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.



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It is just about two months until the show in Uppsala and I think that I might have some idea about what I will do. I say ’do’ rather than ’show’ because I do not feel like showing anything at the moment. This year is not last year! At this time last year I had a very clear idea of what I would show and even where I would place the work on the gallery. One year on and it feels very different, perhaps exactly because that show never happened, it just does not feel relevant or interesting to show what I thought I would show then even though I was very excited about it at that time. I am in a very different place today.


It has been a tough year, tougher than last year. I have found myself questioning what I do and why I do it more than I have done for a good while. I have also found myself in a vortex with far too many other voices and agendas. Time, I mean quality time, in the studio has been hard to come by with the demands of various committees and my employer wanting to get things going again after the disruptions of restrictions and postponements.  Add to this that I have not been able to see friends and family in over two years and it is little wonder that I feel a little out of sorts.


So here I am with the memory – if that is the right word – of plans for a show that did not happen, that now seems inappropriate. That is not to say that the planned show will not ever happen, it just does not feel like the right time to do it now. And to be honest it does not feel like the right place to do it either. Over the last year I gotten to know the space where the show should have been better, and that has not been something positive. The space is, to say the least, complex. The architecture is awkward, the refurbishment was clumsy, the space is a mess – an unhappy compromise of historical features, necessary local authority adaptions, and unintelligent design. Having gotten to know the space I think that the show that I had in my head one year ago would not have actually worked in reality. The show that I had in my head was planned for two modest white cube spaces. Gallery 1 is not two modest white cube spaces! It is good that I have come to that realisation.


I have decided, therefore, to do something completely different. Something that has at once both far more integrity and far more risk. For the period of the exhibition I am going to relocate my studio to Gallery 1 and I will be there and work. It is as simple/complicated as that!


The idea of a three week live work feels right, … feels honest, … feels relevant. It also feels frightening! I feel as though I will really bare myself. Perhaps it is that that really needs to happen – I need to make a declaration of who I am and where I am now, not who I thought I was one year ago. Nor who I think I might be in one year’s time.


My hope is that the show will be useful. By useful I mean that it will say  something about me – who I am, what kind of artist I am, and what kind of work I really do.


A kind of coming out!





It is rare that I feel good about making funding applications. The process usually leaves me feeling inadequate to say the least. As I approach submitting my application for next year’s artists’ awards I feel if not confident (that would be far too egotistic) then at least that I am making a good and relevant submission. I cannot remember the last time that I asked friends for feedback as part of my writing process, this time I asked two – both of who made useful suggestions, and another proofread my Swedish.


It may not be the best application but I think that it is my best application … and I cannot do more than that.


I have to admit that I am rather nervous about hearing the result. If I do not get an award then I wonder if I should stop spending time on such applications (which are quite time consuming) and put my time and energy to better use in the studio. If I do get the award I have promised myself that I will take a sabbatical so that I can be in the studio – the idea of that scenario is equally exciting and frightening!


I guess that it is okay to be both excited and frightened by the idea of one’s fantasies becoming reality. There are also a great number of expectations that I have put on myself if I get the opportunity to be an artist full-time for a year. Are these expectations realistic? Possibly not! Are they relevant? Probably not! These expectations could even be dangerous. They are necessarily projections about what I aim to have achieved by the end of funding period. What I really want to do is focus on the here and now – something that I know that I struggle with. I too often find myself imagining my future self and looking back at an imaginary process, rather than allowing myself to engage with real processes and real steps into the unknown.


What I am trying to say here? That I am frightened of ’letting the crazy out’*, that I am frightened of what I might do, and who I might become … or perhaps of who I already am (always have been).


Getting the award, and taking a sabbatical, would be embarking on a journey without a map and without a destination. And that is scary. It feels good to admit that! So much of what I have been doing for the last few years has been about achieving security. Perhaps I am reaching a sufficient level of security where I can begin to take chances again. I felt that I needed a secure job because I was unknown and could not rely on freelance opportunities. Maybe now that secure job is not so necessary, maybe now it is actually unnecessary, maybe now it might start becoming detrimental. While this might be true for me a person, I have to remember that I live in a particular social and cultural context – one that values security and conformity. If I want to move to Uppsala (and I do), then I need to keep my secure job so that I can get a mortgage so that I can make that move. I might well want to situation to be different – that I could find a cheap long-term apartment to rent – but that is not the reality.


