The professional, the amateur, the enthusiast and various shades of…


In the last couple of weeks (under both artist and arts manager hats) I’ve had several conversations about artist’s fees; being paid to make new work; how public funding does or doesn’t support the process of developing new work and what kind of art making needs financial support.

In the recent Visual Artists New Sheet (Sept / Oct 2012) Chris Clarke talks eloquently about the distinction between ‘space’ and ‘place’ and what artists really mean by space.  This idea of ‘space’ goes hand in hand with the question of public funding and the supports that artists might need to make and/or show new work.

For the emerging artist the work and the artist need time, to let the process breath or ferment, this is one kind of support.  As is often the case the emerging artist or emerging work isn’t evolved enough yet to stand up to the competition for resources that public funds attract and the rigour that public funds demand.   Early career artists and established artists require different kinds of support.

I realise that this might read as an argument against public funding for early career artists and that I risk undermining the ideal but seemingly contradictory climate that we all crave i.e. an environment where we are free to express what we want with the support of the public purse.

To complicate things even more you might say that there is a distinction between the public purse and state funding.  The former could be attached to an idea of civic and civil cultural production, that is supported from within civil society, intrinsic to it’s discourse and a worthwhile endeavour reflective of an active civil society.  While the later i.e. state funded cultural production could be potentially tethered or obligated in some way to exercise itself as official ‘Irish Culture’.   This ‘space’ that Chris talks about is of course what the ‘arm’s- length’ principle and autonomous cultural support bodies provide for – a space where art can seek both practical and financial support adjudicated by peers with the support of strategically employed public resources.

What questions should we continue to ask ourselves as artists?  What kind of artist do I want to be?  What I may say, point at or reveal may differ radically in its address to either a private or public patrons.  Can anything really radical be expressed in the full glare of the state apparatus?  What kind of civil cultural life do we value, and how should that function?

Of course we should question how our institutions work.  Decisions about public funding should be transparent but to claim one is not in receipt of public funding because of arbitrary decision-making, ad-hocracy or administrative bottlenecks isn’t useful.  By participating in this professional sphere, in either paid or unpaid capacities, we are stakeholders in our institutions as artists and public and can contribute to this social, cultural ecology and discourse.  In taking a stance of being outside or ‘not at the party’ we forget that we are also amongst peers and may and do thrive through reciprocity and a sense of collegiality.

To use the analogy of a river, creative work develops within a network of streams and rivulets until eventually it journeys into an institutional mainstream.  Cultural value, traction and track records are built through: the development and exhibition of work; through a developmental journey and through interaction with terrain.  How can we artists simultaneously navigate and address the margins and the centre and how can the centre support the margins?

I think as artists we function as enthusiasts, amateurs and professionals concurrently and shift between these modes in our creative lives and interactions.  There is a distinction between being paid and being a professional artist.

To lighten this pondering and to continue with the watery analogies I just recently came across a book while browsing in Chapters called – Sketching in Water Colours, a book for Amateurs by an Amateur by James Steuart Nelson & Sons Ltd, London, 1938 Edition.  Setting some of his gender assumptions aside I’m enjoying the humours advice that Steuart has to offer.

‘This book is written by an amateur for amateurs.  The author has sketched since he was a boy with little professional teaching and he has wrestled and is still wrestling with difficulties. With the experience thus gained he has found that he has sometimes been able to smooth the path for other strugglers and with this object before him he has penned these pages.  There is no intention of raising class distinctions in excluding the real live artists from our conference…An amateur may become an Artist, but an Artist cannot become an Amateur, grappling with the most initial difficulties long since forgotten by the Artist, but which are ever with us…Lakes have also an irresistible attraction for the many; in fact, the younger the artist the bigger the lake, and the more muddy the water.  One of the objects of these pages will be to try and lead him to simpler themes and to endeavour to inspire in him enthusiasm, without which progress, not to speak of success, is impossible.’

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The Hoard


A launch into group reading again last night thanks to Catherine Barragry for getting things started.  The Call of the Hoard, Jane Bennett’s talk at Vera List Centre, brought up lots of similar interests for Catherine, Ciara and I.

This is just a loose collection of notes but will also hopefully be a text object in itself.  While lying in my bed just after waking this morning this object was already calling me to give it a form. It occurred to me that if I posted notes, slide share or wordpress would do a really good job of helping this object draw similar material to itself.

I love tags – Francis Halsall’s text Little Trapdoors, read in parallel to Jane Bennett, provided some pointers on how to move beyond language in our consideration of objects.  But here I am using tags (language dependent digital objects) that I hope will open a ‘little trapdoor’ to the world that considers objects in themselves.

Let the OOO hoard begin!

Jane Bennett (A link to Bennett’s talk at the Vera List Centre for Art & Politics)

Shem the Hoarder in Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake

Hoarding – a somatic attraction to things – a raised sense of awareness of the draw (or ‘ruckus’ as Bennett describes it) of objects, more pronounced in people who hoard compulsively.  She does not see it as aesthetic attraction per say, as some hoarders describe the objects in a way as part of their being or bodies, it seems more visceral.  To have objects from the hoard removed creates anxiety, a fear of dismemberment and physical injury, a loss of bodily integrity.

