The question of where I fit has been rattling around again. Over the last few months various things have made me wonder about this – a rather wide range of things actually. I think that I survive (or at least get by) by fitting a little bit here and a little bit there. My fitting is a kind of composite: I fit a bit in the artist-led scene, I fit a bit in the public art scene, I fit a bit in the exhibiting artist scene, a bit in the part-time employed scene, and a bit in the small town scene, a bit in the city scene …
While I might be keeping afloat in all these different scenes I am singularly failing to make waves in any one of them. And it feels like time to make waves!
The new studio offers a good opportunity review, reflection and revision. It is dawning on me (better late than never) that favouring installation and second-hand materials is a ’hard fit’. Recently there has been a buzz of excitement around additional funding to buy in artworks for regional and national public collections. This is of course fantastic news and it would be great to one of the artists who makes it on to the short list. The trouble is that my work doesn’t really fit … and even if it does then it’s certainly not the ’fittest’.
This would not be a problem if the collections in questions didn’t do exactly what I what I would like my work to do: engage with audiences in range of public contexts. The open call makes clear that artistic quality is the highest priority in the selection process, however it is also quick to point out that as work will be placed in local and regional authority properties (schools, libraries, hospitals, town halls, etc) the materials, content, size, and durability of the artworks will also be taken in to account. I understand that even with the best will in the world it is difficult to justify buying a high-maintenance installation or a fragile object for such a collection.
It was truly educative to work with the public arts department in Uppsala on the LGBTQ project. I got to see and hear first hand how so many ’secondary’ factors influence which artworks are purchased. The primary factor is always of course the artistic quality, and that is something which lies entirely with the artist, and which those responsible for new acquisitions easily recognise. It is those secondary factors that are intriguing. Of course the secondary factors must complement the primary one … but is that just ’luck’ or can an artist take those things into consideration without compromising their artistic expression and freedom?
Thinking about it, I often make work that actively rejects one or more of the criteria that would make inclusion in such collections viable, yet at the same time I maintain that I want to be in those collections. Something has to give! And I am pretty sure that it has to be me! This is not to say that I cannot still make my installations, however I should not expect them to be snapped up. What I need to do is find my equivalent of Jean-Claud and Christo’s drawings – artworks in their own right that fullfil other functions, and an ’easy fit’ while also enabling larger more esoteric works to gather support and interest.
I have the opportunity to take a step in that direction coming up. My proposal for an exhibition-case work with the Mariposa butterflies has been accepted so I am going to be making a version that sits in a vitrine. The butterflies are still fashioned from old porn magazines so I am not saying it is going to be the sort of thing that a council is going to rush to buy, however it will allow me to see if work that I had imagined installed in a room can be re-imagined in a more modest scale and a more durable format.