My practice encompasses installation, object making and live art as well as projects and teaching.  In June 2015 I moved to Enköping (“Sweden’s nearest town”) where I have my studio and am part-time arts education officer for the local council. 

Your comments and feedback are welcome and appreciated – thank you!

www.stuartmayes.com

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The week has not been at all I had had expected. Yesterday afternoon I received confirmation that I have had Covid since at least Tuesday. I started feeling unwell late on Monday morning – thankfully before heading off to the studio in Uppsala as I had planned. The news means that I have another three days of isolating at home, which conveniently takes me up to Tuesday when I start hands-on work with the children’s art project in Uppsala.

 

To be honest I have quite enjoyed being at home and not feel the pressure to get on with things … not having the energy or focus to get on with things if I am going to be completely honest. I had a couple of online meetings but it was not until yesterday that I was able to think clearly enough to put together and send out information about the show that opens next Saturday. ’Sending out information’ is a pretty accurate description of what I did – the neutrality, mundaneness, and monotone quality of that phrase captures the mood of letting people know that something is happening without actively inviting them to come along. Ambivalence is perhaps an appropriate word that goes some way to describe how I feel about the show – a show which is very very far from how I imagined it being whether I am referring to when it was first mentioned back in autumn 2018, or even as recently as December when I was planning a programme of workshops and events. It is not surprising that the show has gone through, in my head in any case, many iterations over the three years. Perhaps naively I was not expecting to have to make such last minute changes that the current pandemic situation and the return to previous Covid routines require. On Monday evening the Artists’ Club committee, of which I am a member, took the decision to halt activities other than opening the galleries (with severely restrictions on visitors numbers at any one time) and allowing the studio to be used for the children’s Saturday workshops (again with certain restrictions and following government guidelines for such programmes). This decision will be reviewed in a month which is exactly when my show closes.

 

 

Speaking with my artist friend K in the week we discussed how presenting live work to a great extent negates the requirement for a separate and distinct programme of events. Visitors are welcome to pull up a chair and chat with me while I am working (at a distance of course), there will be materials available if someone wants to make something themselves, and many of the references and inspirations for the work will be present. The atmosphere of the live work should encourage discussion between visitors as well as with me, and if it is possible to arrange a somewhat spontaneous event, be that a workshop or ’fika’, in February then I can always do that.

 

One thing that is clear to me is that I am not particularly keen on doing anything digital or online. What I am not so clear about is my motivation for this. It could well be that it is just too much to think about at the moment. It could equally be that it something digital might develop over the course of the work. One of the nice things about this live work is that the piece can, and will, evolve over the period. The structure for the work is both very flexible and very accommodating. The list of potential components continues to grow and despite my earlier reflection about feeling ambivalent, I am genuinely intrigued to see what happens over the twenty-three days. Is it possible to be generally ambivalent and specifically intrigued simultaneously?

 

Transformer: live work
22 January to 13 February
Galleri 1 Uppsala Artists’ Club, Uppsala Sweden
www.uppsalakonstnarsklubb.se

Wednesday to Friday 2 – 6pm
Saturday and Sunday 12noon – 4pm

Please note limited visitor numbers in the gallery at any one time, please be prepared to wait for admittance.

 

 


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Cycling to the gym this morning for the year’s last workout I reflected on the year and surprised myself with how much I have achieved:

