Rebecca Moss: applications and more

LIFE BOAT 2014 awardee Rebecca Moss reflects on making applications and selecting opportunities.

There have been lots of opportunities recently where I’ve had to put on a Professional Artist’s hat. Liam, Brigitte and I went back to Camberwell and delivered a presentation on the Lifeboat Residency to current students, who are currently mulling over whether or not to apply. It was a bizarre feeling to stand the other side of the lectern and to try and concisely communicate some of the things that I’d made/done over the last few years. It was also really handy because it pulls out connections in your own work that you may take for granted. Common trends become really magnified when your work is being projected on a vast monitor behind you. I found myself choking on my words a bit, as there was something unsettling about seeing my drawings, which I’d put in my presentation despite being quite personal, projected in front of a sea of expectant faces waiting for me to talk about them.

One thing that used to occur to me when I was in the audience, as a student, was that the visiting artists seemed to have everything worked out. They’d decided what they wanted to communicate, picked media to express this, found what worked, and then great, everything was sorted. They truly seemed to have a practice in that there was a very strong identity of ‘this is what I do, this is how I do it.’

Last summer, I undertook a summer residency at Wysing Arts Centre, and a visiting artist, Emma Smith, led an activity where she got us to consider how business terminology can end up permeating the ways we talk and think about art. It’s been a year now since I graduated, and walking around the degree shows gave me a very strange feeling – have I crossed some sort of magical theshold into becoming a Professional Artist? I’ve found myself giving an ‘elevator pitch’ (imagine you’re in an elevator with someone and you have to sum up what you do in the time it takes to reach your floor, ie, encapsulate yourself in a few sentences) on numerous occasions. I worry that these sentences I weave around myself are starting to outgrow me. I never want to sound too confident that I have everything sussed, otherwise I fear my work will become something static and concluded. On the other hand, clarity is helpful. An amazing part of the Lifeboat Residency are the crits with visiting individuals. We’ve so far had Robin Klassnik from Matts Gallery and Attilia Fattori Franchini from Paradise Row come to visit. In a fairly short period of time you have to distil your work and ideas into something intelligible for people that are completely unfamiliar with what you do, which is helpful because it reminds you to get back to the nub and gist of what you’re making art for.

Applications are strange beasts. All it takes is one ‘yes’ and then it’s like a snowball effect, where because of that badge of approval, other people start saying yes too. The issue of applications came up in the Lifeboat presentation; I began thinking what I would have advised myself to do a year ago. Personally, I err on the side of caution – so many exploitative weirdos approach graduates, and as it’s quite a vulnerable time, I think it’s tempting to jump at the first opportunity that comes your way. I believe in looking at what’s being offered, assessing whether it’s any good for your practice, then proceeding from there. I worry this makes me come across as a diva, but you have to value yourself and your work enough to want the best for it.

As for open calls, I have no issues with them, even those that want you to pay. I’ve had a self-indulgent nine months in the studio so far, where if I’m honest, I have basically let all applications and professional practice slide, and I’ve played with materials and focused entirely on making things. However, now I sense the residency is coming to an end, I’m getting back into the swing of things, and I’m actually finding the application process a strangely useful way to reflect on my work. You could argue that residencies put off real ‘professional practice’ in that you retreat from the real world to keep on making. However, the things you learn in that retreat surely enrich the things you then push back out there at the end. This residency hasn’t been good because it’s enabled me to smugly label myself a professional. It’s given me confidence to want to be professional about what I’ve made.

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