Nothing to do with Assignment Three (pic) but ‘Happy Christmas’!
And … Assignment Three is submitted and has had very positive feedback as being ‘VG – well done!’ I wrote up two ‘work experience’ case studies, in the end, and it seems to have worked well. It has helped bring home how much I’ve done in the last twelve months – especially when I really got ‘motoring’ with the galleries etc in the last six months or so. There is a link to the essay, below, and one of the conclusions is that it demonstrates that I have, more or less, been working as an artist, latterly, which is what this module is all about. There are other opportunities out there if I choose to push on and make them happen. For the time being, though, it is all focussed on getting my assessment submission ready (oh, and there’s Christmas, of course!).
Assignment Three – ‘Work Expereince’ Case Studies
(Image courtesy of Castlefield Gallery)
On Tuesday evening, I had the opportunity present my practice, and specifically ‘New Photographic Chemistry’, alongside three other artists, at a meeting of the Castlefield Gallery Associates group, in Manchester. It took the form of a 10 minute presentation followed by five minutes of questions. The meeting was attended by around 16 members of the group.
(Images courtesy of Castlefield Gallery)
These are some of my reflections following the event:
- Once again, the value of time spent in planning and preparation was evident. I had a slideshow (under my control rather than running independently) and a ‘script’ that I had rehearsed – so it was no surprise that the timing worked out more or less exactly. It took the form of a slightly extended version of the video from my website – here – covering the grounding of my practice; the origins and development of ‘New Photographic Chemistry’; and the various forms in which it has, to date, been brought to an audience. So, I covered a lot of ground in a short time but that didn’t seem to be a problem.
- Everything seemed to be well-received by the audience, in terms of attention and body language during the talk, questions that followed, and responses during the tea interval and at the end of the evening. Most of those in the audience (and all of the other three presenters) were practicing artists with multiple exhibitions, commissions, residencies etc; so there was the potential for a ‘credibility gap’. But I didn’t sense it, and the interest seemed to go at least a little way beyond the merely polite.
- Questions/comments immediately post-talk covered – printing onto fabric; choice of colours; time to produce; size of output (with a suggestion that I might go bigger … a lot bigger!); and praise for the way I managed to create a sense of depth and dimension in the images. I was pleased when, after the talk, one audience member compared the images of text manipulation (below) to the work of David Batchelor (which had been part of the original inspiration, as blogged here. It was also good to find some connection with the presenter who preceded me – Roger Bygott – who was talking about a recent residency during which he produced some work that physically deconstructed and subverted Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida.
Sulphur Sensitizers (2015)
Perhaps most importantly, I enjoyed doing it and felt confident in the work and my ability to talk about it. Artists tend to be supportive of each other and to have genuine interest in what others are doing; and the CG Associates scheme offers plenty of opportunities to develop and maintain contacts. As I have observed before in various contexts, the basis for a sustainable practice is there and its future is entirely dependent on how much I want it and how much I am prepared to commit.
Oh – and my image featured in the e-mail to all associates about the evening …
Castlefield Gallery, Manchester – from website.
Assignment Three is titled ‘Work Experience’ and offers two options for the student – either do a work placement and produce a 1500 word write-up about it, or write a 2000 word essay about a particular role (which should be informed by primary research i.e. direct contact with practitioners). The assignment brief is written in a manner that is quite clearly directed towards a student who intends to pursue a career in photography, which isn’t me. Following discussion with my tutor, and working on the basis that the assignment is, fundamentally, about demonstrating engagement with the ‘outside world’ that is photography/art, I have a plan in place that also ensures that the assignment is about something that is genuinely useful to me in ‘sustaining my practice’. It’s reasonable to say that for much of this year, and certainly for the last six months or so, I have been ‘working as an artist’ i.e. pursuing opportunities to engage with the art world, to present/promote my work, to interact with others in the ‘industry’ and to network. So the agreed plan is to write a variant on option two, the 2000 word essay, which will be based around two ‘case studies’ of my working experience – the developing relationship with Castlefield Gallery in Manchester, as a mentored member of their Associates Scheme; and the experience of working with Bank Street Arts as an exhibiting artist.
