2016 April: Winging It

I am not going ahead with the panel event I was planning for Degree Show. I was surprised to find that as a proposal it came up against so many assessment protocols and ethical issues. Apparently, anybody employed at Wimbledon helping me with the project either by participating, referring me contacts or securing a space for me would be held accountable for doing for one student what they could not do for all the others at the same time, had there been a demand for it.

I initially thought that the challenge of the symposium would be securing panelists, and did not expect that this type of event and its proximity to Degree Show (even when I wanted to go ahead and make it happen outside of the Degree Show context) would be the problem. I had the alternative idea of visiting experts at their own offices and merely recording audio interviews with them, compiling them into a series of speculative podcasts about agency in scripting.

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A poster I saw in the tube, implying with “unscripted” something that is free, natural and authentic. I am interested in scripts that escape the script’s association to determinism and authoritarianism that our culture customarily makes.

But truthfully I felt all around tired of chasing people and chasing this idea. I might take it up again as a way to kickstart my MA, and will hopefully find more support to make an event like this at that point. More fundamentally, I am beginning to feel tired of Rosa and Lawrence. I’m by no means finished with the project, but have had my head stuck in it for too long and yearn for another angle on my practice. I miss the tangential way of going about things, messing about with drawings and texts and videos in bits and pieces, a meandering practice. It’s time to retreat a little from Rosa and Lawrence and return to it later with a fresh eye. For now, I am going to set up a few bits and pieces to encourage public engagement while I am busy doing other things. I have set up the domain http://rosa-and-lawrence.life, and am working over the coming week to make an visually simple point of contact for people curious about the project. With the help of my dad, who knows his way around a computer, I will set up this page so that visitors can get an immediate impression of the archive, and also view the script and directly record themselves and upload their recording, all in one place.

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In the meantime I wrote an article and sent it off to Curating the Contemporary once again, this time submitting my own art as a research article. The article uses the Rosa and Lawrence project to raise general interest in the relationship between certain kinds of scripts and their outcomes, namely, a category of scripts I currently call “blind scripts” and the way these don’t naturally connote the determinism we normally ascribe to instructive texts like scripts. Presented as a scientific experiment/performance lecture/article, the text is interspersed with numerous audio and video clips from performances which the reader can follow like a storyboard. Finally, I refer readers to the website to make their own contribution, hoping that by this point I have persuaded some of them that data in the form of many readings of the script is worthwhile collecting.

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I am pleased with how the layout of text, video and sound clips turned out on the blog, CtC 2 May, 2016.

I continue to send applications to theatre events and festivals, as a platform to promote public participation and showcase a performance in a new environment. The Tetrad theatre collective are organising a series of performances that challenge the liveness of the theatre for an event called Us and Them. It will be held at Camden Peoples Theatre on 9th May, and I am proud to say that Rosa and Lawrence will be performed as part of the event. This too is an opportunity to link the theatre visitors back to the online home of the project, and hopefully encourage a decentralization of activity. It is also the first time I will be paid to stage a performance, and the theatre itself will document the entire performance for me.

So once I integrate the website with Youtube, Kickstarter and Twitter, it will be set to run itself given that people participate, and I can take a break from working on Rosa and Lawrence. I feel almost as though I have been playing the role of a marketing strategist! I am quite ready to stop.

