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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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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A quick synopsis of what has been keeping me busy in May:

  • Being Tim’s assistant: costumes for a new (Swedish language) version of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and three kits each consisting two mascot costumes for a holiday company
  • Packing ‘Play’ for delivery/collection
  • Looking for a studio
  • Nature Morte opening Uddevalla/Gothenburg
  • A studio visit: my first conducted entirely in Swedish
  • An artist friend from London visiting for ten days: much talking, walking, visiting galleries & museums, drinking tea and eating cake!

When put like that it does not seem so much however I found myself constantly busy and with no time for making any reflections or thoughts sufficiently comprehensible for a post.  A period of doing rather than thinking – that is not to say that I was not thinking while I was doing, the activities listed above required a fair bit of thinking in one way or another, it is more that the thinking was actioned rather than transcribed!

In my diary there are key words or concepts for possible blog posts:

  • ‘utforskning/forskning’ – ‘exploration/research’
  • #gayart
  • ‘driva’ (SE) v’s maintenance
  • ateljé

In preparation for the studio visit I laid some heavy books on large photographic prints that had been rolled up for a few years.  Perhaps it was not the best way to flatten them … however the title of one book in particular caught my eye: Arctica; Utforskning av Polerna, which translates as Arctica; Exploration of the Poles.  What struck me in the swedish title was the similarity of the word ‘utforskning’ (exploration) to ‘forskning’ (research).  If I was a cartoon character that was the moment when the light bulb would have flashed above my head!  What I am fascinated by is ‘utforskning’ (exploration) rather than ‘forskning’ (research)! What I long to be doing is ‘konstnärlig utforskning‘ (artistic exploration) rather than ‘konstnärlig forskning’ (artistic research).  In my mind exploration is active, dynamic, adventurous, physical, open ended, romantic, demanding, passionate, it is about unchartered waters, it is about gut-feelings, it is swashbuckling!  How much more attractive it sounds to ‘explore the oceans’ than to ‘research the oceans’!  It might just be semantics but it is hard to describe the sudden rush of enthusiasm that I felt when I fell upon that word!

Interestingly if I take ‘utforskning’ to be a compound of ‘ut’ and ‘forskning’ then things become even more exciting. As I have already said ‘forskning’ translates as ‘research’, ‘ut’ though translates as both ‘out’ and ‘all over’.  Which suggests to me not only a breadth and depth of activity but also a generous all encompassingness.  I want to go back to the art schools and propose programmes of artistic exploration in place of artistic research.  Having struggled with it myself I can imagine that other artists will also find the idea of “communicating their explorations” much more fun than “communicating their research” – suddenly many of those methodologies and concepts from the sciences seem clearly inappropriate and irrelevant rather than aspirational.

 

 

 

Have I been dumb in my wrestling with term ‘gay art’ or has the hash-tag changed everything?  When I wrote my first dissertation, which admittedly was in 89/90, it seemed to me that ‘gay art’ was for the most part concerned with little more than 1- male nudes, 2- obvious textual/graphic reference to male/male sex , or 3- a combination of 1 and 2.  Over subsequent years I learned that Emmanuel Cooper’s The Sexual Perspective: Homosexuality and Art in the Last 100 years in the West was not the exhaustive compendium that the title claimed it to be.  The beautifully poetic, political, and personal work of Felix Gonzales-Torres showed me that there were other ways of being/ways of seeing.  Yet still I was not comfortable with either my work being called ‘gay art’ nor myself being a ‘gay artist’.  Nowadays, when I remember to, I tag Instagram images of my work with ‘#gayart’ both as a way to broaden the range of images with that tag and to stake my place in what should really be a redundant canon.  My reasons are both political and personal.  What interests and delights me is the number of ‘likes’ I receive from strangers who I assume come across my posts while searching for ‘#gayart’.

 

 

 

Again the Swedish language is giving me insights in to how I think and do things.  I am very fond of imagining, and running with, connections between Swedish and English that are helpful to me and may not be founded on any linguistic or lexical truth.  One morning as I was cycling home from the gym it occurred to me that Swedes use the verb ‘driva’ to describe the activity of having a company.  ‘Driva’, in common with most Swedish words can be translated in slightly different ways depending on the contexts in which it is used, my online dictionary offers the following translations: drive, carry on, operate, run.  As I have mentioned in previous posts I am not ‘self employed’ here as the concept does not exist, I have my own company – or more accurately I “drive my own company”.  I chose the English word ‘drive’ simple because it sounds (and looks) most similar to the Swedish ‘driv’.  And then I began to wonder if I really am ‘driving’ my own company/practice.  I mean am I really actively, purposefully, consciously ‘driving’ (in all senses of the English word) my practice?  After a moments reflection I concluded that I am not!  At least not at the moment, I am maintaining things but not driving them.

I want things to move forward – this is more likely to happen if I drive!  And it is good for me to remember that I have to work my way up through the gears (if you will pardon me continuing with the metaphor) before I reach a point at which I can happily cruise along in the fast lane!

 

 

My search for a studio continues.  I keep stumbling on the same problem – spaces are either too large (vacant industrial units more than several hundred square meters) or too expensive (vacant retail and office units that are two or three times more than I can afford).  I have not found anyone interested in taking on a larger space with me – to be honest it would take at least eight or nine artists sharing to make even the smallest ‘attractive’ potential studios viable.  I am going to raise the question of studio provision at next week’s cultural policy programme meeting.  The council wants to establish the town as a centre for culture, I am concerned that they are not addressing basic questions regarding the infra-structures necessary for making this firstly achievable and secondly sustainable.  I am going to propose that the council takes the bold move of leasing one of the larger industrial premises and subletting rooms/studios to artists, craftspeople, photographers, designers, as a concrete way of enabling creative culture to flourish.


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