So here I am applying for an award to ’let the crazy out’ knowing that for the moment at least I have to keep the crazy in.



In other news …

I did not get accepted on the mentoring scheme.  I hope that this is because of another peer-to-peer mentoring programme that I know is in development and that might be more relevant to me.  My good friend and artist Pavel did get accepted with a not dissimiliar application so I shall be quizzing him for the hints and tips that he gets about professional development.



*’let the crazy out’ is a phrase I remember, or mis-remember, from the Wim Wenders film about Pina Bausch. One of her company talks about Pina Bausch encouraging them to ’let the crazy out’. I guess in that context Pina Bausch herself was the security that made it possible.


Yesterday was All Saints which is a public holiday here in Sweden. I went to the woodland memorial garden here in Enköping and lit two votive candles, as I have done for the past six years that I have lived here. One candle for John, the other in remembrance for all the other friends and loved ones who are no longer with me. I have mentioned before that I find All Saints a particularly poignant occasion and yesterday was no different. Or perhaps it was rather different, I had an unfamiliar feeling of lightness, even happiness remembering John, my grandma, James, Vikki, Francois, Peter, Marie, Kathy, and Jane. No tears this year, but a sense of peace.


The tears came a few weeks ago during Supermarket. Over dinner with an artist friend I referred to my relationship with John and suddenly and unexpectedly found myself unable to speak and with tears running down my face. A couple of days after that I was in the audience for a performance lecture by The Mourning School, part/chapter three of their presentation was them dancing to Together Again (Janet Jackson, 1997). As the two of them swayed about looking all the world like people at any disco or party I lost it and burst in to tears. They transported me back to that night at Duckie in south London when my friend and flatmate Stephen took me out for the first time after John died. I had been a regular at the wonderfully eclectic Duckie before meeting John, John preferred more ’clubby’ nightclubs though we still turned up at Duckie every so often. It had been a while since John had died and I was enjoying being out. I have always enjoyed dancing and was doing so that evening, then they played Rose Garden (Lynn Anderson , 1970) and suddenly in the middle of the heaving dance-floor I was sobbing uncontrollably.


Those two tearful moments during my time in Stockholm led me to think that although I have ’moved on’ I am still in love with John, and that grief continues to accompany me. I was therefore a little surprised that no tears came yesterday evening. Had my crying with Pavel, and in the audience of a colleague’s performance shifted things – opened up my habitually private grief?


This morning I decided to post a photograph from the memorial garden on Instagram. After making the post I scrolled through friends’ posts, and stopped at a photo of some Swedish glassware from Simon. Simon and I were friends at secondary school, we lost contact when I moved away to study at Dartington and somehow got back in touch shortly before I moved to Sweden, an interval of more than twenty years. Now I cannot remember how we found each other again, maybe it was through Instagram. We follow each other on Instagram but I can’t say that we are really friends today.


The glassware is one of a few photographs of mementos he has from his boyfriend who like John died in 2007. Another photo was a detail of dark flowers on a mottled blue surface. As soon as I saw it I was pretty certain that I knew what it was, but I wanted to be certain. Simon replied to my question almost immediately: yes it was a ceramic plaque with silver/metallic decoration (Fjällsippar flowers) made in Sweden by Gustavsberg. He had bought it was a present for Steve when he finished his radiotherapy. I read Simon’s message standing less than a meter way from the virtually identical plaque that hangs in my kitchen. The plaque that I have has Fritillary on it, and I bought it in memory of both John and my grandmother. John’s mother planted a fritillary when we buried John’s ashes, so for me the flower is always associated with John, and I bought the plaque with the money that my grandmother gave me for the Christmas just weeks before she died.

How odd that Simon and I have such specific and near identical momentos of our partners.


In his post text Simon writes about how he has a few objects that have special connections with Steve, and how although he has “moved away” – selling what had been their home and relocating to London – he has not fully “moved on.” He mentions this in the context of re-writing a play, and digging deep in painful emotions.


The year after John died I made two ’mourning works’ – Letter to John for Michael Petry’s Golden Rain project, and Brief Encounter. Now as I contemplate making large flag-like pieces in various fabrics I wonder if these are not also grief pieces – evoking funeral draperies rather than national or joyful celebrations.