2016 September: Curtailing the Crypt

So nothing much was happening with my art practice this month. It would seem that I had forgotten there were such a thing as the “art world”, and all I knew to do was do my work as an usher at a theatre, work in a way I am not used to, work at something I felt I temporarily had to do but that was really rather meaningless, yet around which coalesced real people and real life and real things to care about nonetheless. It seemed as if all I was doing was discovering ways of liberating my mind from the tedium of invigilating a badly written play over and over.

It went to plan; I actually gathered the funds to pay for my entire MA tuition fees, with even a bit left over to survive on. I got what I wanted, but the summer was also something of a hard lesson in the politics of personal time. I learned that a lot of people don’t own large portions of their own lifetimes, and that the game of living becomes that of “getting away with” indiscretions, inefficiencies, or doing less work wherever the establishment turned a blind eye. Sweet moments of sitting down after hours of standing and staring into the darkness of the auditorium, cringing at the same carelessly written lines I cringed at yesterday and many work shifts before that. Sweet moments of a mind doused, or counting one’s self lucky with how quickly the day had passed by, the better to forget the time that was never one’s own.

Being an artist became increasingly something that existed merely as something I just said to people to introduce myself in a nutshell. Of course, it is the worst way to introduce yourself in a nutshell, because it quickly leads to questions that are difficult to answer honestly. So I don’t answer them honestly. I say I am a filmmaker, or a writer or something. It’s not my conversational partner’s fault, how are they to know that they are pressing sore spots in getting me to define my oeuvre – but most devastatingly – implicitly asking me to explain what the value of these enterprises possibly could be, or at least of what financial value. At that point I just want to throw my arms in the air and say, I don’t know! It’s really not my area of expertise, evaluating things.

And yet, these kinds of conversations with work colleagues and random new acquaintances were almost my only link to my practice this summer. It’s a little destabilizing, but I did not beat myself up about it or try to prove that I was, in spite of everything, truly an artist. I’ve grown a little weary. Maybe it was the way I tore my hair out about Degree Show. That kind of behaviour is really not me. Or at the very least, I’d like it not to be. I am not used to being a walking knot of anxiety, and it’s… unstylish. I realised, would it be so terrible if indeed, I were not an artist? Let us say it turns out that I am not. Not much is different either way, I’d still have the same interests and trepidations as before. There is no reason to be hellbent on proving that I am an artist all the time, and feeling guilty when I am not making work. Maybe my destiny is to become an archaeologist who occasionally happens to make drawings and performance videos. Come what may.

That being said, I have respect for the work I have done so far. I even have a suspicion I should respect other things I don’t necessarily feel safe grouping together with my art works, such as the readings of short stories I do on Youtube. I have written a substantial portion of my novel, and a lot of it is really great, and I do feel a responsibility towards it as a result. I do not think there is a danger of my abandoning it, but I think I am only now realising that writing a novel can take a very, very long time.

And now that September has just ended, and the gears have all at once shifted what with my becoming an MA student, I find myself in a total identity tailspin. The full time work I was doing is grinding down to a very steady pace from 8 shows per week to 4, spread over but two (albeit very intense) days a week. My time is flooding back in and I am astonished at how delicious that is. I moved into a new flat, and started my MA course this week. All these things take a heroic amount of energy – we all do them though, the people of London, huffing and puffing to stay afloat, making tremendous efforts to survive and exceed survival to participate in the rich culture we came here to participate in in the first place. I don’t know much about other places in England, I only really know London, and perhaps that oughtn’t be the case. But so is it here, that everything is tiring, but one is surrounded with potentially great rewards.

The sense that time is finite is perhaps a bitter ally. The work awaiting me at the theatre at the end of the week serves as an arbitrary enemy that motivates me to jump ahead and do what I actually want to do. I spent much of my BA years being a vagabond, which I am sure taught me lessons of a different kind – but so much starts happening to you when you feel the finite capacity of time ahead. I have even come to think of my entire two-year MA as my final two years in London – there is every possibility I will leave after that and go live someplace where it’s slightly easier to live – and it has made me look at London in a different way, and jump more readily onto opportunities, visit events and generally see more and make more use of the city.

