Having missed my friend the day before we reconnected to meet up and do some galleries on Saturday. We ended up doing a variety of shows in East Village and I had a totally different experience going with a New Yorker. The thing that really got me was a show by Matthew Chambers which we managed to get into at 5:55pm – thank you, gallery person, for letting us in. Paintings on – well, flock wallpaper it seemed, but I don’t think it was…but they were…furry… Large scale, bright, intense colours, with a wonderful statement addressed To Whom it May Concern. Huge artist books were out for us to see, pages made of paintings smothered in paint and hauled together into boxes. It was just joyous.
My ‘tour guide’ was artist Jan Staller who I met in Houston at Fotofest…It’s great to be able to re-affirm these new connections. I was also staying with another artist I met there, Kyle Meyer, who does incredible photo weavings…We swapped stories about the year we had had so far. I have learned a lot from both of them.
When I applied for this bursary it was partly about doing the Salon talk, partly about reinforcing/ making new connections which I could bring back with me, partly about maximising my reach to propel me into my next year. It seemed maybe a bit more linear in my head when I applied…It was only a few months after I had started working as an artist full time, even though I’ve been making work for many years. But as this year draws to a close, and I get more of a sense of what I am doing, I feel what I thought was linearity is less likely – and also, maybe less desirable.
I’ll try and explain.
At the start of the year I had a few things scheduled in – Fotofest in Houston, Art in Action in Oxfordshire and a workshop to lead at The Photographers’ Gallery. At the moment I got this travel award I had these pin-pointed in the year. Finding out I had the bursary just before I got on the plane to Fotofest maybe gave me the extra confidence I needed to walk into the room thinking “I’m coming back in October….” so maybe it helped me straight away. Maybe it gave me the bit of armour that I needed. Someone else agreed I was an artist so it must be true!
I have noticed as I have gone along that each thing I have done in the year – and there were more than those few outlined – has connected to something else, but rather than see it as a ruler with increments I am inching towards, I began to re-define what I saw/see as progress. Sure, there are highs and gallops to something else….periods of mad activity in which I don’t seem to be able to do anything except grit my teeth and hope I have enough clean laundry to last out. And then there are these fallow times, when it seems nothing is happening. I’m not sure how I get along with those.
My overall purpose for the going on the trip was to raise the profile of my Artist Book and make connections which will reverberate down the line…. I have already met up with publisher Delphine Bedel who I met in New York, and am seeing artist Lucy Helton in January. And going in October meant I could reconnect with those I had already met in March… It’s definitely been about creating a web of friends that reach out far beyond my own horizon…..Its better than email…It’s being available in real time.
I have noticed doing something concrete means I can tell people I am doing it/have done it – a reason to reach out without sounding needy…there is a bona-fide reason for doing so. That is incredibly useful. Just after I got back from New York I went to Brighton where I had been selected for a portfolio review with Photoworks. There I met Alex Straeker from LensCulture, and they published my project on their Spotlight section. Work begets work, or something….
I have also learned a lot about throwing myself into different situations of presenting my work so I am going to finish this post by telling you about another talk I did just this weekend, here in the UK.
I was invited to present my same project at Hothouse, part of the programming collaboration between Manchester’s Redeye and Grain in Birmingham. I thought this could be a good opportunity to explore the possibility of making my introduction to the book a self-contained performance, one that ran alongside my images arranged in an order making more sense for live-screening. This method wouldn’t have been appropriate for the talk in New York.
I practised and practised what I wanted to do…. speaking my introduction in time with the images…including ones which had not made it into the book. I wrote my words down on cards. I rehearsed. I timed. I have done a talk already, so I felt – prepared.
But on the day itself I was completely taken aback as I started to choke while speaking. Although I had also been emotional speaking in New York, I thought maybe I would be more even-keel this time. But it didn’t turn out that way. I could feel myself catching my breath…The audience were amazing. The questions and observations were sensitive. Someone tweeted #radicalsoftness and I think that’s one of the best compliments I have ever had. I googled it to see if it was a thing….
It was permission to show feelings in public.
I am sure language is the layer we put on top of feelings because we can’t talk about feelings….we cover the feeling with words and hope for the best. But the feelings themselves, which are what I am trying to get at, are almost inarticulable. I think that’s what happens to me when I have tried to talk about this project. It’s the feelings coming up and grabbing me round the throat and I can’t speak, even though I have the words. This approach doesn’t suit everyone, but I think it suits me. We look for linearity and progression to mark out in stepping stones, identities formed into shapes we already know. But it’s fluid … being able to sit with that uncertainty is something I constantly work at.