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

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Two years ago Antonie, Karin, and I set up an artists’ association* with the idea of creating opportunities for artistic research outside of Stockholm’s art institutions. Last Friday we had our AGM. It did not take long as the we have all been too busy with our own practices, careers, lives, to do anything under the group name. However we all want to keep the possibility of doing something so the meeting enabled us to fulfil the minimum requirements and keep the association “active”. Sitting around a table in the fifth-floor cafe of the Culture House the three of us quickly began to get excited about what we could do and how our own practices/research suggested a number of projects or events that the association could run. We are meeting up again (here in Enköping) next week to take this discussion further. Speaking personally (which of course the only way to speak!) it feels like the right time for me to be more engaged again – several ideas of mine could be strengthened and given focus by approaching them through the context of the group despite my recently re-awakened caution around the concept of artistic research.

One thing that I want to pursue is the possibility of organising a panel discussion looking at what artists have for expectations of artistic research. I am going to propose the idea to Supermarket for their Talks programme at next year’s fair. Not only would this be a great way of taking the group to a wider audience but it would also give me the opportunity to investigate my own feelings in an appropriate context.

 

On Tuesday I am going to setting up Brief Encounter for a group show here. This afternoon I unpacked it from the box where it has been since 2008, and I am pleased to say that everything (the transformer and the two locomotives) still works. Klas (Enköping Arts Development) wants the piece to be the first thing that people see when they enter the library (the main venue for the weekend’s activities). I am both flattered and a bit anxious! Perhaps anxious is not quite the right expression – I am intrigued as to what people’s reactions will be as the ‘story’ aspect of the piece is not immediately obvious. I guess this might be why Klas has selected it, I certainly think that he is raising the stakes for the town council’s commitment to contemporary practice and I am absolutely delighted to help with that!

 


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Today has been spent slowly catching up on things that have been on (several) to do lists.  The summer has been a fantastic mix of trips both abroad and around Sweden, having visitors, meeting old friends, and making new acquaintances.  These happy activities have been both arts based and non-arts based (if such a distinction even exists)!

 

Today has been the first of my three-day working weeks that I have not had something else concrete to do – most recently spending time with a visiting artist friend, and returning to Norway to de-install Play and other pieces in the Immerse show.  Since Tim is working on a number of smaller projects that do not have immanent deadlines we are testing a new way of working after the intense and nearly full-time months of the first half of the year.  Both he and I want to pursue our own projects and develop our own work so I will be working with him three days a week which gives me two days to do my own thing.  Tim wants to spend at least one day a week working on his own designs – something that he simple has not had time to do in the last year and a half.  This is fantastic for me as I want and need time for my own practice.  I know that I have missed a few opportunities simply because I have not had the time to follow them up, I also know that there things that I want to achieve that will take time and persistence – such as the collective studio – so knowing that I have time, and by that I mean “proper” time rather than a few tired hours one evening or at the weekend, is absolutely wonderful.

I am very grateful that I was able to return to Kinokino to take down Play not only because I prefer to take responsibility for packing such a tricky, tangly, dangly piece, but also because it was great to hear that the work received such a positive response from the audiences and the gallery.  It seems that people really enjoyed engaging with it both physically and conceptually – which is of course exactly how it is supposed to work.  And now I am facing an interesting question: what next to do with it.  Without wanting to sound conceited or arrogant I know that the piece is good and that people like it, so it seems a shame if it just gets left in storage yet I do not really know how to move on with it.  I guess that I could look for other exhibition venues and opportunities for it, this could be good for me as well as for the piece as it would be a new way of working.  In the past I have tended to produce for specific sites or exhibitions and have therefore side-stepped the conversations and realities necessary for putting an already existing work ‘out there’.  Taking on this new challenge feels as though it could introduce me to a different set of situations and contacts.  The piece is not immediately commercial so it would make sense to start with looking at funded spaces, installation venues, and perhaps artist-run initiatives.  To be honest I have never really understood how these spaces make their selections so perhaps it is time to meet them and learn!

Hopefully I have the opportunity to show another older work in (very) near future.  Over a weekend in early October there are going to be a number of cultural events here in Enköping on the theme of ‘People’s Stories’.  Without knowing what the exhibition venue might be I tentatively proposed showing Brief Encounter – the piece initially made specifically for Nordisk Kunst Plattform in Brusand, Norway.  Again it is another work that people appreciated but which has been out of sight and in storage for several years.  Perhaps as I begin to feel more settled I am also feeling more confident and able to see how things that I already have are able to work in new contexts.  This is very interesting and potentially very exciting, in the past the idea of re-showing work has made me anxious – worried that I was unable to come up with something new, worried that I might be seen as simply wheeling out the same old thing.  Now I see it as allowing pieces to have their own lives, to continue to function, to meet new audiences, to provoke new discussions and start new conversations.


