Then all ‘this’ happened. The Covid-19 crisis.
The progress I had made had to be shelved as travel to meet contacts was suspended and my venue for working with community groups closed. A big blow to my project at a point when I finally felt I was getting somewhere.
I put the project to one side and diverted my attention to my family home from school, and making scrubs for the Scrubs Glorious Scrubs collective who set up in my home town.
I am still doing those activities, but am able to very slowly start thinking about gesture and my practice again. The project feels apposite to maintain as we now live in a world where bodily gesture has become remote by necessity of lockdown – we are making gestures by video, from 2 metres away or it has been removed altogether by keeping us distant from friends and family.
In my previous film works I have primarily photographed objects, textures and landscape. A year ago I acquired a remote timer for my camera for the purposes of creating a rough and ready time-lapse film of an installation of some work. But I quickly realised that the timer was also useful to enable me to photograph myself.
I like to work with what is at hand. I’m in control of it. I can do it at any time. There are few arrangements to be made. I can just grab my camera and start. Procrastination is always lurking but that is the only barrier to making a start and is within my control too.
Having tried the camera timer, I discovered I liked working with my body. I have never particularly liked drawing, but I did really enjoy the life drawing classes I did a few years back.
My goal this year is to make, or at least significant steps toward, a new body of work. A big part of this has become to challenge myself to make a film piece whereby the original images are collectively generated. In other words, I want to be photographing other people. Lots of other people. And in my work I will typically need around 1000 original images.
This is going to be a logistical challenge. Finding the groups of people and working with them is going to take a lot of planning (which I can cope with) and a lot of confidence in workshop settings (which I have less of).
The outcome is going to be unpredictable. This feels very scary, but at the same time it is exciting. I do want the outcomes of the photography to be led by the participants and their feelings and exploration of the idea of gesture.
How I introduce the aims of the photography sessions, how I frame the project and how I inspire the groups is going to be crucial. I need to decide how much or how little prompting I need to give. I am not directing my subjects but I do need to lead them towards thinking about the project in sympathy with my aims and steer them away from being at a total tangent from myself. How to get this balance right is going to be tricky but hopefully if I keep working at the preparation I can find a way.