I was recently asked to give a talk about starting out an art practice in Dumfries and Galloway, to a group of young artists – blueprint100 at the Stove. I’ve learned to avoid these experiences as I am usually far more coherent when written down than when speaking in front of an audience.. but the timing seemed good. Having just completed four major commissions in the past two years, and been living the full time artist dream for six years, I took the talk as an opportunity to reflect and gather my thoughts on the past few whirlwind years.
Since art school, I have kept to the idea that I will not focus on one material or craft, but on applying the right approach to each project as it appears. That said, I have a strong connection to process and material – although many of my projects are more ephemeral in content, I always yearn to include a method, a craft or skill, a process of making, into my work. This can be communal, collective or on my own, or all of these.
In the quest to understand my own directions, I have become increasingly focused on the idea of creative practice as a means of problem solving; that artists and creative people can apply an open approach, a methodology, a sensitivity and awareness towards challenges and difficult concepts that can open up alternative ways of thinking and tackling problems. Not that artists can solve all your problems, but can be part of a wider social dialogue to open up alternatives. What does that mean? What does it look like?
For me it looks like a lot of different things. Each of them as much a part of my practice as the others, although some of them not traditionally seen as ‘art’. (No surprises there then!) I decided to try and map my practice. That map currently looks a bit like this:
The web could be knitted a bit tighter, but for simplicity this will stand. Collective working runs through all of this, I talk about this a lot at other points, but for now, when I talk about my practice – I mean both collective and individual working. (And rarely is any of my work truly ‘individual’ – everything we do is built upon networks and communities.)
The different elements of my work are now starting to fall into two predominant categories: Process and Narrative, and Curation and Gathering.
Process and Narrative
My love of process and making is born out of a compulsion to fidget, model, construct – to figure out and learn through forming and deconstructing. Process is not just something I do alone in the studio though, process also plays a strong role in any collective or communal working – as a means to keep hands busy, to draw in, to create pause and gathering for people to share, learn and exchange over. None of this is abstracted. All process is about forming a narrative – about the places we occupy, about our current situation and environments. It draws ideas and methods from the past and present, and allows us to re-write them in the present and the future.
Curation and Gathering
This is making, but on a bigger scale. Making space for, or creating place – place-making if you like – for people to gather and spend time. Creating activity and energy in a space allows us to work collectively with a much larger group of people, it opens up the invitation to interact to a wider audience and creates the space for change to happen within, and beyond. Taking the time to consider how we interact and move around spaces, considering the invitation, the entrance, the flow of people and activity. This is the part where I am most regularly asked, ‘but how is your real artwork doing?’ This is the real artwork. I create this with the same authenticity, the same drive and focus and consideration as I create all of my artworks. This is just focused on allowing the best opportunity for people to connect. This is my artistic contribution to a wider collaborative project.
As usual, nothing is fixed, and nothing is permanent. But as a means of focus and direction going forward, this brings some of the huge complexities and variations in my otherwise seemingly scattered practice together into some kind of cohesive whole. One of my big challenges at the moment is to find a way to bring some of this clarity into the outward presentation of my practice – in the form of artist statement and portfolio. It’s a bit of an immense load to try and neatly package into something that can clearly share the interests and direction of my work to potential new collaborators and communities.