Practice in a Professional Context

The last four months have been packed full of interesting things. I feel like I was doing less making that I should have, but in retrospect, I think I was quite productive considering the other projects I was involved with. There are five activities that I would like to talk about for the Practice in a Professional Context module, they are numbered below:

1. CFPR Professional Practice Placement 2018 – World Book Night – with Sarah Bodman

Brief
World Book Night United Artists will be responding to the short text ‘Watching God’ in the collection of stories Three Moments of an Explosion by China Miéville. The placement will assist with the exhibition hang in April, document submissions and image file preparation in March, and submit a response to be included in the book (by 1st March).

Some of the benefits of the placement are: making of an artwork that will go into Tate Britain’s archive collection, learning curatorial and exhibition skills. Contribute to the video for this project, this will involve a day trip to the delightful seaside town of Weston-Super-Mare to collect images and footage for the video.

More information can be downloaded at: http://www.bookarts.uwe.ac.uk/news/

Making artwork in response to the short text ‘Watching God’ by China Miéville required several readings of the text, as sentences and grammar had conceptual meanings, as well as literal ones. This short story was my first introduction to his writing, and I am not sure if it was the right way to enter into his work, but it was interesting and highly visual. I have not read anything else written by Miéville since, but this is due to a lack of time at the moment, rather than a statement about his writing.

I was struck with the vision of a sea without ships, so created a print with a repetitive image of the sea without ships. I also did several tests of printing etchings onto digital prints, and this fed into some ideas when I decided to make an artist’s book in response to the reading. I focused on a repetitive exploration of a sea view without ships, but I did include mirage like images printed on top of the sea views to hint at memory and/or desire, or both, the desire for what once was. It was the experiments of the mirage images in the etching studio that led me to incorporate them digitally into a book format.

Instagram for World Book Night
This was initially tricky to approach because I felt like I needed to navigate through a professional lens, rather than how I would normally post for my personal social media channels. Professionalism isn’t bad, but somehow when I get in that mode, feeling seems to evaporate. This is in no way what Sarah prescribed, she has been incredibly open all along, and almost instigates mischief, but I really wanted to be respectful of her and the project. I started the account at the beginning of the call out for submissions, and the submissions/images were slow to come in at first, so we added a few quotes from the book and our own images as inspiration to generate more responses. As we got closer to the deadline the submissions came in fast and furious. We received a broad selection of work, but it certainly shared a nautical theme. Somehow my interpretation of the reading was more about the absence of ships, but this isn’t surprising to me, as I often seem to comprehend things differently from everyone else. Another surge of activity was around the submission deadline and the weekend leading up to World Book Night, when a small group of us went to Weston-Super-Mare to record images for the video to be launched on World Book Night.

Another factor to consider when managing a social media account which is not your own, is who to follow and follow back. There are many people in the book arts community that I do not know yet, so did have to rely on Sarah to help search for some key contacts, and this isn’t always straightforward, as many people have Instagram aliases, so it is hard to find people sometimes.

I have had a long interest in jobs that focus on arts communications, as I am a natural enthusiast, but have lacked experience in this area, so was keen to explore some of these themes for this placement. It hasn’t made me an expert, but it has shown some of the challenges and different approaches needed that differ from one’s own personal accounts.

Framing of artwork for the exhibition
Sarah wanted the framing of the work to speak to the visuals we found from the reading. Old, tired, dusty. It wouldn’t be my preferred way to exhibit work, or my initial thought, but it did allow us to frame close to 50 works for a reasonable price. It also seemed to work well in the way that it made disparate works form a commonality.

The actual framing of the work was quite enjoyable in the sense that it was a monotonous task that didn’t require cerebral strain. Once I got a little more confident, I felt like I could also take liberties, and this was especially the case with the last work that was framed in the ‘special’ large white and gold frame. We put two images together side by side, and taped them on a piece of chipboard/particle board under the glass.

It was a tremendous help that Sarah did the printing of the works as I framed them, so if we needed to alter the size to fit in odd shaped frames, we could. Without her help, I think that it would have felt like an overwhelming task.

