Just before I went away, I wrote about how for the first time, I felt that I’d actually earned a holiday this year. I’ve been thinking about this, intrigued about where this new train of thought has come from. I’ve had other holidays – why did this one feel more ‘deserved’ than others? What was different? What has changed?
It’s now six months since I decided to become a part of the studio hub spearheaded by the founders of Zeitgeist Arts Projects (ZAP), Rosalind Davis and Annabel Tilley. Despite its initial, obvious attractions for me, it still felt like a brave decision at the time, not least because certain aspects of the actual physical space didn’t appeal. I also had my doubts about whether as an artist, I was good enough to be a part of such a dynamic group. Doubt and anxiety – it all takes energy!
Although I’m now comfortable with the decision I made, I’m conscious that the move has affected me in ways I wasn’t quite expecting. The significance of immersing myself in an artist-led space only really struck me as I became a part of it. And the more I’ve been a part of it, the more I recognise its advantages.
Hand in hand with writing this blog, my place in it has given me far more exposure than I’d ever anticipated, not just as an artist but also as a person. I feel like I’ve flourished within a very short space of time – it’s as if being part of this new space has required me to do so; there’s no place to hide – both literally, because of the lay out of the open plan space (specifically designed for our purposes), and metaphorically, through being associated with eight other artists whose work is vibrant and essentially, happening. We’re open to each other, to debates and conversations about our work and support and encourage each other in the making of it; the energy that pervades the space is contagious.
It’s in stark contrast to the more closed off way in which I worked in the studio space I rented 15 months or so ago. My studio is now in an environment where creative work is constantly visible, both to immediate studio hub members and their visitors. And to other artists and curators who are encouraged through the doors by ZAP’s ethos of sharing, supporting and nurturing – not to mention the frequent visitors to their extensive DIY Educate programme.
My work in the studio is potentially then, being engaged with pretty much all of the time and nothing to my mind can be more conducive to keeping up the momentum for creating work than the knowledge that an ever increasing audience is interested in seeing it. I had been wanting people to see my art for some time. I also have considerably more conversations about my work these days and am gaining confidence in speaking about my practice through them.
And despite being autonomous in terms of my own creative practice, I’m also part of a team; there’s a wealth of experience and knowledge within that team – painters, photographers, film makers – and amongst them too, a real spirit of generosity and a genuine willingness to share and exchange their areas of expertise. It’s DIY education and artistic learning and development at its best, challenging the established teaching systems of art colleges and their ever increasing tuition fees.
There’s strength in numbers and much to be gained through artists pulling together to make things happen; strength too, to be gained from connecting and collaborating with other artist-led groups and keeping alert to what’s happening in a more global sense. I feel I’m in safer hands through being associated with artists who aren’t afraid to acknowledge the truth and their position in a constantly changing political and cultural climate. As the recession continues to bite, government funding dries up and college tuition fees continue to rise, there’s so much to be gained through the knowledge sharing initiatives that artist-led spaces are able to offer.
It’s been a fascinating journey so far. But survival is very much at the core of what we do these days – and that in itself takes energy. Small wonder then, that for this year’s annual summer break, I was ready for a rest – and crucially, felt like I’d earned one.