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 also work as cultural pedagog for the council. Whenever I can I continue as assistant to Scandinavia’s only plume-maker with fantastic creations for theaters and private clients!
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As seems to be the way busy days at the fair, dinner with the friend I was staying with, arriving back in Enköping late last Sunday evening and an intense week with both work and the new studio put pay to time for writing. [I am very conscious that I wrote the draft of this post a couple of weeks ago and it is only now that I am getting around to publishing it.]
This year’s fair seemed a lot less hectic than previous years – or perhaps I am (finally) relaxing in to it. I certainly feel more open to seeing what is going on rather than having an agenda or feeling that I need to be at every talk, performance, and event. The smaller meetings that are moderated and have between six and eight participants (a mix of exhibitors and professional networkers) are a great way to get to know more about other artists’ projects. Each meeting has a theme or staring point, the ones I attended looked collaborations and ‘curator as conceptual artist’, from which departures are made in lively discussions that weave in and out differing approaches, practices and understandings. The relative intimacy of these meetings encourages openness in talking about aspirations as well as frustrations and failures but nearly always with a good dose of humour and a shared sense of solidarity. I am very grateful for the opportunity to be able to sit down and chat with artists from Poland, Hungary, Spain, Finland, the Netherlands and other areas in Sweden. Comparing our experiences and getting some idea of the different cultural and political climates that we live and work in gave me a great deal to think about.
The two public ‘Art Shots’ events re-worked the pecha-kucha format and gave each presenter ten minutes to talk to ten images. Again it was impressive and inspiring to see how much people achieve, and to hear about hugely differing means of support. The activities of 14+ Artists (Tanzania), Drunk and Storm (Madrid), Photoport (Slovakia), Galerie SAW Gallery (Canada), Alma Martha/Kalshnikovv Gallery (South Africa) and Verkligheten (Sweden) well reflected the diversity of the artist-led scene around the world with tales of massive state investment to stories of passionate commitment that far exceeded meagre material resources.
The idea of running a gallery/showroom in my apartment has been on my mind since last year’s fair. It’s a far from ideal place to do something like that and I am not sure that I am the kind of person who is comfortable opening my home to strangers on a regular basis. Whilst listening to how other artists are doing things it suddenly struck me that the corridor immediately outside of our new studio could be an interesting space for showing art. Obviously any artist showing there would have to take the space for what it is – a corridor(!) – but it would enable me to invite artists to Enköping and even organise projects and events from a physical space! Tired, inspired and a little ‘over stimulated’ I returned to Enköping and asked Klas what he thought about the idea of me renting the corridor and running it as a ‘contemporary art venue’. He liked the idea. So now I have somewhere to develop ‘things’ with other artists!
I surprised myself with my participation in a somewhat heated debated following a question about funding dircted towards the young curator/representative of a recently formed artists’ collective in Budapest. During the preceding panel discussion the curator mentioned that she had just made an application for public funding, then in response to another question from the audience about tactics for engaging with a broad public she said that that was not something that the collective were particularly interested in. This seemingly infuriated another person in the audience who made her feelings quite clear in an agressive demand to know how could they ask for public money if they were not going to use it to open up their programme and educate people about contemporary art.
I found myself agreeing with and going even further than the audience member who wondered if it might be appropriate for a young initiative to focus on an already engaged public. Without really thinking about it I heard myself saying that I was tired of artists feeling that they have a duty to educate a dis-interested public and asking why artists rarely treat themselves as an audience. For me it was refreshing and inspiring to hear a young curator claim the right to seek public money for the good of artists.
It is as though we artists place ourselves outside, or beyond, the public. And in some way this attitude that we are always already an elite doing things that would benefit everyone if only we could make them understand us is both patronising and condescending. If we as artists believe that art has value then why do we find it so hard to value ourselves and each other as artists? Why don’t we feel that we have the right to ask for, and deserve, support for what we do on our own terms?
This is not an entirely new thought to me. An artist friend who also works in gallery education and I have, over the years, wondered why we spend so much time and energy trying to make art accessible. It is as though we cannot accept that different activities have different audiences. It must be more than twenty years ago that I first became aware of the phrase ‘new audiences’. In today’s climate it can seem as though the out-reach and accessibility agendas have eclipsed every other ambition – particularly in the artist-led and non-commercial arenas. How have we arrived at a position where is it infuriating to another artist to suggest an arts project should receive public funding for a arts programme for artists and an art-loving audience?
Feeling inspired after a day of meetings and presentations. The artists’ run art-scene is a truly wonderous place full of people who with often very limited resources make incredible and ambitious things happen both locally and internationally.
Land404 is a relatively recently established initiative running residencies and an exhibition programme in rural southern Sweden, and it was fascinating to be in a meeting (themed on ‘Curator as conceptual artist’) with them alongside Jason St-Laurent from Galerie SAW Gallery, Ottawa which has been going for 45 years and is in the midst of a massive expansion funded by the Canadian arts council. Listening to them speak about how they work with artists and audiences opened up the spectrum of possibilities and at the same time illustrated the strengths of having clear ambitions.
