Happy to be the recipient of an a-n Re:View bursary, blogging the process as it unfolds
As mentioned in the last blog post I had my final meeting with curator Judy Adam funded by the re:view bursary. Plenty had happened since our last meeting and I had been continually updating the sticky note on my computer desktop with issues I wanted to discuss. These included among other things commissioning writing, pricing work, and maximising forthcoming projects. As we are both based the same area our paths now and then overlap as do the various people we have had dealings with past, all of which is very helpful.
As everyone knows, much of what we do is upheld by a web of networking relationships and the meetings that re:view has funded, albeit that they have been small in number, have opened up new connections and added an extra layer of contacts which continue to grow. I now have a large file of the copious notes I took in the various meetings.
The experience though has been much more organic and hard to quantify than purely a list of factual advice. The interesting thing I think is that the re:view bursary has been a succession of beginnings rather than a finite time span that has come to an end. I will continue to work with one mentor who is happy to continue the relationship, funding or no funding. I have still meetings ahead and new relationships to build up with connections passed on through the re:view process. I’m continuing as AA2A resident artist at Solent University, something encouraged through one of the meetings funded by re:view etc etc.
All in all I think the re:view bursary is a perfect vehicle for moving your practice forward, but it is just a vehicle. As always it requires the artist to drive everything forward and keep your foot on the accelerator. As everyone knows there are days when this is downright exhausting, especially if you’re having to juggle projects that keep a roof over your head at the same time. But that I guess is the life we’ve chosen.
So with the end of re:view this blog comes to an end but, with a major project underway and a gentle nudge from someone that it really needs to be documented, I will be starting another in a few days time – just look out for the ref flag.
A quick interim blog post to bring you up to date as my final session funded by the re:view bursary is due to take place at the beginning of March.
Just before Christmas I had a meeting with my main mentor to bring her up to date with where I was in my work. It was, as ever, encouraging and enlightening, clearing away some of the fog that had gathered in my head around multiple projects and giving me a more concise path forward. We talked particularly about the piece of work I am currently researching for the Cicatrix exhibition, due to begin in July and tour throughout Wiltshire and hopefully beyond. I had been asked by the curator, Prudence Maltby, who I have shown with twice before to contribute the video element of this World War I centenary project centred on Salisbury plain. To cut a long story short, this work has absorbed a huge amount of time. It is an absolutely fascinating project and I am working with the MoD and the staff at Porton Down chemical and biological defence laboratories, researching the development of this highly secretive and contentious site.
Needless to say the red tape and security around my involvement has taken up much of my time. I watched a video by artist Katie Davies yesterday, where she had filmed the North-South Korean border guards, inside their security buildings, and cannot believe that she managed to achieve that when film footage of every bush on Salisbury plain has had to be gone through with a fine toothed comb by security here. Anyway, for more information on that go to www.cicatrix.co.uk or follow us on twitter at https://twitter.com/cicatrixart
Back to the other major thrust of my work at the moment, a series of online conversations, sparked off by a scam e-mail,which explores our relationship with truth in a virtual world and where the actual power of that interaction lies. This has resulted in a number of filmed interactions in chat rooms which I hope will become the basis for a video installation.
An artist recently commented on the diversity of these two projects but actually, for me, there is a definite area in which they overlap. My research into Porton Down has unearthed an online world of perceived government cover-ups were, with little or no information to go on, people will still make a considered choice to believe a given ‘truth’ of conspiracy despite the obvious evidence to the contrary. It is similar, in a way to the choice they make to consume the supposed truth of an online scam romance even when the evidence is presented by authorities to the contrary.
And so, the meeting with my mentor proved positive and she, again, helped me compartmentalise work into two areas with a focus to create a solo show in 2015.
The next re:view meeting I had was a surgery with WW gallery http://www.wilsonwilliamsgallery.com/ which is something I had intended to do for a long time. I respect the work WW show and feel a compatibility with their interests, particularly their ability to show strong work with a thread of irreverence, humour and pathos. Again, we had a really valuable meeting and Debra gave me some concrete advice on the production and pricing of video, touring shows, working with curators, the importance of obtaining writing around my work from a respected critic and the need to set aside one day a week for promotion and following up relationships/submission etc. , all valuable information which adds another missing piece to the jigsaw puzzle of my practice.
One more meeting to go and I am compiling a long list of final questions for Judy Adam, curator of the recent and ambitious artSOUTH http://www3.hants.gov.uk/artsouth series of exhibitions and with whom I have had one previous meeting. Then it will be good bye to re:view.
In a previous blog post I mentioned two areas of my work which were just beginning to unfold. The AA2A project, http://aa2a.biz/pg/profile/southampton based at Solent University took off to a slow start due to previous commitments and school holidays which restricted me accessing the university (they were obviously open but I was at home with the children to look after). After a really encouraging meeting with the head of the fine art department discussing how the residency could develop, a sudden increase in workload for staff due to an audit meant I was suddenly left totally to my own devices until early 2014. The AA2A residency is a bit of an odd fish really, and my forays into previous outcomes with other artists at all colleges has revealed a very mixed bag of experience.
Some artists have worked closely with colleges with very beneficial results for both students and the artists involved. Other AA2A artists have banded together to put on performances and interactive projects and events under their own steam. Some artists have literally gone in clearly to access technical equipment in order to realise a particular commission, while others have used it as a time of real experimentation. Many however have undoubtedly struggled with the role, and some have unfortunately failed to extract the benefit they could have from it. As resident AA2A artist you are neither student nor teacher but at times you are both. You have access to equipment and technicians time whenever you want, as long as it does not detract significantly from that of the students there (Quite difficult to assertain). How much or how little you wish to integrate with college life is up for negotiation or maybe set down by yourself or by university staff. Security staff are wary and unsure how to categorise you, workshops technicians likewise. In other words, if you want handholding AA2A is generally not for you. At the end of the day, it is largely a self driven, self structured and self-motivated role. If you’re willing to take this on then I think, in my opinion, it is an absolute gem of an opportunity.
