Baking art…

…is an analogy for my week. I forgot to say in the last post in relation to the event ‘What is British Art?’ presented by the Art Fund’s Director Stephen Deuchar, I spoke to a lady called Lisa Henderson, who taught me contextual and art historical studies as part of my Foundation studies in Art and Design at college nearly ten years ago. Yes, it has really been that long. As I was discussing my current practice and PhD research she mentioned someone who might be of reference to me, who i should get in contact with called Sophie McKinnon. She lives and works in the contemporary arts out in Beijing, China. So I hunted here out via LinkedIn and I got a reply. She works in the curatorial department managing the Membership program at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA), in the 798 art district, Beijing. She is currently researching the emergence of contemporary art practices in China and is very interested to speak to me so we’ll see how that develops. The UCCA was actually one of the venues I couldn’t really get access to during my time in China so hopefully she might be able to help. Lisa also mentioned that she had a video of TV show aired on Channel 4 on contemporary Chinese performance art and how she couldn’t watch it as it showed an artist eating a baby. As soon as she said it, I knew it was ‘Beijing Swings’ made by Waldemar Januszczak originally aired in 2002. It caused a great deal of complaints and controversy and the Chinese authorities even banned the makers from re-entering China after its production. In my view it is a very frank and almost inappropriate, single-minded and biased perspective on contemporary Chinese art at that time. During my interview with curator Karen Smith, we actually spoke of this film. She specifically commented on Waldemar Januszczak‘s time in China…’What he did was come here as the sensationalist and to go to all the people who were doing things, the most extreme performance art and to actually get them to recreate those some of those performances on camera to be shown on Channel 4…that programme generated more public complaints because they got guy eating the baby, you the people you know with the corpses, so he got really derided for that.’ Lisa is popping the video in the post to me this week. I’m considering including it as part of an article for one of many journals.

This week, through the e-mails I receive from the very wonderful TED people, I discovered a talk by economist Martin Jacques about ‘Understanding the Rise of China’

From this I came to Onto the beautiful papercuts of artist Beatrice Coron…she is included in the TED 2011 Conference this year, which I wish I could attend. Her work is particularly special, although I do have a soft spot for intricate relationships with paper.

Along with this, I’ve come across a couple of books. One is a new book called ‘Contemporary Art and the Cosmopolitan Imagination’ (2010) by my previous Contextual Studies and Art History lecturer from Loughborough University School of the Arts, Dr Marsha Meskimmon. I have kept in touch with her ever since graduating from Fine Art back in 2005 and I thought her latest writing was very appropriate to my current PhD research, although related more to the notion making homes and diaspora, than the overall idea of the “transcultural”. She does speak directly of China explicitly in a chapter though, so I must get hold of a copy for reference. The other book, recommended by my second PhD supervisor Darren Newbury, was ‘Tokens of Exchange: The Problems of Translation in Global Circles’. This is more of a historically grounded publication that approaches translation ‘as a symbolic and material exchange among people and civilisations’ similar to my research and by focusing on China and its interactions with the West. It also references meaning as value and meaning-making turning onto ‘the role of language itself and as a site of the universalization of knowledge’. The university library doesn’t have it so I might have to purchase a copy second-hand. I think this will contribute to the contextualising/historicising chapter that I will have to place at the beginning of my thesis…helping to build a foundation of knowledge…a knowledge base, before I try to speak of my own constructs and theories.

So what have I been doing this week? Apart from the usual PhD research and the one day a week at work, which is in the process of change (more hours are being offered courtesy of remaining funds which need to be spent before the financial year ends), I went for a meeting at the Manchester Art Gallery as regards the Asia Triennial Manchester 2011 festival. I was incredibly nervous as I think this is the first time I really get to stand on my own two feet in terms of helping to deliver a large-scale project. The meeting discussed all the finalised venues, projects, exhibitions, shows and events that will be included in the two-month festival, opening on the 30th September 2011. It was a really good opportunity for me to meet with all the participating professionals and become really clear about what was ahead of me. I spoke with Alnoor Mitha, Director of Shisha, and Caroline Bradley, the Project Manager and freelance arts consultant after the meeting about my specific involvement and how it can be a mutually beneficially process in relation to them and my PhD studies. So, as part of ATM 2011, I will be co-managing and organising the curatorial lab series of events, and the symposium, and over the coming week, I will be submitting a framework to them about what I envisage the curatorial lab and symposium to look like. I can’t really talk of the thematics of the ATM 2011 or the symposium as that should be for the press launch, but it’s very current to today’s global climate and relevant to my studies. I am very excited about becoming part of this but very anxious too. But I’m anxious about most things at the moment.

