Viewing single post of blog Women art technicians unite!

Shortly after the announcement of my AN Bursary, I was overwhelmed by the widespread support for the project on social media. Women who work as art technicians nationwide contacted me and many men expressed their support too. For a while it felt like I had a thousand eyes and ears; people sent me links to interesting initiatives, they shared relevant resources.

The hive mind was a great resource of knowledge but also a source of anxiety. The elevated interest in what I was doing intimidated me and made me quite unsure of myself. I felt like I had definitely put my finger on an important question but had no answers yet and only a half-baked idea about how I might get there. All of this was a similar feeling to how I felt when I had first started working as a technician.

I’ve always tried to ‘be the change that I wanted to see’ and that’s what lead me to work as an art technician at the first place. It frustrated me to see so many of my friends from uni building impressive exhibitions and earning much more per the hour than I did at the time for my office based admin role at a gallery. It seemed unfair and I felt compelled to challenge what seemed to me as a boy club from the outside.

It took me two years to summon up the courage to finally ask for tech work at the same gallery. I actually spent some of those two years studying; gaining qualifications in carpentry and joinery and furniture making while also working in varying assistant roles in galleries. Yet when I finally got offered tech work, I still felt unqualified. It was pointed out to me by someone else, that it’s very telling that I felt compelled to gain qualifications even before I dared to approach the lead technician at the gallery.

This chronic impostor syndrome is something I’ve learnt to live with and control. I’m working towards shaking it off, but it’s a long process to unlearn these things; sometimes I still get nervous sweats when I’m unsure of how to adjust the angle on a particular brand of saw or if I forget the name of a specific drill bit. I think it is particularly challenging for a woman, to deal with these automatic responses in a male-dominated environment, especially when you are new to something and you are still learning. Exhibition installs can be stressful environments, with tight deadlines and little room for error.

You need a certain level of arrogance to come into something knowing that your knowledge and experience might be inefficient. You need a generous amount of blind self-confidence, and most importantly, the support and trust of your co-workers. You can’t make mistakes and learn from those mistakes without allies who are watching your back. This ‘tribal trust’ can be earnt or can be given; I believe that men are often given it before earning it and women will have a hard time working for it.