Be an artist first.

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Today was the first work day of the new year (hello 2016).

I’ve been part of a community learning focus group commissioned by Cultural Spring this year but haven’t managed to make any of the events until today.  The group is made up of arts practitioners who teach or run workshops or community projects and the focus of the sessions is to reflect on our participatory practice and ask questions about it and share knowledge. It’s a lively group and we’re all massively passionate about our work so for three hours we talked non stop supporting each other through our various lines of work.

I was asked to give a presentation about my work and use it as a way to work through a particular problem or issue – if I had one.  Well, yes I do so was quite pleased to be able to get some feedback on an issue that has been on mind for many years.

I’ve been wondering for a while about how I could bring my participatory practice and my wider contemporary art practice together.  The engagement work I do often takes on a life of its own and it’s mostly geared towards participant led projects or where commissioners have set out a goal or aim for the engagement.  My arts practice is different, it’s driven by issues and ideas I’m interested in or want to explore.  Nearly everything I make is aimed at being able to revisit or access my mixed cultural heritage, so it’s personal too.  Now I’m a mum, I don’t have as much time as I used to, to spend on my work and there are elements to both practices that I enjoy so I want to find a way to bring the two together a little better. One of the things that came up in the discussions was when balancing both practices it was important to be an artist first and sometimes I forget about this when I get engrossed in the engagement work.

It was quite a nice first session to do for the year as I looked back at previous work. I was reminded of Book Apothecary and how open participation is at the core of the work yet also had the element of commissioning new work from artists, which would be nice to revisit this year at some point.  I also spent some time revisiting my first major installation Their Silence, A Language and how the prospect of creating an installation made of 1200 folded books propelled it to inadvertently become a participatory project, as I asked the public to join me in the making of the installation.  Last year I made a decision to revisit that way of working as I had noticed that as I started to make work with just me as the sole maker, all of my installations had gotten smaller and less ambitious. Working with people from the community at Globe Gallery had somehow given me the confidence to take risks and build something imaginative and compelling.

_DSC060Their Silence, A Language // 2009 // Globe Gallery Photo credit: Colin Davison

So watch this space, in 2016 I come with more restrictions on my time and space, but today’s session reminded me that amidst all of it, I should be an artist first and let my new life drive me to keep reaching for more.

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