Future Now


I decided to attend this two day symposium led by Aesthetica Magazine for several reasons; it had a diverse panel of speakers from the contemporary art world, they were presenting 1-1 sessions with both Arts Council England and Portfolio Reviews with a panel member, and an artists who I’d just sent the work of (Jasmina Cillic / Baltic) was also speaking. It presented talks and sessions which were directly relevant to consideration of professional life in practice post MA Creative Practice. My thinking had already turned to the sustainability of practice beyond LAU. The two years I had dedicated to delving deeper into my practice and extending its boundaries, learning new skills was a big investment of time alongside juggling two other jobs and being a parent of a primary aged child. I intended to work toward the investment paying off both on a mental/emotional level and a work/life level where I could follow professional opportunities as an artist which became fully embedded in my working life.

So the Future Now Symposium ticked a lot of boxes in relation to Continuing Professional Development.

1-1 Session

This session I had had a lot of synchronicity to it. I was paired with Griselda Goldsbrough. She is on the panel of the Aesthetica Art Prize, heads up the arts development programme for York Health Service and York Museums and Galleries. I talked through my most recent sound installations and projects and the final project I was currently working on. We talked a lot about life post MA and how that could be sustained particularly in an arts practice (sound) which is often on the periphery of contemporary arts. Yet she had both had examples of commissioning sound artists to work on hospital related projects within the NHS and talked of how that worked. She also gave me some pointers in relation to other sound artists working in community settings as a reference point as to how sound could be used. We talked a lot about funding and about criteria’s funders such as the Arts Council & Welcome Trust are looking for when assessing applications. We have since swapped various emails regarding projects and I do feel we will keep in contact professionally.

Artists Film – The Evolution of Moving Image Talk

This was an interesting talk which for me highlighted the pathway from artist to gallery show and who is involved along the way. On the panel was Head of Film at Manchester Met University, Gideon Koppel, Jasmina Cillic, Naomi Varga, RCA graduate and winner of Aesthetica Film Prize, Stuart Brisley, artist working with moving image, Alessandro Vincentelli, Curator of Exhibitions and Research at the Baltic and Phoebe Roberts, curator at Art Angel.

The talk was touched on many aspects of artists engaged with moving image. It was particularly relevant at this time for me as I had begun making my own very small films of moving image and had begun thinking where they would sit, in which context. The talk spoke of how much time visitors spent watching and being engaged with film show in a gallery context as opposed to the commitment of viewing in a cinema setting. Naomi Varga spoke of her pathway to winning the Aesethica Film Prize and subsequently being approached by Art Angels for future funded projects. Art Angel are one of the biggest commissioning bodies in the UK and extensively research their work and their artists work before funding a project.

The network of how artists can begin to work on larger projects suddenly began to unfold. The in-between areas of how to work, not in a commercial selling of products but of being able to work on project/exhibition basis on a larger scale.

How to Get Ahead as an Emerging Artist

Speakers: Griselda Goldsbrough, Javier Pes (Artnet), Carla Rapoport (Lumen Art Prize), Jacqelyn Jobert (Anise Gallery), Rachel Ara (Artist), Rebekka Kill (York St James).

This discussion centred around how Art Prizes can really catapult an artist onto the next elevation of their career. That winning one prize puts you in the mind of other prize givers and/or funders, even showing you have entered a competition shows potential funders where you are aiming for in your career. As part of this discussion, all panelists talked of the importance of a relevant, newly written and work focussed artists statement.  It was very interesting to hear from Rachel Ara, currently in residence at the V&A on a digital residency. Her work uses and explores data specifically and she creates both installations and print based work. Her background is in technical coding. Interestingly it was the fact that she had won the Lumen Digital Prize the previous year which had propelled her forward at the age of 54! She’d been working away on her practice for years until that point yet it was the art prize which made her name and work known in the contemporary arts culture. However she did highlight the often not discussed subject of finances and how artists are paid (or not more commonly). Her V&A residency gave her a 12,000 a year salary for want of a better word – I guess fee would be used yet interestingly this ‘fee’ is no where near what a current market salary would be for that level of professional working. So even at that level there is a discordance between how one can support oneself, a family, life etc against having a career as a professional artist.