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I was completely blown away by my visit to Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop. I had been a member for a couple of years in the early nineties when I first moved to Edinburgh. Living in a shared flat and not having a studio being a member of ESW enabled me to use workshops to produce a couple of pieces (now lost) that required a some ‘non-domestic’ processes.

Next week I am meeting with Klas Hällerstrand who is a professional artist as well as having been recently employed by Enköping Council as a part-time Cultural Development Worker. We are going to be discussing ideas for establishing a studio complex here so my visit to ESW was always going to be more than a trip down memory lane however I was not expecting it to be quite so inspiring!

I had already seen on a-n’s Instagram account that ESW had moved to a purpose built space since my time in Edinburgh so I was a little prepared but as I walked along the road toward a subtly impressive and sensitive building I could not quite believe that I was in the right place. Certainly it helped that I visited on a perfect summer’s day – the clear blue sky and brilliant light emphasising the architectural simplicity and material beauty of the white painted brick, glass, and timber facade.

Before inviting me to have a look around the building Chrissie Heughan (one of the studio holders) told me about the development of the new space as well as giving me an introduction to the three temporary exhibitions currently showing. It turned out that Chrissie and I narrowly missed our paths crossing in the mid-nineties when she ran workshops at the AIDS & HIV centre (in 1996) where I had been the arts administrator before leaving doing my MA in London (1995).

The twenty-six artists’ studios are on the ground floor (which due to the hillside location looks like the first floor from the backside of the building), along with the street-facing gallery, the research space, reception/office, kitchen and toilets. The studios have skylights and shallow windows just under the roof line which means optimum wall space and plenty of natural light (in the summer at least). Although the studio doors are generous they are not so wide/high that truly monumental pieces could be made in an individual studio (nor do the internal corridors or fire-doors allow for it).

On the first floor is a meeting room and (I think) further office space.

The workshops: wood, metal, and mixed media, are on the lower ground floor. There is also an education room, project room, a large covered yard, the technicians’ office, and a store on this level. The yard has direct access to the car park through double height and very wide doors made of metal grill (the kind that I have seen used for flooring elsewhere), this is great for ventilation – I wonder how it is to work there in a Scottish winter (it would be unviable in a Swedish one).

One corner of the workshop level leads to a self-contained cafe that is run as a separate enterprise. Obviously the artists/studio holders use their own kitchen too but it is great that there is a place on-site where they can get something to eat and invite visitors to lunch or afternoon tea. The surrounding area is predominantly residential with only a handful of ‘corner-shops’ and a traditional pub so I image that having a good modern cafe is a great asset when people come for studio visits as well as for the exhibition openings, workshops and courses, and other public events. During my visit there were people taking advantage of the outside seating and cycle parking – there is a cycle path that runs along the backside of the site and the cafe and the second exhibition space are easily accessible from it.

The exhibition space, which Peter – the assistant curator -explained also gets used for workshops, short projects, meetings, and even private/hire events, is on the opposite of the large courtyard to the cafe. The two other sides are covered storage and working space, and a covered walkway that provides easy access to the exhibition space in even the heaviest Edinburgh downpour. The architecture of the courtyard and the inclusion of a tower, that houses a permanent sound installation, lend the space a very ecclesiastic feeling – one could almost be at a modernist Swiss monastery! The management team and members have campaigned and worked hard since ESW was founded in 1986, these new ‘award winning’ premises are the culmination of many years (decades!) of consistent persistent effort to respond to artists’ needs and the ethos of accessibility and education. Chatting with Peter we discussed how having a well-designed building that provides a range of comfortable and appropriate working spaces as well as making it easy for visitors to feel welcome creates a professional environment that benefits everyone. I definitely got the sense that members and staff are (rightfully) proud of what they have achieved.

Irene, the ESW director, commented that interest in the workshops (and studios) is increasing, she has certainly noticed high demand for their programme of practical workshops and courses. This is perhaps due to a renewed interest in materiality and form. Though the opportunity to work in such an inspiring building must surely contribute too.

 

I left ESW feeling excited and with a head full of ideas to take to my meeting with Klas. We are long way from being able to replicate the facilities at ESW but I feel that we can aspire to create something equivalent and appropriate for Enköping. Reflecting on their history – from a grant of £398 in 1986 to identify artists’ need to a £2.3 millions Scottish Arts Council National Lottery Award in 2008 and the £3 million Arts Funding Prize for Edinburgh in 2010 – I begin to dream, I hope that I can gather together some like-minded passionately enthusiastic artists and supporters who are up for the challenge of making something fantastic happen here.

 

 

With great thanks to Chrissie, Peter, and Irene at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop.

