Starting a ball rolling
My a-n bursary project is to look into ways of supporting performance for small audiences (one-to-one and one-to-few), how to make it more sustainable economically and energetically/emotionally. The aim is to connect up with other artists working in this area, as well as producers and programmers, to think about strategies and best practice, and hopefully create something of a network. In another strand of the project, I’ll be looking at how to place my own practice in new contexts, focusing especially on sculpture-centred venues.
Through my own networks and suggestions from programmers and producers I have contacted a number of artists who have an established practice in small-audience work. I’m aiming to bring people together in a few different locations, and the first meeting with Scotland-based artists took place last month in Glasgow, during the Take Me Somewhere festival. It was a really positive afternoon, with thoughtful reflections on current strategies, positives and negatives of different kinds of programming (e.g. with or without reservation systems, in festivals or in gallery contexts), and some fantastic blue-sky dreams of our ideal environment for this kind of work. We also started musing on whether there are other kinds of ‘quiet’ or meditative work that sit with small-audience practice and that might benefit from a new context. I came away hopeful and keen to move forward with this project – the only downside being that I lost my notebook with the meeting notes straight afterwards…
I’m now finalising my report on my bursary activity – and it feels quite lop-sided. There are some really positive results and achievements, and some disappointing dead-ends. The positive side is definitely the work of bringing together practitioners involved in (making, producing, promoting, researching) live work for small audiences. These gatherings have felt necessary and productive, and have given me a lot of useful input as well as forming a base for future development (including some very concrete proposals). I’ve been energised and re-enthused by these meetings, and feel like they’ve built my confidence in my ability to facilitate collaboration and sharing.
The more disappointing side is the work to find new contexts for my own practice. I’ve felt much less confident in this part of the project, and although the support of producer Andrew Mitchelson, who made many of the initial contacts and helpful suggestions on how to approach this process, I realise it would also have been helpful to have a mentor to discuss it with, at least initially. I’ve had helpful meetings with a few people, but still feel I haven’t been able to make the case for taking small-audience work beyond the context of festivals and regular live art venues. Although it’s frustrating to feel I haven’t got as far with this part of the project as I’d have liked, I am seeing it as useful research that I can build on.
I would like to continue the work of both parts of the project as it feels like there is more work to be done on both. The initial plan to follow up the gatherings is for at least an email network of practitioners with an interest in small-audience work. We all recognised that we would need proper resources (time and money) to do more than this, though there is much more we could do.
With regard to widening contexts for my practice, I will be following up the helpful suggestions made in my meetings with Paul Hobson (Modern Art Oxford), Sam Trotman (Scottish Sculpture Workshop) and Lawrence Sillars (Henry Moore Institute) – hopefully finding people to write about my work, and finding residencies where I can build relationships. I will reflect on how the process of approaching curators and programmers went and, as and when time allows, how I might follow up the work that Andrew and I did on making contacts.
I’m hugely grateful for the opportunity to reflect this year on where my own practice is and how to take it forward for myself, as well as looking at the wider context of what definitely feels like a practice/sector that is not well supported. It has felt in some ways like a research period that inevitably opens up many more questions but also offers clear pointers for where I/we might go.
The second part of my project is seeking to set my work in new contexts. This involved contacting programmers and curators, especially those engaged with sculpture, to talk about how my one-to-one practice might sit in a museum/gallery context. Producer Andrew Mitchelson and I contacted a long list of people. So far I have had three meetings, which have all been valuable and given me a lot to think about. Thank you to Laurence Sillars at Henry Moore Institute, Paul Hobson at Modern Art Oxford, and especially to Sam Trotman and Jenny Salmean at Scottish Sculpture Workshop. Although nothing concrete has come out of these meetings (and in some ways they’ve confirmed the feeling that audience numbers are still the bottom line), they have suggested some creative ways of getting my practice more visible and present.
So, after a long hiatus (I am not the world’s most prolific blogger), an update. I’m currently finalising my notes from the three gatherings of artists, producers, researchers and programmers in Glasgow, Leeds and London. These have been a definite upside of this project – so much positive energy and creative thinking about what we need and what we can do to support performance for small audiences (and more broadly, performance that is quiet or takes time, or otherwise goes outside of expectations of the spectacular). I’ve also had great in-kind support from Take Me Somewhere in Glasgow, Compass Live Art in Leeds and the Live Art Development Agency, who’ve all provided space and contacts.
The process has been quite intense and there’s a lot to take from it. The biggest thing now is how to build on this energy. I think there is scope and demand for a network of people working in this practice – but that needs more resources, and I’m trying to work out how this might go forward. There are also a lot of ideas about resources and support that would be useful, and I would love to find some avenues for taking those forward, but again it requires time and energy that I don’t feel I have at the moment. The other people who’ve been engaged in these gatherings also all have limited time and resources. So there may be a fallow period of thinking/ exploring before we find some ways of building on this work.
Some time after my last post, together with producer Andrew Mitchelson who’s supporting me with this project, I’m slowly working my way through a list of people to approach. We’ve thought quite carefully about which galleries and venues feel right for this kind of work, and at the moment I’m interested most in conversations that can lay the ground for future collaborations, thinking about one-to-one performance as a sculptural practice.
The good news is that out of the couple of dozen we’ve so far contacted, a few (three) have come back to say they’re interested in the conversation. In September and October I’ll be travelling for meetings with them.
Also in September and October come the second and third artists’ and producers’ gatherings, in London (at the Live Art Development Agency) and Leeds (with the support of Compass Live Art, at East Street Arts). It’ll be good to get a more intensive and focused period of work on this project (which has inevitably been a bit on and off as I try to squeeze in all the other jobs and life stuff).
I’m now working on the second part of my bursary project, which aims to introduce my own work into new contexts. One of the things that came up in the network meeting in Glasgow was that small-audience work often needs a quite different context from other kinds of performance. I’m especially interested in how my one-to-one practice can become quite sculptural – so in this part of the project I’m hoping to set up meetings with sculpture spaces and galleries to talk about how the work might sit in sculptural contexts. At this stage it’s not necessarily about getting shows (though that would be nice), more about starting a dialogue across forms and seeing where that might go.
The challenge for me is to write the first email – having read the (excellent and clear) advice in the a-n Resources section, done my research into the place, worked out who to contact, I still find it really hard to word the approach, try and make clear and succinct what I’m asking for.