Reflections on participating in the Artists’ International Delegation 2018, Budapest: Dialogue, discussion, debate, and discourse.
1 A conversation between two or more people as a feature in a book, play or film.
1.1 A discussion between two or more people or groups, especially one directed towards exploration of a particular subject or resolution of a problem.
The delegation bought together a group of nine artists, myself included, and one writer, all hailing from the North West of England. The conversations we were to have were shaped by the remit of the original call out and application process, namely; to share strategies for, and insight into sustaining artistic practices in the face of political, social or economic challenges. This was to be our dialogue.
Though the topic and purpose were clearly framed by the organisers, within that each delegation member bought their own agenda and knowledge to the delegation. A very packed and carefully selected timetable for the delegation saw us meet a great variety of people working within the arts in Budapest, from artists, curators and designers, to academics and facilitators/administrators. As we explained and expanded upon our reasons for being part of the delegation at each of these meetings the dialogue was further shaped. By sharing our knowledge and listening to that of others we were able to reflect on our own thoughts about the purpose in relation to the new information we were taking on board.
By carefully framing the dialogue through the original call out, the selection of the delegates and the timetable, it gave a clear steer to the delegation. This approach ensured we remained focused, deviated infrequently, and made the most of the experience and limited time we had together as a group and with the people we met along the way. The intense focus for the dialogue remained with us throughout our journey and was key to the success of the experience.
1 [mass noun] The action or process of talking about something in order to reach a decision or to exchange ideas.
1.1 [count noun] A conversation or debate about a specific topic.
1.2 [count noun] A detailed treatment of a topic in speech or writing.
During the delegation we took every opportunity available to us for discussion and for me some of the most valuable discussions took place between the more formal conversations that were arranged.
The delegation travelled across Europe by train and the role of this method of transport became significant to the way the group functioned. Taking a slower form of transport opens up a between time, where there aren’t such defined pressures on what you should be doing thus creating an opportunity to step outside daily routine. We weren’t always seated together, rather, we sat as smaller groups or at times pairs, which gave the space for us to get to know each other on different levels and learn who we were going to be spending the next week with. The conversation ebbed and flowed, stories, experiences and advice were shared. We ate, we laughed, we talked, we read, we snoozed and we learnt as a group.
There was also the opportunity on the trains to hold more formal sessions. My agenda for the trip was to focus on learning more about strategies for creating networks and programmes that might be able to help non-commercial artists sustain their practice in North Cumbria. Based on a video I had chosen to share with the group prior to us setting off, I led a discussion session based on our current networks and position as artists in the places we call home. What quickly immerged was the groups ability to generously share our different personal agendas, listen to each other and offer meaningful insights into our own experiences of sustaining networks and practices.
The theme of travel bringing about discussion continued throughout the trip, be it via walking, taking a tram, metro or a bus. Once at our destination, Budapest, we still needed to travel to and from all the galleries and studios we visited and the conversations continued in these between spaces. The discussions that took place as we travelled bought about cohesion of the group and cemented us as a team for the duration of the delegation.
So much was gained from talking with people I had never met before and it reminded me of the importance of being present in the world and to make the effort to connect with your peers and existing networks; to value discussion wherever it takes place and remember how much can be learnt through sharing valuable time and words together.
1 A formal discussion on a particular matter in a public meeting or legislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward and which usually ends with a vote.
1.1 An argument about a particular subject, especially one in which many people are involved
Prior to the delegation I took the time to read a little about the current political situation in Hungary including the upcoming election (8 April 2018) and the impact the current party’s policies have on the arts and media. During the trip we didn’t hear many arguments for the current policies, due to the types of organisations we were meeting and steer of the delegation, however, the reading I had done before hand did give me a little insight into the different sides of the current debate. Each one of the individuals we met were very conscious of the political setting they were working within and the difficulties they were encountering. In turn I felt acutely aware of the importance of this as the background context for our discussions in relation to how artists in Budapest are dealing with political, social or economic change in their home country.
As an accompaniment to this I was keen to see some of the daily life of Budapest so as to put the art world and politics in daily context. Though time for this was limited I did manage to visit a couple of markets and consciously people watched whilst we were travelling about (the Hungarian people look tired, like they have had hard lives). I picked up a little on the difference between those living in major cities in Hungary and those living rurally who’s live are probably rarely touched by the (contemporary) arts or global influences.
