Being out there – Where is my place?

Stefan513593_reflection_exhibits

Already seven weeks passed since my contribution to SHOWCASE with OCA (Fig. 2). Today, I had my second exhibition opening (vernissage – Fig. 3). This time a local show with local artists from the area (German, Dutch, partly Russian), most of them making art for leisure and pleasure without a degree. What did I learn and where am I now?

Both shows took time and efforts in preparation and in participation. I started making my first artist business cards (first with a draft one I took with me to London, afterwards adjusted), created my artist website, communicated on social channels (Fig. 1). On the website, I got very valuable feedback through the discuss forum. Bottomline, I actually achieved to have two exhibitions, a major change reflecting on my previous self-conscious thinking how to get this step done and pushed myself somehow – perhaps less consciously – into new areas of what art would mean to me. And not to forget, that I pushed myself to make some public art interventions and was acknowledged by OCA as a featured artist on their website and social channels.

SJSchaffeld - artist website / card Fig 1: Artist Website and Artist business card

Additionally, we set up this week the start for a regional Swiss group with one of our aims to organize a group show in Switzerland next year.

The future is bright  – response of one of my clients from a coaching session

SHOWCASE with OCA @oxotowerwharf,  London

I had great time at and along SHOWCASE in London Despite some minor aspects, like: why the walls were kept white, why the names of the students whose work were on display were not attached to the work itself, and how difficult it was to find a good place for my ‘Object-Box’ in the gallery space. Nevertheless, it was great to have been part of a group of fellow students to show some works, works that brought together a wider sense of community, and feeling proud that my works were sitting together with other works. And to see my name on the window is just awesome!

I’ve met for the first time people I only know through a screen, or just through social media or discuss forum discussions. A very full body experience that propelled my motivation and inspiration. Just wish that these would become a regular part of OCA/UCA student recognition – and to be able to get out there. To be in London for this event felt so exciting, and friends of mine were truly fascinated by that fact as well. And the first time I handed over my card to a gallery owner, who asked for my Instagram profile.

SJSchaffeld_exhibition_SHOWCASE, Oct2018 Fig. 2: SHOWCASE exhibition, Oct 2018, London, UK

 

One main objective for me was to interact with the audience and my ‘Object-Box’: engagement, participation and elements of interactivity. My idea was that the audience could engage with the box through either the reading of QR codes (with links to instructions, and background information) by using their smartphones and/or through unfolding the box itself. Intestingly, some people (adults) were interested and intrigued by the box and its concept. But I felt ti was the kids who actually had fun in interacting with the box and discovering thus clumpy items inside. This reminded my strongly of my site experience at the exhibition of Abraham Cruzvillegas where actually the construction of new objects from found objects was the main work, and again the kids and younger people had much more fun and no concerns to jump onto the objects. Are adults too self-conscious when entering an art space to engage physically wth the work, even if invited? I had some good discussions before the show in the discuss forum re interaction and participation. Overall, I found that my works and concept need more thorough preparation and installation alongside some guidance for the audience. Based on one comment received I wrote quickly handwritten note re to use smartphone to get information from the QR codes – are they really that secretly concealed? Also , I think that such approaches would require a holistic approach, i.e. to place that in relationship to the other works on display, otherwise it would feel a but awkward and isolated as I perceived my ‘Object-Box’ at Showcase.

Annual group exhibition @Rhauderfehn, Germany

Nevertheless, now with my other quite different exhibition I have mixed feelings. Perhaps a return to the ground and ‘reality’? The rural area where we currently live is not London, not even having a contemporary art scene at all. The community is an established traditional group that was founded in 1980s – and with the key players being the same. Although, I noticed that a new generation of people within this community is trying to bring new perspectives – and with more social sensibility (and still afraid of ‘political art’ as the people in the city either don’t like it or are ‘not ready yet’ for this kind of art) I was facing the question what art is, how people see it, how the audience impacts my discernment of what to show, and where the line between art and kitsch would reside. The latter question reminding me of my research for UVC on Kitsch and Greenberg‘s notion that kitsch builds on effects and being easily ‘understood’ by the population, pleasing works. Some works that are now on display alongside my own works seem to fit into that ‘definition’. Am I just too critical and unfair? What is my position and place?

SJSchaffeld_exhibition_Rauderfehn, Dec 2018 Fig. 3: Annual exhibition, Dec 2018, Rhauderfehn, Germany

 

However, I had good talks today with some of the community, a few are planning for next summer an installation in the community’s own gallery space referring to the observation in town that grass is growing through the asphalt, people not taken care enough. I will be the first time they are trying to do something different – against a strong traditional opposition who don’t want to discuss art at all. Is this typical for rural areas off-side from a pulsing urban art scene? This area it not an area where people pay for art, the buy to place in their rooms. The population is getting elderly, what was ‘young and fresh’ in the 1980s are the same who dominant the current scene, saturated, not buying new works.

I put some works of project series  ‘Absence & Presence’ from 2017 into the exhibition now, a reference to observed  decay and memory in this area – a subtle critique or just a an interesting technical approach? One comment from one visitor today was that the work should be better hanged with a passepartout (see Fig. 4). My motivation for framing was to protect as the venue (town hall- three floors – with daily movement in the corridors). The installation is not what I expected to be. Reflecting now on this, a better way would have been to put them unframed with a certain distance to the wall – and all in a row. When I arrived Friday to install the individual pieces were all over the place, just where it fitted somehow (just a few people from the group installed all 68 pieces on display within three hours) – and eventually made me to take what was there and install it myself.  Another learning for me.

