In November 2007, David was awarded the annual Go Make! bursary. This years brief involved a response to a quote by the writer Ossie Stuart, who puts forward the suggestion that "…there is a temptation to represent the experience of disabled people within ethnic minority communities as a double opression."
Last one done and dusted. 10 weeks that went way too fast.
And what to make of it all?
Pretty exhilarating I think. I’ve certainly learned a whole lot of stuff that I wasn’t expecting to learn, and I think the ladies involved in the project have done themselves proud. I’ve still got the final installation to put together over the next couple of weeks, so I’ll be picking up the pieces, and filling in the blog-gaps retrospectively again. So much for plans!
There’s been so much of this stuff over the last 10 weeks that I’m starting to ignore it. If an issue arises…“Oh well, never mind. Cup of tea, dear?”
Is this me toughening up in the progress, and learning to take things in my stride, or just Giving Up?
I think it’s the former. At least I hope it is. That’s certainly what it feels like. What started out as a set of projects designed to test the mettle of some brave community-volunteers, and to explore what happens in the art-making process when the usual applications of due care and attention were revoked, has transformed itself. By some quirk of unexpectedness, it seems as though it was the creator who fell victim to his own creation.
I guess there’s quite often, no matter what the intentions, some part of the artist that feels the need to hold the reins. In my case this still held true when I was intending to demonstrate, in one way or another, the value of embracing uncertainty. Maybe I was deluding myself into thinking that it was ok to subject others, but not myself, to the ‘test’. Is this a break in the causal chain? Was I seeing myself as some artistic creator-figure, strangely unaffected by the set of permeating conditions that defined the project? Oops.
On the last day I was discussing the unfolding of the residency with the ladies. I mentioned, amongst other things, that it was only when I decided to step back, shut-up and stop controlling the degree of controllability, that everything started to work. I think this means that I find it difficult to trust other people with tasks I set, even though, as was proven again over the last few weeks, that trust has been validated. I also think, that the smile that greeted the observation agreed with it.
For me this has been a most valuable insight. The brief set by DADA South was intended to explore aspects of marginalisation and tendencies that result in oppression of any sort. What this has shown me is that the desire to keep to what you know, and feel comfortable with, may be more powerful than you expect.
These blogs are probably going to read a bit disjointed. I re-entered my second post this morning, and was rewarded with a complete deletion of my entire file on the a-n site. “Is good for meditation” said Wang-Du, a Tibetan hotelier I used to know in India.
For the time being I’ll just continue with the exercise of writing, and keep all files safe until such time as the site is glitch-fee and going again.
During last weeks session my three ladies: Jaswinder, Nosheem and Martine had really got their teeth into things. Having their doors in front of them to work on has made a huge difference to the way they approach the residency.
It’s been very difficult for them. Admittedly this has been intentionally so, but I think it may have been a bit unexpected for them. They signed up to the 10 week scheme thinking it was an art class, and art classes tend to be a bit more linear and predictable. In a situation like that, they would be given a brief, told what to do, and know what is going to happen from start to finish. As mentioned, the aim of this project has been to explore some of the root causes of marginalisation and discrimination. To do this we needed to take control and certainty away from those involved.
After setting up a series of initial conditions, I wanted the participants to respond to this sense of uncomfortable vagueness, and let the project evolve out and away from my directions. This strategy led to a lot of confused and concerned faces during the first few weeks, as the participants were taken through a series of processes that would eventually link up in the final exhibition.
Nevertheless, they have all stuck to their guns, and soldiered on, making endless documentation of each weeks developments, and turning the simple collage and photocopy task into bizarre and lively door-portraits. I’m dead chuffed with them.
The plan is use the doors as barriers, rather than as aids to movement. Having sufficient numbers of them in the exhibition space is pretty crucial for the plan to work. I need a maze like affair; with anthropomorphised doors hinged together forming autobiographical screens, rerouting the viewer, and confounding direct movement.
Originally, I had plans for 15-20 doors in the space, which would have fitted the bill perfectly. However due to a few hiccups along the way, I ended up with only the three aforementioned participants. I found this an extremely worrying thing for a while. Along with a number of other issues that cropped up. Communication hadn’t filtered through. I’d overlooked something or other. Events were not as expected.
