‘People don’t construct their identity in a vacuum: they create who and what they are in conversation with others’

Stephen Duncombe, ‘Notes From The Undergound: Zines and the politics of alternative culture

‘All I know is that I know nothing’ Socrates

This evening I’ve been thinking about today’s Samosa Chana Chaat Chat Club*, with Adam and Cat Simons, Josh from Official Culture and Gideon Seymour, and mulling over the freeform conversations which included

– Self definition : How do you describe yourself – as a professional or an amateur artist?

– Would defining art as ‘work’ demystify it, make it more valued and less elitist to people?

– Does getting paid for your art compromise your integrity as an artist? Is the idea of creative integrity a luxury?

– ‘Selling out’? What does that mean? Being funded by the state? Being paid by a corporation?

One of the things I am interested in is mapping my learning so that I can trace how my knowledge develops through conversation, reading, thinking, and doing. That’s partly why I’ve been exploring Storify to track the Twitter interactions I’ve been having, and why I’m blogging this meeting now.

Learning, and identity are communally made, and always in flux:

“the type of subjectivity produced in art that operates at the social level -that involves collective action, dialogue, participation and so on – was shown to be one that opens up onto the horizon of ‘the common’…. this collective experience … ‘exceeds’ the closed individualism, self-advancement and cynical instrumentalism of capitalist relations, lays the foundation for the constitution of a social organisation of a new (that is postcapitalist) type described by Hardt and Negri as ‘the multitide”

Radical Resonances: Art, Self-organised Cultural Activity and the Production of Postcapitalist Subjectivity; or, Deferred Self-Inquiry of a Precarious Artworker, 2008 – 2011. Andy Abbott Phd thesis, 2012

Thinking this evening about the amateur/professional question which Adam posed, I coincidentally pick up a book, ‘Did Someone Say Participate’ (Eds Miessen and Basar) and find a chapter called ‘The Amateur Professional’ by Shumon Basar.

The essay discusses the cultural weight given to the word ‘professional’ (“years of learned traning, expertise in a particular field, and knowledge that can be used in an economic system of value exchange”) against the negative meanings of ‘amateur’ (“either to be taken lightly and made fun of (for they often fail in their achievements) or (s)he is to be feared lest (s)he pretend to be a Professional and dupe you into a false sense of security'”. Basar, writing about a architecture project he was involved in, talks about the embracing of the amateur as a positive attribute, allowing for greater open-ness and creativity. “We exploit our own professional naivety as strength. We choose to remain amateurish”

He concludes

“Being outside the mainstream knowledge space, the Professional Amateur consolidates their outsider context and believes it to be another species of “inside” that happens to be “outside” of the normative “inside”. Belief is the primary logic of survival for the Professional Amateur: belief that when everything is possible, the possible is merely anther part of everything”

Full article can be read here http://amateuristnetwork.wordpress.com/2011/10/28/…

After I finish writing this blog, I will tweet a link to this blog to my fellow conversants. Maybe there will be another conversation on Twitter, in which others will join in. Maybe we will resume the conversation in real life, at next week’s meeting.

Knowledge and community evolving, virtually and in real life, over samosa chaat, over Twitter.

* ‘Samosa Chana Chaat Chat Club’ is the invention of Adam Simons, following some lunchtime chats over samosas during the Bradford Baked Zines popup shop last month. It is an informal, social gathering, a chance to meet, eat samosa and talk. Today was the second SCCC, and there are plans to meet up again next week.


Feeling overwhelmed with the amount of things to do

Thinking about the big questions

– And trying to find time to follow up on all the areas of research and reading

– Falling behind on other things, like Wur blog

– Starting the nerous task of tackling a GFA application

– keeping up with documenting current developments meetings and conversations

– and how about time for making work?

I’m feeling like a headless chicken

Do I need to find another approach to blog writing (a time consuming thing)?

more impressionistic

like this?

Think on.

Off to Bradford now for this week’s “Samosa Chana Chaat Chat” at the Sweet Centre – aka an informal, social meet up with other artists and creatives.

I’ll blog about that later.


Who are your activities for?

What are you the agent of?

What motivates you?

– The need to connect with others

– The want to feel part of a community

– To give, and to take:

“Lose that boring ‘I’ experience and gain a ‘we’ experience”


(Continued from last post)

“…Isn’t it more about how we can apply our skills or how we use the tools we have, how we can exchange or share these in different ways and settings, guided by our own personal commitments and intentions?
socio-political cultural practices are important and necessary and should allow for an opening up of opportunity rather than creating restriction.

It would be interesting to look at other models/frameworks /cultural practices outside of the UK and what tools and skills artists can bring/exchange in a wider community context.”

Relating these points to my own practice, Caroline asked me

What is your motivation?What are you doing, and who is it for? Are you a political animal? What are you the agent of?

She encouraged me to think of myself as a free agent, and not to place limits on how I approach, describe and present my practice. It seemed significant that these conversations took place at the Bradford Baked Zines popup shop (http://bradfordbakedzines.wordpress.com) which although a hugely positive project, with a good spread of events on exploring self-publishing of all kinds, engaged a relatively small part of the public – mainly other artists and creatives who are already involved in DIY activity. Similarly, attendance at another DIY event Just Do(ing) It, Again: The Politics of DIY and Self-Organised Culture, an excellent, inspiring conference organized by Andy at the 1 in 12 Club in Bradford on 11th May(http://storify.com/braduniarts/just-do-ing-it-again-the-politics-of-diy-and-self?utm_source=embed_header) , was relatively small, and was made up mostly of contributors – DIY artists, writers, activists. I felt at the time – more people should be here! Talking, engaging, making plans for a better world! Why aren’t they?