Another positive feature was spending more time in the office with Sarah, Paul and Ian. Sarah showed me artists’ books as they arrived. Ad-hoc conversations that were like mini-tutorials, and of course banter with Ian. By spending more time in the office, I was also able to see more students, and to be a fly on the wall for some of their tutorials as well.

Exhibition installation
I was rather nervous about the looming installation date. I couldn’t imagine how all of these works would be displayed. Sarah has such a relaxed and easy demeanor, and really diffuses anxiety. I initially got stuck in building shelves to display the pieces, as it was a necessary part, but it also allowed for Sarah to make some initial decisions which she is so very good at. This set the stage and allowed for Cathey Webb (who was also helping with the installation) and I, to follow Sarah’s lead. Some contributors sent us 3-D works which radically improved the flow, and provided visual anchors so that it did not become a monotonous landscape with no visual hooks. This will be something that I will remember for future exhibits.

Weston-super-Mare Adventure
This was a wonderful day. A group of artists in a visually strange place documenting the scene for images to be featured in the video. I had met everyone before, but the pace of the day allowed for conversations that were never possible before. And, of course we know that different eyes view the same scene in different ways, but this was exactly what happened. We all were able to contribute to the video, which was a lovely collaborative effort. Most of the group went back to Sarah’s to download the images, and for the majority of the video to be made. We also had musicians playing and recording music for the video as it was being edited which was a unique feature. Who wouldn’t want to be part of this!

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Video
The making of the video was marvelous to see. As the images all came in and were downloaded and ready to be featured, Sarah slotted them in like she had seen them all before, as if she story boarded it all months ago (maybe she did in her mind). It was Sarah’s decision making ability that struck me the most, and is no doubt one of the main reasons how she can manage to be so prolific. Typically, those of us in the early stages of our careers can mull over a decision that almost has a crippling effect. This habit should be avoided. My indecision gets more amplified if other people are involved, it is much easier if it is a solo effort.

You can watch the video here.

Exhibition takedown
This was the easiest part of the placement! No decisions needed for this one. Sad to see it all dismantled. It made me think of big gallery exhibits, and how much energy is required to produce an exhibit, market it to get as many people as possible to see it, and then put it all away and replace it with the next one. No one can ever appreciate all the effort that goes into these things without having done them.

I really cannot thank Sarah enough for selecting me for this placement. It has taken me out of my comfort zone, exposed me to different ways of working, and expanded my knowledge of the book arts research group at CFPR. Sarah is incredibly generous with her time, and her celebration of the book, small press publishing, and all of the artists who make books. I cannot imagine anyone surpassing Sarah in this way.

The World Book Night project runs each year, to see previous ones, visit: http://www.bookarts.uwe.ac.uk/exhibitions/ and scroll down to World Book Night Events for an idea of what they entail.

2. UWE Photography Research Group Instagram takeover
I was asked by Shawn Sobers if I would be interested in doing an Instagram takeover for the UWE Photo Research Group. My first reaction was no! But of course I had to say yes. One can’t say no to these things, and I am incredibly grateful that I was asked. I really didn’t think the group and/or its followers would be interested in what I do or have to say. I was actually worried how I might have to deal with negative feedback. I really wanted to approach this opportunity as an experiment. To do something new. To test out an idea. This of course is often a very bad idea. Like cooking a new recipe for serious foodies.

I decided to make new work based on words and concepts that I found interesting in a couple of mathematics research papers. I really had a lot of stress and anxiety about this entire process. I typically put in a lot of effort to avoid being prescriptive about how to read the work, as I would really like the viewer to attach as much of their own meaning to the images. But, of course for this exercise, it is about sharing processes so I had to expand beyond my comfort zone.

The other unanticipated anxiety was about how the mathematician whose work I was using, would interpret the images. I am still not sure what he thinks. I can only assume that he thinks they are completely ridiculous. I should have known to expect this.