Installation view 'Absence & Presence', 2017 (c)StefanJSchaffeld Fig. 4: Installation view ‘Absence & Presence’, 2017 (c)StefanJSchaffeld

Key learnings

  • Getting out is a major and important leap, good to make before on reaches level 3 (on BA pathway)
  • Preparation takes time and efforts and required funding (e.g. for framing).
  • Showing work is also a question of quality and presentation oneself
  • Participating in an established set of traditional structures (m current group exhibition) requires a more humble approach of what I would like to achieve and what actually can be achieved-
  • Networking and making contacts is possibly the main objective for me at this stage  – in hope that it will some time be realized through art gallery space recognition (single show?)
  • Public interventions need not only courage but also a sense of clarity what it is that I want to do – and how
  • Installation and venue:  Who installs? What guideline are there? What is in my control?
  • Audience: Who is the audience? And does it actually matter? Risk avoidance or taken risks?
  • Overall, to do it and to think less about how to do it, is a refreshing experience.
  • Courseworks suffers, unfortunately, due to less time for making works (even if I adjust coursework to all what I do). Nevertheless, very worth to do.
  • Re interactive works: need more consideration, preparation and holistic approach to get value out of it and to invite the audience fully into that experience.

Images: all photographs taken by myself, 2018 – reproduction of flyer (Fig. 3) image credit: Kunsttkreis Rhauderfehn, 2018

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10 Comments
  • Jan 8,2019 at 11:47 AM

    This has been interesting to also hear about other people’s experiences and thoughts.

  • Jan 2,2019 at 11:14 AM

    The report of your local show with local artists is both interesting and personally relevant. I now do regular sessions as a volunteer steward in a gallery space run by a local co-operative of artists ranging from people with years of experience including a formal art education and people who have no formal training but a high level of expertise in the form of art they’re making. Like you, I use this contact with them to learn from and I like the final listing you came up with.

    • Stefan
      Jan 8,2019 at 6:16 AM

      Thanks for sharing your experience here. Though, in my region it is hard to meet people with formal education background . Yes, still worth to go step by step

  • Dec 5,2018 at 7:30 AM

    I helped set up a local artist run gallery two years ago. At the beginning we seemed to be on the same page but the painter whose idea it was did not share my business sense – ie having to price so people might buy and we could fund the space – nor did it turn out that she had any interest in art. I still exhibit a few nice landscapes (she won’t take anything else!) but no longer take part in running it. What i learned is that most aspiring artists just want to hone their technique and be praised for it. There is a much smaller set of people who are interested in the process, the message etc. but it sounds like you have some more kindred spirits. Perhaps the more you talk about your ideas the more you will inspire. Perhaps there are people who would like to learn about how you work and you could work together?

    • Stefan
      Dec 5,2018 at 7:38 AM

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Emma . You are right , what I did notice that price and trying to sell alongside technique and effects is the dominant force – hope, as a few other artist also got sick off pictoresque images. It seems that showing need to come along with a mutual sense of why we are doing things . A deeper level. When we talk about art as raising questions, an ambiguous sense, I felt alright – but facing now that the surrounding doesn’t want open questions nor answers – just nice things – a backdrop of images you pass by. I am worried that my thoughts might feel ‘arrogant’ (still interested in participatory works and possibly now even more – but takes energy I currently do not feel I have)

      • Dec 5,2018 at 8:47 AM

        I don’t think it is arrogant but I do know how you feel – that somehow by wanted to push in further people think you are dismissing what they do. It is perhaps the difference between craft and art, and not as many people are interested in art. In photography it is even more pronounced I think.

        • Jan 2,2019 at 11:24 AM

          Sometimes when I’ve tried to explain what interests me, what my priorities are, I describe my pattern of reading (fiction – for pleasure). I pretty much alternate something I rate as ‘meaty’, which will take me time and effort to get through, but which will reward all that. Then in between, I read something light and easy, a page-turner. I need – and want – both. The penny seems to drop – that there’s also a range in the visual arts, and that at different times and places we want (or make) different things – but that actually, the whole range is important.

          • Stefan
            Jan 8,2019 at 6:19 AM

            Mmh – do you find yourself in art being attracted at times by ‚kitsch‘ as well? Wondering whether there is such a thing as easy and difficult art . Not more of one‘s own attitude towards questioning? Find myself there …

  • Dec 2,2018 at 8:59 PM

    Well done – I think you have achieved masses already. I know the deflation of someone else ‘throwing’ up pieces, having tried that once too. I also mass producing items once trying to sell – gosh that was painful (when in the end thing were just wrapped in striped plastic by the vendor). I guess it is almost a certain rite de passage one has to go through. I think your are right it is worthwhile in the long run, but it is such a big effort. Reason to celebrate how far you have come already. Maybe a break from that while chewing on the experience and then at level 3 I guess it will be full impact……

    • Stefan
      Dec 3,2018 at 12:21 PM

      Thanks for your support, Inger – very much appreciated. I think it is now a good idea to take a break from that and focus on my coursework.

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