Carla Rapoport spoke so eloquently about her reasons for setting up the Lumen Art Prize – she spoke with a great deal of honesty and humanity about her need to create a platform for artists who were emerging, at the beginning of their careers and wanted to start a prize for this section of artists who hadn’t got gallery representation. She spoke of how to write an application, not to use ‘art speak’ or too much theory, to remember that you are writing for another human to read and therefore all the wording needs to be clearly communicated, as if spoken verbally, to make it personal and not use gallery text. All of which is interesting in the light of writing for academia. I have found specifically trying to tailor my ‘voice’ in written work the last two years to to somewhat ‘stiff’ and not specific to how I ordinarily communicate. It’s a paradox that an art institution teaches in a particular way, that perhaps a gallery adopts this, and yet the contemporary arts culture does not fully require this level, they are looking for the human, for the personal. Perhaps this is an area which can be explored further in practice led Masters and Phd practices. Carla’s final words of advice really came down to this; why does the artwork exist?, What reason occurred to bring it into existence?


Loop Reflections

Ableton Loop Music Makers Summit 10-12 November 2017, Funkhaus Berlin.

I have returned from a weekend in Berlin at a summit/conference which was both inspiring and engaging. Primarily although I haven’t been using Ableton specifically for sound editing purposes I liked the look of the speakers in the programme and it became the perfect reasoning to opt for a weekend in one of the most creative European cities on research purposes!

It’s been over 20 years since I last visited this city and I have very fond memories of being well looked after by friendly democratic East Berliners in a large squatters block. I recall the starkness of the architecture and the particularly bleak weather. In essence not a lot had changed. The industrial urban-ness of the city remained and much of it seemed to have become a large canvas for the painting of graffiti.

The Bauhaus designed Funkhaus was something else altogether. The former DDR home of German Radio broadcasting and production was both austere externally yet rich and acoustically warm internally. Totalling 50,000sq metres it’s size is impressive alone.

Ableton’s programme was diverse and impressive covering areas of music production, creative methodologies, new sound technologies, music in eduction and providing workshops, sound installations and performances there was a lot to absorb. I highlighted 3 primary sound people I wanted to listen to: Kate Gately, Catarina Barbieri and Jenny Hval.

Kate Gately. Talked in a Q&A format and showed a film of her recording sounds around the city she lived (LA). The primary interests for me in the context of my own practice was listening to how she records and then how she translates those sounds to her sound/music production.  She spoke of her internal processes and the struggle in trying to find her ‘voice’ sonically but that she built up her studio over time in way which works well for her. (i.e.: she processes sounds standing and edits sitting down in two different workstation areas within the same room). I really find this level of unravelling anthers practice useful. I can find when in the sound booth working on my own sound projects that it’s an isolating experience where I am constantly questioning what I’m doing, or researching how to achieve a particular sound effect etc. So in some sense knowing other’s who are at a professional level further on than I still ask similar questions of themselves is a form of relief…

Catarina Barbieri. Was a joy to listen to and to hear. Her words really resonated when she talked about minimalism in her intention with the modular synth music she makes. She spoke of using only single note(s) and creating patterns of permutations from that one note. She spoke of minimalism in Eastern music structures (particularly Indian classical) which struck a chord with me. She talked of how often Eastern traditions would begin by trying to tune into the sound which was already in existence as opposed to ‘creating/plucking/playing’ a sound/note from silence. It reminded me a lot of having sat in many traditional Ragas musical performances whilst travelling in India years ago and how the sound did seem to drift in and drift out without there being a particular start or end. I think I have been trying, albeit in a more basic way, by my overuse of fade in’s and fade out’s on my own pieces…!

Hearing her music played live was really special and enhanced by the huge speaker stacks of the auditorium and general high level of audio kit. The sound was very polyphonic, rich and hypnotic. From a performative perspective, they had cleverly set up a camera to access how she was using the synth and this gave an added performative dimension to a production which otherwise would have been quite still.

Jenny Hval. I listened to her in conversation with Frances Morgan (The Wire) where she spoke at length of some of her inspiration for writing and of what her creative process looks like. It was refreshing to hear her eclectic recording ideas, for instance she spoke of having ideas whilst driving, recording them into her phone and putting those spoken words straight into her music, unedited. Other aspects to note which were of interest were her performance ideas, her use of an iPhone onstage as both recording and performative tool.



