Back in February I was faced with the choice of throwing in the proverbial art towel or giving it one last huzzah. Work has always come in cycles but with the heady mix of austerity and an extended period of ill health things had reached a critical point.
I don’t know what changed but the final applications I put in during February and March yielded positive results. I got a Creative Case for Diversity commission quickly followed by an Unlimited Research and Development Award. The R&D is an ongoing project – Fragmenting the Code(x) – a collaborative project with an Pum – An artist with Autism based in Glasgow – which has been fascinating, challenging and incredibly rewarding. A collaboration that has pushed me somewhere I never thought I’d go, making work I thought I’d never make.
For me, part of the dilemma of being an artist is how open and honest you are about disability. As soon as you mention disability you are culturally devalued – your work is looked at through a polarised filter and this is not equal to the view of how mainstream art is valued or critiqued. Disability is part of me not all of me, in the same way that I wear glasses or like garlic – you wouldn’t judge my art on my penchant for garlic – would you?
Fortunately there are progressive organisations where disability is considered but not an issue or a difficulty and that does not devalue your work. I currently have the pleasure in continuing to work with Dundee Contemporary Arts and have just finished a Production Residency at The Tetley and I am hoping to work with Arc Stockton to develop a performance with Penny Newell.
But this blog is not about disability, it is about trying to continue to make work and make a living as an artist in difficult times. No Time For Nostalgia is a project part funded by Arts Council England.
This week I enrolled on the MA Curating course at Sunderland University. I thought it time to get something academic and art related. I struggled with the decision – do I go for an MFA, practice based – but then I couldn’t convince myself that this was the right move – what would I actually achieve? A lot of my work currently is about researching new practice and I get to play a lot in my or other peoples studio’s around making work but not necessarily having to produce a definite product at the end of it. I also know how tenuous the life and income of a freelance artist is and I wanted something tangible which may contribute to putting some food on the table in the future.
I like working freelance but having more tools in your portfolio that you can do is no bad thing. I enjoy writing and would like to write about art but lack the knowledge of art history and all that contextualises – I want to be able to write about art – others’ and my own – in a more informed, critical way. I want this to push me to make better work too. In addition I also want to be able to expand that skill base around exhibiting/curating/galleries and education. Working with a producer on Fragmenting the Codex has been a real eye opener and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without her.
Considering all these factors lead me to the MA Curating. The thought of going back into academia is daunting – reading, writing essays, tutorials etc whilst trying to earn a living to pay for it and therefore manage projects of my own – it seems a massive undertaking.
The image below is an installation view of text at The Tetley as part of my No Time For Nostalgia residency.
My residency at The Tetley, Leeds, is over. The work is made and currently displayed. Some of the work will remain in situ as permanent pieces whilst others will return to my studio until they can be given another breath of life – perhaps in another exhibition.
This is the crux of the matter though. I am sure I am not alone in this – you apply, you get the work, you show and then ….. How do you avoid the stop start cycle… How do you build on the last show, use it as leverage to the next gig. When I am working on a residency I am so focussed on being where i am and working on what is there that I cannot think about being somewhere else and making work for another location. I need to be wholly present in order to make the work I do.
This means I exist within a stop start cycle. By the time I next exhibit the last one is but a distant memory. One way around this was to build in some development time with the curatorial team at Tetley – to have some follow up and support and was fortunate enough to get funding from Arts Council England to do this and look at the wider issues at hand so I can avoid the stuttering cycle. Hopefully this will lead to a more consistent presence within exhibiting and residencies and contribute to my wider professional development.