This raises a question of reach, and impact which I have been mulling over in relation to my project on my Nana’s photographic archive. Through talking with all three artists about the project, I was able to see the potential for a broader focus for the project – beyond the personal -which could reach and engage with a larger number of people. Doing the project as an unofficial, unfunded venture seems to be limiting its possibilities This brought me to the point last week of approaching Fabric with an proposal for a research project and exhibition in which I framed the project in a wider, universal terms – a participatory project seeking to engage members of the public in a process of co-research on social and cultural meanings of family photography:

Here is a excerpt from my proposal

“ How is family photography used to make meaning? What are the cultural and social conventions of the family snap? How can these be explored and remade? How can we enlarge our understanding of ourselves, our family members past and present through creative engagement with our family albums?

The exhibition is a research project which looks at how family photography is used to make meaning and define identity. It explores the family album as potential raw material for creative processes which search and transform our understanding of ourselves, our relationships and our memories. It also seeks to find out how different cultural communities in Bradford use family photography and to learn from members of the public about how they use and understand their own family snaps.”

The exhibition will include:

re-presentations of pairings and groups of images from my own family photographic archive, collaborative work I have done with my own family member, my own creative responses to my own family album which include photography, collage and installation works, and artist books and zines, and a co- research process, which involves a residency period in which I am present in the gallery space to work with members of the public on their photographic archive and present their own stories, images and experiences as part of the exhibition.

I would not considered framing the project in this wider way or proposing it to Fabric if I hadn’t had these conversations – which has led me to this point of considering an application for ACE funding with optimism and positivity. Thanks are due to Caroline, Sarah and Andy for sharing their experiences and knowledge and to a-n for giving me the opportunity to have these discussions.


Out walking the dog first thing this morning, it hit me that sometimes it takes a while to know what a conversation means.

In my last blog post I wrote that I had realised that my decision to apply for ACE funding was as a result of a shift in my thinking, brought about by discussing my practice as part of the a-n Review bursary with my designated artists Sarah Spanton (http://www.waymarking.org.uk/people4.php), Andy Abbott (www.andyabbott.co.uk/) and Caroline Hick(http://www.brad.ac.uk/gallery/about-us/contact-us/…). One of my stated aims for the bursary was “to identify the socio-political contexts I want to locate my practice (e.g. cooperative or critical in relation to market and state institutions)

Firstly to backtrack a little. This research project into ideas of gift, generosity and reciprocity, began last year as open-ended exploration into what these ideas meant for me in my life and art practice. The research process has led, through a series of conversations, collaborations, research, online projects and artworks, to an examination of how these ideas operate in culture and economics, an increasing interest in the potential for conversation as an active and generative means for change. Looking at how I position my practice politically has become a key concern for me over recent months and something which I felt I now needed to define – how I situate myself in relation to the market and the state. Am I co-operative or antagonistic? I have always been involved in DIY activity and have done most of my projects on a self-funded “unofficial” basis but up until now this has been a more instinctive choice than a stated position.

Do I position myself as a DIY artist? Do I want to engage with or withdraw from public funding, art institutions?

These are some of the questions I wanted to raise with my three chosen artists, who have a range of approaches, knowledge of social practices within and out with institional frameworks, and who would be able to offer different perspectives and discussion.

Talking to all three artists, I realised that the questions I have been asking myself about self-definition as a DIY artist are not perhaps that helpful. Andy whose PhD study “ Radical Resonances: Art, Self-organised Cultural Activity and the 
Production of Postcapitalist Subjectivity; or, Deferred Self-Inquiry of a 
Precarious Artworker, 2008 – 2011. focussed on DIY culture activity said that he goes back to the phrase often used as a descriptor for DIY activity. ‘For love, not money”- i.e. it’s about the intention. Having some money to carry out a project doesn’t negate it’s intent or make you a sell-out – in fact sometimes doing a project ‘DIY ‘may not always be the best means to achieve your goals. It’s about judging the potential impact of each project individually, depending what you want to achieve.

My Re:view session with Caroline Hick a few weeks later also brought some enlightening critical discussion on the privilege and potential limitations of DIY culture. Caroline wrote about these via the Wurblog, of which she and Andy are both contributors to ( in response to a post from Andy “What is a generous work of art and where can it exist” http://wurblog.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/what-is-a-…)

It seems apt to quote these comments here, as this was the basis of our face to face discussion.

“I appreciate you both talking about your own personal experience of where you have found yourself within and without the institutions of art education and establishments. It helps to define the frameworks we see ourselves in and out of but, of course, our experience of this usually positions us within the frame of establishment through the “privilege” of our education in it. by choosing to work in alternative ways, we are still in a privileged position because we can choose to do this. It is most definitely good to have that choice and I suppose its what we then choose to do, that makes the difference felt or not.

Does having a DIY ethos mean you are restricted to a certain kind of practice? Does the nature of DIY activity serve a particular audience/interest group/community?”

Continued next post..