And so, after around 150 visitors through my door, 2 pieces of work sold, 6 cups of tea and a slice of carrot cake I believe it fit to deem this years’ Yorkshire Artspace Open Studios a success.
Last year my work felt a little impenetrable to the public gaze: Attempting to explain why I make paint out of food, and how I consider that paint to be a complete and potent work of art was tricky at the best of times. This year, equipped with a spiel about perfume and with an abundance of oils, scents and fragrances on display ready to be sniffed, there was a palpable sense of the audience directly and instantly engaging with my work, processes and thoughts.
Measuring audience engagement is a useful tool for discerning the success of a body of work. After all, you could be occupied by the most conceptually rich and innovative project imaginable, but if an audience can’t access it, you might as well deem it a vanity project. This last year has seen me take care in creating work at offers a trade off between innovation and accessibility, and how my work was received at Open Studios this year in comparison to last is a reflection of that.
Open Studios tends to be a bit of an unknown quantity, usually dependant on external factors such as time of year, weather, how it is promoted and what other events are happening nearby. But as I have now participated in 4 different Open Studios I feel I have learnt a thing or two along the way. Here’s 5 tips, based on my experiences:
1. Know your audience
In my experience, you can divide an Open Studios audience up into two distinct categories; members of the public looking for something to buy and other artists have a snoop around other people’s studios. An awareness of this this year enabled me to tailor how I talk about my work, allowing it to become accessible, intriguing and fun for an audience. If they wished to scratch away at the surface, they would uncover more about how I use perfume as a platform for portraiture and how I am attempting to find alternative uses for per-established concepts. But there’s nothing wrong with someone just wanting to have a sniff at a Christmas fragrance before trundling off.
2. Attempt a trade-off between working space and exhibition space.
Catering for all needs whilst remaining true to the functionality of a working studio is key. For one, a wider audience will remember you if you offer both finished pieces of work and the opportunity to see the materials and equipment you have, and being remembered is essential to securing opportunities and developing connections. I’m more than happy to be remembered by some as ‘that guy that makes perfumes’ and by others as ‘that guy with loads and loads of little bottles in his studio’.
3. Be aware that people might want to buy something
If, like me, your current practice is difficult – or even impossible – to sell, you may find that you have some more commercially viable work deep within the darkest corner of your studio somewhere. If you do, then I don’t think there’s any harm in displaying them and offering them for sale. I tend to keep an audience’s focus on my current project, but I do also refer them to a wall I isolate as a shop space, packed full of old paintings offered at a reasonable price. It’s always nice to get a bit of cash in the back pocket, after all. And it’s always rewarding to see someone loving your work – no matter how old it is.
4. Visitors will always find a point of interest
This follows on somewhat from my previous point. You can set up your studio any which way you like, but chances are someone will pop in and attempt to look at something you didn’t even consider close to worthy of display. This is fine, just go with it. Don’t forget that the more open and accessible you are, the easier it will be for an audience to be captivated by at least one facet of your creative endeavours.
5. Relax and Enjoy!
On the whole, people tend to be very pleasant and positive towards your work. You’ll probably get the odd quip or awkward comment but nothing that you should take to heart. Indeed such comments might even be useful and constructive. Not everyone is going to fully understand, or appreciate, or really connect with what you do, and that’s fine, because there will certainly be those that do.
…So there you have it. Hope this was informative in some way! And don’t forget, this is based my my personal experience. What are your experiences of Open Studio events?
The tail end of 2015 provides two things; A platform for reflecting on the year and time to prepare for the year ahead.
Indeed, 2016 is already set to be my busiest; with a fair few very exciting and diverse exhibitions and events already lined up. And the next 6 weeks offers me time to affirm these opportunities, as well as initiate more.
Not to dismiss 2015 straight away of course, for it has been a ruddy good year! My two primary avenues of enquiry – Speculate Studio Spaces and Perfume as Practice – have each been made public in the guise of exhibitions, workshops, talks and residencies. They both seem well received with emphasis of how they both demand a certain level of engagement to be fully understood. What has been revealed is actually how similar the projects are; both assume the guise of something relatively innocuous and loaded with preconceptions. But scratching away at the surface will reveal something more: A perfume shop becomes a room of portraits and how a studio space can be exposed as the deconstructing of creative processes. This is something to consider when placing these projects within new spaces and contexts over the next 12 months.
