Georgia Gendall: on identity and resilience after art college

Resilience: Adaption and Assemblage

When you leave university you are left with a lack of space, a lack of tuition, a distant ache when you wake, and nowhere to go but the desk that’s next to your bed which quickly fades into your bed and before you know it you are on series 8 of Friends. The artist you thought you were: the one you identified with is clashing with the artist you think you should be(come). Questions arise, are you even an artist at all? Without the context of the institution, without a context at all how can you be an artist? The place that you associated with creative production has been removed from your clasp and your scratching at the walls trying to make sense of their context within the progression of your practice. And then the dreaded question comes: “So, what do you do?” I used to answer this with “oh, me? Not much really…” The first time I plucked up the courage to say: “I’m an Artist” they responded: “oh yeh? What do you paint?” A context is realised.
The decision to start painting for me was a way to articulate myself without breaking the bank, without access to workshops and a student loan I was pulling other peoples paintings out of skips, sanding them down and painting over the top.  I saw my paintings as proposals, preliminary to the art but art none the less. With the time constraints of juggling jobs, painting was a way for me to go to the studio and leave having made a piece of work, leave having articulated something, anything. But I had forgotten I was a builder by nature, I needed to physically feel something and now I had become constrained to a surface that leaned lifelessly against the walls (of course not all paintings are lifeless, but mine felt lifeless). I had forgotten myself, why I needed to make work and what I demanded of my practice. I had managed to sustain a practice but lost sight of myself within this new context.
My brief spell as a painter wasn’t a pointless waste of time, my minor artistic identity crisis taught me more about my practice than simply plodding along would have and the re-awakening of my dormant emotions towards my practice was invaluable to the further progression of my practice and my enthusiasm to it. I think its important to keep a certain amount of momentum to your practice when you leave university (painting was my way to deal with this) but there is also a sense in which its really important to let your work breath after the highly claustrophobic degree show. So it’s finding the balance between giving your practice some space and but also not forgetting why you make the work you do.  Sustain the artistic identity that was moulded around your time at university but also allowing your work to take the unexpected twists and turns that they want, because it might be the worst thing you have every done but it also might be the best.
Retaining and sustaining your practice is a question of resilience, not loosing sight of the things that make you tick, and continuing conversations that run through your practice. Build, make and realise your new context, respond to your context, make work about your context, adapt.
When I left university myself and eight other BA fine art graduates that were also freshly chewed up and spat out of their institutionalised contexts started a research group called CaW. CaW explores the proposition that fine art practice per se is a model for resilience (psychologically, socially and culturally). CaW’s activity is a critical evaluation of our experiences as we all try to sustain our practices in the wider world beyond university. We performance resilience though the form of a choir, a football team, hosting dinner party’s and building sandcastles, but really we are a support system for each other, we provide each other with the encouragement to sustain our own practices. We call these therapy sessions ‘complaining as practice.’ Assemblage: Support from the network you built at university is essential to the progression of the self in this entropic time. Generic lacks and generic concerns.  Strength in numbers: strength in numbness.
LIFE BOAT offers the opportunity to work within a new network, a new boat: you will start building this new boat for yourself beyond the institutionalised shore, and you will hit many storms, and it will slowly fill up with water: half empty or half full. This new boat resists the rip tide, a network that promises sustainability beyond its year.
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