The Castlefield experience, as a member of Castlefield Gallery Associates, is proving particularly useful and effective. Already I have attended their monthly Associates Group Meetings; had a one-hour session with the Gallery Curator; attended a half-day symposium on Artist Development; and had confirmed an opportunity to present my practice in a ten minute ‘show and tell’ session at an Associates Meeting next week; all that as well as receiving regular and useful updates on opportunities and activities, plus some networking with other artists etc.
With Assignment Five completed, I will be submitting Assignment Three in early December, leaving me enough time (hopefully) to get an assessment submission sorted and in by the end of Jan 2017.
On Saturday, I spent the day in Liverpool, attending this event, Dark Matter, run by local artist-led organisation The Royal Standard. Many thanks to them for organising the symposium. A few weeks ago I floated a preliminary proposal for Assignment Three past my tutor; to be based around an exploration of artist-led organisations/spaces in my part of the country. She is encouraging me to focus down the scope somewhat from that preliminary idea, which makes good sense; and it has, to an extent, been ‘parked’ whilst I focus on the Bank Street exhibition (about which Assignment Four was submitted late last week). However, via social media, I spotted that this event was happening and decided, at very short notice, to attend. I’m glad that I did – the organisers know something about their ‘world’ by coming up with the title ‘Dark Matter’! There is a lot that goes on in this ‘world’ that is hard to identify and track down; so attending an event devoted to the subject has provided a good starting point.
This post isn’t going to attempt to draw firm conclusions or define a potential project more tightly. The intention is partly to record the fact that I went and to draw out a few reflections from the day.
- There were representatives there from 10 or more organisations that I could identify, with reference during the day to several others, and the first point to note is the huge variety of formats, structures and intentions for this loosely defined concept of ‘artist-led’. From the ‘one-man-band’ organisation seeking, temperamentally, to find a place for contemporary art in a provincial town that was barely interested; through the multi-site, voluntarily run, provider of extensive studio space, developmental mentoring, collaborative and exhibition opportunities, etc; to the site-less but vibrant curatorial project-based organisation set up by a group of graduate friends; and touching on pretty much everything along the way, including both the commercial and the subversive.
- Precariousness seems to be both/either an inevitable consequence of operating within the ‘dark matter’ world and/or a principle by which the organisations must operate if they are to retain their independence. The ‘wobbly chair principle’ was an idea that came up in the morning panel discussion and remained a theme for the day. In essence, creativity is better achieved whilst ‘sitting on a wobbly chair’ – a state of uncertainty in which one is never really still and must be permanently attentive/responsive. Space itself is one of the drivers of this precarious state – so many artist-led activities taking place in temporary space. It’s no surprise that those which seem to have survived longest frequently have either a founding member who owns the property or a particular relationship with a supportive landlord. Funding is, naturally, the other source of vulnerability – much activity depending on voluntary/low-paid organisers. Willingness to learn the skills of filling out grant applications is important to many organisations – but retaining a degree of ‘alternativeness’ is also important to others.
- There is a ‘wealth’ (perhaps a questionable word to use) of talent, energy, creativity, drive, and so on through which ‘artist-led’ does what it does. And this ‘hidden’ world is providing opportunities for those involved and those it recruits/supports that would never be achieved through public institutions or the commercial art world. One or two simple benefits that I noted during the discussions – the way in which simply coming together and having a ‘name’ can open up dialogues that are hard to achieve on one’s own; the flexibility and responsiveness of these organisations in comparison to institutions with corporate constraints; the genuine commitment within organisations that are led by those for whose purpose they have come into existence to serve.
At a personal level, I remain interested in the idea of structuring an Assignment Three project around this area – maybe, as my tutor as suggested, focusing on a small number of case studies (and there is enough potential amongst those attending on Saturday). I made one specific new contact with a locally-based organisation of which I hadn’t previously been aware. But I also have to admit to a sense of ‘otherness’ that I felt, too. It is perhaps best summed up by the thought that I don’t, and perhaps never will, sit on the sort of wobbly chair that is an essential aspect of this ‘world’. Then again, ‘artist-led’, as I said above, can mean all sorts of things and I reflect, not for the first time, as to what sort of ‘artist-led’ might work for OCA graduates in a comparable way to those set up and led by graduates from other art schools and colleges.