Well actually the new broom was a borrowed one but in terms of the saying today was about taking control of my studio and making some changes. Thursday brings a studio visit and I have literally been sweeping up, there are always masses of dead spiders who fall from the ceiling onto the workbench together with the carcasses of their prey. I digress.
The studio clear up and clear out can sometimes be classed as a procrastinating activity, but I believe there is more to it. Out of the process of clearing and sorting comes clarity, both in the physical space but also conceptually about the work, its intention and direction. When I spend an hour or so sorting, sweeping and tidying inevitably an old piece of work comes to light which seems to beg a question why didn’t I do something with this? The studio operates as both live space and archive simultaneously, I’d be very intrigued to see a studio which only contains current work (where would all the ‘stuff’ be?) I have many images in mind when I think of how the artists studio’s are curated photographically and seek to capture the artist and a single point if interest, a current work most likely. Artists do spend time in their working day focused on a single artwork (I wonder about painters here for example) however as a multidisciplinary artist, I use combinations of processes, materials and tools and as such this kind of image would be very limited in its ability to tell the story of my practice. I’m on the go, walking between different areas in the studio, this doesn’t take long, it’s a small space, but in every area there is stuff, past works, current works, scraps of paper with ideas for future works, long forgotten to-do lists which haven’t been done, lists with ticks where things have been.
The temptation on clear and clean days like these is to bin ruthlessly, but what of the archive aspect of the studio? The DACS Foundation is leading Art360 where UK artists or artists estates are being given support to create digital archives. What will be found in the depths of these studio recesses I wonder. When does an artwork or a document turn from being live to being archive material. It will be interesting to see how this project pans out and what role the studio plays.
From being too hot or too cold, too cramped, too busy or too lonely, to being so impressive and expansive it becomes an mechanism in own right with assistants and dedicated production zones, the artist studio is a varied entity.
Last month I visited the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Art to see the Giacometti exhibition A Line Through Time. I have long admired Giacometti, particularly his drawing and this visit allowed me to extend my thinking to include the nature of his working arrangements.
On moving to Paris Giacometti took on a small near square dark room to use as a studio which he intended to move from but never did. In the exhibition a film Giacometti (1) shows the artist working in his studio. We see the agitated squeezing and stretching of clay, repetitive and compulsive working. Dressed smartly in a shirt, tie and jacket while all around him looks contaminated by plaster, clay, and dirt, it’s almost as if this space simply doesn’t matter, the intensity of his concentration excluding any need for comfort.
He worked in this room for 40 years until his death in 1966, surrounded by materials and drawings, by works in process and complete. Michael Peppiatt who wrote In Giacometti’s studio called the space “repository of repeated failure” (1). This cannot be viewed as a negative description, the unresolved or abandoned are above all necessary. No artist can consistently produce works which end up being finished, exhibited or sold. There must be duds, ‘failures’ back beats of work or activities with help to focus or loosen up the mind, these work are sometimes never meant to be seen or shared.
The determination to keep making work, what ever the space, what ever the circumstance communicate a conviction and an ability to not only manage boundaries but also exceed them and use them to advantage.
(1) Michael Gill (director), David Sylvester(producer) Giacometti Arts Council Film, 1967, 14 minutes
(2) Michael Peppiatt quoted here
The studio sits inanimate, ready, waiting, and in the back on my mind. It’s being paid for so it needs to be used. My attendance has been sporadic over the last few months, necessity forces me to be working in the office at home. Looking for a change of gear, a change of environment and with a concerted effort I decided on a 5 day attendance last week Monday to Friday but rather than set the bar too high I settle on half days. Rather than state the intention here beforehand, in case I failed to live up to my own ambitions, I share the process now its been completed. Practice comes easier for me during the first half of the day and the 30 minute walk in the morning helps to focus my mind. Sights are seen and subtly inform thinking. On arrival works starts promptly, at the start of the week some writing on the computer, repetitive apature cutting from the mid to end of the week. Spending about 3 or so hours at the studio each day is liberating and motivating. After the 30 minute walk home, lunch, it’s then I turn to the business of running of my art practice, emails, phone calls, invoices, accounts, proposals. The afternoons don’t feel half as productive as the mornings, but then the physicality of making things, cutting things, drawing feels infinitely more satisfying than the repeated addressing of the familiar email alert this inbox is soon going to exceed its capacity which necessitates quick decisions making about what to keep and what to bin. I have as many emails and I have drawings, sitting in folders, sitting in draws, waiting for decisions.
The studio is other, familiar yet different. The computer comes with me for music and on the odd occasion for application writing which flows in a different direction within the space of making. The internet sparsely available on my phone is largely and enjoyably ignored. There are lots of notes as I do my practice. The lists, built up over the course of mornings have crossings out and orderings, the feeling of constantly being behind. Reflection replaces the perceived need to catch up with one which is more sympathetic and understanding that many of the things on the list are ambitions, things to explore, move forward or eventually push aside.
