My practice encompasses installation, object making and live art as well as research and teaching.  In June 2015 I moved my home and studio to Enköping (“Sweden’s nearest town”) where I am also working as assistant to Scandinavia’s only plume-maker!

Your comments and feedback are welcome and appreciated – thank you

www.stuartmayes.com

#stuartmayes on Instagram


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This time last week I was sitting down to dinner with Christina after a great afternoon at Supermarket art fair.  This is the eighth year that I have visited the fair and each year is a unique experience!  There is always slight edge about the whole thing and that is exactly what makes it vibrant and vital.  Some stands host on-going projects that develop over the four days, others make slick presentations that make me wonder if they aspire to be commercial galleries or if they are pastiches of blue-chip spaces.  Most booths fall somewhere these two extremes and I found myself drawn to these. It was great to have a good chat with Felipe Castelblanco of Mote 078 Gallery.  It is always interesting to learn a bit about the person behind such an initiative.

I also caught up with some artists who I know from courses at Mejan, and saw work by artists from around the world that I found fascinating and inspiring.  I might be re-assessing my resistance to the term ‘artist/curator’ not only were there great pieces and projects curated by artists but the whole event made me realise that I could be interested in organising shows or events – just for the fun of it!  This might also be the result of no longer living in a city full of art and artists – there is an obvious lack of opportunity to see contemporary work here so the idea of filling that gap has a certain appeal (even if it has a very uncertain audience)!

It is the tenth birthday/anniversary of Supermarket – and not surprisingly there were both reflections and projections about the artist-led scene.  One of the most pressing debates was about remaining independent – what does these mean today and how can it be achieved.  ‘Independent’ of what?  This is of course a key question.  I realise that I have remained wonderfully independent (in some senses – no gallery, no external commitments or responsibilities, no-one’s agenda but my own …) however I do not think that this was the kind of independence that was being discussed.  I am not always sure that my independence has been particularly rewarding – in fact I am pretty sure that it has been the opposite, it has been pretty expensive!  Independence can be something of a luxury and while I whole-heartedly support every artist’s wish to remain ‘free’ I do wonder how sustainable it is and what it actually means.  Independence here in Sweden has tended to mean independence from the commercial market, and at the same time it has tended to mean a dependence on state, or local, governmental support – either directly or indirectly.  Sweden seems to be going through a slow but progressive shift way from socialism towards to capitalism, and of course this is being felt across the arts.  This affects not only direct funding of the arts but also the attitudes of the private individuals that comprise a city, a town, the country.  One of the longest established and most well-known artist-led galleries in Stockholm has been presented with a massive rent increase, an increase that they simply can not meet.  At least three large studio complexes in Stockholm are on ‘demolition’ contracts and waiting to be replaced with apartment blocks.

Artists have a good track record of ‘rising to the challenge’ and finding ways to survive and thrive, and this is what makes the future exciting. It also makes networking, collaboration, discussion and cooperation essential.  And these were abundant at Supermarket, and perhaps in the context of city’s feverish fetishisation of capital this is what made the fair feel even more vital.  I wish that I had been able to be there for the full four days and to have taken part in more of the programme, I think that I need to put next year’s event in my diary now and make sure I do not agree to do something else at the same time!

 

It was lovely to open the Supermarket magazine and see my name as one of the production team.  Although it might be obvious I had not thought of my work with translation, language/sub editing and proof reading as part of the publication’s production.  I am very grateful to whoever put my name on that list – thank you!


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Play has been on my mind recently … to be completely honest Play has been on my floor recently!  Since return from Stockholm in late February the piece has been lying on my living room floor waiting to be more appropriately re-packed …  Play has been on my mind for the following reasons:

  • It was referred to in an article about the ten-year history of the Supermarket Independent Art Fair.
  • Over the Easter weekend Open Studio and gallery events I gave some of the Play postcards to people.
  • I am considering putting up an ‘excerpt’ at home.

 

For the last few weeks I have been reading and re-reading the texts for the upcoming Supermarket catalogue and magazine.  This is the first year that I have really been involved in the magazine side of the publication – which has involved some translating too.  It is also the first year that I have been working full-time during the preparations and I realise what a different experience it is to sit at a computer from 8–12 midnight rather than 8–12 noon, I am mostly definitely a morning person!

