Assignment Three–done



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


Artist Presentation–Castlefield Gallery

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(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.

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(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

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 Presentation e-mail-1

Dark Matter–the unseen world of artist-led activity


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.

Castlefield Gallery–Amelia Crouch

Castlefield Gallery - Amelia Crouch

A first-time visit to Castlefield Gallery, Manchester, yesterday, presented an opportunity to see the work of Amelia Crouch. Castlefield runs a ‘Launch Pad’ scheme that provides short opportunities for its associates – on a selective basis – to present a solo show; and this is, apparently, Amelia Crouch’s debut solo exhibition. I experienced a very positive response to her work, and even found some encouragement for myself, so this is a reflection on why.

Starting, though, with the artist and her work, Crouch is based in West Yorkshire, has BA & MA in Fine Art, and has a number of public commissions to her name, as the website illustrates. She works with language – and, significantly, I found that short sentence a difficult one to construct, perhaps still haven’t got it quite right, which has a lot to do with the ‘work’ (and why I responded positively). Although deceptively simple (several pieces have close associations with puzzles, games and wordplay e.g. Double Over and Ifs & Butts and Ayes & Knows), her work addresses some deeply fundamental issues around language and the way its structure/use impacts on everything to do with our perception of life. Playful and accessible, it is also conceptual, with complex contextual sources in semiotics and philosophy. Even the supporting essay by art writer and historian, Lara Eggleton, keeps up the linguistic performance, as it includes annotations by the artist that occasionally question the language itself.

She uses video presentation extensively, sometimes with sound, and there are prints too. If I was looking for an area to criticise, it would be the somewhat deadpan nature of both the visual and audio experience. In the context, I can see exactly why it is that way, but it could perhaps be a tad more eye-catching – but that is no more than a quibble. Two of the most recent works, not on the website but in the show, were Untitled (Prepositions) (2015) and Attention is rarely directed to the space between the leaves (2016, I’m guessing) – both video presentations. The first involves various containers – bowl, jug, dish etc – and several small balls, all but one of which are white, the one being bright orange. The artist manipulates them physically and linguistically, questioning (undermining? subverting?) the simple prepositions ‘over’, ‘in’, ‘on’ etc. Visually, as well as conceptually, this worked successfully, for me, as a short, simple, small-screen video that used a very limited colour palate. The second also involves wordplay and word association, featuring a child’s voice, animals, the sounds they make, and leaves (plus the spaces between them!), and was presented as a large projection onto a wall. I’m less sure that this piece had as clear a conceptual focus as the others – and, ironically, the nature of its projection lessened its visual focus too – form and meaning!

However, minor quibbles apart, the work made a positive impression and the reasons are there in the previous paragraphs – playful; conceptual; both simple and sophisticated at the same time; accessible and attractive, but also contextually significant; a touch subversive (and/or deconstructivist); more analytical than personal. In many ways, these are all characteristics I strive for in my own work. I have sometimes reflected on whether work such as New Photographic Chemistry is too detached, too analytical, and whether I should be doing something more personal; so it’s reassuring to see an artist like Amelia Crouch who is, in many ways (and more successfully than me, I must emphasise!) working in a not dissimilar manner. (Good, also, to add Castlefield to the list of ‘local’ galleries; and their Associate Member scheme looks worthy of further investigation.)

Some thoughts about networking


(I’m not entirely sure that these old images from early in my Body of Work module are appropriate, but there’s a danger that this blog will have few/no illustrations!!)

Networking is a topic that comes up (rightly!) early in the first part of Sustaining Your Practice.  It isn’t new territory for me because it was an essential element in the sales & marketing mix of my ‘other’ career.  It was never something I enjoyed or regarded myself as especially good at.  Some people are naturals, building relationships, making strong and positive impressions on everyone they meet, always having the right thing to say at the right time, just seeming to get the right balance between doing a favour and receiving one, always having that bit of information that others find useful and which encourages them to keep in touch and do business.  I’m old enough and wise enough to know that it was/is often about performance and that seeming to be good at it is what brings the positive outcomes.  I never got to the bottom of why I couldn’t quite get it right during my career, so I’m unlikely to successfully analyse it here. There’s certainly some psychology at work.  But even that can be complicated.  On the one hand, one might not think of oneself as important and significant enough to warrant the attention of those with whom a relationship is sought.  But, on the other, does a level of personal pride lie behind the lack of confidence?  Shyness can be as much about not wanting one’s ego to be dented as it might be about not having one in the first place!!  But, enough of this …

There is an important need to get my work out for feedback from others and that will be a strong focus for the next few weeks/months.  I do think that creative world is different from the commercial in this respect.  My impression is very much that artists are mutually supportive and that an appropriately worded request for help will be met sympathetically, at the very least, and often with real support.  My very first step, in preparation for seeking such feedback, will be to introduce my Body of Work to my tutor; that is actually what happens in the first part of the first assignment, and I am planning to submit it in the first half of December.

Feedback and advice from that submission will, of course, inform what I then do with the work.  But I have been giving some thought to how I will build my network (because, truthfully, it isn’t something I have worked at enough until, this point).  Part of my plan will be to make what use I can of those I know in and around OCA to advise on where I might go.  I’ve made a bit of a start on that.  I’ve also been thinking about the geography aspect.  If I lived in/near London, there would be plenty of options for getting out and about to meet new people, but I don’t, so where locally? Some research in the last couple of weeks suggests that Sheffield has an active contemporary art scene, and that there are several more galleries in the city than I had realised.  I’m now on some relevant mailing lists and can see that there are meetings that might be useful – so more opportunities will no doubt emerge there. Another route I’m going to pursue is a small group of artists that I approached with some questions in some primary research for Contextual Studies.  A handful came back with helpful responses and I’m proposing to e-mail them in the next few days, partly to share some conclusions from the research to which they input but also to ask whether they would be willing to give me feedback on my work.  If you don’t ask you don’t get and, as I said above, I’m impressed by the supportive approach within the arts, so you never know.

So, things are under way on the transition into SYP.  Lots to do and I’m looking forward to it.