The Trouble with Art and Careers

So what to do for Degree Show? For weeks I dipped into an unavoidable quietly ebbing anxiety, and fought to suppress it. I fought it because I know going around being anxious won’t help anything. The greatest challenge for me these past three years has been learning to manage the impossible mental coupling of “my art” and “a career”. I know I am not the only one that struggles with the shock of art taking on such a drastically different role in her life, after beginning to go to art school. Before the point of beginning my studies, art was always an escape, an utter refuge for me which at certain times seemed to me the last available sanctuary. It wasn’t like a nice pet which I chose to bring into my life, it was an absolute necessity, and in this way a simple relief. It was not particularly complicated, I hardly knew when I started and stopped doing art. I didn’t have to decide to sit down and do it. It wasn’t there to account for my value or earn me esteem in the eyes of others. It was there like air, essential but perfectly abundant. There were no barriers to engaging in something artistic. Ballistic activities such as drawing, but also sports, were addictive to me because I could lose myself in the rhythms of growing virtuosity. I liked watching my body learn faster than I could. Art was in this way incredibly light, yet could potentially bear such power despite that. Most of the time art was a means of engagement, practice, keeping busy, creating work for myself. But sometimes I’d sit back and watch something occur, make a portrait of myself with a faint moustache that made me cry, or suddenly start making collages with shiny gift paper that so convincingly carried me to imagined worlds.

A career is something I also looked forward to, as I also have an ambitious streak. I want to excel and work upwards, I want to be strong and make people I love proud as much as the next young person figuring out what to do with themselves. Up until only a few months before applying for my BA however, I had no idea I would choose art to be the same thing as my career; in fact, I contemplated human rights politics or ecology for much longer. I didn’t know much about art, only that I did it a lot, and then thought that might be what I am best at since I enjoy it so much, enjoy thinking about it so much, and have been doing it consistently for my whole life. I went for it, thankfully got a place, and though I anticipated the classic problem of a passion becoming work and thus dispassionate, assumed I’d work past it, and hopefully avoid the problem altogether.

I certainly knew nothing about art when I came here, and still have embarrassing holes in my historical knowledge. The less naïve I’ve become about the state of my discipline, the more pronounced the problem of coupling art with a career has become. What does success mean? All the students are discussing this all the time one way or another. “He’s doing well”, they’ll say, referring to a representation contract with a certain gallery, inclusion in a bombastic showcase of hot emerging artists, or a sale of an artwork made to a known collector. Emblems of success, where can we locate them in the art world, so that we can feel the kind of quantifiable accomplishment we envy in the world of salaries, senior positions, and stable mortgages? The anxiety of managing one’s finances and esteem in front of friends and family, even legacies we might imagine leaving behind as a result of striving through this life, seep into a world of art making which I have always found far removed from these concerns. In a career, one has to be pragmatic and make economic decisions. This is good – you save money, you build a liveable environment for yourself, you survive and keep yourself comfortable. But art thrives on going the long way around, being wasteful with one’s time, thoughts and experiments. Doing far more than necessary and certainly not taking shortcuts. In this tireless society ever striving to outpace itself for higher returns, such wastefulness is extremely counterintuitive and unsettling, and I am not at all surprised that all the students are suffering from anxiety. Indeed, such an environment would encourage anxiety in anybody and certainly does affect many in London, but proves especially confusing for artists whose role requires of them to undo all that Western society deems virtuous and “productive”. Western society is goal oriented, as is the notion of a career comprised of ladder steps. Art doesn’t know its goal before orientating itself towards it. Western society has clear notions of work and reward. Art is always work but the nature of its returns is messy, ranging rather randomly between rewards and punishments. It maintains its activity thanks to curiosity, the provisional fulfillment of which can be either elating or deflating. Western society is competitive. Art, it’s true, is thoroughly relational and intrinsically, I think, entirely citational, and thereby does call into comparison past and future artworks and ideas by other artists, people, and indeed the artist herself. But the overwhelmingly present measures of social success conventionalised in our society are frustrating parameters to use in valuing art. An artwork is a new thing, and one of the new things it seems always to inspire is a call for new kinds of evaluation and measures, undermining in turn, the notion of competitiveness. Art is deliberately there to complicate things. It is society’s daunting devil’s advocate, often questioning the literal and the obvious to make room for the society to explain itself to itself. The success of civilisations are their conceptual fertility, sporadically forming in the guise of age old conventions that just crop up and establish themselves. Thank goodness for the ingenuity such a system can encourage, but thank goodness also for an art that first spots those chronic additions to history and then shakes them to test what can sometimes be the most intimate of societal foundations. It need not do this grandiosely, it can be the artist’s pursuit of a chink in her own personal life that itches at her and that she can’t quite explain. She decides to give herself to this investigation and finds inevitably, that like all things this notion is connected by referential strings to the great mechanics of the world.