Performance & Uncertainty

Today I attended the Performance & Uncertainty Symposium held at The Tetley in Leeds which heralded the opening of the Dora Garcia exhibition, ‘These books were alive; they spoke to me!’.

The speakers/performers included photographer Casey Orr, performer/videographer Harold Offeh, film/installation artist Corin Sworn, visual & performance artist Rana Hamadeh, artist & researcher Dora Garcia and artist/writer/lecturer Kiff Bamford of Leeds Beckett University.

The day was a combination of performances and speaker events. I caught both Rana Hamadeh’s sound-play and heard Dora Garcia speak. So my reflections are on both of these events.

I knew nothing of Rana Hamadeh’s previous work until now so I entered this performance with no previous experience of her work or preconceptions. It was an interesting set up and predominantly a sound piece, although she was clear to state that she specifically referred to the work as a ‘sound-play’ as it was intended to be a promenade performance where the audience moved around the space and there were  no areas to sit or ‘view’.

The set up from an audio/sound perspective was interesting. I counted 7 large speakers on stands all connected to amps, two vocal mic’s in different positions, one mic near the floor with a stack of metal chains next to it, one speaker facing the wall for a separate vocal channel and a laptop running Logic Pro on a mixing desk.

To be honest I found the whole performance really quite disturbing. The initial soundscape was deep, intense and loud. (earplugs were given out and I wore mine). Then Rana came into one of the vocal mice and began speaking although there was such a big level of intentional reverb effect on her vocals that the words were difficult to define and the delivery was gloomy and foreboding.

Intermittently the vocals stopped and and another soundscape brought in, then Kiff Bamford spoke a part on a different vocal mic, then it flipped back to more from Rana. I moved around the room often to get a sense of what was playing out. I noticed they also had a Zoom H4 on one speaker at the back recording the whole thing.

It was 50 minutes long and deeply intense. What was more interesting was watching how the audience responded to the space and the sound. I sensed a great uncomfortableness, a dislocation, people didn’t know really where to put themselves. Some had faces of bewilderment, others of intense concentration, some of misunderstanding, some of intellectual enquiry. Some found a spot and stayed there, others moved around often. I found myself wishing it was finished sooner because it was so so intense and foreboding but was hoping I’d discover at the end more about the work.

There was a short discussion after where Rana explained that she was in part re-enacting a Shi’ite ritual of a ceremony, Ashura, from the Sunni Muslims in Lebanon which involved ritual chanting and self flagellation.

I took the opportunity afterwards to speak with her briefly. I asked her what it was like for her to perform such a piece and more about the rituals and how they take place in Lebanon. She said for her it wasn’t too much to perform such a big piece, she was so used to it and that she wanted it to feel uncomfortable and disorientating. It was. It was made so much more disorientating given the multi channel use of speakers. She mentioned that previous performances had been done in rooms of much smaller proportions than the larger room we were in. I can only imagine the intense immersive-ness of that experience.

Dora Garcia spoke next. She was really interesting and spoke a lot about her work with performance and literature. She spoke of her alternative practices of performance, of combining audiences who have ‘inside’ information of the performance coupled with those who are not privy to such information. She spoke of exploring Argentinian art ‘happenings’ which were reported in the press but which never actually ‘happened’. And she spoke of her recent work drawn from theories by psychoanalysts Freud and Lacan and the relationships between repetition and memory.

It was an incredibly diverse afternoon. My thoughts are quite dense about the whole experience. Initially I want to document that I feel I have an issue with ‘accessibility’ in relation to sound used in an art sense. What I refer to is that to receive as an audience something which is quite deeply intense and disturbing such as Rana’s work is more difficult to relate to. On further reading of her concepts and themes (which I have done subsequently through her work with the Liverpool Biennale) I can ‘understand’ the work and it has context, relevance and meaning. Yet it was a difficult piece.

Through Dora’s talk I really had my eyes opened to the divergent practice in the contemporary art world. How so many artists are working in ways way beyond the ‘traditional’ and conventional worlds of both visual and performance traditions. It was refreshing and intriguing. I need to research further.