After a period of inactivity – due in no small part to a bloody annoying leak in my living room – it is time to reflect on my most recent exhibition.
‘Speculative Studios’ occupied BasementArtsProject from the 10th – 20th June. It was the latest incarnation of my project ‘Speculative Studio Spaces‘, which takes an exhibition piece produced by another artist and attempts to re-imagine the process of arriving at the finished piece by fabricating the artists’ entire studio space. On this occasion I actually fabricated two speculative studio spaces based on two artists I came in contact with during COLONIZE in 2014.
The project uses the studio as a tool that can be exploited and manipulated in order to reveal something about the intent, desires and creative processes of an artist which, in turn, gifts the audience a sense of perception. It assigns the studio to the role of a portrait, revealing a facet of an artist’s identity that is usually veiled behind a space that is often regarded as private.
Yet, in its purely static and aesthetic state, ‘Speculative Studios’ also nurtured ideas leaning toward set design, and a set design often acts merely as an appendage to the action of a narrative. Put simply, my presence within the space is often a key entry point for an audience, as it clarifies the intent and focus of a project that could otherwise be marred by complexities. Therefore a degree of performance was added to this incarnation – the mere act of being present allowed an audience to connect directly with my intentions.
Of course, it’s all very well me spouting off about some of the high end concepts Speculative Studio Spaces contains, but what it – and indeed all art – needs more than anything else is an audience. Speculative Studios at BasementArtsProject was modestly attended, and those who did attend were well immersed. Almost all attendees spent at least half an hour within the space attempting to uncover its layers and concepts. As I made the decision to include two artists, I was also cautious not to overload each studio space as I wanted a studio space and exhibition hybrid to exist. It was assumed that this would allow a more contemplative show for an audience as they look for clues towards creative processes as opposed to simply having creative processes thrust upon them. I wanted an audience to navigate their own way through the space, making their own connections derived from their own experiences, with my presence constantly driving home the notion of fiction in order to inform their contemplative actions.
I think other artists can readily identify with Speculative Studio Spaces, and that it’s certainly not as accessible as the other strand of my creative endeavours – Perfume as Practice. But it certainly creates complex and relevant conversations about what it means to be an artist, how your identity as an artist can be exploited and the fabrication of creative processes, assembled to resemble a studio can say something about how artists are perceived.
The next incarnation of Speculative Studio Spaces will in some part take the form of a stage play. Don’t know where, don’t know when.
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?