Summer Progress

mind map plan for summer 15

At the beginning of the summer I set myself a few tasks mainly based on feedback from my lecturers and in particularly the assessment report and final tutorial with Caroline.

I wanted to try to keep the Journal going over the summer and I achieved this for most of July whilst I still had  wifi.  I  then had a holiday and I have been a bit slow getting back into the habit since I got back home.

mind map plan for summer 15

I decided to revisit my plan as I wanted to try to focus my last week before the first hangout of the year. I have worked much better in some areas than others. I feel I have clarified some ideas but others much less.

Reading

The weakest area by far is the summer reading. Not that I have not read but I have focused mainly on the history of work or industrial revolution in Spain and the migration of people. I had to read about the history of Madrid work and migration to write a proposal for La Corrala. I have also spent time collecting new sources of organisations working outside the gallery and subscribing to their newsletters so I can stay up to date. I have, however, read very little from the OCA list – only ways of looking and some of the interviews and a little of the postgraduate research handbook. Luckily for me I misunderstood and had read all of Eleanor Heartney’s Art and Today last winter break.

I also did very badly on my own reading list. I have read some of Gaston Bachelard’s the poetics of space but found the whole ‘house’ part really difficult as I couldn’t go with the large house metaphor when so few people live in this way – he starts by describing a huge vertical building and then saying that the flats in Paris (one of the most expensive cities in the world) were in some way inadequate. I was also reading this in Morocco maybe if I had been in London it wouldn’t have seemed so offensive. I like this idea of the immediacy and novelty of poetry although I think it is problematic when related to contemporary art. The associations matter and the ideas matter and the thinking about it matters (although I am reluctant to add written words into this process). I still believe in the physical presence of art of anytime and any function, paradoxically even when it is hidden.

The other books I read I have blogged apart from some delving into previously read books and I have not blogged all the articles. As well as the practice related reading I have been preoccupied with the political events in Greece and Syria and upcoming elections. What I missed this summer was fiction – a large novel full of ideas… another time.

Site Specific / Gallery

The other area I feel needs more attention and I did not resolve as far as I would now like to is the question of thinking deeper about my decision to work (at least some of the time) outside galleries – and this I think I can do much more in the coming week because although I maybe haven’t resolved it I have made proposals such as ‘la Corrala’ have been considering other spaces and even what can still go into a gallery space in relation to the projects. I maybe have tackled this a little bit the wrong way round. I have tried to continue working through specific ideas for myself and looking at how other artists work outside the gallery without focusing enough on the why? I know it feels like an enormous liberation but why is that the case. There is also the dawning of the reality that most artists I know are making objects or installations for galleries – I don’t have any kind of a network. I have blogged experimentation and the proposal for the Corrala.

Documentation

On the negative side I have not really improved my use of photography. I think I still take better photos of my work with my phone than a DSLR because I don’t really know how to use it. I have followed all the basic advice and my photographs are not so bad but I know that this is a weakness and I realise I avoid this type of technology. On the other hand I feel much more comfortable when documenting the work using video. Although the videos I made in Ciempozuelos might not be a great quality, they do represent much more accurately the experience of being in the place. The addition of movement and especially sound added a lot to this.

I have also spent time organising my photographs.

Web Visibility

As an artist working outside the gallery this seems even more important because most established channels of information are closed. I also agreed with Caroline that an out of date website is useless and possibly worse than no presence at all. I have therefore been working on a new website and I aim to publish it early next week. The advantage of being updateable is that I feel less pressured to make definitive statements or about misrepresentation of my work. I will be able to change it.

Putting together a web page (from an easy template lets be clear) has allowed me to improve the documentation of my work. For example for the Ciempozuelos project I have added links to vimeo and google maps. I have tried to keep it as provisional as possible as I feel like I am in a state of change and could go in various directions but it has allowed me to include proposals and I would like to add rejected projects at some stage.

So these are my priorities: to complete the webpage and to more clearly define my choice of working practice. They are big things but they now feel doable.