It has been very interesting to read about the development of the fair from it’s initial low-key and small scale beginnings to being Sweden’s (if not Scandinavia’s) largest art fair during its years at Kulturhuset.  And it was while proof reading a text about the fair’s annual residency at Kulturhuset that I saw the reference to Play.  I was part of the MOCA London team organised by the wonderful Roberto Ekholm and supported by the ever-energetic MOCA director Michael Petry.  As part of our presence we had arranged that Play would be installed where it could be shown to good effect and where people could walk through it, the piece is quite large and would not fit on our stand.  The evening before the fair opened there were a few tense hours when Kulturhuset‘s safety department threatened not to allow the fair to go ahead if my potentially supremely hazardous artwork was not removed.  Eventually shifting it about 40 centimetres resolved the crisis and the fair was given the all clear.  The event is still clear in my mind but I was somewhat surprised that it had made such an impression on the organisers who were now giving an account of the ‘struggles and successes’ that they had encountered.

 

 

It has become something of a modern tradition to have open studio events over the long Easter weekend, particularly outside of Stockholm.  I wanted not only to see what other artists around here are up to but also to see where they are doing it as I continue to look for a studio.  There were a total of 38 artists showing their work at venues in the town centre and across the Enköping region.  I did not manage to see them all, choosing to focus on ones in the town centre (hoping to get some idea of where artists have found to work) and then making a selection of more rural studios based on the group show at museum.  In many ways it was not so different from Signals that Crystal Palace Artists used to do – a good mix of styles and media shown in a collection of studios, temporary exhibition spaces, and homes.  It was nice to visit the ceramic studio of Anne who I had met at an opening earlier in the year – I like her work too.  It was interesting to see that one painter had his own gallery and studio in what must have been a small shop.  Another artist was showing in a great space that looked as though it was also used as a yoga studio.  I saw a good number of artists and places that I would not have known existed otherwise, and it made me realise that there are studios to be found.  I just have to make time to get on with it, and not be afraid of asking for what I want (in ‘awkward’ Swedish)!  The my day finished at the home studio of an artist who is keen to start some kind of informal artists’ group, I would certainly be interested in getting involved.

My day seeing the more rural studios was not so intense, in the end I only made to two studios and a new exhibition venue that was not strictly part of the ‘Spring Art’ programme.  The two studios were both, and differently, inspiring.  Both artists were very generous with their time and talked not only about their own practice but their involvements with collaborative and community projects.  Again it felt really good to be reminded that there are opportunities to pursue those ways of working here too.  The exhibition venue at Målhammar is the ground floor of one of a pair of an eighteenth century houses that are all that remain of large country estate – and was great!  It had been on my ‘to visit’ list since reading about it in the local newspaper, and I got the chance to speak with both the exhibiting artist and the owner/director while I was there.  It was really good to meet them both and to hear about what they are both doing.  I could not help but start to dream of having a show in such a space – it could be a perfect place not only for some of my existing pieces but also two or three new works which as yet exist only in notes, sketches and jottings.

I am aware of an acute sense of embarrassment at giving people postcards of Play, not because of the work or image of it – both of which I am very pleased with.  Rather it was being reminded that I still have not gotten material together so that David and Lucy can update my website, Play is the most recent work on it – and it is from 2010.

 

 

And finally – there is a mini-Play that I had almost forgotten about.  I made it for the MOCA London booth at Supermarket so that visitors would make the connection between the installation by the staircase and the stand that we had in the fair.  The lengths of videotape fit perfectly from ceiling to floor in my flat, and being only about 50 centimetres wide and 20 centimetres deep I thought that I could easily mount it at right angles to the wall so that sticks out in the room.  I am intrigued to see if I can bear to live with the fluttering of the tape in the slightest breeze.  I am also intrigued to see how I might be able to use my home to show my work until such time as I have a studio, and even then it might be more interesting to show older pieces here and keep the studio as a working space …


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It occurred to me the other evening, as I was proof reading English texts for this year’s Supermarket catalogue and magazine, that there is no reason why artists cannot work with both commercial galleries and artist-led initiatives.  Supermarket is celebrating its tenth anniversary and several of the features refer to its history and founding principles of being an artist focused alternative to the more economically driven art fairs that the authors tend to see as being controlled by and organised for gallerists and collectors.