I am enjoying ‘representing myself’ as the PNP coordinator puts it and at the same time scouting about with the view of making contacts for what I referred to as the ‘artists’s collective’ that Klas and I are establishing in Enköping. Over the weekend I am going to meet-up with Gideon from Artist Run Alliance and register our Enköping project with their digital network – literally putting us on a virtual (international) map!
It is perhaps part due to the particular context of (modern) Sweden that Swedish artists seem to like/need a structure in which they can operate. The idea of a project or association developing organically seems quite an anathema to them – so I am coming around to idea of making a framework that will allow them easily to engage and particpate in something that (hopefully) will never be as fixed or as static as perhaps they might like! I have in mind a hybrid of an iceberg and a swan – a visible and serene portion above the waterline, a considerably larger and dynamic powerhouse operating unseen in deeper waters.
It is Supermarket time of the year again – this year’s moveable feast has taken up temporary residence in a (very) recently vacated former slaughter house in Stockholm’s former meat-packing district. The whole area is called ‘Slakthusområdet’ which translates literally as ‘The slaughter house area’, the swedish lanage can be wonderfully blunt at times. Waiting in the ‘Exhibitor’s and PNP Lounge’ for a guided tour of the fair there is the faint but distinct smell of butcher’s shop.
For the second year I am on the PNP programme – pnp standing for ‘Professional Networking Participants’ rather than drug and sex fuelled ‘Party’n’Play’ reference to be found on gay ‘dating’ sites and apps. It does not seem a year since the last time and I am perhaps a little too conscious that many of the ideas and contacts that I left last year’s fair with remain on my to do list. This year however finds me in a very different place professionally – I am moving in to a good studio and co-building an artists’ collective, and I have just two and a half months remaining of my part-time contract with the council. So even though I need to find some income I am in a great position to focus on taking a major step forward in terms of my practice and engagement with other artists and organisations.
There are 53 artist-led initiatives exhibiting here, and we are ten on the PNP programme. The exhibitors range from long established artists’ associations from the scandinavian countries to recently started collectives from Africa, in addition there are tangible and digital publications as well as loads of performances and talks. As a PNPer we have some extra meetings and presentations.
Despite the glorious spring weather we are experiencing in Sweden right now I am looking forward to spending most of next four days in the familiar but always different wonderful world of artists.
At 9.30 this morning I am going to meet three artists at the studio – hopefully they are interested in sharing the other large space. A fourth artist who is also interested in being part of the studio group is away until later in the week.
Klas and I spent Thursday at the studio and made good headway getting things in order – at least to point where we can start to move things over the old studio. The place was covered in a thick layer of ‘builder’s dust’, then there were the heaps of rubble, piles of torn-down electric cables, odd bits of old plasterboard (some of which we have salvaged), general scrap and a ‘wood effect’ plastic concertina door that needed dealing with. It seems that as soon as permission to make new windows was denied the builders simply packed up their tools and left.
In the process of cleaning we chatted about how we want the studios to be: a dynamic and inspiring workplace for those of us there on a regular basis, but also a place where there can be ‘open workshops’, courses, temporary exhibitions, and guest artists – all making use of a ‘project room’. Two adult education organisations have expressed an interest in taking on a studio/room and although this is an attractive offer we came to the conclusion that it might be better for us if they hire/book the project room at a ‘day rate’. This would enable us to make best use of the space and maintain the ‘artistic identity’ of the studios. We are also very clear that we are starting a process and that things will shift and develop organically as we get going.
It felt very good to be in the space – the rooms are well proportioned and the natural light is very welcome after a year in a studio without windows. The dated and somewhat peculiar colour scheme is far from what I would choose however it is not something that we are going to do anything about for the foreseeable future. If we get a long-term contract it would be worth the investment of both time and money. For now it is definitely a case of ‘make do and mend’. In our current studio Klas and I each adopted one of the two adjoining spaces, the new studio suggests new ways of thinking about space and we have decided to divide the room that we will share into separate ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ areas – both of which we will share. As we both work with materials/projects that range from the terminally dusty to the almost clinically pristine this arrangement should work well for us.
Not only is there daylight in the new studio but there is also heating (and even a bit of basic ventilation). This means that the working environment is not only more pleasant for us but also more favourable to our materials. It is possible to have paper and fabric there without the worry of them getting mouldy or otherwise damaged. So all the stuff that I dared not have the old studio (finished pieces and raw material) can be moved out of my apartment and I will have a proper bedroom for the first time since moving to Sweden (in 2011)! For this and many other reasons it feels as though I am embarking on something that is very ‘grown-up’.
With the group show in London and the two-person show here not far off I am keen to get in and get on!