New Visibility

I’ve become newly visible in the university, wearing bright t-shirts that label me ‘artist-in-residence’. I chose this uniform for a couple of reasons: partly because the t-shirt is a good conversation starter with students and staff who haven’t talked to me yet, and partly because it explains what I’m doing on campus. It may look like I’m sipping tea, typing notes and staring into space most of the time, but my t-shirt alerts the presence of an artistic activity (irony intended). Putting my process on display – by being in the cafe and in the t-shirt – is interesting and maybe a little provocative. I accept that my current practice of making is one of thinking, writing, researching and thinking a little more – but do others, particularly in an art school with a tradition of drawing and craft, accept this?

A Team Effort

The fine art studios are being cleared in preparation for the degree show: an immense task. It’s clear from  conversations with students that this is a time when mainly-solitary practitioners must come together and work collaboratively. Students are discovering skills in self-organisation and the value of collective action. Leaders emerge from the pack, work is shared and specialist areas are identified. Contrary to what has often seemed the fairly competitive nature of the degree show, it appears that the whole event only can come about through an massive team effort.

Papering the Cracks

I’ve become fascinated with Wall Tape, or Gum Strip to give its proper name. The many walls of the campus are partitioned, segmented and separated – walls on top of walls – and in the transformation from studios to galleries, Wall Tape has become a vital substance. It gets unrolled, wetted and stuck to the wall where the gaps lie. It is sticky and prone to air bubbles. It’s a beautiful manila colour and texture. I think of the cracks in an institution, or in a society, and I think of the act of covering the cracks, concealing the schisms, hiding the holes. I think of the futility of the act (I overhear: “Once the walls move the crack comes back”), the imperfect striving for perfection (I watch a line slowly reemerge through the tape) and the moment when the degree show will open and everything, fleetingly, looks perfect and whole.

Performing the Degree Show

I realise that, for all my sitting and drinking and thinking, I need to do something to process the thoughts in my brain. And I want to embody the degree show in some way, to perform the rituals and understand them through doing them, not just observing. First I select an unwanted corridor, an ugly space, interrupted by card readers (“It’s like Fort Knox in here”), two toilets (whose doors swing open constantly) and an big emergency telephone (“What does that even do?”). The wall has something like 7 segments, and there’s even a gaping hole where a ceiling tile has disintegrated. But almost everyone will travel through this space on degree show night to access the gallery spaces. And so I begin here, by filling the holes, sanding the surface and papering the cracks…




A Covert Operation

My first week on residency is a fairly covert one. I’m mostly in the background, in the corner, unnoticed. I was even mistaken for a student a couple of times.

Café as Workspace

I wanted to be resident in the shared spaces of Hardwick Campus, rather than holed up in a closed studio or gallery space. As it happens, the one space where all students and staff in the building pass through is the coffee shop, just inside the main entrance.

For me, coffee establishments are a home from home. They’re the sites of meetings and where new collaborations are born. They’re where I practice my customer service skills and latte art. And they provide heated, cosy desk-space for the price of a flat white.

To become an artist in residence in a café is not an easy task. First, I staked my claim on a chair. It’s in the corner, but by the window, with a spiky plant for company. I learn that the sofa has a history too: the details are sketchy, but apparently it was shipped especially from China, because the chrome frame matched and is a copy of a more famous design. In these first few days, I’ve heard it described as “stylish”, “awful”, “modernist”, “horrid”, and “expensive”.

Listening In

Almost by accident, I end up listening into conversations. I try to drown out others. The café is populated by students and lecturers from photography and fine art courses, support staff and visitors to the building. It hosts tutorials, meetings, lunch breaks, coffee breaks, cake breaks, complaints, laughter, shouting, whispering and plotting.

A few people are a little more knowing about my presence and wary – they speak in lowered tones. I try my best not to listen.

It’s a fairly unexceptional scene for an art college: discussions of Kant and socially-engaged practice mingle with debates about Game of Thrones and the recent election result. What’s different is that this time I am not directly involved, I am not a participant, I am an outsider.

The Outsider

My position in relation to the degree show is a strange one. For the first time, I’m not a participating student, lecturer or technician. I’m not serving the wine, I’m not designing the poster, I’m not even preparing for an exhibition, really.

Coming from the outside, being uninvolved, I’m starting to notice things. How the space of the art school operates, its hidden boundaries and secret rules.

And how the degree show itself – the preparation, event and aftermath – follows a distinct set of instructions, becoming almost performative…