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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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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It was good to be reminded that installing work takes considerably longer than imagined!  That said Play is now up and open at KinoKino (Sandnes, Norway).  The whole show looks great and I am truly pleased to have been selected to participate in such a good and significant exhibition.

 

The show marks two particular firsts that I was not aware of before talking with Kjetil, the gallery manager, and Roberto, the guest curator, over the weekend.  Firstly I was not aware that Immerse is the first show to be mounted since Kjetil took over running the space – a space that has ‘history’ shall we say.  Nor was I aware that the show is Roberto’s first curatorial project since leaving the commercial gallery where he worked for a considerable number of years.  Both Kjetil and Roberto have a lot resting on how this show is received – it is therefore especially meaningful to be included, it is an amazing demonstration of their trust and respect for me as an artist, and for that alone I am hugely grateful.

The piece is being shown in a new configuration, one that works well in the space and which in some ways takes the piece forward – proposing new and additional aspects and reflection (and I mean those terms both literally and figuratively).  The piece now consists two equal size sections of video tape curtain that hang parallel and close to each other to create a moment of corridor between them.  This corridor is sufficiently wide to walk through without touching the tape, and sufficiently long for one to become aware of being between the two components.  At the opening I noticed that several people walked through this corridor space before walking through the tape curtain itself.  Others chose to walk straight through the first tapes, over the corridor, and through the second tapes.  Others circled the installation or closely followed the out most edges (as if it was one form) running their fingers through the lengths of tape.  The volume and possibilities that this particular configuration afford the piece is very satisfying.  I am wondering if there might be more to explore here ….

 

Despite the tight time schedule (not only mine, but also the whole rebuild, get-in, and switch on for the show), I really enjoyed the days of setting up.  Being in the space with Roberto, Kjetil, and Laurie (a UK artist who is also showing an installation), reminded me how much I enjoy good group dynamics – discussion ranged from the pragmatic to the philosophical, we sought and offered advice to and from each other, we shared stories and opinions.

Somehow there was also time to spend with each other individually, which of course leads to a different quality of interaction.  I have known Roberto and Kjetil each for about eight years though I have never met them together before, Laurie was unknown to me.  And amid the pressure to ‘get it all done’ a couple of surprisingly restful breakfasts and the journey to the Sunday evening Zumba class gave me time to catch up with Liz – an artist and Kjetil’s partner.  Ella (Liz and Kjetil’s eight year old daughter) and I had a couple of hours of drawing to ourselves – the result of my internal clock being set to wake at 6:00 at the latest – on Saturday morning.  We managed through a combination of drawing and speaking, her in Norwegian and me in Swedish*, to chat about the building of a new playground at her school and to make up some stories about chickens – inspired by the ones that cluck and peck around in their garden.

(* The languages are quite distinct but understandable to each other.  For a great deal Kjetil and I also spoke with each other in Norwegian and Swedish respectively.  I am so pleased to be able to do this – it means that my Swedish is pretty good.)

 

I had forgotten quite how extensive the speeches can be at an opening.  Kjetil and Roberto made good brief presentations of the gallery and show, the speech that socio/historically contextualised the building was fascinating but really qualified as more of a lecture, and the speaker who introduced the local artists association two-person show (who also had an opening in the same building) too the opportunity to read a broad collection of poems that she had composed in response to a relatively modest exhibition.  Needless to say that when, after nearly an hour of listening, the doors were finally opened people were desperate to see the art and swarmed in hungry to see what was on offer, and to grab a drink!

The show is good and includes an impressive selection of artists that I feel very honoured to be among.  Roberto has skilfully managed to curate something that is both high quality and accessible – not always easy bedfellows.  Following a quite high-profile earlier collapse the gallery (and Kjetil as its recently appointed new leader) will be under close scrutiny from the public, the press, and the politicians – the space is publicly funded and was previously accused of being elitist and irrelevant.  It is vital that Kjetil puts on shows that engage with a wide public and that expand people’s expectations of and interest in contemporary art, from what I saw and heard at the opening it looks as though things are getting off to a great start!

 

 


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At the end of last week’s ‘cultural policy’ meeting I was introduced to Enköping’s new Cultural Development Worker – Klas.  He is also an artist, and is also looking for a studio!  We had a quick chat about how important the studio is, and also how affordable studios make a town very attractive to artists, which in turn leads to more local culturally activity and engagement.  It turns out that we have both been looking at the same former industrial building not far from the quayside.  It is far too larger a premises for me to take on so it was particularly interesting to hear that Klas has been thinking about establishing a collective studio/studio association – local authority involvement could make it a reality!

 

 

It was interesting to hear that he too has had a studio at Wip:sthlm.  The Wip:sthlm model – whereby the council stand as head-lease holder and with an artists’ organisation renting from them – is something that I had already thought to suggest to the culture department.  Thinking a little ‘non-traditionally’ (for Sweden) would further increase the feasibility of such a project: studios could be offered to a range of creatives beyond those with an art-school education.  Most studio associations here in Sweden (including the Stockholm City one*) insist on either an art-school qualification or solo shows at significant galleries/museums in order just to get on their waiting list.  Even if this was desirable (which I do not think it is) I have the feeling that this kind of restrictive thinking would make it difficult to fill even seven or eight studios in Enköping!  What I have in mind would be studios that would also appeal to photographers, graphic designers, print makers, and craftspeople.  This is not just openness and radicalism on my part – but I think that it will initially be essential in order to make the studios financially viable.  Once Enköping becomes a destination for both new and established artists then we can look at how best to manage studio provision … I am already having fantasies of several studio complexes here, with perhaps some leaning more towards the fine arts and others more towards the applied arts … but a bit of a healthy mix across them all!

Both Klas and I acknowledged that making a town attractive to artists has recognised economic results as evidenced in towns and cities across Europe.  Gentrification is far from any motivation of mine, however I am sufficiently pragmatic to realise that local authorities even in Sweden need to be seen to be making sound investments.  So being able to present the case for supporting studios in terms of increasing local business and tourism development will be no bad thing.  I have the feeling that Swedes understand that not everything has to be profit driven, that some things – such as cultural activities – are an essential part of everyone’s life and should be accessible, supported, and nurtured so long as they are not a drain on resources that could be spent elsewhere.

At the moment Klas is co-ordinating a street art festival aimed at young people on a rather neglected (and large) estate not far from where I live.  I look forward to going along and seeing how it goes.  After that we have spoken about getting together and taking a look at might become Enköping’s first artist’s studios!

 

* This was one of the main reasons that Wip:sthlm decided to remain an independent when they were invited to merge administration with Stockholm City (the local authority).  I was on the management board when the decision was taken – we had begun discussions with Stockholm City several months earlier when the day-to-day running and renting out of the studios became too much for an un-paid post.  It was at the last minute that it was revealed to us that a merger would mean we complying with Stockholm City’s eligibility criteria.  As the eight or nine of us at the monthly management meeting considered the implications of the merger I pointed out that under the city’s regulations all but two of us on the committee would not qualify for a studio – at least three of us lived in boroughs just outside of the Stockholm City area, one was self taught and had not had a ‘significant’ solo show in the last three years, another was a graphic designer and another a photographer (rather than being ‘artists’).  Needless to say we rejected the merger and went on to arrange payment for an artist who took on (quite brilliantly) a good deal of the studio administration.


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