The other important feature about the process is that nobody cares. Well, there were two people interested, Shawn Sobers, who runs this project and me. The advice that I hand out all the time is that everything you do should really be for your own satisfaction, because everyone else is consumed with their own lives/projects/problems/work etc. If someone happens to respond to what you do, then that is a bonus really, but best not to think about anyone else, otherwise you will be disappointed and distracted from what it is that you really want to do.

Based on the images, I have made three books. I hope to make a fourth before hand-in. Special note, this process has not been a disaster, I just find it incredibly uncomfortable to be in the spotlight, but very grateful to Shawn to think of me and to invite me to participate in this project. He is also an incredibly generous person.

3. Interview with Jez riley French for the arts zine Verdure Engraved
https://jezrileyfrench.co.uk/verdure-engraved.php

I was asked by Jez riley French (a big hero of mine!) about doing an interview for an arts zine that he curates. The interview consists of six questions, that are sent to you to respond to, so luckily I had time to think about the answers rather than my typical rambling sidetracked incoherent face-to-face answers. Again, this was a terrible process for me, in the sense of self-doubt, indecision, and wondering if my answers will still be the same in a few years time. How can you be as honest as possible without sounding like a complete idiot? Maybe this isn’t possible. But, thinking back to the Instagram takeover, in the end the impact will probably be quite low. I should say the zine is beautifully done, and I feel proud to be featured, even if only for the effort that Jez puts into it, and his tireless promotion of female artists. I hope it has impact for those reasons. I missed the deadline for the latest issue, so I think I will be featured in the next issue, I will be sure to let you know!

I also wanted to create new images for this project as well. I always feel like new images are needed, or better or just new! Perhaps this is a feature of social media. If I had shared something, even a work in progress, I feel like it can’t be shared again. I guess that is good motivation to keep making.

4. Workshop assistant with Stephen Fowler
Firstly, it is important to say that Stephen Fowler is amazing and his work is amazing and the students were very lucky to attend this workshop. His way of working is very different from how I would work/think, and this is precisely the reason that I wanted to assist him for the day. He is analogue and illustrative. His work is inventive, DIY, low-tech, intuitive and tactile. The students loved it. I think they liked the portable aspect. The freedom from a machine/press/equipment. It is liberating that very little is needed to create prints with punch and appeal. It was inclusive in the sense that it didn’t seem to matter what your discipline was, you could make something quite nice. Although, I felt quite blank about it. I think the more successful works, are done by someone who is more illustratively inclined. But, I couldn’t help think of how the machine could participate in this process. To inject digital to it. Or at least to do a collaboration with Stephen. To have both worlds speak to one another. It could be a very strange conversation. But good strange, I think.

I also had flashbacks to my photo assistant days. It takes time to get to know someone and anticipate what they might need, their movements, their ways of working, when they will likely need a break, how to keep busy and be indispensable. A good photo assistant couldn’t be idle, not until the day was done, and still you needed to be needed or liked or an ‘atmosphere stylists’ as I was once called.

I wonder if this was the right way to spend the day a week before the assessment. My classmates were all busy in the print studios looking bedraggled. And I was enjoying asking North American style personal questions to our visiting artist. But how else do you get to know how someone ticks? Their motivations. How they differ from you and how that difference is visually represented in the work that they/you do. This is usually my favourite part in all aspects of life. I think of them as spontaneous non-interview interviews. I keep reams of information catalogued about people in my brain. A hoarder of sorts. And this is useless information, never needed for an exam or anything else of great importance. But how people operate is a very curious thing.

5. Collaboration with Sarah Bodman
Watch this space. I feel so honoured that she would want to do this with me. Will I do anything good enough? Will I disappoint? Will she think it is/was a terrible mistake? Will she want to omit her name from the books? So much pressure, but I am trying to block these thoughts from my mind. I am pretending that I am making books like I normally would. Although we have some themes in mind for this collaboration, and they are stretching me past my usual interests, but my influences are deeply ingrained, so I doubt that they will be very far away. I look forward to seeing these little books when they finally erupt.

 

 

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