My meeting with artist and musician Rebecca Lee happened quite by chance, but turned out to be a really fortuitous encounter. We introduced ourselves at a special moving image event (Film Free and Easy) at Primary (the studio space where Rebecca is a resident artist). During our conversation, Rebecca informed me that she had also received the a-n Re:View bursary in 2014, and had undertaken some very useful mentoring sessions as a result.
Prior to this, when I’d been researching the artists who might be able to offer me guidance and mentoring, Rebecca had been mentioned. When I originally applied for the bursary, I had listed the names of several people who I wanted to meet, but I also thought that unexpected things might happen along the way, and I would be introduced to other people who could help me develop my practice. So, from my accidental encounter with Rebecca, we arranged to meet more formally.
Our conversations were incredibly useful, and I found Rebecca to be refreshing and inspiring. We talked about many things including the nourishment of collaborations, the existence of collections, the retelling of stories, and rediscovering the power of artistic (and personal) decision-making.
We discussed my project, ‘tell me about your mother…’ and how I have been absorbed by its appeal, following the path of exhibiting rather than developing. This led to a conversation about artistic visibility and presence, something of which I am acutely aware. It felt reassuring to speak to someone about these concerns, and learn strategies to help manage these ‘non-public’ times. Research and reflection is vital, and work cannot improve nor progress without it. Rebecca talked about not over-delivering and taking time to stand back from your work to think; not everything has to be public.
We talked about the value of nourishing oneself, not just the project, and how this can come from speaking to people working in other disciplines. Rebecca has put me in touch with Christine Stevens, artist and gestalt psychotherapist, and despite our busy schedules we have organized a meeting. This is a really exciting opportunity for me, as discussing the project with someone working in the field of psychotherapy has been an avenue I’ve wanted to pursue for some time.
We also talked about the different presentations, formats or arrangements a work can adopt once it has started. The installation (see below), an artwork in itself, is also a means of collecting participants’ experiences. These experiences are captured on paper, and it is this content that I am really interested in, and which can be represented in multiple ways.
Image credit: Gavin Morrow
Rebecca drew my attention to the work of artist and filmmaker, Ian Nesbit, particularly his documentary film, ‘The Cut’, which follows the Dead Rat Orchestra’s tour across the canals and waterways of Southern England. Nesbit must have recorded and collected a huge amount of footage during this time, yet only one short segment was selected to represent each day. On a similar note, Rebecca mentioned John Newling, and in particular his work, ‘What We Do To Make Ourselves Feel Better’ and the subsequent publication, ‘Make a Piano in Spain’ (2008), which investigates and transforms people’s responses.
“As with many of Newling’s artworks the question is conceived as an instrument of cultural investigation, generating research, data, narrative and material practice all at once. Newling’s diagnostic questions are carefully designed to open up new creative spaces, in which our existing diagnostic tools may not be able to provide all the answers. The question for Newling is a form of uncertainty. In questioning we re-negotiate the terms and conditions of our lives; we reflect on past experience and conceive of new possibilities.”
Extract from the essay A Diagnostic Question: On the Art of the Public Consultation, Dr Jonathan Willett
Thinking about the work of artists such as Nesbit and Newling, as well as my conversations with Rebecca, I feel encouraged to reconsider how I use collected data, being shrewder with my decisions, distilling the information and the stories. And, giving more thought to ‘creative spaces’, the gap between what I choose to show people and what they choose to imagine.
Finally, we discussed the subject of reviews, and in relation to this, publications (artists’ books). I was keen to get guidance about how these can be created and organized. Good advice was firstly to be clear about what kind of writing I want from a reviewer (reflective, factual, a response to something or conversational), and secondly to select the right writers (ideally someone who understands your work). Having somebody write about your work can be beneficial, providing an alternative experience, additional insights and a means of discovery. Incorporating the text into a publication can also be positive, and having an independent voice adds independent credibility to the artist’s work. Rebecca showed me a publication by performance artist Caroline Wright, about her project, ‘My Home is My Museum’ – a collection of personally significant objects belonging to Cambridge residents. The booklet accompanies the online museum collection and contains a piece of reflective writing, essays and texts written by some of the project contributors. It was interesting to think about the way Wright included a combination of different styles of texts, which together provided context, detail and reference points to enhance the viewer’s understanding of the art works.
Image: Caroline Wright
Thinking more about varying types of publications, we looked at the work of Ruth Ewan, particularly her artists books which include selections of images and text. Ewan’s work is formed by engaging with others, and involves close collaborations and research with people as diverse as historians, magicians, traditional crafts people, horticulturalists, archeologists, musicians, bakers and children (http://www.nwcambridgeart.com). Looking more at Ewan’s work has been really stimulating, not only because of her printed works but also her collaborations and interventions with others. I feel encouraged to broaden my thinking in terms of collaborating and who might be able to offer alternative and original viewpoints on my project.
Overall, meeting Rebecca has been immensely useful and I feel I have gained a huge amount from our discussions. She was genuine and honest, and I found her to be incredibly knowledgeable and insightful throughout all our conversations that covered a multitude of topics. Since our meetings, I have spent time looking more at Rebecca’s practice which often involves working with other people and communities, and I feel inspired to think much wider!