The first few months of this year (2016) have been a time of significant change for me. Having left my role at Cubitt, where I co-founded and led a large scale education programme for eight years, I decided to quite radically change how I use my time and energy.
My first commitment was to put as much time as I could into my own practice. Carol Bove talks very well about how time and practice are inseparable:
“Your time is not a separate thing from you; it’s not an instrument. Time is part of what you’re made from. Emerson said, “A man is what he thinks about all day long.” Everything that you do and think about is going to be in your artwork. The computer-science idea “garbage in, garbage out” applies to artists. This is something to consider when you’re choosing your habitual activities.
One question is, how do you create a way of being in the world that allows new things (ideas, information, people, places) into your life without letting everything in? I want to point out that your tolerance for media saturation might be lower than you realize. You need to conduct an open-ended search that doesn’t overwhelm you with information and at the same time doesn’t limit the search in a way that pre-determines your findings. That is a puzzle.”
(full article here)
After a number of years working at full capacity: fitting in emailing on buses or trains, working evenings and weekends mostly on programming, development and administrative work, I had begun to realise that unless I specifically invested time into my practice then it would never develop in rich and exciting ways.
I began to think about how I could maximise the time spent on my own, making things, exploring ideas, with limited external expectations. I decided to minimise the time spent on ‘earning money’ and maximise the time spent on my own practice- to try and work to live, rather than live to work, and ideally, to find ways of earning money that directly support the practice without compromising it.
I should at this point recognise the privileges that have enabled me to make these choices, and to embark on this process.
Firstly, nearly four years ago now, myself and two friends got together to try and buy a part-ownership flat in London. We realised that none of us could individually ever afford to buy somewhere and we had just left a flat where the rents were going up by over 50%. We were very lucky to find a great place in Hackney, built by a housing association and we managed to buy 35% of it between the three of us with a fixed-term mortgage. So this has meant that my monthly outgoings are now relatively stable, and not at the mercy of the inhumane housing market.
Secondly I do have a studio. For so many artists this is a huge luxury. Affordable, accessible studios are incredibly rare, particularly if you’re looking for one close to home. Through a connection I met at a conference and skills developed during my time at Cubitt I have set up my own studio residency in a mental health facility in Homerton. I have a small self-contained studio and in exchange I run a weekly programme of workshops for the residents- most of whom have high support needs (including schizophrenia). It is a really positive set-up: I have my own space; and I also get to engage with people who have led fascinating lives and to teach them some basic art skills (image below from one of the workshops).
Thirdly, I think my parents instilled in me a positive relationship to taking risks. When I was growing up, we lived a very basic existence: our food came from food co-ops; we wore secondhand clothes; our dad cut our hair; and we rarely had a working TV. But we were incredibly lucky not to experience true poverty or perceive that we were somehow unequal to others. My brother and I went to a tiny school (with only 60 pupils) and the village we lived in was a pretty eccentric place. Later, when we moved to another school, and the teacher was asking how much pocket money we got, I remember only being slightly bemused by the fact that quite a few of the children got £1 or even £5 a week, when I got 19p. I don’t remember feeling jealous at all.
All of this has given me a sense that it’s possible to take risks, to just make a leap in a new direction and try things out. And I realise that these things are all privileges, and that they shouldn’t be taken lightly.