On Wednesday I finished looking at two ‘papers’ for the Artistic Research course. The first made very depressing reading and lead me to question the validity of an ideology that appears to be so desperate for institutional approval that it twists itself into some quite unnatural shapes. The second thankfully restored my interest in the progressive possibilities offered by challenging and creative investigative processes.

I wonder when, how and even if the course will consider the socio-political context of higher education, its institutions and awards. The first paper came from a professor at one of the (no longer so) ‘new’ universities in England, and this made me think about the aftermath of John Major’s conservative government’s abolition of the polytechnics. How might artistic research be if art schools and polytechnics had not been forced to adopt methodologies and assessment criteria that were not ever intended for their areas of expertise? Perhaps twenty years after the systematic destruction of the UK’s practice-based education it is a good time for look at how it might be able to re-establish its own identity. (In my mind I have an image of an adopted child coming of age and realising that it has the option to be itself rather than trying to be an unachievable facsimile of it’s non-biological parents. Adoption might be a useful reference.)

For me there is something very human and contextual about theses relationships. This is something that I struggle with – wanting external approval (institutional approval) and at the same time wanting to pursue interests and lines of enquiry that do not sit easily within the academic structure for one reason or another. Are there other arenas in which artistic research could be conducted, presented, validated, appreciated? Scientific research is not restricted to the university laboratory, it also takes place in large multinational pharmaceutical and petrochemical companies for example. Are there artistic equivalent ‘companies’? It would be very interesting to find places where the objective is the research and not the award, places where the research can develop as it needs to rather than inline with prescribed methodologies. I want to listen again to some of the Nobel winning scientists as I am sure I remember one of them mentioning “hunches” that were followed, and assistants who through a “mistake” discovered something remarkable.

During the process of my Master’s dissertation I came across references about how the scientific world (in that case medical research) is adept at making the results of chance and accident look decidely more intentional and designed. In striving for some kind of ‘scientific’ approach I wonder if the artistic researcher is sometimes attempting to ape a myth.

How much time do I want to spend countering arguments that I disagree with and how much time do I want to spend thinking about developing ideas that are positively engaging and challenging?

It is Stockholm Art Week! The annual art fairs that take place this weekend are being complimented by activities at some of the city’s public institutions throughout the week.

To take advantage of it all would be physically impossible! Yesterday I was at Supermarket (the artists’ initiatives art fair) with Birgitta. It was the first time that I have been around the fair with someone else, not only that but we had particular things to think about as we are putting together a proposal for the future of the exhibition space at the studios. For me the idea of some kind of programme is important. I am not exactly sure what I mean by this but it has to do with presenting art in a context.

The word ‘context’ keeps coming up. This afternoon I am going to listen to a couple of the talks about the value of small arts organisations, and questions about their visibility. And afterwards it is “Gallery Night” in the contemporary gallery district ….



Another week has passed incredibly quickly. I have not really had time to think about everything (anything?) that happened, this and a conversation with a friend has made me realised that I am someone who needs time – something which seems to be increasingly rare resource as I get more and more involved in more and more things.

The first session of the Introduction to Artistic Research course was good and I am looking forward to the coming sessions. It felt wonderful to be in an academic environment again, the educative experience is something that I really enjoy – it is my way of understanding myself, the world and my place in it. (And not just the art world, I can say the same of my Swedish classes too!) My impression is that on the spectrum from academic to practical I sit somewhere in the middle, I felt this quite strongly during the discussions and while listening to the presentation on contemporary research contexts and perspectives. I want to maintain and develop this position rather than shift to one side or the other – my own kind of ‘middle way’. We have a couple of assignments to prepare for the next session. We also have a starting point for our course assignment that includes a seemingly simple question that is already making me realise that I need (and want) to know more about the particular art scene that I can imagine myself belonging to.

I am setting myself a personal challenge during the course and that is not to use the word ‘project’ when discussing my own practice. This could be a red herring however it seems too easier a catchall word that lends apparent weight and gravitas to things. I am keen to see if I can develop skills with a language that maintains artistic and creative references rather than immediately adopting scientific, managerial or bureaucratic terms.