What it takes to “give yourself” in this manner is precisely what is counter intuitive to somebody raised in contemporary Western society. In art there is a strong passive element to an artist’s experience, I think, which doesn’t sit well with the career ladder climbing go-getter without a moment to lose. Even the most active impression-makers in art, perhaps expressionists who unveil their individuality to us in what seem like deliberate strokes, are only making art because they must wait and see what its outcome will be, and finding this out, not knowing it before accomplishing it, is what compels them to make another work. A certain amount of “letting go”, comparable I think to faith, is involved, and discarding control thus feels unsettling.

So what is an art career? I hardly know. As far as I can tell, the two are not born to be together in the sense we currently conceive of “art” and “a career”. I see the art career merely as a compromise of our times, a certain way to be, within a certain time and place. The capitalist Western society I speak of can welcome me as an artist if I am being entrepreneurial about it. In another world, maybe only another society or time in history, being an artist might look more like being a monk or a temporary member of the Medici household, and these configurations bring their own challenges and constraints, I am sure. Even the art I made as a child, of which I have written rather nostalgically above, was not necessarily easy.

What I do know is that anxiety doesn’t do much by way of helping artistic practice thrive, as long as it prevents me from doing art. Survival thrives on anxiety, and when my art is supposed to become a means of survival, things become a little reminiscent of the story about the lamb who had to dance for the wolf with such persuasive carelessness and joy so as to keep him entertained and thus not get eaten. Therefore, like the lamb whose only choice was to eliminate thoughts of destitution in order to keep the dance genuine and so mesmerizing, I try to keep severed “career” from “art”, like two brain lobes chopped apart at the corpus callosum.

AND SO, after some initial anxiety pertaining to my career, which, when I thought about it, I didn’t care all to devastatingly much about as long as I can go on living reasonably, I simmered down and decided to wing it. Wing Degree Show, I mean, and then hopefully continue winging it for the rest of my life. Degree Show can be anything. There are literally endless possibilities for what could happen in my allocated space. This thought alone, is a fun one. It need not be Rosa and Lawrence related, it could be a whole bunch of drawings, or writings or videos. It’s an opportunity to reposition myself again, differently, contra everything I’ve done before, and then there will be exhibitions and chances to engage with a public after that, in which again, I’ll make something new, contra to what I’d done before, a game, always again, always one of so many ways.

It was nice to give up on the ambitious urge career desires were pressing on my art practice. Time seemed to suspend, suddenly there was lots of it. This doesn’t mean I don’t plan my days – I try to get a lot in. But it’s been more about rebuilding the courage to try out my ideas, rather than agonise so long about them before giving them a shot. It’s about booking spaces, filming things, asking people to help me with staging certain ideas, going ahead and wasting paper, gigabytes and time on ideas. I had found myself, rather perversely, in a state of immobility here at college and I am not entirely sure why, although now that I am aware of it I want to be brave and actually try ideas, as in fact I have no shortage of them. My problem is more seeing them through, and following my tangents.

I have a page of “tangential ideas” in my files that is supposed to serve as an emergency kit for artist block. I have listed a bunch of ideas that I never found time to see through properly, such as keyboard-puppeteering my friends in performances where they read out something I am typing improvisationally on a screen, or the First Conversations radio series of which I have only made one recording. That recording was great too, why did I not make more and see where it would take me? Why did I never make the Credits video I started in first year even though I love the short clips I made now as much as I did then? Why did I never film the performance of myself being a red carpet diva in a room all by myself? What about my half-written novel? How about drawing more, since I love to talk about it so much in my recent essays?

This is what I feel like doing. Is it good timing, with Degree Show coming up, to experiment? I don’t see why not. Every experiment provides a wealth of information for propositions concerning display. So these experiments are actually helpful means of working through my Degree Show.

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