This essay was written on the receipt of support from a-n when I had a series of fundamental questions about where I was professionally and where to go. Since then I have taken another less anticipated step into full time education as a lecturer in University of the Arts Helsinki, but the questions I had and the conversations I was supported to have are still being unravelled and developed thanks to this enormously helpful bursary that acted like a fulcrum in enabling conversations that gave direction to some very important actions.
In 2014 I had reached a point in which I had been exhibiting my work since 1998, mostly these had been performances, but also works that had emerged from my interest in the biosciences and that using biological processes and materials. A large quantity of my artistic output has been in the form of live events within across vastly diverse contexts. I was revisiting a large amount of other work, mostly in the form of photographic and video most of which had and still hasn’t been shown. Whilst I have achieved various successes in terms of my art work, both professionally and personally opportunities have changed as had my practice. I felt it was a period that asked for ripe sustained and thoughtful reflection, to pause and to consider where and how I might position my work.
The cultural landscape had changed since 1998 when I graduated from studying fine art UWIC(now Cardiff Metropolitan University) and emerged as an artist, at that time there was a golden age of departments that cultivated performance, multidisciplinarity and there were platforms and festivals that enabled rich and fertile context in which to present and find support for my emerging art works. Whilst gallery spaces and contexts had not generally been where I had presented my work, I still felt affinity to them and interest in artists working with performance who were finding their work curated in gallery spaces. I wondered about how to progress this and who to speak with, what kind of actions might enable this?
I was fortunate indeed to receive a bursary from AN that supported conversations with figures I felt were significant and who I felt would be ideally placed to support and enable my reflections productively.
The Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester had provided me with one of the most valuable and important experiences of making work, notably during Marina Abramovic Presents . . . as part of Manchester International Festival in 2009. Over 17 days I returned to the stone steps of the Whitworth and performed a slow fall for 4 hours a day, the willingness of a gallery to give me the space and time to make such a sustained piece was enormously valuable to be so I returned to the Whitworth Gallery and to it’s director, Maria Balshaw to have a conversation as part of this bursary. Maria Balshaw’s ability to grasp, develop and realise the potential what a public gallery is and its potential has been key in my own understanding of what might be possible in terms of performance and where and what its presence might be in galleries, be they public, commercial, national or otherwise.
When I visited Maria Balshaw the Whitworth was still in it’s metamorphosis, cocooned and almost unrecognisable as the galleries were being reconceived and spaces previously unavailable to the public were being revealed and revelled in. Maria mentioned to me that the staircase I had performed my ‘fall’ down, which had been not accessible to the public was now going to be a main access to the large space being opened up on the first floor. The architects had witnessed the work and embraced the stairs potential. Bodies create space, space create bodies, there is a reciprocity of materiality, vitality and movement.
Within the material mutability of the Whitworth we discussed my work through a series of trajectories that were all anchored around and in the Whitworth and the living questions it has under Balshaw’s directorship. Maria was deeply eloquent in her discussion of the movement between performance, gallery contexts, collecting – both pubic and by the private collector. The need to not simplify or make simplistic artist practices that might be considered ‘difficult’ but rather to dignify the individuals who constitute the publics they participate in with the same curiosity and nuanced discriminatory verve they might bring to other arena of expertise. Actually I think Strictly Come Dancing might have been an example we discussed, where audiences are attuned to the absolute nuance excited by the avenues of awareness they garner over the weeks of avid involvement. It was a fascinating and for me, unexpected view point from which to consider how a gallery might approach both is custodianship of collections and its curation, and how I might reframe my work. We discussed my archive, a mass of tapes, notebooks, drawings, photographic prints and other ephemera which has since being undergoing the process of digitisation, and the possibility of its generative potentials. In a process of digitising much of it I had begun to revisit old video works on VHS and transparencies, becoming reinvolved in their material charisma and how I might extend and transform those. I was making small experiments in my studio, reiterations of iterations. I think often conversations are sought not only to learn from but also to validate what is often a sense of direction and to clear or perhaps confirm those hunches, intuitions and instincts. Much of our discussion did just that, but with the added dimension of a gallery context that evidences its commitment to maintaining the relevancy and vitality in regard to its obligations and relationship to its visitors. I found this incredibly important because it is a dialogue, one that is incredibly spacious, massively mobile and adaptable and hugely hospitable.
The second very significant and valuable dialogue was conducted with Matt Roberts who had been mentioned and recommended to me by another artist group. Matt brought a massive and extremely comprehensive gaze to bare on my practice, gathering references, names, points, indications and suggestions to bare with what I felt was a tremendous accuracy. It was tremendously refreshing to present my portfolio to someone I did not have a previous connection with, to quickly identify a series of key actions I might consider for how I might develop my work. The most urgent was a website. I was in the process of finally having a website, and my ambition for it had been something elaborate and extensive that would hold a significant amount of material. Matt advised creating something that was simple and current, that a curator could visit and view what might form the basis of a current discussion about my work. He also gave key advise in how I might utilise other projects, ones that are still in development but are, nevertheless, developing, to create connections and dialogues that I would felt would be helpful and interesting. Importantly I was able to benefit from expertise that was not remotely London-centric but that introduced me to many galleries and institutions in area of the UK I was less familiar with.
There were other conversations I had hoped to have but was unsuccessful in bringing about, and then further conversations that were unexpected but also incredibly useful. The bursary seemed to be a catalyst for an array of exchanges that enabled and realised the kind of reflection that is so difficult to conduct without the dynamism of someone else acumen and expertise. Its outcomes are time capsules, still being processed and usefully realised, albeit relocated since I have very recently moved to Finland, but I am very encouraged and excited to continue with the developments.