Our short presentations of ourselves to the group reminded me how unique the Art & Social Context course was. I feel very fortunate to have done that course and think that is fantastic that 25 years later I continue to reap the benefits of its philosophies.

On Monday I visited KKV (the Artists’ Collective Workshops). It is a large former industrial building not far from the city centre that now houses various workshops that artists and designers can hire by the day, week or month. Walking around I started to think about how having such a place enables artists to continue developing their material skills as well as their conceptual ideas for new work. Perhaps I started to see connections that are not really there but I wondered whether the YBA’s combination of DIY aesthetic and their employment of high-end fabricators had anything to do with the lack of practical resources available after college. Actually the systematic removal of space eating resources, such as casting rooms, wood workshops, weaving looms and print presses, in colleges must lead to completely different generations of artists. I was shocked to see how my old studio at the Slade had been carved up enable more fee-paying ‘digital-based workspaces’, not that I blame the Slade – it is doing what it has to do to survive in terrible times.

Straight after seeing KKV I went to another discussion about artists in relation to Stockholm’s development. The city’s rapid expansion is pushing artists out of the more central areas, and the question of gentrification has urgency about it as poorer districts are being given cosmetic facelifts in attempts to lure the new money to formerly undesirable parts of town. Questions about the displacement of the often neglected current residents in these areas are being raised by artists and curators who are truly embedded in those places. I like these kinds of artists’ town meetings – they feel important and significant, they are open, public and well attended. I hope that Sweden’s more horizontal axis of differentiation (compared with the UK’s more vertical one) means that these discussions have relevance to, and some purchase on, issues of city policy and planning. For me it is refreshing that artists believe that they do and that their opinions (should) have the same authority as those of business.

http://kkv.nu/ Artists’ Collective Workshops in Stockholm. They are about to start a residency programme – details will be on the website soon.

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The weeks are passing very quickly. After a year of going to school every morning the change to going just twice a week is taking some getting used to – at the moment I find myself thinking that it is Monday when it is Tuesday (which is my first day at school each week) and that it is Friday on Thursday (which is the second day at school). My current inability to work out what day of the week it is perhaps contributes to the feeling that time is somewhat accelerated.

At an opening in gallery here last week I meet another artist who has knows Kjetil and Liz (artists I know in Norway and who know other artists also at Wip). It really can be a very small world.

My meeting with an advisor at the tax office was very useful and quite enjoyable. Not only did we talk about my situation regarding (lack of) income and (relatively modest) expenditure, but about how the internet – and in particular the relationship between ideas of physical and virtual locations – is creating so many complex theoretical questions about where things, such as web transactions and exchanges, can be considered to be ‘sited’. I really was not expecting to have such an abstract, interesting and stimulating conversation!

Meeting up with Alex, whom I took over the studio from, is always good. We had a great talk about art and education – she is training to be an art teacher, which is a specialist discipline here, and is investigating, amongst other things, how processes rather than products could be valued. It is something that I very much wanted to pursue when I was working on education projects but never really had the opportunity. That evening I was reading a text for the ‘Artistic Research’ course that I am about to start, and it too was promoting the idea that processes (as outcomes in and of themselves) will continue to become more and more significant in terms of knowledge theory.

Definitely a area that I want to explore ….

The winter here continues to amaze and fascinate me. Last weekend as I was about to head off for a run I spotted my first “snowbow”*. It was truly beautiful – an incredible thing to see. The picture does not really capture the ethereal wonder of it, nor the brilliance or clarity of the colours.

Later that day I noticed the coral like formations of snow crystals on the metal handrail on the bridge over a road. The temporariness of these crystal formations seems to poignant – a perfect reminder to appreciate the presentness of things.

* apparently it’s still called a rainbow even though it was not raining. It was a cold late morning (about -15°) and the low winter sun was shining through ice crystals in the air. I guess I should call it an “icebow” but the alliteration of snowbow is so much more appealing.