Sabrina Fuller: A future network: building a Peer Mentoring Group
More than halfway through the year of our Artquest-funded peer mentoring group it seems valuable to reflect on what is, up to this point, working well, and of any issues it is worth considering before setting out to run one’s own peer mentoring group, whether externally funded or not. So far it’s been exciting and a lot of fun – working with an international and intergenerational group of artists.
The basis of our peer mentoring group is the Artquest Lifeboat group residency which the four of us – Jojo Taylor, Davide Meneghello, Metra Saberova and I – were awarded in January 2018. As well as a beautiful studio in ACAVA’s Limehouse Art Foundation and funding for six mentoring sessions, the funding for the peer mentoring group is a key element of the residency.
Our proposal for the group was an important part of our application for the residency. From the start we were clear that the peer group should form the basis for future networks, so that the way the group is organised explicitly aims to build robust relationships between the different artists involved.
The requirements for the peer mentoring group funding are quite specific and are set out in a formal between myself as lead artist and Artquest. This requires that we hold eight meetings in the course of the year, the meetings to be held in the studio, that we should involve between eight and twelve artists including the four of us. The funding can be spent on refreshments, speakers and equipment, as well as payment for our own time spent on organisation.
As lead artist, I wrote the application and organise the peer group meetings – all very much in collaboration with the other artists. This is time-consuming, and can get in the way of making . Artquest recognise this and part of the funding can be used to pay for this , although we are trying to maximise the proportion of the funding going in to directly supporting the group.
The four of us from the residency each invited two other artists to participate in the group. Our criteria were that we should invite practicing artists, with a collaborative nature and who, geographically and in terms of other commitments, would be able to attend the meetings. The outcome has been the formation of a group of very different artists, at varying stages of their careers and who are kind, interested, committed and mutually supportive.
What binds us is our positioning ourselves outside the mainstream – taking a position or positions of ‘other’ in order to better critique the present, whether that is from a queer or feminist perspective; from the standpoint of carnival or vaudeville; from a basis in trauma or vulnerability, or in a new materialism which implicates us in matter and mutability.
We’ve formed a collective, with a name and a statement: BLUNT is a collective of international and intergenerational artists who support each other in their exploration of subjectivities, entanglements and transformations through performance, participation, still and moving image, sound, sculpture, body art, drawing, painting, writing and the archive. They are Metra Saberova, Davide Meneghello, Jojo Taylor, Sabrina Fuller, Sean Burns, Daria Blum, Krasimira Butseva, Sarah Carne, Mark Golby, Margaret Leppard, Madeleine Lohrum, and Andrew Rickett.
Our explicit aim -to build relationships between us – is supported by all that we do. We eat together at the beginning of each meeting, around the big studio table– the ‘family meal’ – delicious vegetarian food from our favourite East London curry house. We have refreshment available during the meeting – taking in to account that most people are coming at the end of a hard day. We try to make sure that everyone feels that their attendance is valued.
We had originally proposed that meetings would include both crits and workshops. When, at the first meeting, we consulted all the group members on our plans, it was agreed that this was over-ambitious. Most of our meetings include group business and planning as well as a catch up on the projects each of the group members are involved in. Then we have two or more crit sessions. These last half an hour or so, which is never quite enough time. Crit sessions aim to be constructively critical, challenging, but, above all, .
Our meetings start promptly at 6.30pm (prompt arrival is explicitly encouraged so that we don’t run out of time, although we recognise that some people will always arrive late because of work and other commitments) and finish at 9.30pm to give people time to get home, as a couple of our members are based outside London. The eternal problem, that we are always short of time, feels like a good sign.
We also have a programme of workshops run by members of the group– so far we have had a workshop on confidence and another on expressing our practice non-verbally, with more to come. Running workshops is one way that we get active involvement from all the group members. We’ve also had different people leading the meetings and a meeting which focused on what we could develop as a potential theme for a BLUNT group show, and now have a volunteer to lead the curation of the show. One group member runs our Instagram account (@BLUNTBLUNT), organising regular take-overs by other members of the collective, someone else our Twitter account @BLUNTcollective, and a third set us up with a shared drive and email. This all fits with the notion of building relationships through working collectively towards shared objectives, such as organising Open Studio and a group show.
BLUNT has enabled us to get to know some very different and interesting artists and their work: some great people to be around. The aim is for BLUNT as a collective is for it to develop a life which, in some way, will continue past the end of our Arquest residency. We believe that, through taking on different roles in order to support that shared aim and through working together to achieve that, we will build and strengthen our relationships and networks for the future.
Sabrina Fuller is one of the recipients of the 2018 Lifeboat Residency. Lifeboat is a year-long studio residency and peer mentoring and career development award for MA postgraduates from University of the Arts London. The other artists selected for the 2018 award are Davide Meneghello, Mētra Saberovaand Jojo Taylor. The residency is funded by ArtsTemps and supported by ACAVA.