Towards the end of 2013, in a vacuum of any contact staff whatsoever, I set myself two simple goals. One, to either attend all day Tuesday or all day Wednesday each week, and two, to introduce myself to three students each time and get to know a little about their work and experience on the course.
Like many AA2A artists I headed straight for the print room, facilities which are always limited to artists outside college life. A recent project has involved exploring scam e-mails and online chat room interactions, a platform far removed from the hands-on craftsmanship of the print room. The acidic phrases and biting words online interactions produce however, sparked my interest in translating these digital texts through the process of etching, where acid literally bites words into the metal plate.
I was amazed to find that the etching equipment largely lay ignored in the corner of the print room and was certainly rarely if at all visited by fine art department students. I had an interesting discussion with the technician on the changes that have taken place on fine art degree courses, the introduction of digital technology and the reduction of dedicated print -based fine art degrees. Interestingly enough though, I did discover while doing a bit of research, this really interesting course at Wimbledon which combines both traditional and modern technology Http://www.arts.ac.uk/wimbledon/courses/undergradu….
To get back to the purpose of the blog however, my place at Solent University is a direct result of developments encouraged by the re:view bursary. There’s lots more to tell about December in relation to this, including the development of Cicatrix, which I will go into at a later date, but which you can read about here www.cicatrix.co.uk, and which is becoming an all-consuming commission for the moment. There is also a very timely meeting with my mentor, supported by the re:view bursary, which took place just before Christmas and a new position as associate artist with Chapel Arts Studios, but that again is for another post.
If you’re going to be rejected, you couldn’t get a nicer way to do it than this – and they had 1500 applications to reply to…
Dear Susan ,
Thank you so much for your application to the Sustainable Arts Foundation…
Although we are not able to fund your application, we want you to know that we are inspired by your commitment to your craft and by the sacrifices you’re making to pursue it. Our jurors are invited to provide feedback about the applications they review. We wanted to share the following:
“The sound installation with the medicine bottles seems like it would be fascinating in person- especially in a cellar space like that with good acoustics. “
We know that it is hard enough to create time for artistic work while parenting, let alone to work on grant applications, and we appreciate the effort you put in to your submission. All applicants are eligible to re-apply, although we can’t recommend strongly enough that reapplications be submitted with new work.
Thank you again for your application, and we wish you all the best, both with your work and with your family.
Tony and Caroline Grant
The Sustainable Arts Foundation
The aspect I find most difficult to manage as an artist with a portfolio career is the fluid nature of projects, how there are no hard edges as such and one piece of work has a tendency to bleed over, time wise and impose on another. When you add in a family of six to trail after with all of their work and social lives to co-ordinate, it gets a little messy.
The nature of freelance work also means you rarely ever know what’s round the corner, paid work is either a feast or a famine, and in feast times, there’s still a temptation to hang onto all offers given in case famine lies ahead. Of course the diversity and unpredictability of the work is, at the same time, what makes it so compelling.
And so this is why I found myself in a coffee shop this morning discussing a possible project with a wonderfully innovative opera company who create hugely inspiring events with children with special needs, while I have also been awarded an ACE grant to create a film around the military events that have shaped Salisbury Plains and been selected for Solent University’s AA2A residency – (which will deal with a different body of work entirely). Now I’ve just got to create a box of time for them all, including ongoing work in a school – and I’ll be fine.
Earlier this summer, things were looking a little famine like in the paid work department and I could definitely feel an unspoken pressure to get my act together and start bringing in some income from a more mind numbing, but dependable source. My husband has been really supportive but even I was beginning to question my sanity as the bills were rising. Luckily, the Ace grant has come just in time, and as other small waves of work come in, I feel my practice is once again back on safe ground.
But more of those projects later, what this blog is focusing on is the ongoing effect of the re:view bursary. So far I have worked with two mentors, one of which has advised on a more practical level, the other of which approached me with a really personal interest in my work – both have been invaluable. Some advice was slightly conflicting but where both mentors crossed over on was the advantage of being connected in some way to a university. This fell into place when the AA2A scheme moved closer to home and as such I will now be one of Solent, Southampton University’s artists in residence for the foreseeable future. I am actually hugely excited about this as primarily it will help me experiment with presenting my ideas on a much larger and more complex scale digitally and entirely open up the possibilities in all sorts of media. Not only this, being part of the vibrant atmosphere of university life should inject a much needed boost of enthusiasm which is sometimes hard to maintain as an isolated artist. Another area which Helen Sloan, the latter mentor, has helped me make sense of is how to departmentalise the different areas of my work and recognise that it’s OK to do so. At the time I discussed the potential Ace funded project which will be on a specific theme, quite different from the theme’s I am working on myself and I was concerned about this. Helen made me see really clearly that that commission could happily rest separately from the rest of my work and this shouldn’t create a conflict. She encouraged me then to select one or two main ideas from the other research I was doing and focus in on them, particularly resolving how they would come together in an exhibition space.
None of this was rocket science but sometimes you just need the calming encouragement of another voice to make you see through the fog. This has been a good year for me, not a busy year so far as exhibiting goes, but a good year for me to grow and an instrumental part of that has been re:view. Thank you a-n. A little funding is bearing a lot of fruit I feel.