On Thursday, after an unsuccessful job interview (which I’ll speak about later on), I attended the one day conference ‘New Ways of Curating’ at the New Art Gallery Walsall. I missed the morning lectures but managed to jump in just as lunch was coming to an end. The afternoon commenced with three different sessions to choose from. I decided to go on the walking tour of the group exhibition ‘Life of the Mind: Love, Sorrow and Obsession’ by Bob and Roberta Smith, also given by Bob and Roberta Smith…so you got a real insiders view and instinctive sense of why and how this exhibition was put together. Being a sucker for text art, I was intrigued by his necessity to place crudely painted colourful panels of texts as informative dialogues with the artists displayed throughout the two gallery spaces. Some the statements are very directive and almost over-personalised perspectives of thought…but that’s how it links into the thematic of the show – the investigation of the psychological self, using the Epstein Archive as a point of key reference. It was particularly special to see typewritten letters of exchange indicating personal tensions and frayed relationships. There are some very beautiful works on display, again feeding my love of the obsessive and repetitious art practices, so I felt a lot of empathy with the more discreet mark-making works on display, such as by Chris Ofili. This process of bringing in artists to curate I think can be incredible successful, if the support structures are there, which in this case were from the Archive Curator Neil Lebeter.

The afternoon continued with a very open platform for guided discussion. If you are unfamiliar with the work of ‘New Ways of Curating’, they aim to show how bringing museums, archives and artists together to work collaboratively on substantial projects and activities opens up substantial new opportunities for audience participation and access. So this was the theme for the rest of the day…referencing past examples of practice as well as raising other key and pertinent issues we may not usually think about.

Below, I am going to quote a few of the key questions and statements I heard during the afternoon…”by artists taking the lead in curating the collection, they have empathy with the whole process of making and can socially engage with audiences in different ways”…”the romanticised view of the wild card of the contemporary art curator bringing an unregulated dimension to curating versus the regulated gallery and museum approach”…”negotiating risk has to come from the museums and galleries themselves”…”collective curating rather than the presentation of one singular voice”…”Is the biggest risk to art? By taking risks you make mistakes/you only make and learn from mistakes by taking risks”…”there’s a danger of dumbing down what actually happens in the process”…”there should be new ways of collecting as well as curating”…”artists should be used as a catalyst”…”they should be audience centered and audience-led where you figure out from the beginning the responsibilities you have (as the museum or gallery) and the artist(s) has”…”Is the next stage handing over curating to the audience rather than the artist?”…”do we want to be so sure of what the outcome(s) will be?”…”these projects should be investigative rather than affirmative where the exhibition should work as a beginning rather than an end, the exhibition is part of the process rather than the penultimate”. I particularly liked this closing statement I referenced and I have been thinking about this notion as part of the “evaluation in practice” part of my PhD. I did interject at some stage to make people think about the global, transcultural aspect to these kind of projects…making sure that we look beyond the periphery. I got a lot of nods and supportive mmm’s and yes’s when I was speaking.

The job interview prior to the conference, was for a 0.4 Research Assistant post for the Centre of Art, Design, Research and Experimentation  (CADRE) at the University of Wolverhampton School of Art and Design. A perfect position, at the right level, location and hours…but I sadly didn’t get it. As I was busying myself with baking on Friday afternoon, (pictures below) I got the phone call of rejection, but possibly the most positive rejection I’ve ever had. They said they’d been deliberating all morning between me and someone else, but that other person had the extra edge and knowledge of the specific research of the department. I recall seeing the interviewee before me come out and he was incredibly familiar so I think he was perhaps already affiliated with the university. They said I interviewed very well, they got a real sense of who I was and how my skills could benefit them…so they are keeping my CV on file and want to bring me in if and when they can. Fingers crossed for future work with them. I am a true believer in things happening for a reason and in hindsight it might have been quite a pressured job, which on top of the ATM 2011 project and my PhD might have been a bit much. We’ll see what the next few weeks bring.

Anyway, here is how I was distracting myself on Friday afternoon…baking! I made feta and pesto savoury muffins courtesy of a recipe by Gibberlicious

…and my Gran’s never fail legendary ginger biscuits…I am quite well-known for these.

They actually look quite orange here for some reason but they’re not usually this vivid. Seeing as I’m on the baking and creating train of thought, in the last couple of weeks, I made my own pizza, as usual wholemeal scone pizza base with pesto, mozzarella, mushrooms and peppers.

…and RJW and I made a triple-tier Victoria Sponge and ginger biscuits for his friend Rosa’s birthday.

As my diet is quite limited and specific due to a medical condition I very rarely speak of on here, I’m getting more and more interested in knowing what goes into my food… so I’m trying to make it myself. I already feel so much better from being pescetarian. No more meat! Making pesto is next on my list. Healthy body, healthy mind right? On that note I’m off to the gym. Happy Sunday.


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