Art Worlds Margate

It’s Monday morning and I’m walking along the seafront, waves crashing to my right and seagulls squealing overhead. I’m not on holiday; I’m on the way to my studio.

I moved to the coastal town of Margate, Kent, in April 2016. I had spent the nine previous years living and working in London, completing an MFA at the Slade and taking on various gallery and artist assisting jobs to support my practice. Like many artists in the city, the amount of time I needed to give over to earning money was far outweighing my studio time, thanks to rising rents for both home and work space.

The one or two days of the week left for my practice had to be divided between actual creative work and more administrative activities such as writing applications. After nearly a decade of this juggling act – one which will be familiar to almost every artist I know – I decided it was time to redress the balance. The only way I could see to do this was to get out of the Capital.

Margate seemed like a natural choice for relocating – it’s cheaper to live here, cheaper to rent a studio, and because other artists are making the same decision, the town has a burgeoning creative community. It’s also relatively close to London, which means going to exhibitions and meetings there is still feasible.

So, eighteen months in, how is my relocation working out?

Not long after moving here I started sharing a studio with a friend at Crate, which is a ten minute walk from my house and decidedly more affordable than any studio I ever rented in London. I now have three or four days a week in the studio, essentially double what I had previously. This has given me a lot more head space, enabled me to increase the ambition of projects I’m working on, and the amount of opportunities and funding I can apply for. I’ve recently been awarded Grants for the Arts funding for an artist’s book and two launch events – the extra time I had to work on the application was definitely a help.

The town has an increasing presence of creative businesses as well as artists, and this means there are a number of facilities in the town which artists can benefit from. These include the large photography studio at Fire Eye Land, which I recently used to shoot elements of a new video work.

What’s more, being less beholden to paid work means that I can go on residencies, something which I could never do while committed to regular employment. In December 2016 I undertook a residency in Girona, Spain, with FEM festival and Bòlit, Centre d’Art Contemporani; in a strange way, moving to a provincial town has led to more international exposure for my work.

I still work in London one or two days per week, and this means that I can use my regular trips into the city to see exhibitions and meet friends. The sense of ‘FOMO’ on leaving the capital was strong at first but is countered by remembering that it was never possible to attend everything even when living there. Now I keep a hit-list of shows on my phone and regularly have great days of visiting the things I really want to see.

The amount of interesting artistic activity happening in Margate is ever-increasing too. As well as  the exhibitions and events at Turner Contemporary, there are a number of studio complexes and galleries with interesting programmes (Resort, Marine Studios, Flat 38 and Bon Volks, to name a few). The respected non-profit organisation Open School East also moved to town in the last year and their public programme has injected further critical discourse and creative engagement into the town. Events I’ve recently attended include a live performance by Mira Calix at Turner Contemporary, a day of talks on underground myths as part of Benedict Drew’s Spelunking project at OSE, and residency artists’ exhibitions at Bon Volks.

As an indication of other opportunities or artists in the town, earlier this year I took part in a Dry Run event at Chiara Williams Contemporary Art (Chiara also having recently moved here after many years of running spaces in London). Dry Run was a valuable opportunity to show and discuss work in progress and to meet other artists from the area. I also made a new performance in June at Turner Contemporary for the one day event Venice Agendas: The Contract. As such, being here has provided me with opportunities to show work as well as more time for making it.

Looking to the future, Margate promises to continue developing as an artistic outpost. A number of large unused buildings are earmarked for creative endeavours – new studios, galleries, and the much-talked about relocation of Tracey Emin’s studio to the town. There is a feeling of excited anticipation about the next chapter here.

In terms of the rebalancing I was hoping for, my relocation has definitely impacted positively on my practice. The pace of life here is conducive to more thinking, more reading, more making, more looking. And I don’t think I could have asked for more than that.

Article by Holly Slingsby. Slingsby works across performance, objects and video. She reinvents depictions of holy figures to examine their impact on contemporary culture. Her pieces often take the form of staged miracles or ceremonies.  

Slingsby has had solo exhibitions and performances at Bòlit, Centre d’Art Contemporani, Girona, Spain; Tintype, London; and DKUK, London. In 2016 she was commissioned by Kunst Vardo (Norway and UK) and Fermynwoods Contemporary Art (UK). She has exhibited at galleries including Turner Contemporary, Margate; Matt’s Gallery, London; Pump House Gallery, London; Spike Island, Bristol; Modern Art Oxford; the Freud Museum; Art Licks Weekend, London; the ICA, London; and the Barbican, London.


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