  • sold three works; my first ever sales! Two pieces were purchased for local authority collections and one for the national public art agency.
  • selected for a group show; it was great to show together with a fantastic group of artists, to work with a great curator, and the brilliant arts officer at the Möblen culture house in Tierp.
  • wrote the third instalment of my Brexit trilogy for the Supermarket 2021 Art Fair magazine; thank you so much Roberto Ekholm, Michael Petry, and Derek Curtis for your generous interviews.
  • co-wrote an article for a-n.co.uk on long-term long-form blogging with the lovely Elena Thomas and Kate Murdoch. It was good and inspiring fun to discuss blogging practices and habits with two other seasoned bloggers.
  • co-hosted a discussion on blogging for Platform 7’s Discussion Festival. Thank you Elena for organising that.
  • coordinated a successful Meetings programme for Supermarket 2021; it was my first proper year as Meetings Coordinator and I thoroughly enjoyed it! Thank you to all of the Supermarket Team, the amazing volunteers, all of the moderators, and the artists/curators who took part.
  • established a studio at the Hospital Studio Association in Uppsala; I am really pleased to be a part of this exciting and evolving artistic community.
  • selected for an artists’ studio discussion programme; I am looking forward to getting started with this in the new year.
  • invited to exhibit at the Enköping Town Gallery next year together with Klas Hällerstrand. It means a lot to me to be asked to show here as I know that the chair of the committee has very high standards.
  • invited to run the late summer school at Uppsala Art Museum; it was delighted to be asked as I know that there are many really good artist/educators in Uppsala. It was fantastic to work in such a well resourced education studio!
  • invited be maternity cover on a children’s art programme in Gottsunda (Uppsala); the programme is very well regarded and has an excellent reputation.

I also made what I consider to be a good application for an artist’s working grant. For the first time I asked for feedback on drafts from friends and colleagues. Even if I do not receive the award the process of writing this and the residency application have shifted my thinking about my practice and enabled me to identify a theme that has been running through my practice since my time on the foundation course at the Southend on Sea Technical College back in 1986/7.

Acknowledging these things and excited about getting going with the new sewing machine I am looking forward to the year ahead and wonder what opportunities it will offer!

Thank you 2021! Despite some shaky times, some frustrations and disappointments, you’ve been a year that has seen a considerable number of  significant advancements. Here’s to more of that!

And a big thank you to everyone who has encouraged, supported, and shown confidence in me over the year.  It truly means a lot to me – thank you!

 

 


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A considerable drive to pick-up a sewing machine that I had bought on the Swedish equivalent of Ebay gave me plenty of time to think about the programme that I have been planning as part of my upcoming show at the Artists’ Club in Uppsala. In the light of the recent re-introduction of restrictions regarding the number of people per ten square meters of floor space each gallery at the club house can only accommodate five people att any one. This includes the artist/invigilator.

 

I have already received an email regrettably informing me that there would be no vernissage for the show – the dates of the show will be publicised without mention of an opening event. Nor can I promote Friday Fikas, or the finishage that I had planned. I might feel differently closer to the time but for now I can not really see the point of organising these things if they will not be what I intended them to be – gatherings of people. If I can’t let people know about them in advance then I can’t assemble a significant number of people around a specific time point. The aim was not simply to give visitors tea and cake, it was to create an easy atmosphere where, over tea and cake, discussion would develop and evolve. It would feel very wrong to set up a situation where a few (four) people are offered tea and cake, and anyone else who turns up while we are enjoying our fika is turned away. Such a scenario goes very much against my ambition for inclusion. I also do want to put the fika guests in the situation where they could feel that they are ’blocking’ accessibility.

I thought that the finishage would be an opportunity for people who had visited during the ’live work’ to return and spend more time in the space, again I imagined discussions between people who had seen different stages of the live work, or that I would even orchestrate introductions and discussions between people Again this seems a little inappropriate knowing that I will need to be mindful that there could be people waiting to come in.
With the previous similar restriction I noticed in both my own behaviour and that of visitors to the Enköping gallery that visits were conducted almost hurriedly as though not wanting to occupy the space for too long. While it may happen that a particular visitor may stay longer than others planning events which encourage all to linger currently feels like poor judgement.