Visibility outside the Gallery System

Validation Beyond the Gallery – axisweb

This piece of research was published during the summer break and this was perfect timing as it deals with many of the issues that I had set for myself to consider over the vacations. It deals with the career paths of artist’s who work outside of the gallery in a variety of ways and how they are validated. The researchers first interviewed organisations involved in the commissioning and production of this type of work about the processes and relationships with artists. Those organisations then suggested artists to interview for the second stage as their practice was either exclusively or partially outside of the gallery. The researchers acknowledged that this covered a wide variety of art practices.

Initial Reflections

This paper gave me many issues to consider in relation to my own work. I still currently fall into the category of someone who makes art objects but I do want to continue to explore other ways of making work. One artist said:

‘The idea of making things just to sell them doesn’t appeal to me.’ (Kate Genever Poly-Technic)

I don’t think many artists make things just to sell but selling work is much more problematic for some than for others. For me its a very difficult area and throws up a lot of questions about value and audience. Once something goes into a private collection it disappears.

how we measure success? 

This was a really useful section and related back to how hard it is for us to see our own work. This gets even more complicated as many artists in this area are working collaboratively. I want to change my PPP in the light of this paper.

function of art?

It was good to see that work outside the gallery often (but not always) fulfilled different functions from Gallery based art. Certainly many of the artists were making art for radically different reasons.

networking and location

The importance of networking for this type of work was highlighted several times. I also became aware that the report only dealt with British organisations and UK based artists. This is a problem as I really would like to be able to meet more people engaged in this type of work and that does mean moving beyond my current circles. The lists of artists and organisations was useful but I need to research locally based project.

Useful Work versus Useless Toil – William Morris

As part of my research into ‘work’ I chose to read this paper by William Morris. I am becoming concerned about our relation to work and how the nature of jobs and employment is changing or how it is not. I have looked at some specific examples from the local area and I wanted to look at the history of different points of view on work. William Morris I knew as a designer, craftsperson and socialist as leading member of the British Arts and Crafts Movement, I remembered visiting the museum dedicated to him in Waltham Forest when I lived in London. This is in fact a transcription of a lecture he gave in 1884 to the Edinburgh University Socialist Society.

Morris begins by challenging the widely held notion that all labour is innately good. Morris establishes, in common with other authors on the subject, that labour in some form is necessary for human survival. Although all work requires effort and may not be pure pleasure he believes that there should be the potential (he calls this hope) for pleasure in the work. This is something he feels has been lost. He observes that many late 19th century workers do not have the expectation that work could be rewarding in any way. He outlines 3 ‘hopes’ 2 of which he feels are common to socialists and the third may differ:

Hope 1 for fair recompense for work (money)

Hope 2 for sufficient rest (and leisure)

Hope 3 for pleasure (job satisfaction)

He stresses the importance of the worth of the product (here we are not talking of a given economic worth). Any work that does not produce this is, he feels, meaningless.

Morris sums up the class system in this way: – ‘a class which does not even pretend to work, a class which pretends to work but produces nothing and a class which works but is compelled by the other two classes to do work which is often unproductive’. (he has identified two types of production – unnecessary items for the richer classes and substandard production for themselves).

So what is different about Morris’s arguments?

Most of the arguments do not differ greatly from standard late 19th century socialism – the abolition of the non working class; community ownership of the means of production and the hopes of fair wages and hours of work for everyone. I shall focus therefore on where he may differ.

Useful Work

Most of the paper is about work and although it is not very good at defining how the ‘new order’ would work Morris does define how he feels work should be. If one can ignore the sexist tone of the writing and some of the vocabulary many of his ideas are quite reasonable although his ways of presenting them is not particularly clear. Morris believes in the pleasure of work being defined through variety and usefulness. He also believes that through the pleasure of work we produce what is not only necessary but also that which is beautiful. In his argument adornment comes from the pleasure of making. Variety in work could mean for example: working indoors and outdoors; using ones physical skills and intellectual skills. The most unpleasant tasks could be done for shorter times and mixed with more rewarding activities. He emphasises working on the land and contact with nature and beauty as a reward for labour. One suggestion is that any necessary evil of factories could be short shifts combined with intellectual activities. Morris lists various products that would be obsolete in his utopia.

