May, June, July 2015
I have come to think.
Everything I look at reminds me of other things, other ideas, connections and memories.
It's a rich cultural tapestry.
Letting thoughts happen. A place to think.
I realised that I have been a covert artist in residence at the V&A for some time, or at least, when I got the idea, it was not such a leap in the progression of this train of thought which has been leading me here all along.
When I come to the V&A, I feel a craving to find a quiet private spot, to sit and think in that echoing silence. I have not yet found that place, but background noise and occasional proximity is okay.
Not having a studio, this is my studio, where I come to think studio thoughts.
A studio without portfolio.
Artist without portfolio
Itinerant artist studio
Museums. Galleries. Off peak. Off season.The long hallways, past the metalwork. To the least frequented galleries and rooms, until, at last, perhaps I get the place to myself. I hear my thoughts. I can be overwhelmed by objects, eras, treasures. I can glance a lifetime's pursuit - a civilisation in a moment, in a cup, in a painting, I can defocus my eyes and listen.
I think I may have found my place to sit at the V&A. I'm not saying where it is because I want to keep it for myself! But it's fairly remote, and a sturdy desk with just one chair, so it doesn't invite company. Also, there is less traffic here.
There are some things you just know do you some good and that you need. It's no surprise to me how much I need this space and time devoted to thinking and to being an artist. It's like a certain gear can really take over, that precious lens at the core gets to be the one lens. That's really it.
I remember the feeling of having an actual studio when I was preparing for my exhibition in 2007 and had hired what is still to my mind a just about ideal space. That feeling of closing the door, and being in my own space where all I could do was invent and resolve solutions. I still find it moving and yearning to think of that utter freedom. I take it with me on a piece of paper.
The space, the air, the smells.
Layers of atmosphere.
I remember and think a lot about a friend telling me about a residency she had recently returned from. The space and freedom to create. The developing conversations with unlikely characters. The space and time to breathe as an artist, to paint, paint, paint. Coming home, she found a strange depression overcome her as family and domestic commitments reasserted themselves. She described it as having let the genie out of the bottle, she had to cram it back in again.
My children have practically grown up now, but I well remember all those many years as a mother of young children, and the precious time to be yourself, be creative, scheduled into the day, and how very difficult it was to have to change gear suddenly, or to have to curtail or miss that time. There is such a giant artist genie inside that just must find a way out and to take over once in a while.
The inner artist is a genie, a creative genius that knows exactly what it wants and is really beyond expression. And yet it must be expressed, and it takes many years of learning, effort, some frustration and some satisfaction in order to near expressing the voice and form of that genie.
So many thoughts.
So many crowds of thoughts.
All these objects as I walk through are thoughts leading me into my own thoughts.
I follow. I lead. I choose.
I try a little drawing but my mind goes elsewhere.
My great grandmother got married in the church I can see through this window.
The Brompton Oratory. Louisa Priest.
Fifteen minutes of obscurity.
Long story short ..... the end.
This is the first part of this project that I have not written on site at the V&A. I am at home, at my laptop, having spent the day creating this blog. I am aiming to finish up and complete the covert residency. I have all the ideas for the moving image piece and the downloadable PDF museum box, and I think all the images. I really must conclude, even though there is practically infinite material for me to work with at the V&A, in every way.
I've also, unusually for me, stuck all my scribbles and doodles in a sketchbook. It's been a little like doing a school project - actually I totally adored those and somewhat excelled at them. I still have ones from primary school - Sweden, Oil. I've often thought how seminal that way of working was in my life, my thinking and my creative practice. I may as well go back to that, and do what works.
More than that, I have recently been retrospectively organising all the writing and images made at the V&A. While I was there, I was at liberty to create a format and sequence, as out of order as I liked - that was partly the point, to see what emerged. However, I also knew I would be creating a pattern or matrix which I will undoubtedly follow in subsequent covert residencies. That's just how I work. There will be variations, but I have ordered some sort of narrative or diary, some writing about the project itself, some photographs, drawings. And a project - in this case capturing the feel of want, of objects, of treasure, in a paper print construction. And most definitely a piece of moving image, which I am constructing now.
During this project I received three rejections for proposals I had sent for artist residencies. These were different funded projects. I thought I had made pretty good proposals. Feedback is rarely a possibility. I just don't know. These rejections are added to the list of other proposals for exhibitions, awards, jobs and various other opportunities I have applied to since I completed my MA about seven months ago. Nothing. Absolutely nothing so far.