 

And then there are the workshops! Driving through miles of twinkly snowy landscape I flitted between thinking that they could of course go ahead – they are outside of the regular opening hours and could be offered to small groups, to thinking that they too should be shelved – they would be too far from what I envisioned for them to be enjoyable … for me to find them enjoyable! The email that I received did not mention whether or not the workshops could be promoted. Even if they can be, do I want to run a workshop for four people? Could I run a workshop where I keep at least one and a half meters from the participants, and the participants keep that far from each other? I had imagined a larger group sitting around a table working and chatting together. Am I being inflexible not re-imagining how I could work in the current situation? Nothing that I was offering is so urgent that it can not wait until things are looking better … by which I mean after my show.

I don’t need to make a decision immediately about the workshops, I can talk it through with friends and colleagues next week when everyone is back from the Christmas break. But at the moment my preference is to postpone them.

 

 

In other news …
I am absolutely delighted that Uppsala District Council have bought one of the Trophy series. It means a great deal to me that one of my works will be in their public collection. I know the public art team and the collection from working with them on the Under the Same Rainbow project last year. Many (most!) of the established Uppsala artists whom I know are represented in the collection as well as a good selection of contemporary artists from the whole of Sweden. Hearing about this just a couple of weeks before Christmas was a wonderful surprise and a very welcome early Christmas present!

 

 


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I have long admired, and been more than a little envious of, artists who are able to gather their practice around a single word, phrase, or concept. Not only does this concise summary of a practice ease communication but in my mind it implies that the artist has a significant understanding of their practice. My work on the other hand seemed too ranging and unmanageable. Over the years I have tried on various words, phrases, and concepts – none have been a good fit. Some were too big and baggy, others too tight and restrictive, far too many were far too costume-like. Earlier this week I came upon something that, so far, seems to fit pretty well (though I am keeping the receipt just in case). The word is status.

 

Looking back I can see that my work has always(?) engaged with status – be it conceptually or materially. To be honest I have always(? – at least since my teenage years) been trying to understand my own status though I have not put it so succinctly before. And in my practice I have been investigating the status of things. This obviously includes people and objects. What I find particularly interesting is that something’s status is a socio-political and cultural construct, it is also relational and contextual. I work with a lot of low status materials, I question my social/perceived status as a man/gay man. I enjoy grassroots art activism (low status) but also strive to make high status art and venues available and accessible … This is still a ’work in progress’ but it feels as though I might be on to something that makes sense both retrospectively and going forward.

 

The ’going forward’ bit is important. I really like the idea of using status as a means of corralling my thoughts and ideas – giving focus to my practice. More than this it might help me access the relevance of ’opportunities’ – is it an opportunity that enables to extend and develop my understanding/investigation of status or not. Or how can I respond to the opportunity in a way that extends and develops my understanding/investigation of status.

 

To adopt a phrase from Rolf Hughes’ Introduction to Artistic research course, seeing my practice “through the lens of” status enables me to make sense of things that previously seemed unconnected. For a number of years I have been collecting a specific kind of square scarf. When I go to a charity shop I check out the scarves searching for anything that looks reminiscent of a Hermes scarf – those ones with equestrian paraphernalia. Of course it would be fantastic to find a genuine Hermes scarf (I have very nice Lanvin one that I found that way) however I am most interested in the polyester scarves that mimic Hermes’ high-end products. They say so much about aspiration – that desire for a higher status. A few years ago I came up with the idea of making a tent-like sculpture from these scarves. I even borrowed an old tent from a friend of friends and took a pattern from it. The scarf-tent though remains un-realised. It did not seem to belong in my practice. I could not justify making it – it did not seem enough to just follow my instinct, it seemed too far removed from the other things that I was making. These other things seemed to being in one of two camps: gay things, or things that had to do with power/authority. Through the lens of status the scarf-tent makes perfect sense, and what I previously thought of as two distinct areas of interest collapse into one.

