Laura Fowle: on artist opportunities
Can-do / Must-do : Lost in a Sea of Artist Opportunities
Continuing to pursue my practice post-University was / is a consistent challenge. I feel that making works within the structures of an institution and then once outside are very different. I found it harder to define my work since leaving university and in some ways the biggest challenge for me, is making work without a certain or foreseeable, ‘practical purpose’. Boundaries and deadlines have always been something I have enjoyed and have strived towards, however, they are now forever self-set and I have found that I need to be rigorously self disciplined to ever consider a work truly finished; and even harder to begin making a work when the question ‘what is it for?’ is forever looming over me.
Something that has provided a good and somewhat structured timeline for me is applying for artist opportunities, they are something I can work towards, I can pin-point a deadline and strive to make the most of the application guidelines. The process has been both a positive and negative force on my work, however I feel I have experienced an important learning curve in the last few months, even weeks.
Applying for several opportunities on a weekly basis was a plan of action I pursued throughout the month of January, determined to be a part of some new and exciting exhibitions, I scanned the criteria of each show and then, almost backwardly, began making work as part of my practice. In hindsight, I can see the underlying problem here, the process of making a work with a particular opportunity in mind is a bit of a balancing act, particularly as the work is yet to manifest itself in its own right, let alone under the shadow cast of the opportunity at hand. I faced the question: ‘how much do you let the opportunity sculpt and impact upon your outcome?’
On the one hand, abiding by the external criteria set by the opportunity pushed me to challenge my work, it made me think about how my practice could manifest itself differently to be suitable for various exhibitions that were open calling. An artist who works predominantly in PDF files and site-specific installation, I thought it would be an interesting and insightful process to apply for a show solely looking for wall-work – ‘I have nothing to lose!’ I began looking at the snippets and accents of work I had completed thus far, and began considering the root concerns of my works. What is it that motivates them? What are they trying to do / provoke? How can these concerns be transformed into a new medium? I went on to make an original wall-work, scaled to less than 60 x 60cm, as the criteria stated.
I received an email confirming that my application to the show was successful and I was excited to be a part of something, even though the work submitted was made for the exhibition itself. The exhibition was externally curated; the process of dropping off my work and hoping for the best was a new one for me but I feel a positive one. It was difficult but certainly useful to be able to give up control of my work, going forward I know it will be something that will happen again and to be honest I find it a challenging, thought-provoking experience – it was valuable seeing how someone else understood and placed my work.
The problems I did have with the experience came when I saw my work within the exhibition. Bending my work to fit the opportunity felt like it had backfired when I didn’t see myself in the work once it was exhibited. The work felt lost in its concept or fundamental cause, it was difficult to be in a show where I felt my own work did not reflect my practice. Particularly as an artist in the early stages of their career, I feel anxious about how the work I show pins and defines me as an artist and can affect potential future opportunities.
Lost in a sea of applications, I can reflect upon the work I made within the month of January. Although arguably being one of the most productive months of making, the work that was being produced felt lost and without a strong foundation. I would argue, that making a work for something is not necessarily a negative thing, it gave my work that purpose I was so longing for, however it is integral to not lose sight of why you are making work in the first place. It sounds ridiculously basic I know, but it was so easy to misplace my practice when applying for several applications simultaneously.
Learning from this experience, I feel I have let the criteria of an opportunity bend my work, where as I would suggest I should let my work bend the criteria. I am going to continue to pursue opportunities that challenge my practice and push me out of my comfort zone, however remember to maintain the fundamental paradigms of my practice. It was problematic having work on show that I didn’t see myself in once outside the constructs of the studio, but it has made me reflect more critically on the work I am making now and I can go on with this experience in mind.
Fundamentally, I would say: ‘you have nothing to lose’, but remember who you are making the work for. It is so easy to get lost in the application process that you find you have made no real work at all. A strange feeling, but the experience has enabled me to understand I am not always going to like an exhibition that I am showing in, however the opportunity should never be detrimental to the work at hand. Since January, I have learnt to be more selective and organised when applying for artist opportunities. I maintain that these deadlines create a motivated, challenging and regulated work environment, however, it is ok to let some pass me by to focus on what is integral to my works and practice.
Places where I find opportunities include