“When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than eleven outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial. Here are my own eleven rules, every one of which I regard as golden…”
A Nice Cup of Tea, George Orwell, 1946

A friend asked me the other day how I manage to balance the different areas of my practice (studio time; solo work; collaboration; research; admin; promo; breathing etc). Given some of the postings across Artists Talking recently, this is something that is clearly on people’s minds.

If only it were as simple as working out eleven personal golden rules (however controversial); but trying to work out a way of getting art practice as conveniently streamlined and efficient as possible is far harder than actually getting art made. I’m not saying making art is easy, but it’s easier than all the other stuff, because that’s the bit that I actively want to do and enjoy doing.

In coming up with an answer for my friend, I thought about what I try to achieve on a yearly basis:

· One major collaboration (currently knee deep in funding application with great apprehension about my chances of success)

· One major solo project (this year’s is site-specific and luckily, I’m working directly with a gallery on it, so admin time has been cut right down to a minimum… phew, at least that’s a current positive)

· Pursue avenues for previous year’s projects (this year that means getting “Down” in particular shown as much as possible)

· Continue with smaller side projects, both collaborative and solo (waiting for final piece of writing from the architectural writer I’m collaborating with; get next Tenneson and Dale piece sorted; carry on with Still Lives series)

· Keep looking for new opportunities…

… but it’s not really that simple, as all of the above is always subject to so many factors I cannot control, which might best be abbreviated by the word “life”. Perhaps I should just believe what the swirls in the bottom of my mug tell me:

· Expect change, surprise, stress (and more tea).


I can feel my brain seizing up and it’s because I’ve not been using my hands. The only remedy is to get right back into work. I’ve got the materials together for my next big project, I’ve sharpened my scissors – time to stop shirking, shut up and GET ON WITH IT.

1 Comment

I’ve just watched Chicago Tonight’s piece on “Outpost” – Lou Mallozzi’s performance work I wrote about in post 28.

Judging by the TV footage, audience reactions to the work encompassed interest, surprise, embarrassment, nonchalance and in one instance, deliberate provocation in the form of pirouetting. I wasn’t expecting the coolness of Mallozzi’s approach – he describes the visitors to the museum in an unemotional, detached way – but I suppose this makes sense given that the work is inspired by our electronic surveillance culture. (I treasure a photo in John Baeder’s “Sign Language”: NO JAIL FOR ME WE HAVE A ELECTRIC EYE says a homemade shop sign in shaky writing, suitably summing up the strange comfort we find in spying.) However, it’s not primarily surveillance “Outpost” has made me think about, but rather the relationship between artist, artwork and audience. This relationship is not collaboration but at the same time, it is interaction – one more reason to think about how “solo” work is never really so solo after all.

Without an audience, art is just a collection of objects; but bring in an audience (however small) and it becomes art. How does this happen? I don’t think it’s magic and I don’t think that galleries are portals to other-worldly transformations. I think it’s more that artwork lives and dies by its opportunity to communicate. There’s a line of communication from the artist to the viewer via the artwork and back again. (Now that I come to think about it, this explains the odd sensation of only really seeing my work properly whenever I exhibit it for the first time.) Art is just language – one form of human communication amongst many…

Reading this back to myself I realise it’s awkward and unsatisfactory and doesn’t sum up what I’m trying to get at, but I’m going to leave it as is and remind myself that such instances are the very reason I prefer the language of art to the language of writing. Words are just too limiting.


> Technical Itch

This week, I walked excitedly into Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s interactive exhibition, “Recorders”, at Manchester City Gallery.


The gallery was quite quiet, so I got to have a good go at everything. The exhibition’s outstanding work, “Pulse Room”, involved holding two metal handles which stored the pattern of your heartbeat and allowed it (along with other visitors’) to be replicated in the glowing and fading of 100 large light bulbs hanging in a grid from the ceiling. When it came to my turn, it actually felt like I was, to put it incredibly cheesily, “at one with the machine”. It was beautiful. The Collaborator in me loved it.

Feeling like a little kid desperate to go on the slide again a split second after reaching its end, I walked around the exhibition a second time and I noticed that some people were choosing not to interact with the works. I also looked with regret at the one work which was dark and bedecked with an “out of order” sign. I wondered how the artist would feel about these occurrences. Work which has to plug in and interact electronically, digitally or mechanically is, on the whole, the kind of work I avoid making myself – if it breaks down or people don’t play, that’s the audience gone. What’s an artwork without an audience? It’s not an artwork – it says nothing to no-one.

I don’t mean this niggle to reflect badly on Lozano-Hemmer’s pieces, which I very much enjoyed, but the show’s assumption that we are entirely beholden to technology seemed wrong to me, as proved by the visitors who “saw” the show but did not or could not “experience” it.


Happy new year!

This week the dial on my collaborationometer was ping ping pinging when I discovered the following invitation in my inbox:

Lou Mallozzi “Outpost”
Perched on the 4th floor mezzanine of the MCA, I’ll be zeroing in on visitors to the museum through a telescope and describing them in detail over loudspeakers placed outside the 2nd floor exhibition space. Presented for the “Interactions” series in conjunction with the MCA’s current exhibition “Without You I am Nothing: Art and Its Audience,” this performance turns surveillance inside-out: spectators become spectacle, the audience becomes subject and object.

Sadly, I can’t travel to Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Arts to experience the performance (it’s annoying how the instantaneousness of the internet fools you into forgetting that the world remains as massive as ever), but I am intrigued by the stealth-like nature of this collaboration between artist and audience.

Lou Mallozzi is a sound artist who “dismembers and reconstitutes sound, language, gesture, and image in various media.” He is also a prolific collaborator. (http://loumallozzi.blogspot.com) I replied to Lou’s message about his forthcoming performance, explaining my own interest in collaboration. In discussing the work, I was really struck by his assertion that: “Part of the reason to do it is to see what the responses will be and to put myself on the spot to respond in some significant way.” This idea of “putting yourself on the spot” is exactly what makes collaboration both exciting and frightening. I am curious to know how Lou will modify his actions in response to audience “participation” and am particularly keen to learn how the power dynamic between artist and audience will play out, since it will occur in the pressurised situation of a live performance.

Where does control lie and how does it shift? Maintaining some sense of it within a collaboration is paramount, but it must not be at the expense of your collaborator’s sense of control. It’s a difficult balance, made harder by the fact that it has to be re-learned every time you embark on a new collaboration. This will be the case for Lou, as although the premise of his performance is the same each night, the audience is not… anyway, this is to be continued, as Lou has promised to feedback on how it all goes, so I’ll be discussing this again shortly.