Morris’s arguments can be seen as nostalgic and backward looking as they tend to blanket criticism of technology and focusing on its repetitive nature (although he does admit that the machines could perform unpleasant tasks at some point). At times he seems to ignore the harsh reality of many workers under the pre industrial system, he doesn’t mention their living conditions or the feudal class system at all. The fact that women are totally absent from the paper is also a major problem.  Morris’s own pleasure in making probably outweighed his dedicating time to developing these arguments. It is also true that the subsequent centuries’ socialist revolutions largely ignored this type of argument against the capitalist model of production. Lenin, it seems, embraced it.

In relation to our own world of work many of his criticisms seem to remain true 130 years later. Capitalism is global, working conditions have improved somewhat for many but certainly not all. Large corporations may have largely replaced the idle rich and much political business. We no longer believe in the Utopias of the 19th and early 20th century and the reserve army of capitalism is huge in places like Spain or Greece.

However if we just focus on the 3 hopes. Many countries have a minimum wage and many people working illegally surviving underneath it. Women have equal pay legislation which has helped in many places. There is an enormous difference between rich and poor which is growing at the moment, I don’t know how this compares to 19th century figures but the trend is very negative especially as social mobility is also declining. Hope 2 – in spite of large unemployment there are very few part time jobs and most people are working longer hours usually for less money. This is true of traditional working and middle class occupations.

Most important for Morris is hope 3. so what of job satisfaction? In Europe we manufacture very little anymore we are more involved in ‘service’ industries do they offer us more satisfaction? I believe this is very difficult to quantify and varies according to country and culture in spite of globalisation. I strongly suspect that there is a limited amount of variety and creativity. There are certainly long hours and insecurity. Of course there are people who opt out and set up alternative economies. Nevertheless I don’t feel able to build a serious argument without more concrete data. I will continue reading from more recent sources.

How would  Morris feel about the explosion in design and visual culture? ikea as an example of a global corporation purveying 21st century adornments. What does it sell? it is an excellent example of commodity fetishism unleashed on a huge global scale in identical stores all over the planet. Undercutting all the local carpenters, upholsterers – these trades barely exist. How would poor Morris cope with ikea? He talks about the pleasure of creating the individual designs through the process and pleasure of working.

Those of us who today have any job satisfaction are really lucky. If we have holidays and leisure time and can afford to not only pay our bills and eat but have a surplus for books and travel. Which brings me to the final point. I think I am a product to a certain extent of these utopian dreams of the past. I was allowed a free education for educations sake as Morris describes it unfettered by the money making necessity. I was able to work as little as I could for most of my life and therefore even when I have to do work I do not like I have nearly always had the great luxury of time. I appreciated his education for educations sake like ‘l’art pour l’art’.

I want to investigate how deep this idea that all labour is good still runs within different cultures. Especially as there seems to be an increase of unnecessary production and therefore more meaningless work. There is an enormous difference in the narrative on news programmes in Spain and the UK for example where I hear the ‘working families’ line spun out repeatedly. This is to suggest that the non workers are unworthy and suggests the all labour is good belief is intact. What exactly are those working families doing? and would it meet either Morris’s or our criteria for meaningful. How is it benefiting society? This could not be said in Spain as it would be such a huge insult to so many unemployed, (as I am sure it is to the English) here the reserve army is overflowing with members.

Importance of collaboration with local people

This article was really interesting for me not only as it deals with local collaboration but also the artwork they are protesting about is by a group known as NLE (no longer empty) which uses abandoned buildings. according to the article the group were engaging with the local community but are coming up against some serious long term issues. From this article it is difficult to judge how serious the collaboration actually was and suggests that the protestors were justified in being indignant. The building a courthouse disused for over 35 years had been contested for a long time within the local community and although the NLE is a non profit group they were themselves it seems being used for some kind of real estate game. This is just one blog’s viewpoint but given the information here it is hard not to be skeptical. It appears that art (and furthermore community based art) is being used to boost the local economy and the locals are at risk of being excluded. Its a tricky question as artists tend to be a trigger for this type of gentrification. We tend to move to cheap areas to live and make work as we are not generally high earners. We hope to have a positive effect on the environment, we open studios, galleries, and if this is successful the neighborhood becomes fashionable and the prices go up. The Bronx could be East London, East Berlin or any of those places which were cheap and are now too expensive for ordinary people or artists to live in. I don’t have a solution. I lived in Hackney in the 1990s and my neighborhood in Madrid is definitely positively influenced by artists – although maybe the economic crisis has saved it somewhat.