Notes from ESW:

  • High quality architect designed purpose-built building that welcomes and encourages members, visitors, and the public to be there
  • Street frontage – large glass fronted gallery (accessed from inside)
  • Adaptable/hireable rooms/spaces – meeting room and research centre can be used by members and can also be hired out (on a sliding scale to other organisations). Second exhibition space has been hired out as film location
  • Private studios for individual artists, plus large open workshops, indoor and outdoor working environments, adaptable rooms for artists, courses, workshops, master-classes, projects
  • Education programme for artists, schools, public. Education coordinator
  • Project/residency studio – flexibility, needs good coordination
  • Flexible exhibition, education, workshop, and meeting spaces. Separate access.
  • Cafe: hot & cold drinks, good simple menu, eat-in and take-away – open to public
  • Annual ‘open house’ event in conjunction with city wide programme
  • Technicians – look in to how this works!
  • Management structure – shifted/developed as organisational demands required
  • Humble origins, ethos retained
  • Artist-led organisation

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Just over a year I showed two artworks made under the broad title of Following Eugène:  the first was the installation of a glitter carpet in the original navy bath house building on Skeppsholmen, the second an artist’s walk informed by locations on Eugène’s Södermalm.  Now I find myself beginning to conceive of the next chapter.

Over the year I have had several ideas but none that really grabbed me, or that seemed to have more than an obvious air of superficiality to them.  It could be said that the idea that is now starting to form has been eight years in the making; or rather that the idea extends, and returns to, some thoughts that were seeded by Patrik Steorn’s Queering the Archive project for Euro Pride 2008 (Stockholm).  The idea also picks up on some aspects of my looking at Eugène’s life and work that simply did not fit, or sit, earlier.  Nor is it impossible to ignore the sudden flash of inspiration that came about and joined the dots between my own life, Eugène’s male nudes, and short but very pertinent exchanges on Instagram relating to my visit to Västerås Art Museum and the show of Carl von Platen’s photographs.

As an aside, I notice how difficult it is to give an accurate account of the events/thoughts that lead me here.  Would I ever be able to claim that they might be termed as a ‘research methodology’?  Is it useful to spend time shoehorning my process in to a format that might satisfy someone else’s idea of an acceptable methodology?  Or is it simply better to flow my gut feeling and explore where the ideas take me?  Gut exploration wins!  Methodology is cold, art is hot! Going with ‘hot’ as in ‘hot and sexy’, research is rarely sexy.  Re-working my previous considerations of the emotive differences between the terms research and exploration I considered a much more personal sentence and tried it with both words …

Your lover whispers ‘I want to explore your body’

Your lover whispers ‘I want to research your body’

(Is it just me or does research just sound too creepy in some contexts?!)

Diagram/mind map:

 

As it stands now – develop work that explores and expands the above connections.  Develop a Eugène WOD?!


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I found last week to be an intensely emotional period.  From hearing of the killings in Orlando, to seeing members of my gym choosing to stand with the rainbow flag for their post-workout Instagram photos, and then reading of the fatal attack on Jo Cox MP, the week – the week’s events – awakened great senses of anger, disappointment, frustration, and thanks to everyone at CrossFit Enköping also pride and hope.

 

On Friday Tim called me an asked if I would like to accompany him to collect the headpieces that we made for the ‘Greek God’ finale of Mamma Mia the Party that did not make the final cut.  Although I was initially hesitant to subject him to my peculiar mood in the close confines of a car I am very pleased that I accepted his invitation.  It meant that I not only took a pause in what I was doing but that in telling him why I was in a strange humour I made a little more sense of it myself.

So now on Monday I continue with what I started on Friday morning – glittering two balls: one gold, one blue, for a maquette.  I started thinking about the piece, which I eventually hope will be made on a larger scale, few weeks ago (possibly even a couple of months ago).  I am pretty sure that my emotional state made the work seem even more necessary and urgent.  Or rather the state of the world, rather than my re-action to it, made the work seem more urgent.

 

The lyrics of one of Marc Almond’s most brilliant (in my opinion) songs had me both teary eyed and dancing in the studio …

 

I need some beauty in my life

I’m tired of trouble, tired of strive

To dig for diamonds, dive for pearls

Beauty will redeem me

I need some beauty in my life

I’m tired of trouble, tired of strive

To dig for diamonds, dive for pearls

Beauty will redeem the world

Beauty will redeem the world

(Redeem Me, Marc Almond, Marius De Vries, on Stardom Road, 2007)

 

Beauty and aesthetics are political, and they are very necessary.  When things around me are collapsing, falling apart, and imploding, it is beauty that I turn to.  And when I fear that the crassness of man is on the brink of authority and domination then I find resistance and strength in the acts of creative beauty.  I cannot undo what happened in the Pulse club in Orlando, I cannot undo what happened to Jo Cox, what I can do is my best to make something beautiful and put it out there in the world.  It is my way of fighting back, of having faith, of attempting to make things better …. “beauty will redeem the world”


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