We also had the opportunity to take a tour of buildings that mark key political periods in Hungary’s history and were told about the relationship between the building styles and the ideology of the time. On the same day we took a tour of the huge Fiumei Road cemetery where many important Hungarian political and cultural figures are buried. Both these activities helped to build a picture of Hungary’s recent, predominantly 19th and 20th century, political history which is complex and very different to the UK’s. I struggled to make sense of it all but the important point was to try.
The experience has been a reminder of how important it is to be aware of what is going on around you, to be open to different views and not live in a bubble. We are fortunate in the UK and should make the most of the things we have, particularly those on our own door step.
1 Written or spoken communication or debate.
1.1 [count noun] A formal discussion of a topic in speech or writing.
1.2 Linguistics A connected series of utterances: a text or conversation.
On returning to the UK one of the expecting outcomes from the delegates is that through continued discourse we will share what we have learnt with our existing networks in the hope that others can more widely benefit from our experience.
I have some clear ways in which this will happen. Firstly, I hope to reach an audience outside my immediate networks by blogging both here on the a-n website and on my own blog: http://lauramrharrison.blogspot.co.uk/
Following the completion of my MA I have maintained a close relationship with the staff in the Fine Art department at the University of Cumbria so later this month will be giving a presentation to the students on my experience of the delegation. The intention is to focus on key points that will help the students think about the importance of networks and how they might sustain their practices following education.
I am also a member of Art Crit Cumbria and will be giving feedback to the group next week. Prior to the delegation we had already had conversations about what I might look for whilst away and I was given notes of the groups ideas. I will be feedback on these specific questions and am sure we will have ongoing conversations about what I have learnt, and what strategies we might be able to use to improve networks and opportunities for non-commercial artists in our home county.
An unexpected part of the ongoing discourse is that it looks highly likely the delegation group will stay in touch. We were so lucky that we all got on really, really well so want to continue to regularly touch base as a group and continue to converse about what we do. Although I am unable to attend, there is already a follow-up get together planned and all being well we will be having a group film night in the not too distant future.
One of the wonderful things about being part of a delegation such as this is that so many, as yet unknown, things could come from it in the future for me and everyone else who took part. I shall wait to see what emerges with eager anticipation.
All dictionary definitions taken from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/ accessed 7 April 2018.
From the outset I am going to state that a lot of this post is based on assumptions or limited information. However, this writing is being used as an opportunity to lay out some thoughts prior to setting off to Budapest. I fully expect the majority, if not all, of my assumptions to be challenged by the time I return home and reflecting on this post will be a useful exercise.
As I don’t know any of the other delegates who will be traveling to Budapest, I turned to an internet search engine to see what I could find out about my traveling companions as part of my preparatory work for the trip. As a group it looks like we have a wide range of interests and cover a diverse spectrum of art disciplines which is wonderful to see and I am very much looking forward to learning more about everyone’s individual practice. What I find more interesting, in that it relates more closely to my reasons for applying for the delegation, is that we don’t represent a wide geographical coverage of the North West of England*.
From the information I have found so far it looks like everyone, apart from me, lives and or works in Manchester or Liverpool. Out of the five counties of North West England, Cheshire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Merseyside, the group comprises residents of only three of these counties. There is a vast swathe of land between Manchester and Liverpool before getting to Carlisle, which is my nearest city, lying close to the border with Scotland. I think it is also worth noting that I am now a country dweller and live in a small village which houses roughly 100 people. If, as I understand to be the case, everyone else lives in Manchester or Liverpool this means I am the only one of the group not based in a city.
The applications for the delegation would have been selected on merit and not on the specific location of the individual applicants, however, I find it really interesting that the majority of the applicants live and or work in major cities in the southern part of the North West. It doesn’t come as a great surprise, I think most people working in the arts recognise the difference living in a major city makes to the opportunities available and chance of being able to work in the arts. Yet, I think it is still worth examining the specific issues or challenges arising from the way the North West of England, and in particular that the ‘Northern North West’, is represented in the arts.
Having lived in Cumbria for nearly 18 years, I am already familiar with our county not always seeming to exist. For instance, I was listening to the BBC weather forecast when the ‘Beast from the East’ was about was about to hit. The Glasgow area was covered, then Manchester and Liverpool however, Cumbria wasn’t mentioned at all. When the snow did hit, areas near Shap and further east into the North Pennines were some of the worst affected areas in the UK to the point where military helicopters had to be sent in to provide emergency supplies. This seems to be fairly typical and it often feels like most of the country thinks the North West stops at Manchester.