 

I am a little concerned that ’status’ might be too vague and non-specific but for the moment it seems to be a useful concept that can be explored from a number of angles. Thinking about it, the words, phrases, and concepts that I have admired have often been non-specific: borders, time, touch, language. The artists’ work has always been very specific! And perhaps it is in the space between the non-specific and the very specific that I find my way into other artists ways of thinking and understanding the world. I am very excited to think that I might have found my ’non-specific’ that enables a useful (meaningful?) space to open between it and the very specific physical work.

 

In other news …
I was really pleased to find out that I have been accepted on to a (paid!) artists’ peer mentoring project. We have our first meeting on Wednesday evening in the project room at the Hospital Studio Association. Strangely I know all four artists on the project from quite different contexts: one is Mireia a friend from the studio, another is Hilda the artist who has been working with me with education/children’s workshops and how has recently taken a studio in the same building as me in Enköping, the fourth artist Henny was the curator for the Art Cube when I made M: meeting room for Uppsala, and Mattias was a Project Programme student at the Royal Institute of Art the same year as me! I am very curious to find out if they also know each other.
The first meeting is about the project and there’s a guest speaker presenting ideas about what makes for good studio discussions. Subsequent meeting will be in small groups and at our individual studios. This is exactly the kind of thing that I have been longing for. It will be a great challenge for me to do this in Swedish – both to present my own practice and to give meaningful feedback to my peers. And it comes just before my show/live work in Uppsala so I should be well prepared for speaking with visitors and leading workshops. Brilliant!

 

It is a bit odd to be listening to news of the new Covid variant from South Africa as I write my application for a three month residency in Johannesburg. The residency is not scheduled until autumn next year (the deadline is Friday) so who knows how the situation will be then. I am sure that the Swedish and the South African organisers will take all necessary measures to ensure everyone’s safety.

 

 


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It is just about two months until the show in Uppsala and I think that I might have some idea about what I will do. I say ’do’ rather than ’show’ because I do not feel like showing anything at the moment. This year is not last year! At this time last year I had a very clear idea of what I would show and even where I would place the work on the gallery. One year on and it feels very different, perhaps exactly because that show never happened, it just does not feel relevant or interesting to show what I thought I would show then even though I was very excited about it at that time. I am in a very different place today.

 

It has been a tough year, tougher than last year. I have found myself questioning what I do and why I do it more than I have done for a good while. I have also found myself in a vortex with far too many other voices and agendas. Time, I mean quality time, in the studio has been hard to come by with the demands of various committees and my employer wanting to get things going again after the disruptions of restrictions and postponements.  Add to this that I have not been able to see friends and family in over two years and it is little wonder that I feel a little out of sorts.

 

So here I am with the memory – if that is the right word – of plans for a show that did not happen, that now seems inappropriate. That is not to say that the planned show will not ever happen, it just does not feel like the right time to do it now. And to be honest it does not feel like the right place to do it either. Over the last year I gotten to know the space where the show should have been better, and that has not been something positive. The space is, to say the least, complex. The architecture is awkward, the refurbishment was clumsy, the space is a mess – an unhappy compromise of historical features, necessary local authority adaptions, and unintelligent design. Having gotten to know the space I think that the show that I had in my head one year ago would not have actually worked in reality. The show that I had in my head was planned for two modest white cube spaces. Gallery 1 is not two modest white cube spaces! It is good that I have come to that realisation.

 

I have decided, therefore, to do something completely different. Something that has at once both far more integrity and far more risk. For the period of the exhibition I am going to relocate my studio to Gallery 1 and I will be there and work. It is as simple/complicated as that!

 

The idea of a three week live work feels right, … feels honest, … feels relevant. It also feels frightening! I feel as though I will really bare myself. Perhaps it is that that really needs to happen – I need to make a declaration of who I am and where I am now, not who I thought I was one year ago. Nor who I think I might be in one year’s time.

 

My hope is that the show will be useful. By useful I mean that it will say  something about me – who I am, what kind of artist I am, and what kind of work I really do.

 

A kind of coming out!

 

 

 


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