A recent Guardian article Familiarity breeds content: embracing routine can make you happier at work explores the benefits of routine. The routine is in effect a boundary, a circumference around a section of the day, a method of delineating between work and home. The article doesn’t discuss the self employed, perhaps as a group we are too unwieldy. The boundaries of time can be tricky to manage when there are no work colleagues expecting you in, no time clock to mark arrival and departure. In setting this morning slot in the studio I am attempting a routine, to see if it leads to greater productively as well as greater contentment. I pitch up regardless, sometimes knowing what I will do or sometimes not. In a current research and development project I am working on Postures of Making with Dr Valerie Woods, ergonomist, alongside the analysis of the physical effects of art making on the body we are exploring the psychological factors of work. How do things such as lone working, managing a portfolio career, time management effect our experience, dare I say enjoyment of work. And there in that word enjoyment is a nut to be cracked open, its connotations to be picked over; the enjoyment of work, the pleasure of working. I am left wondering about how many people see work as something to survive and emerge from at the end of the day. This approach has its benefits, work is contained, work is work and the remaining of the time is leisure, rest, domestics. For the self employed, for the artist, it takes diligence to delineate work from leisure and visa versa.
My Guardian reading yesterday brought William Boyd describing ‘My Working Day’, his way of working, his rhythm and routine. He opts for dealing with the “mundane business of living – emails, admin, going for a walk, shopping, phoning, posting letters” in the morning, he settles to writing after lunch when ‘the days work really begins’. He writes for around 3 hours and reflects on how effective he can be within that time. It’s a common experience that tasks expand to fit the time available and so with Boyd’s thousand or so words, 3 hours can be an incredible productive time frame in which to operate within.
When I left the studio on Friday around 1pm I thought about the coming week. I’m working away on Wednesday and so it will be only 4 mornings next week at the studio. This small deviation in attendance is necessary and will provide a wealth of research material to take to the studio on Thursday. Reading about Boyd’s routine and reflecting on my own, I wonder if most of creative practice is just about turning up, putting in the time, taking what emerges and doing something with it.
My blogs are crossing over, a studio visit to Polly Cruse from an ergonomic perspective, movements and postures described.
Text and further images can be viewed on the Postures of Making blog.
A trip to visit Sam Wingate, MA Visual Communication student brought with it a tour of the architectural rabbit warren that is the Royal College of Art. A complexity of stairs and doorways, upwards, downwards, sideways: studio rooms, technology rooms, seminar rooms. Visiting on a Saturday it wasn’t going to the busiest of days, but there were students in, working, talking, doing. The access to studios at the RCA offer students the flexibility, after timetabled activities, to continue working when it suits them, a key component in todays fluctuating work timetable which spreads across early mornings, evenings and weekends.
The individual space which Sam occupies is in a room which is warm, light and airy. There is a mixture of Visual Communication and Information Experience Design students in this room, with a few Animators thrown in for good measure. I’m not too nosey but each desk is visually interesting and well used. Sam’s desk is next to a large window, outside of which is a beautiful Plane tree with its camouflage bark. It’s a dreamy view of London, with the big institutional powerhouses of the Victoria & Albert and Science Museums just down the road and Imperial College just a short walk away. This is a district of knowledge and people come from far and wide to visit, work and contribute to these pillars of learning.
I have followed Sam’s work over for a number of years and since starting his Masters programme in September I can see it has already changed radically; there is a new vigour evidenced in energetic mark making and a distinct change in subject matter. There is definite sense of venturing into the unknown. Given that some work spaces can succumb to being overtly curated, his is not, piles of work, in folders, work in progress up on the wall. His space and the wider studio feels a place of energy and exploration.
With cross fertilisation from the different courses, the physical space of the RCA signify the value of arts education: being with people, exchanging ideas and being asked / pushed to do new things. Rewind 175 years or so and this was not always the approach of the RCA or i imagine art schools in general. Some reading has revealed that students at the RCA in the 1840’s would have followed a rigorous regime of set hours, remained seated and silent, copying examples of architecture, plant forms and geometric design (1). Obviously pedagogic ideas have moved on.
In a time when the cost of formal learning is increasing year on year Sam said he had been asked if he thought he was getting value for money. Having rented a studio in London for a number of years at £400 a month, his fees, after his bursary has been applied, isn’t much more. So for not much more outlay he gains a space in a collaborative learning environment, critical feedback, teaching which pushes and pulls him in directions that can be difficult to achieve alone, a peer group who want to be there and resources that enable him to experiment. As he says ‘If you were coming here and had never paid for a studio or run a creative practice with all the expense it brings, the fees may feel high’.
Securing a place on an MA course after a period away from education brings many benefits. Undergraduate learning has been applied in the real world, practice has been combined with paid work, portfolio careers attempted or managed. Post Graduate study is a special kind of experience, come in hungry for challenge and change and your appetites will be rewarded, although your tastes will likely have altered by the time you reach graduation. For the combination of questioning self, being questioning and the sheer quantity of work produced will result in a transformation of practice. I look forward to visiting Sam again to see where his work goes next.
1. Octavia Reeve (Ed) The Perfect Place to Grow 175 years of the Royal College of Art, London, (2012) P7