I have long admired, and been more than a little envious of, artists who are able to gather their practice around a single word, phrase, or concept. Not only does this concise summary of a practice ease communication but in my mind it implies that the artist has a significant understanding of their practice. My work on the other hand seemed too ranging and unmanageable. Over the years I have tried on various words, phrases, and concepts – none have been a good fit. Some were too big and baggy, others too tight and restrictive, far too many were far too costume-like. Earlier this week I came upon something that, so far, seems to fit pretty well (though I am keeping the receipt just in case). The word is status.
Looking back I can see that my work has always(?) engaged with status – be it conceptually or materially. To be honest I have always(? – at least since my teenage years) been trying to understand my own status though I have not put it so succinctly before. And in my practice I have been investigating the status of things. This obviously includes people and objects. What I find particularly interesting is that something’s status is a socio-political and cultural construct, it is also relational and contextual. I work with a lot of low status materials, I question my social/perceived status as a man/gay man. I enjoy grassroots art activism (low status) but also strive to make high status art and venues available and accessible … This is still a ’work in progress’ but it feels as though I might be on to something that makes sense both retrospectively and going forward.
The ’going forward’ bit is important. I really like the idea of using status as a means of corralling my thoughts and ideas – giving focus to my practice. More than this it might help me access the relevance of ’opportunities’ – is it an opportunity that enables to extend and develop my understanding/investigation of status or not. Or how can I respond to the opportunity in a way that extends and develops my understanding/investigation of status.
To adopt a phrase from Rolf Hughes’ Introduction to Artistic research course, seeing my practice “through the lens of” status enables me to make sense of things that previously seemed unconnected. For a number of years I have been collecting a specific kind of square scarf. When I go to a charity shop I check out the scarves searching for anything that looks reminiscent of a Hermes scarf – those ones with equestrian paraphernalia. Of course it would be fantastic to find a genuine Hermes scarf (I have very nice Lanvin one that I found that way) however I am most interested in the polyester scarves that mimic Hermes’ high-end products. They say so much about aspiration – that desire for a higher status. A few years ago I came up with the idea of making a tent-like sculpture from these scarves. I even borrowed an old tent from a friend of friends and took a pattern from it. The scarf-tent though remains un-realised. It did not seem to belong in my practice. I could not justify making it – it did not seem enough to just follow my instinct, it seemed too far removed from the other things that I was making. These other things seemed to being in one of two camps: gay things, or things that had to do with power/authority. Through the lens of status the scarf-tent makes perfect sense, and what I previously thought of as two distinct areas of interest collapse into one.
I am a little concerned that ’status’ might be too vague and non-specific but for the moment it seems to be a useful concept that can be explored from a number of angles. Thinking about it, the words, phrases, and concepts that I have admired have often been non-specific: borders, time, touch, language. The artists’ work has always been very specific! And perhaps it is in the space between the non-specific and the very specific that I find my way into other artists ways of thinking and understanding the world. I am very excited to think that I might have found my ’non-specific’ that enables a useful (meaningful?) space to open between it and the very specific physical work.
In other news …
I was really pleased to find out that I have been accepted on to a (paid!) artists’ peer mentoring project. We have our first meeting on Wednesday evening in the project room at the Hospital Studio Association. Strangely I know all four artists on the project from quite different contexts: one is Mireia a friend from the studio, another is Hilda the artist who has been working with me with education/children’s workshops and how has recently taken a studio in the same building as me in Enköping, the fourth artist Henny was the curator for the Art Cube when I made M: meeting room for Uppsala, and Mattias was a Project Programme student at the Royal Institute of Art the same year as me! I am very curious to find out if they also know each other.
The first meeting is about the project and there’s a guest speaker presenting ideas about what makes for good studio discussions. Subsequent meeting will be in small groups and at our individual studios. This is exactly the kind of thing that I have been longing for. It will be a great challenge for me to do this in Swedish – both to present my own practice and to give meaningful feedback to my peers. And it comes just before my show/live work in Uppsala so I should be well prepared for speaking with visitors and leading workshops. Brilliant!
It is a bit odd to be listening to news of the new Covid variant from South Africa as I write my application for a three month residency in Johannesburg. The residency is not scheduled until autumn next year (the deadline is Friday) so who knows how the situation will be then. I am sure that the Swedish and the South African organisers will take all necessary measures to ensure everyone’s safety.