I'm so glad I came up with this idea of covert artist in residence, and I will complete these forever. However, the idea is born from deep frustration and disappointment, and an enormous need to be involved, to work as an artist, to be an artist. It's hard to fit in and to find a place in the art world, somewhere where work is sustainable in that one thing actually does lead to the next. It has never been my aim to work in a vacuum, even though I am a private kind of artist when it comes to working - I need some privacy to work and think.
I have come to the V&A for what I am planning to be the last time in this current covert residency. I had a plan to take some video footage for the moving image piece I had in mind. It went really perfectly. Standing still while streams of people pass by, all the while concentrated on the statue. By great chance, an artist was sketching it, so I have several minutes of her also, which will make a great shadowy figure and a balance of movement for the piece.
I really should have worn different clackity shoes to get the right sound I have in mind - really that echoey sound which captures the sense of space and stone here. I'll have to wander around, seeking it out.
As to the rest of the project, now I have the conclusions in mind, it's work at home, following through.
This project has given me hope, and proof, that no matter what, no matter the stream of rejections to applications and proposals, I can bloody well get on anyway, and work as I need to work.
These are sketches of a sketch of a statue at the V&A - I am in the middle of multiple processing of layers with video for the moving image piece as the culmination of this covert residency.
I actually forget in which order I made these drawings now. I have also mislaid and can't find online what this statue actually is, and who made it. No matter. I have the idea and type material, and details can be added retrospectively. I have already spent a few days and many intense hours working on these images and all the versions.
It's not really possible to keep a running commentary of my working process - I'd like to, but making is so absorbing, and everything gets held and balanced in my mind so that it's only explainable in patches, or in retrospect.
I edit and process my video footage over and over, refining, trimming, matching up, clarifying, so that I have hundreds of units, all ready to use. While I do this I have a format in mind that I trial with small samples to get the technique right. I edit away all little errors and distractions, so that only what I want is left in the frame.
I know I will be wanting many different versions of images ready to use - faded, vivid, b&w negative, etc. That can't be done in batches, and I could never delegate it, as it involves all the minute aesthetic editing choices, and because of the material and subject, there is always something new, something different, or some previously reliable technique that may not work as well or will work differently this time. I keep track and label all versions, as I know from early experience how quickly processing can become chaotic, and efforts can be repeated or lost. This can be a strangely exhilarating time for me - I get totally absorbed and obsessed, which is just as well as it takes many hours over many days. I can always visualise what is going to happen - predict it, and that prediction goes way back to when I first took the picture, or looked for the picture. Eg- imagining an image in negative, or in colour negative, or vivid, or washed out, and so on. And imagining a dark shadow inverted as a streak of light. And there are other things that I know how to do - all in my palette or repertoire, which I add to each time.
I imagine or visualise it, but it's still a surprise and a pleasure to see an image transform, and sometimes to break my own rules if that works better. I really think it's like painting - you make a mark, so that has to be developed and resolved within the framed area, and the next marks have to be balanced and resolved with the first, and the whole, and so on, until everything is an intricate matrix of meanings and relationships, which can also be summed up in a defining image or communicable, coherent idea. It's the same process, and the same tussle and deep relationship with materials and media.
All those versions of images - they must exist for me, even in a passing subliminal frame. In order to get through to an image - a painting or a piece of moving image, there has to be a lot of layers, some of which may end up practically invisible, but which are all essential.
I make the piece until it is what I imagine and hope for, until I love it and every part of my mind can accept that I have left no stone unturned.
I listen to the music over and over. It does not haunt me less the more I listen to it. I decide that I will not tell exactly how I made this or what I used, as I want people to hear it as it is, and not to listen for what it was before. The sound recording on the video footage is perfectly adequate, and by that I mean completely right. I try all sorts of things to enhance it and make it echoey, but it works best just as it is, balanced with the singing voice.
The way people walked past me, almost through me, you can see it on video, as if I had done something surreptitious. But I am just standing there, and hardly anyone looks at me or the camera. In fact, some people bump into me with no regard - I leave the shudder in the film.
Visiting the V&A again, I made sure to note the name and artist of my statue used for the moving image. The Bather 1915 by Albert Toft (1862 - 1949).