I’m only three days into my course, and I’ve started to realise I am rather falling in love with Central Saint Martins and greatly looking forward to my time here. I’ve been in a perpetual state of excitement since my first day, which has surprised me. I have chosen the right place I think. While settling into the new course, agonising over social encounters with a host of new and interesting people and absorbing lots of information about how to maximally use the college resources, I have a host of projects I am trying to get a grip of. As I said, finite time seems to be an ally for me, and I keep applying for artist’s opportunities, more of which are cropping up now that the summer is over, with the idea that they may give me some direction. Trying to earn money by doing less front of house work at the theatre, and more remotely me-related stuff, is another ongoing goal, and today I sent a writer who had commissioned me to do a reading of her short story for her own promotional purposes, a latest edit. Commissions are tedious in their own way, working towards a brief is hardly enjoyable for me, and I was really annoyed when I had to go and do a second take of the whole thing, even though a professional ought to have every expectation that some editing is likely to be in order. I applied to be a Postgraduate Community Ambassador at my university, and received an invitation to an interview. This is a post which I would really like to have, as through it I would be in contact with postgraduates across all kinds of disciplines, and gain experience in how university wide academic events are pulled off. It would pull me out of my shell, where I absolutely love to go and hide, particularly at times like these when there are so many new people everywhere about me.

Crypt Gallery Residency

And on top of all this, my proposal for Crypt Gallery’s last minute call out for residencies a couple of days ago was actually successful, and thanks to the hole that’s cropped up in their programme which they appear to be desperately trying to fill, I have a week to spend there, and it is next week.

I was rather anxious when I realised: now I have to go do a residency there. Partially I think because I realised then and there that my proposal was too ambitious under the allotted time, and also I think the idea of what a residency means hadn’t quite sunk in. I had imagined that now I needed to pull off an exhibition with lots of impressive, finished work, an accomplishment of my proposal on-demand. But really, residencies were introduced as a space for artists to continue their practice, and work-in-progress in a slightly new environment.

So now I am rethinking my proposal. Step one is to calm down and lower my ambitions and expectations. The purpose of this thing is to benefit my practice. I have access to a space – a very unusual space – to work in for a week. I was initially approaching the space from a Vernacular Spectacular angle. I thought to make new video works there, and use the space to conjure some lurking, gothic woman, whilst perhaps projecting here and there some previous videos of various characters. I don’t quite have time to get the costume and the equipment and go forth together into the picture I’d originally imagined.

But perhaps it is my novel which most interests me now, and which actually most resonates, of all my projects, with this space. Why not turn it into a writer’s residency? Lock myself up in there and write a few chapters. But the uniqueness of the space and public element of the situation provides opportunities. I can approach the writing through different forms, through somewhat enacting the space of the narrative (as the gallery space, with all its gloom and gothic architecture, already does) myself. And the public element provides an opportunity to present, in some creative way, the novel to visitors.

How can I make the business of my writing this novel, alive and interactive for the public physically visiting the space?

What opportunities do I have in this place to approach my novel in ways I couldn’t otherwise?

To some subtle extent, I’d like to keep to my initial proposal and be Meredith, my protagonist, a little bit. I’d like to make my writing situation atmospheric. A table, a chair, a bit of a deranged writerly look about me with deep plum lipstick and powdered, anemic eyes. Perhaps I should make it a little bit like Meredith’s study, and write long hand. A brass lamp. Candlelight. Cream, delicate pages.

Let us add some things to this space. A mirror would be nice, if I could get a hold of one; a full-sized mirror into which I could glance and search my gaze for comfort, or before which I can stand and practice lamenting monologues.