Working outside of my studio for the first time, with Other People was proving more fretful than I had anticipated. I began to feel that certain aspects of the projects devolvement were becoming more of a commentary on my failing attempts of control than it was of the more objective projects aims themselves. Having noticed that, everything got better. I realised that after setting the schemes in motion, what I had to do was effectively sit back, and see what happened. I had to continue putting in curve-balls, getting in the way, and setting things up for potential failure. It’s a worrying thing, letting go of the reins so much, when the end product has your name on it, but with a shift in perspective I’ve turned failings into successes, and the ladies keep going from strength to strength.
Stephen Foster, the Hansard’s director, was saying the other day that working with aged artists is a pleasure, as they are relaxed and have nothing to prove. It is the new ‘uns that get themselves into a state as they feel they need to prove themselves, and try to do so by controlling everything. I think it’s a lesson learned, achieved by staying true to the projects original aims.
The main project that is running through the residency looks at how the participants see themselves, and again utilises methods that that involve a loss of control. By feeding instructions to the participants on a limited basis, and confounding their normal working methods, I’m hoping to restrict them, forcing them to respond to situations as they arise. The eventual aim is to get them to turn this lack of control and restrictive working method in to a positive and beneficial outcome.
So I’m cutting up doors. Got four done now, and they’re looking pretty good. The ladies certainly seem to like them. We’ve got them to take distorted silhouetted images of themselves, and transpose these bizarre outlines onto reclaimed doors. The doors then get jig-sawed, cropping the too-large silhouettes even further. Final stage is when the doors get personalised in a way that springs from the individual.
The results this week, as they began to decorate their alter-ego’s, are hinting of great things to follow. I’ve only got three ladies in my community centre group, but when their sculptures get added to the work done by the youth group that is also involved , I think we’re going to have a successfully misshapen theatre of obstacles.
Yesterday I was cutting up doors. On the face of it, I’ve spent better Saturday mornings, but after beating decades of hard-set gloss paint from secret screws, and jigsawing my way around come convoluted silhouettes, it wasn’t been that bad after all.
I’ve split residency at the Clovelly centre into three related projects, which I hope will integrate successfully.
Not knowing who I was going to be working with, it seemed best to distil the project down to some more generic essentials. Being an amputee, and having lived in India for a year or so, I’ve had some experience of being one of the disabled minority that Ossie Stuart’s quote is addressing. The project participants would all have their own experiences, quite possibly not involving discrimination, disability or marginalisation. It therefore became sensible to make an inductive shift, and explore what happens to an individual in a situation of any type of oppression.
So three projects will explore ideas of powerlessness, frustration, and control.
The first is aimed to act as a general reflection of the attitudes and frustrations that result from discriminatory practices, allowing the participants to draw upon any personal experience where they have felt a lack of control, a feeling of futility, or sense of powerlessness. Taking their inspiration from those famously tormented guys Tantalus and Sisyphus, they will each make a short, simple, and looped video.
Next, each week one of the participants will be the designated documenter. They will not be taking part in any other activity. Stuck in a small room, with a bunch of people making art stuff, I’m hoping they get bored soon. This should get them to push further what they see as worth capturing. If they use the camera’s memory card to its full limit each week, we could have over two thousand images to work with in the final installation. Given the limited scope of subject matter, it’s interesting to see that each person’s documentation session already has its own clear distinction.
The results on that front have been, perhaps predictably, other than I expected. Without exception, they all struggled to keep up the snapping. Late in the first session, we had a walk-out. 20 minutes later they came back with a memory card full of next doors cake-baking and the dead plants in the garden. This trend has continued. It would appear rotting vegetation is more interesting than my workshop.
I’m finding it difficult condense the last few weeks in to something brief and coherent. Another lesson learned: stay on top of things. Write it up as it happens. The work opportunities appear to be picking up quite considerably of late, and I find I’m having to change my organisational habits. The “I’ll catch it up later” strategy has breathed its last gasp. Anyway, the Sunday morning cafetiere is drained, and I need to go to Oxfam to collect some books for another exhibition I’m preparing for.