Bennett suggests the lens of hoarding could be used to examine the object relationships that other groups and individuals demonstrate e.g. fetishists and collectors or their antithesis, religious groups whose beliefs are non-materialist with an emphasis on poverty, Franciscans and Buddists.  These object practices or relationships might point to how objects persist in the world.

Voluntary poverty is counter to the lure of material possessions.  Minimalists – those who desire a minimum of objects in their environment, seemingly the opposite of hoarders, but yet with a strong sensibility of the way objects should ‘be’ in their environments.  Feng Shui – a way of giving objects space to influence us and also a way of living with them in a productive way.  Feng Shui like Bennett gives objects some potency and power.

Warhol is raised later in the q&a session – he constantly gathered and hoarded stuff which was then boxed at the end of each month and sent to a warehouse, so that his space could be free of the clutter of objects.  The idea of ‘sensory styles’ or orientations.  Hoarders seem to have very similar inclinations to artists!  The potentiality of the hoard, what can arise, what can it become or manifest?

Ideas of slowness and a desire for permanence, a refusal of death, there is eros in the hoard! Hoarders might point to non-human practices at work inside the hoard.  Bennett feels that these insights might help us with issues  of sustainability: how to consume differently; to relate to objects differently; to allow objects to relate differently to us; to slow up and move in a more object-like fashion through the world.

The agency of the hoard, hoards that gather themselves – The Pacific Garbage Patch.  This notion of agency reminds me of Slavoj Zizek‘s and his ideas about ecology i.e. that nature is not something that we can control or have effect on.  From the Zizek point of view we humans are embedded in nature, we are subject to natural forces.  This runs counter to green political ideas around sustainability and the idea that a change in our consumerist behaviors will change the course of a predicted ecological end time.

The q&a offered some further tags, snags, threads to follow and Trapdoors to open: ‘Actor Network Theory’ & Bruno Latour – energy and agency such as geological forces, electricity; spatial relationships.  One audience member asked the interesting question – is our real problem how we relate and communicate i.e. if we solved that problem would politics be necessary?  Are content and function separate or linked are the one and the same?

Taylor – the porous self a bilateral relationship with each other and with objects.  Ciara reminded us of the relationship between human and bicycle in Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman.  ‘The gross and net result of it is that people who spent most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who nearly are half people and half bicycle.’  Sergeant Pluck, on The Atomic Theory, in The Third Policeman, by Flann O’Brien.

Autism – a different orientation to objects and their meaning, a desire to focus on certain objects, less filtering of perceptions and sensations.  Bennett mentions filtering and our quite tight ability to filter our surrounds, the language of her hoarders suggests a different ability to filter or read objects in the environment.

Objectum Sexuality – an emotional and sexual orientation towards objects – not quite the same as fetishism where the object stands in for something or someone.  This former concept is an aside from Bennett’s idea but does point towards a different relationship and awareness of objects.

Catherine, Ciara and I talked about this elusive, pre-lingual thing about objects and in particular art objects – a glimpse of ‘the Real’ – the Real breaking through the symbolic.  

Bennett also mentions Barthe discussing why he was drawn to particular photographs as objects – the uncanny, the punctum the non-verbal aspect of the photograph that eludes semiotic analysis. Catherine suggests I go to Zizek for a more approachable interpretation of Lacan’s ‘Real’,  ‘symbolic and ‘imaginary’ concepts.  

This session has been really helpful as I’ve been vaguely dipping into Levi R.Bryant’s blog  Larval Subjects and it will be an opportunity to delve further into this.  Interestingly both Bryant and Bennett are involved in a new journal on OOO -‘O-Zone‘ where I found this interesting video by Paul Caplan on Object Orientated Photography.

In the next session we’re hoping to look at both Bryant and a UCD cognitive scientist Fred Cummins who has some interested things to say about cognitive science and eastern philosophical ideas of self and subject hood. See Fred’s Pink Monkey Farm blog.  In terms of cognitive science developments Ciara also talked about machines which are developed to programme themselves and to share knowledge.  A.I. organisms that function like members of a hive or swarm in how they share knowledge, develop and endure.  

This led back again to Taylor’s ideas of interdependence between man and technology which finds it’s nth degree in The Matrix.  How might we avert being taken by (our machines) a self-created technological monster?  Should we embrace technology completely, as Zizek suggests, is technology embedded in nature just as we are?

 Lets see where these tags take us 🙂

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The Center for Genomic Gastronomy


Interesting speakers in Dublin soon, Zack Denfeld and Cat Kramer from The Centre for Genomic Gastronomy will present at TEDx Dublin 22 Nov, 2011

The Center for Genomic Gastronomy –  an independent research institute engaged in exploring, examining and understanding the genomes and biotechnologies that make up the human food systems of planet earth..

One of the groups projects is: FoodLab Bangalore –  a 3 week workshop the Center for Genomic Gastronomy conducted with sophomores from the Srishti School of Art, Design & Technology in the fall of 2011. Students will examine innovation and conservation in South Asian food cultures, building on recent research of the Center (utopian cuisines, mutagenic meals) and working towards the next edition of the Planetary Sculpture Supper Club to be held in Bangalore on Nov. 12th. From: http://www.genomicgastronomy.com/blog/

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