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.