Indeed, I won’t have to wait long before I can display these projects in a public realm, with Yorkshire Artspace’s Open Studio event happening this weekend. This will proved a perfect opportunity to chat about my project, externalise a few thoughts and see how audiences engage with my work. It’s also a great way for people to have a nose around artists studios, see what they get up to and even find a Christmas bargain, so do try and pop along if you can! It’s on at Exchange Place Studios from 11-4 this Saturday and Sunday (21st and 22nd)
And that’s not all! Access Space are holding their fun and diverse 20×20 exhibition until the 18th December. I have a piece of work in there, along with the work of over 40 other artists. It’s well worth checking out. You can find more information here. My work, named ‘Scent Wheel’, sets to design a fragrance wheel using string and a rather large helping of essential oils. You’ll probably smell it before you see it!
Lots to think about, both for this year and next!
Studio spaces. What are they? Are they a form of refuge? a highly personal space that demands the removal of inhabitation? A platform where artists can come, meet and feel resolve from mutually beneficial conversation? A space to develop informed and meaningful creative practice? Or simply a space where you can exist in isolation from the worlds troubles to do whatever the hell you want?
Whatever they are, their existence within creative practice helps the artist arrive at visual conclusions via a plethora of choices comprised of thoughts, ideas, images, materials, surfaces and tools. The decisions artists make within a studio develops engagement with their practice and allows the artist to construct their artistic identity. The studio also allows the artist to develop an affinity with materials, which in turn reinforce how we wish to be perceived: If an artist uses steel, for example, then they begin to be regarded as such, and that material is able to be attached to the artists’ perceived identity.
Yet the true nature of studio spaces is rarely portrayed to an audience, despite the fact that a studio space is able to provide true insight into identity in relation to creative processes. True, us artists often allow an audience to grace our studio spaces via ‘Open Studio’ events. But these are largely fabricated; any mess is cleaned up, materials and tools hare hidden, and any creative activity is removed in favour of displaying finished works. They function as pseudo-exhibitions, enabling the audience to witness how an artist wishes to be perceived, but providing no insight into the studios’ day-to-day role.
There’s something about the true nature of studio spaces that can be exploited and taken in new, engaging and potentially innovative directions. From 2015 I hope to take an informed and balanced gaze upon the nature of studio spaces, the artists relationship with studio spaces and how that relationship develops, enhances and cements identity.
Currently, I hypothesise that the notion of relinquishing any choice from the artist and constructing a speculative studio space is able to at once investigate how creative processes develop whilst simultaneously disarming the artist of their identity. Indeed, I have trialled the notion of speculative studios during Yorkshire Artspaces ‘Open Studios’ last month. I took the end products from two separate artists and constructed a studio space that speculated how the artist may have arrived at such a conclusion:
Relinquishing the artist of the choices they make intends to expose how creative process relate to the construction of identity and intends investigate the problematic implications of authorship and ownership in relation to how an audience may perceive an artist when an artist has no input in the matter.
I would initially suggest that re-contextualising the choices artists make within a studio as end products – which is essentially what my ‘speculative studio spaces’ are – may reveal a studio space that reads like a portrait: An alternative identity that reveals a chance to assess and reflect upon creativity from a difference space, as well as provide a commentary for how creative processes can be manipulated for the sake of exposing identity.
As part of Yorkshire Artspace’s Open Studios I am running a two-day exhibition at Exchange Place Studios. The exhibition will act as a trial of some of my current ideas around the themes of identity and creative processes. It will run Friday 21st November from 5:30 – 9pm and Saturday 22nd November from 11am – 5pm. I will be on the 4th Floor of Exchange Place Studios.
Included in the exhibition will be a re-imagination of two artists’ studios, based on their perceived creative output. I speculate upon their processes, their materials and even their own personalities in order to devise an alternative yet informed identity. I will also be displaying three purposely-constructed mechanisms that attempt to disrupt my own creative processes and highlight and assess how value can be placed upon everyday objects.
A sneak peek of one of my ‘speculative studio spaces’ – on display at Exchange Place Studios this coming Friday & Saturday
I would like to invite you all to the exhibition, which will use an empty studio space near my own studio, I will also be present during both days, so you’d get the opportunity to meet me, ask questions or just chat.
In fact, the whole weekend gives you a great opportunity to meet loads of the artists, makers and designers that work in Yorkshire Artspace. Full details can be found here:
Thank you. See you all on Friday or Saturday hopefully!