nos quedamos

Whatever way it serves as a reminder or how you work with other people’s stories. One thing from the top of my head is to involve people literally in making or showing the work in some way. Even not for profit organisations pay out for some work. Is that money going to locals? As artists we tend to be drawn to more interesting areas we must maintain sight of what it is that interests us.

protest on opening night

video of opening

La Corrala

outside       through gate

I went to visit La Corrala this morning and found out about the process of exhibiting. I then had to call for more information. Unfortunately they say it is impossible to exhibit in the patio which is what I really wanted to do. They also say the downstairs gallery is pretty booked for next year. What I need to decide is what proposal to present. I need to decide what I really want to do (as opposed to what might be ‘safe’, a ‘good idea’ or what I expect them to want). My original plan was to make an installation in the patio of fabrics – like sheets or clean washing – painted with images of madrid from when the corralas were full of life as people came to the city from the countryside looking for work and more ‘freedom’. I wanted to investigate this change in society and try to reflect on it. The downstairs exhibition space is well renovated and includes original beams and a variety of small spaces. I have visited before but it is currently closed so no photos for the blog. This space is less interesting and I am also considering alternatives. However, I would like to make a proposal of some sort as this is literally in my street and will at some point be available. I am also starting to feel bad as during the first year of the MA I didn’t exhibit at all and I both want to exhibit and be able to reply to that question.

One of the best experiences of the last year was the exploratory project and that was because I decided off the top of my head to write a proposal of something I really wanted to do. Of course in spite of the seeming spontaneity I had spent months thinking about what my practice was and audiences etc so it was spontaneity arising from reflection and thinking. I also decided in doing the MA that I have always made art and if I am continue for the rest of my life I should try and make it meaningful and not dependent on expectations. As decision making is so stressful and time limited I need to hone it to my criteria.

I could present 2 proposals including a photoshopped patio (and just ignore that I know this is ‘prohibited’.

:casa_di_ringhiera   images

A typical Corrala

The Museum of Popular Arts (UAM) Madrid

patio 3    patio 2

patio   patio 4

As you can see the building is renovated and there are wires and cables for the sun shades they sometimes pull across when they use the patio for events. Proof in fact that the space has in fact been used for concerts or markets in the past. My idea was to use this space. The main consideration in presenting for the downstairs gallery is whether to relate the work to the idea of the corrala or document my previous work or something else? I feel it should be related but it loses a lot downstairs.

through entrance    patio with hangings

http://www.uam.es/ss/Satellite/es/1242657634005/contenidoFinal/Centro_Cultural_La_Corrala._Museo_de_Artes___y_Tradiciones_Populares.htm

 

Documentation

In some ways these videos made on my phone are more successful that the ones I made using a DSLR – the video camera has disappeared. Because of the floor it was impossible to use a makeshift dolly and a tripod so I was holding the camera by hand and although I was doing so from underneath not the lens it was still quite shakey. I also moved too quickly at times as it was heavy and uncomfortable that way. My phone being a lot lighter was far more comfortable. It is difficult to transfer longer segments from the phone so I have included 3 relatively short ones here.

https://player.vimeo.com/video/133266130

What I liked about this segment is the way the sheet moves in the wind and managing to capture this, I think I could slow it down if I could import it into imovie.

https://player.vimeo.com/video/133266352

This is a movement from a group of men via the same sheet as before to a group of women workers I was quite pleased witht eh sheet as I caught it as I went past from good angles. Being able to see the drawing, if not the subject, adds to this. There is also an interesting contrast with the wall work and we end with someone else’s wheat paste.

https://player.vimeo.com/video/133266218

Here we see practically the whole space rather too quickly. I needed to slow down. It is also unusually calm and there is much less noise than in the previous recordings. There is also the issue of the lighting and I am not sure how this can be helped  with the strong sunlight outside when I pass windows, the camera automatically compensates. At times this works quite we but at others things I want to be seen remain invisible.