I am paraphrasing and am sure that the authors share my view that things are never so simple as being either good or bad.  And of course I agree with their criticism of an art scene that is wholly steered by commercial ventures and investments. But then I am not currently working with either a commercial gallery or an artist-led initiative so I can fantasize about a wonderful middle way.  Perhaps my perspective reveals a great deal about a fantasy world that I believe in.  It has always surprised me that artists (often but not exclusively those not working with commercial galleries) complain that galleries ‘take’ at least 50% of the sale price.  My first job after art school was in a department store where I quickly learnt that the average ‘mark up’ on most goods was 50% of the selling price: it made little difference if it was socks or sofas.  Suppliers did not complain that the store ‘took’ 50% of the sale price.  I am surprised that galleries do not more often take 70 or even 75% when I think about how much they risk in taking on artists, especially artists without a proven track record.  Art and economics will never be easy bedfellows, but then neither were art and religion.

In my perfect fantasy world I have the opportunity to be like those Hollywood stars who make crowd-pleasing blockbusters in order to finance their alternative and art-house projects.  For last nine months I have worked almost full-time as Tim’s assistant.  It is good, interesting, and rewarding work but it has kept me away from making my own work.  It is unrealistic to think that my weekends can be spent in my studio, like most other people I need a bit of relaxation and to do those necessary domestic activities.  When regular and on-going part-time teaching was an option it was a good way to support a non-profit making practice, now that those post are almost non-existent I find myself wondering about other ways to make sufficient income without sacrificing too much time for the things that I really want to do.  Suddenly the possibility of handing over some of the things that I make to people who will promote, publicise and sell them seems very very attractive!  I think that I need to pay a bit more attention to Jeremy Deller and Grayson Perry.

Last week I went to the Eskilstuna Art Museum to hear a lecture by Johan Strandahl, he gave a very good and very amusing presentation about his work.  His practice often has him making his own versions of everyday things, it is the way in which he tackles the task in addition to the final object or image that makes his work brilliantly resolved.  One piece consists of two almost identical photographs, each photo shows a wooden table on which is a bag of plaster, several bottles of glue, and a rasp.  The photo on the left shows the objects in their original state whereas the photo on the right shows the result of Strandahl’s processes of de- and re-construction.  He takes a plaster cast of the table, files the table down to dust that he mixes with the glue and fills the plaster mould with.  He then files down the mould and puts the plaster dust back in the bag and puts the bag, the glue bottles (now empty), and the rasp on the new table in the same position as their predecessors.  The museum was also showing his ‘Kitchen’ installation where he has literally made his own Ikea kitchen.  Taking one of their model kitchens as inspiration and blue-print he has handmade all the components and shows them as a mirror image of the store bought version.  Both the fridge and cooker that he made work, though he confessed that the fridge does not reach an equally cold temperature.  It was inspiring to see how his work has developed over the ten years since he graduated (as a ‘mature student’) and to hear how passionate he is about his way of coming to understand the world that he lives in.  He mentioned that much has been made of the relationship between the price one pays for a mass-produced product and the labour it takes to do it yourself, this however is not his reason for doing what he does.  He said, quite simply and honestly (and I hope that I understood correctly), that his practice gives him amazing insights into everyday life and he hopes that we are able to share some of that through his artworks.

Before I heard him speak I was not sure why I felt it so necessary to visit the museum and attend his lunchtime lecture.  I am very pleased that I did and I left with a renewed, if still incomprehensible, sense of purpose about my own practice.


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It feels as though it is definitely time to get some feedback on my work.  While I am sketching and daydreaming in preparation for my future studio I notice that my ideas and fantasy projects cover a range that is far from consistent and focused.  It seems as though I could enjoyably follow a number paths that branch out from my recent activities.  And at the same time I do want to focus my time and energies in the hope of beginning to establish an artistic identity here in Sweden that is useful to both other people and to me!  Perhaps it is my rather flexible, adaptable, fluid practice that both enables and disables me: it enables me in that I can respond to different and diverse opportunities, it disables me in that I do not have a well founded depth of work that is easily summarised.