A little Zoom sound recorder, propped on a slender tripod sounds like a charming prop to me, particularly as I imagine using it almost like a 1920s standing mic. It could be a little character in the room, into which I can speak from time to time, wearing headphones, immersed in an attempt at writing orally. I’d also like to take the microphone on excursions about the space, and document the kinds of observations Meredith might make about corners of her residence. Elaborations on stones in the walls, the light filtering through the stained glass. Perhaps video would be useful in this respect too. I don’t want to make video the point here, because I don’t want to feel like a finalised film should come out of this residency. I don’t know what will come of this residency, but I want it to be primarily related to my written novel, and to share this with visitors. Rather, I might use a video camera as an observational tool: to observe the space, and myself working within the space, and others inhabiting the space. After a day in the Crypt, I can take this material and then see if any of it can be converted into something I can play or project the next day around the space.

The video camera is not a character in this set, like the sound recorder standing on the tripod, and neither is the iPad mini and keyboard I will use to work on my novel. This things will be more hidden from view because I don’t feel they correlate so much with the world I am inhabiting. I might use these more when the gallery is closed and I am working after hours. I can type up what I have written long hand or orally throughout the day, and work in a more traditionally writerly (i.e. boring to watch) fashion when the gallery is closed.

An obvious option is also to do readings from the novel. I might spontaneously get up and read a chapter aloud, either when people are there, or when indeed there is nobody about to listen. There will in this sense be a somewhat comical dramatisation of the writer, in all this.

Drawing is another medium I’d like to incorporate, because the illustrative element of my Blind Script exhibition for degree show was exciting to me, and remains as a recent development in my work which excites me. I like the word illumination particularly: Illuminating my scripts was wonderful. I’d like to make a population of illuminations related to the novel, but to achieve this the illuminations would have to be very small, because I would not have time to make large works.

One possibility is to come to the residency prepared with “plausible pages” from the book. Nothing unified, perhaps, not like entire, printed chapters. Just neatly formatted excerpts, that look like stolen pages from a book. And I can hand-illuminate areas of the writing. This would look very nice, but they’d be fragmented and decontextualized in a manner that is very befitting with the atmosphere of the novel. These could be framed and presented as well, like memorabilia in a household, pages of a narrative about an amnesiac rattling about a gothic manor.

I’m starting to like where this is heading, it feels like me again.

I have the sense that I want to make something that can be distributed to visitors as well. But I tame all these ideas, I want to make them manageable. Perhaps they could be little cards, square, with written observations on them, tacked to areas of the space like collectable haiku’s. Maybe I could even take snapshots of all the areas of observation and run them through a printer, cut them out and write the observations on the back.

I imagine occupying a particular space, as if it were a study, but I’d also like the “public element” to extend about the space. Leave vestiges of the narrative playing in the alcoves. It is a large space, and I don’t have large works, but I can use project and sound to fill spaces and charge them with some kind of atmosphere. It would be good to come with a few existing works that I can scatter for my own benefit, as well as for public viewing. I thought of perhaps projecting my Rocket Dog drawing large, merely because it is a poor creature that encapsulates in his frozen plight the melancholy of the place and Meredith. There is also The Map, a video of a gothic lady warning somebody about a map.

I think I am set then. I’ve managed to set certain parameters so that I can approach the residency in a focused but open minded attitude towards the outcome.

I will be using the following to write:

  • Text (long hand and typing on my iPad)
  • Sound recorder
  • Drawing

I will be using the following to research:

  • Video
  • Note Cards
  • Choreography
  • Mirror

Within my novel, I’ll be focusing on:

  • The exile of clocks
  • The fugitive artificial intelligence
  • Collecting detailed observations about the cellar
  • The idea of a guest that never arrives the house
  • The idea of the visitor
  • My encapsulation (what happens when I go for a swim?)
  • The idea of running away from home
  • The idea of coming across the abandoned greenhouse lab in the forest
  • My shadow, I could have a relationship with it in the space
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