While I understand that to be a successful artist my art work would need to be seen across the UK, and hopefully internationally, I also feel a real sense of responsibility to the area I have chosen to call home. I am beginning to recognise that there are two key aspects to my life as an artist; firstly, my art work and practice, and secondly the way I conduct myself in a more political sense. Being part of this delegation presents a fantastic opportunity to observe, witness and participate in, even if only verbally, in a different social and political setting. This information will then be a lens through which I can reconsider the politics of where I live and discuss what it is like to be a contemporary ono-commercial artist living and working in Cumbria. There will be the chance to discuss this with others who live in the North West and to see if there are strategies that could be emulated that would strengthen the representation of the arts in the ‘Northern North West’, both from my fellow delegates and all the arts organisations we will be visiting in Budapest**.
*It was a criteria for the delegation that applicants live and/or work in the North West of England.
**See my previous post for a little more thinking on this.
One of the activities chosen prior to setting off on the a-n / Castlefield Budapest Artist Delegation 2018 is a suggested reading exchange. Everyone who will be part of the delegation has chosen a text, or in my case a video, that at least one other person will study ready for discussion on the train journey.
I have chosen three pieces from the reading list:
- Letter from Budapest, The Castle and the City, Maya and Ruben Fowkes, Art Monthly No. 412
- Journey by Moonlight, Antal Szerb
- Selling out or buying in?: Looking at artists + their merch as an act of self-support, Human Poney, aqnb.com
I may come back to these texts in more detail later but today I am focusing on one small extract from the Art Monthly article that resonates with an aspect of why I submitted for the delegation:
‘Neo-avant-garde practices are indeed the main agenda for these galleries, with ACB, Kisterem and Vintage now regularly organising collaborative presentations on the international stage, putting aside competitiveness to promote Hungarian art abroad.’
This quote encompasses some key themes I have been thinking about in relation to strategies that may help improve the standing of contemporary art in Cumbria. Within Budapest there has been an increase in artist led activity, seeking to help sustain their practices, create new networks and continue to promote Hungarian contemporary art practice. This delegation offers an opportunity to consider the impact of such artist led activity and what we could learn from it at home.
In a county as geographically complex and sparsely populated as Cumbria I wonder if there is a lot that could be gleaned from examining cross organisational collaborations such as those that ACB, Kisterem and Vintage are embarking on. There is already a lot going on in Cumbria, however, it appears (to me at least) that a lot of arts organisations and individuals work in silo and do not talk to one another, resulting in duplication of work and effort. Aided by discussion, perhaps it would be possible to share the load to everyone’s benefit, work out who does what best and allow each group to focus on their area of expertise within the art world in Cumbria. With sharing there also comes opportunities to structure a more diverse programme of arts, with events that are scheduled and promoted in a collaborative way.
We, in the Northern North West, should be working together to put Cumbrian contemporary art practice on the map. Over the course of the delegation I will be thinking about where my actions at home fit in to all of this, what I can do to be more collaborative and more generally how expertise can be shared to the benefit of others.
I am so excited to say that I will be taking a train across Europe and heading for Budapest as part of an a-n / Castlefield artist delegation. I intend to blog during and after the trip as a way of documenting the journey and experience.
The below is taken from the a-n / Castlefield participants announcement:
‘Castlefield Gallery is pleased to announce that a delegation of artists from Manchester and the North West will travel to Budapest to meet with artist-led projects and experience the Hungarian capital’s grassroots art scene, traveling overland via Munich. The trip will take place between 17 – 24 March 2018 and is being made possible thanks to eight funded places supported by Castlefield Gallery’s Lee Artists’ International Bursary Fund and a-n The Artists Information Company.
The eight successful artists selected to be part of the delegation are: Jamie Allan, Olivia Glasser, Grace Harrison, Laura Harrison, Lucy Harvey, Gregory Herbert, Anna Horton and John Powell-Jones.
An additional place has been awarded to writer Bob Dickinson to join the trip. Dickinson is particularly interested in researching critical writing in Hungary, and the possibilities for developing future links between artists and writers from the UK and Hungary, looking to find common ground in how each group is responding to politically challenging contexts.
Led by Castlefield Gallery with assistance from a-n, the artists’ delegation is the first of several partnership projects that the two organisations will jointly deliver over 2018 and 2019. This first initiative is aimed at providing support and talent development opportunities, facilitating international experiences and encouraging exchange for artists in the North West of England.
The delegation is conceived as a mini-residency within which participants will encounter aspects of two different contemporary European art scenes as well as the historical and socio-political contexts that artists in Germany and Hungary are currently working in. The stop in Munich will consist of a number of gallery visits, while five days in Budapest will allow for a range of encounters with galleries and artist-run projects, including a visit to the artists’ town of Szentendre.’