Is it important for me to see connections between various individual pieces?  Or perhaps I should turn that question around: why am I concerned that this morning’s sketches for ‘real’ sculptures seem so foreign to most of my previous work.

The majority of my work to date has a strong conceptual or theoretical aspect that is apparent (to me at least) in, either one or all, of the following: materiality, visual form, cultural reference, placement, art historical reference, and subjectivity.  The pencil sketches of large sculptural forms that I made a few hours ago are not immediately, and may never be, justifiable in logical linguistic terms, nor do they seem to refer to the concerns mentioned above.  Instead they show forms that I am interested in making real to see how they are – it is as simple as that.

Sometimes I wonder if my persistent engagement with art is precisely because I do not get it!  Art remains unknowable and intangible to me – particularly art that makes no claim on research, personal or political relevance, story-telling, and the like.  My relation to ‘accountability’ rises up!  Do I want my practice to be accountable? Do I want my practice to give an account?

These questions are not entirely unfamiliar, nor is it surprising that I return to them as the memories of the various courses that I have recently taken fade and as my literal distance from the various academic institutions becomes increasingly real.  40 minutes (but a million miles) from great seats of learning and sites of philosophical discussion I find myself seeming to have come full circle. I feel that I am at a place of questioning my intentions and ambitions with my practice.  Standing at my worktable this morning I made a series of sketches that had little to do with anything that I could substantiate, they had more to do with a re-awakened sense of intuition.

 

 

Two weekends ago I was in Stockholm along with ‘Play’ – originally installed at MOCA London in 2010.  Pontus Pettersson had gotten in touch with me and asked if I was interested in showing Play at ‘The Cat Café’  – the second of his ‘Poeticians’ events and choreographic installations. (Pontus and I met when we were both project students at the Royal Institute of Art here.)

I was very pleased to be invited, especially as Pontus had only seen photographs of the piece.  It was a real pleasure to work with him, and although I was a little apprehensive about how I would install the work without having visited the venue beforehand I was re-assured by his calmness and trusted that I/we would work out a suitable solution.  Pontus and I decided where the piece should be and the installation turned out to be relatively simple.  I was very pleased that Pontus was so involved in physically hanging it as it would have been difficult and probably dangerous to attempt it alone!

I had previously shown the piece at the Cultural Centre in Stockholm which required attaching the lengths of tape to two wooden batons rather than directly to the ceiling.  This proved to be very convenient at The Cat Café as it enabled us to hang the two sections in different locations – one at the beginning of the café’s mini-golf course, and one at the end.

It was good to see the work in another context and to see how Pontus’ cat performers (they weren’t really cats but were very very cat like!) played with it.  Two of the cats are organisers of a dance/performance evening at the same venue and they asked if I could leave Play up for their Sunday Run_up event on the following day!  Fantastic – a second and quite unexpected opportunity.

Posting a couple of pictures on Instagram resulted not only in a good number of ‘likes’ but also being asked to send details of the piece to an artist/curator who is (now) going to propose it for a group show in Norway!  What a great reminder of how important it is to get my work out there!

 

And last but by no means least, I want say a big thank you to a-n and Stephen Palmer for my week as featured artist blogger on a-n’s Instagram feed.  I received a great deal of positive feedback and am pleased to be back in touch with some other bloggers who I had lost contact with!  Thank you!


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This afternoon I am taking ‘Play‘ to Stockholm.  It is going to be shown at a one day performance event: The Cat Café.  I do not understand how the day will be, however I trust Pontus who is organising it – I met him a couple of years ago when we were both on the project year programme at the Royal Institute here.  The whole thing is good for me, not only do get involved with something new and experimental but I also have to deal with doing something quickly and without all my usual extensive preparations.  I am a bit disconcerted that I have not been able to locate a box of hooks, chains, and other hanging devices that I remember having at the old studio.  It would be great to have all those bits with me as I have no idea what I will find at the venue!

