There are times when there is so much going on that it is tricky to maintain any kind of distance – this is one of those time. It is great that so many things are happening but I am aware that there is little if any time for the reflection and consideration that I like to give ideas, plans, and processes.
On Saturday we had the first group meeting about establishing a collective studio here in town. It was a good meeting and I was delighted at how enthusiastic and energetic everyone was. We were four artists and one dancer and our requirements were quite different however everyone was excited by the idea of working together towards a place where we not only had studios but could also run workshops and course, collaborate with other artists and groups, have temporary exhibitions, sell pieces, and generally be engaged with both the local community and the wider (international?!) artistic community.
Yesterday I sent off my application for an artist’s award. Each year the county makes a number of awards across the art forms including visual art, music, film, dance, literature, even theory and art history. It was a good exercise to get me thinking about why I should receive such a grant, and how I would use it to develop my own work. There did not appear to be any restrictions on how one can use the grant, it seems that the most important thing was to present ten images with a clear and simple description of what I do. Reading thorough the summaries of previous years’ recipients it was interesting, and reassuring, to see that most used the ward to ‘simply’ continue with their practice, and that seeking a grant to do that was enough. There was no need to propose a project, nor to submit a budget or time plan. It is as if the people making the award understand that artists sometimes simply need financial support. As simple as that! The simplicity of the form implicitly stated that there are things (the arts) that are essential and that should be supported without having to seek justification in terms of things that do not necessarily belong to the arts: providing entertainment, tacking social problems, engaging new audiences, or increasing tourism. I hope that my application demonstrates the artistic qualities of my work -those qualities that are hard to express in words since I am not a wordsmith. Even if I am not successful I am pleased that by submission will be judged on its visual and aesthetic merits rather than anything else. I have argued elsewhere about the shift from artists being asked for images of their work and a supporting statement, to being asked for a project proposal and supporting visual material. To me the former is far more appropriate than the later. I wrote my supporting statement in Swedish and had it proofread by a friend, I am delighted to say that there was not too much red ink required! It was the first time that I tried to write in Swedish from the outset – rather than thinking about a sentence in English and then attempting to translate it. A somewhat surprising, and potentially very useful, result of this was that I was forced to keep it simple and straightforward. I simply cannot construct convoluted sentences in Swedish in the way that I can in English – I am not even sure that Swedes can, as the language works in a very different way.
In the light of both the EU referendum in the UK and the US election a friend sent out a link to an article about how mankind has survived previous times when it seems that we also hit the self-destruct button. In the pre-amble the academic author made a remark about the requirements for something to be considered research. Reading that sentence was something of a eureka moment for me – it encapsulated precisely the difficulty that I have with the concept artistic research – or perhaps more accurately the difficulty that I have pairing artistic and research practices:
Taking one telling of events as gospel doesn’t wash in the comparative analytical method of research that forms the core of British academia.
There it is in black and white! I have been schooled in the UK and am therefore predisposed to thinking of research in “comparative analytical” terms. Art is of course “one telling of events” and that is what I want it to be – when I look at an artwork I want to, I hope to, have something of that artist’s experience conveyed to me. Of course I see that artist in the context of their era, their culture, their world, but I want to see their singular telling of events. It is always personal with art, be it Caravaggio, Van Gogh, or Felix Gonzales-Torres.
I feel validated in my resistance to art being judged against criteria used in other research disciplines. And I feel strengthened in my determination to widen the understanding of what constitutes research.
The version of Go-Go that will be in Enköping is different to the original installation for the M2 Gallery. There is neither the time nor resources to make an alternator that would enable the piece to run on solar power here, nor is the time of year ideal for that. The relation between charging during the day and discharging during the night was a strong component in original concept. Go-Go Enköping focuses much more on the visual impact of the piece and the capacity that it has for animating the dormant local environment. I think that it is fine that this new versions is adapted to suit the particular requirements of the location. Is this me being pragmatic? I am reminded (once more) of sage advice given to me by a tutor at the Slade – ‘don’t get it right, get it done.’
Only very occasionally have I had to think about what a piece of my work might be worth – usually for insurance values, rarely for setting a price. However a question about how much Go-Go would cost if I were to sell it has raised some very interesting questions for me. The first question is what I am actually selling? By that I mean is the artwork the physical objects that make up the installation – the mirror balls, glitter, and spotlights, or is the artwork the concept – it being in a window, it coming on at dusk, it splattering light across adjacent and local surfaces, it inviting interaction.
I wondered if it is just a question of ‘marking up and selling on’ all the bits that anyone would need to make the piece. If I put them in a nice box and made an edition of three then they could almost be a type of ‘kit’. But there would be nothing in the kit that could not be bought elsewhere, and it feels more than a little egotistic and cynical to add value just because things have passed through my hands.
My mind then began to consider how it might be to sell the Go-Go concept rather than the Go-Go object. That way there would be the opportunity for it to be purchased and to be in a collection, and at the same time I could continue to show it elsewhere using identical components sourced locally. Obviously if the ‘concept’ were bought then any versions installed elsewhere would have to clearly state that the piece belongs to a collection.
The complexities and possibilities of selling a concept, or a type of contract, rather than the physical materials (though there might well be a ‘kit’ included with the concept) lead me to think about how an institutions owns one of Felix Gonzales-Torres’ stack give aways or candy spill pieces. I have read enough about his work (which I adore) to know that the institution or collector buys some kind of contract. I would love to see one of these contracts and to better understand how it works.
I wonder if there are any Swedish artists who work in a similar way -it would be great to be able to speak with them. Or perhaps speak with a museum or commercial gallery about it.
In the midst of finalising my grant application, rescheduling a meeting because a journalist friend was attacked while photographing a neo-Nazi rally (she’s okay but badly shaken), and replying to facebook messages about the next studio meeting two large parcels arrived. 40kg of glitter from the wonderful Flint’s in south London – a lot of black for Go-Go, and a fair amount of blue for making new work ….