Liam Magee: working without deadlines

LIFE BOAT 2014 recipient Liam Magee considers working without the deadlines and structures that exist in university and strategies for creating deadlines to ‘complete’ work.

Away from university there are less pressures to finish work, it is hard enough to keep motivated to be making work let alone to develop new lines of enquiry and push them to the point at which they are finished works. This is not a problem I expected to come across, but it very quickly rears it’s head when you are in a perpetual cycle of balancing studio work with a day job, as well as the lack of lectures artist talks seminars and tutorials which for three years have been a source for so much inspiration and contemplation. Something I’ve decided on is that when I start something, I try and finish it to a similar standard that I would’ve been happy with when a hand in approached. It’s very easy without the deadlines to get into a state of a constantly progressing work, this can be good; new found maturity in the way you work using a strong methodology, however to keep motivation and focus, for me finishing works is key. The pace of making work changes and that is expected and good to embrace but equally it is good to keep yourself in check with where you are in a finishing of work or lines of enquiry. The lack of requirement to meet deadlines has a profound effect on the way you work and the pace at which you work, but more importantly when you finish it.

One thing I have begun to explore is how to take installation shots well, you don’t have to have a show to put your work in a setting which looks like a show. This is as helpful when developing the piece of work as when you are finishing it. It is often overlooked when making a piece of work about how it sits on the wall or in a space, this is dependent upon how you are marked but often is the case that we’ve only had a few chances to put our work in a Interim  or end of year show. Having the ability to execute installation shots of good quality is the equivalent of putting a full stop at the end of a sentence.

Taking installation shots of your work facilitates a forward trajectory into other opportunities and reasons to finish pieces. The obvious way to use installation shots is to have an active website; both Cargo and Indexhibit provide good templates for which you can build a website on and they also provide lots of information on how and where to purchase a domain name from. Having a website will encourage you to have finished pieces as you’ll want to keep it active. It’s good to have it as a signature in your email so that people are constantly reminded of it, this also means you will consistently have page views meaning it’s good to keep on top of it and have updates for when people return to it. This shows people that are interested in your work that you are active and moving ideas forward, not still trying to ride the wave of your degree show piece that you dedicated  months to.

Having good installation shots also allows you to apply for things. There are so many graduate competitions (Fresh Faced & Wild Eyed, Bloomberg New Contemporaries, Saatchi New Sensations amongst others) and residencies, grants and opportunities that Artquest make available to us all. It’s very easy to get disheartened and convince yourself that it’s not worth applying for due to the volume of applications. I use these applications, yes to enter the lottery of getting some great opportunities, but also to keep organised in terms of keeping on top of the work I already have or have recently finished. File management and critical statements are key for when applying to shows, residencies and competitions. If you keep finished work up to date it will allow you to so send off applications with minimal stress and of a consistent level of quality. Pursuing these applications also prompts you to have new work to put forward. More than anything else I have felt quite disheartened in the past when I have come to apply for something and ended up using the same piece to apply with over and over.

Something else which keeps you proactive is to have conversations about your work. It’s really important that you have a peer group who you can discuss your work with. Not only does this help you understand the direction you want it to go but talking about your work also keeps you on your toes. If there’s no one that is asking questions then there’s no motivation to further it or complete it. It feels to me that an idea is never fully formed until it’s verbalised. Conversations will quickly die if you have nothing new to discuss. These conversations can be structured; for example I am currently in the process of getting together with peers from my course where we can have a monthly discussion. Some people are put off by the idea of a formal discussion, conversations in passing or over a drink are just as valuable, as long as you’ve got new things to talk about or finished work to show.

What all these suggestions boils down to is finding the right strategy for you or a combination of many that keep you motivated to finish work and keep your practice moving after having tutors and peers chasing you up on a regular basis. Of course the pace of your work will dramatically change due to the commitments of jobs etc but don’t let the change in pace give you an excuse for leaving works and ideas unfinished, as when you do get an opportunity your lack of movement will trip you up quickly!

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