Last week I attended two meetings about developments here in Enköping.  The first was part of the town’s ambition to establish a cultural strategy for the coming nine years.  It was interesting to see the invited guests’ presentations and to hear people’s opinions and dreams, many of them hinging on establishing a new ‘culture house’ and improving public transport.  I agree that these are important but I thought that there would be a little more discussion about what we can do in the short-term.  I was pleased to be sitting in a ‘workshop group’ with another artist who suggested that there should be links to artists’ homepages and local resources on the council’s website.  Another group wanted the re-instatement of the grants and awards that were cut by the previous right-wing council.  I am going to get in touch with the woman from the council’s ‘experience management’* department and find out about the creative projects that they run for children and other groups.  I met her socially at a gallery opening and she seemed very dynamic and enthusiastic when we spoke.  I also want to ask her advice about finding a studio.

(* I think that something is lost in translation however ‘upplevelser’ definitely translates as ‘experience’ and has no specific reference to the arts, culture, or creativity.)

The second meeting as more general and very well attended!  On one corner of Enköping’s town square there is a hole where the town hotel used to stand.  Contrary to its listed status the hotel was demolished six years ago after the owners (a commercial development company) allowed it to stand empty and fall into irretrievable disrepair.  Ever since then a question of what to build there has been fought between the developers, the council, and the town’s residents.  Most recently the developers submitted plans for apartments including a ten-storey tower that would loom over the square.  Having received a lot of criticism for this, and perhaps for other undisclosed reasons, the developers have now mooted the idea that they might be willing to sell the site back to the council.  One idea that the council have had is to build a new culture house there rather than refurbish the 1950s one by the river.  Again this meeting was a mix of presentations and small group workshops.  By luck the people around my table included the former chair of the town’s art association, his wife and their adult son.  Considering that there must have been in excess of 100 people at the meeting I can hardly believe the chances of me meeting this particular family.  We had a very pleasant chat and came up with some good suggestions – including a building that provided studios, workshops and subsidised rooms that creative/cultural interest groups could hire.  We also proposed that the street which goes from the church on the north side of the town, past the town gallery, past the ‘hole’, then extends between the library and cinema, and leads to pedestrian access over the river and finishes at the sports ground on the south side, should be designated and promoted as a cultural district.

The Saturday after this meeting I met Ulf and Gunilla again at the opening of a new show at the gallery (‘gallery’ is not quite the right word, however ‘art centre’ is a bit too grand for it – the Swedish word ‘konsthall’ is tricky to translate as its history is directly linked to ideas of both a not for profit public exhibition spaces, and an artists’/art association management/steering committee).  It was good to see them again, and they have invited themselves for a ‘studio’ visit in the coming weeks!  This is very exciting and will force me to speak about my work in Swedish!  They had already looked at my website and had questions about particular pieces as well as enquiring how it is to work in such non-traditional and diverse materials.

My very initial search for a studio did not go well!  The workshop spaces in wonderful old industrial buildings by the harbour are far too large – by more than a thousand square meters!  There are smaller office spaces though I imagine that these are more expensive per square meter and the woman I spoke with implied that many had limited daylight and lower ceiling heights.  I cycled passed a small shop with a ‘to let’ sign in the window, but as I suspected the rent is too much – surprisingly high for a small space on a side street in a small town!  I am going to post my search for a studio on the town’s community facebook page and see if someone knows of a suitable space.  It is possible that one of the housing associations has a half-cellar room that they want to rent out – previously such spaces were taken by independent repair shops and the like.  I realise that it may take me some time to find a studio, in the meantime I need to make the room in the flat work!  Or I need to make the work that I can at home!  If nothing turns up in six months then I might ask for details of those smaller ‘office spaces’.  Though I have started dreaming of having a studio where I could also put on some events and invite other artists to show …

 

At the risk of creating some kind of strange feedback loop I am delighted to have been asked to be a-n’s first artist blogger featured on their Instagram account.  I hope that these cross-platform ideas generate interest not only in the selected artists but also in the range of a-n’s activities and that they stimulate discussion and new projects.  Thank you a-n!

 

 


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