This afternoon I saw ‘The way things go’ The Fischli and Weiss video on you tube. I wanted to see how they documented their work and remembered it as being in this type of room.  Of course it is very different, apart from being focused on carefully controlled movement the light is also controlled and they have some kind of a dolly. They also have a whole crew. Still the pacing in my case is something I need to think about and although I don’t have a dolly I can cut and make shorter segments and edit them. I really like the sounds in their video and when I managed to get this in mine.

Nearly the end of Term

I realised that at the end of term – ie when I can become a full time artist this blog doesnt exist (no July and August) so I am starting to collect reading material and plan for July and August’s reading and making. With only 4 more teaching days this year I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I will also try to negotiate some public space in which to make work at the beginning of the year, in addition to reading and experimenting. This month has been lost to catchup at teaching job so far but I am beginning to feel the mental space to reflect on which way I am going. One of the first things that I realised was that although I want to continue drawing and do some printmaking in paper, I am not drawn to continue painting on canvas for now. This is a big shift for me as I have been making ‘paintings’ on canvas or board: objects. As I travel around, especially on the local trains I see potential sites everywhere so I think I will start July in this way with a balance of academic reading/ material investigation and local research.

I am collecting a variety of papers and articles to read and websites such as this one which I find potentially very exciting.

http://maydayrooms.org/event/occupation-culture/

http://hyperallergic.com/214713/the-lost-ritual-of-photographing-the-dead/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=The+Lost+Ritual+of+Photographing+the+Dead&utm_content=The+Lost+Ritual+of+Photographing+the+Dead+CID_6d89d9264a82f8038f4d7a049e97141e&utm_source=HyperallergicNewsletter&utm_term=The%20Lost%20Ritual%20of%20Photographing%20the%20Dead

And now I am ordering the books from the reading list.

Looking Forward – work

As I am completing my reflection of the Exploratory Project I have identified my interest in work. In my tutorial with Stewart Geddes he had an issue with my use of the workers as a way of describing my subjects. He said it sounded very dated. I find this really interesting. It might be partially related to the language issue, I still read ‘trabajadores’ in Spanish news, or do I? What then or who are the workers now? With huge unemployment there is a lower percentage of the population in employment but how are we employed? I have realised that these issues matter a lot to me. Having completed the essay and sent off and uploaded my work for assessment I feel I have the opportunity to research new areas. I was not able to put all the issues I wanted to research in 2000 words. Various subjects I wanted to include and which I want to relate to my work had to be edited out. I also realise that I started so late that I don’t think I had a good approach the essay was just me surveying some theories and practices which relate to mine in a relatively superficial way without much of a critical edge. At the time I just wanted to meet the deadline and keep up with my other work.

work

 

It is clear that my work in Ciempozuelos not only relates to social changes in communities but also fundamentally to the work place and labour itself. Over the past few months the change in the way prostitution is ‘sold’ has become more and more visible in my daily life. Every day these small flyers (usually about 6-8cm) are left on car windscreens. I first noticed these walking around in Southern Madrid neighbourhoods but gradually they got to more central areas. In some ways it is shocking and saddens me on the other hand maybe this ‘industry’ should not be hidden from us. I was shocked by the prices ‘anti crisis’ how little they were asking and the supermarket style special offers. This makes me question not only how women are used in the sex industry but also how this is part of a huge change in the way work is defined and our relation to it. I am not sure what I will do with the flyers for now I am collecting and I am reading about how we define work.

Some references:

Braverman, H. (1974) Labor and monopoly capital: The degradation of work in the twentieth century. New York: Monthly Review Press.