An assistant is a person (or by extension a device) that helps another person accomplish their goals

Bearspace in association with Peer Sessions, presents an exhibition project entitled The Assistant. From 14th-29th May and 4th-19th June exhibitions will pair up an emerging artist, who will create the artwork, with an established artist who will instruct them. The established artist will send the emerging artist, or assistant, a list of rules one month prior to the exhibition opening, rules which will detail how the established artist wishes the work to be created and/or installed. This blog contains updates on their progress whilst a parallel page collects discussions around the idea of being an assistant and stories shared by other 'assistants' across the arts.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Blue Curry in Goldsmiths Documentary

So, the television documentary Goldsmiths - But is it Art? went out last night on BBC4 and despite the less than promising trailer, my fears were not realised and it actually proved to be far more balanced, nuanced and interesting than expected. I found it to be both accessible and not necessarily overly tabloid or simplistic in its handling of the artists. It was particularly great for Assistant artist Blue Curry who featured heavily as one of the four main artists that the documentary team followed in the run up to his MFA degree show at Goldsmiths last year. These shows love to construct their narratives, use editing techniques to present certain aspects of peoples characters that fit into certain frameworks, there's usually the controversial one, the underdog, the outsider etc. It seems that Blue made quite an impression on them as he seemed to come across as the affable, likable one that we, the audience, identified with. Of course it helps that he is affable and likable in real life but I am glad to see that he came across well and that he got the opportunity to showcase and talk about his work, which in my opinion came across as most definitely amongst the strongest that the programme presented. I look forward to the second part of the programme which follows the artists progress after finishing their course. Part one is repeated on Sunday night BBC4 at 10pm and is available on BBC iplayer for 14 days here. Part two goes out next Monday (19th) at 9pm.


  1. Ian was the participant the audience was invited to sympathise with. He was portrayed as the most self-aware of his own uncertainty. He came closest to understanding the instructors were challenging him to defend the internal logic of his own convictions against their disarming provocations. Although the instructors knew they were playing a role, the film supposes that Thomas has greater life experience than they do: the inference being he should stand his ground more firmly under fire; his grasp of meaning arguably being stronger than theirs. The editors knowingly employed “juxtapositions” to mock Blue, negatively contrasting his confident lack of conceptual clarity with the worldly context and willingness to adapt shown by Thomas, and the pause for contemplation exhibited by Ian. Ian was mindful of the specifics of how he will support his art even as he questioned its meaning. Blue had a poor grasp not only of what his work was for, but the foundations for his certainty he will continue. Roisin conveyed the strongest persona, but here was full of contradictions. Yet paradoxically, this could be to her favour, as alluded to by remarks from the instructors. For all her talk of stealing, she was the most savvy of having one eye on career opportunities at every turn and finding metaphors in her actions. But the impression left was of an ironic, performance based method that as yet she cannot sustain – though the chance exists she is best suited to prolong her opportunities, until she finds real substance. Here again, the roaming camera hinted they have contemporaries, not featured, who have married craft with substance already. Some of the un-remarked upon work on the walls looked a lot more interesting than the personalities of these six documentary subjects. A lot of the instructors’ “throwaway” comments betrayed a deeper understanding of what the MFA is for than they overtly acknowledged with their straight-faced guff. They knew it’s a pyramid-scheme to make money from rich kids still figuring out what they want to do in their late twenties to early thirties. A handful will already have the talent and the willpower required for luck to succeed – irrespective of the path they choose for finding subject & audience within a self-discovered conduit of contradictory imitations – while the rest will scramble to make a living from the education industry, or the funding bureaucracy feeds on the arts. Throughout, there was a clear authorial voice in this documentary; and it came from the soundtrack. The music was telling the story how filmmakers feel about these subjects; it was pretty much on the money. Elsewhere, on Channel 4, a more insightful documentary on autistic children – participating in the performing arts – was finding universal meaning, revealing human portraits trapped in lives drowned beneath their own perceptive noisiness of incoherent rules. Let us hope the people featured in both programs eventually find greater cognitive clarity than dissonance abiding in their actions.

  2. A reasoned position, yet one with which I must disagree. Perhaps you are right about the placement of the editorial intentions, I can only speak about what I took from it, and you the same. They happen not to coincide. I thought Blue did come across well and his work was the strongest presented, and that's not just because he is in this show at Bearspace. I don't think that Ian was necessarily portrayed as self-aware of his uncertainty as you suggest, although I agree about Roisin. You say that the attempt was made to show up a lack of clarity from Blue by juxtaposition with Thomas, I read this totally differently as a contrast to the detriment of Thomas who struggled with his failure to comprehend what he was engaged in whilst Blue came across as relaxed in letting the work speak for itself. I disagree somewhat about you assessment of the MFA in general, in that you seem to equate its total value with its market value and potential future earning power. This is the exact problem with the marketisation of education more widely in that it makes us less aware of the value of singularisation in and of itself. You seem to imply that course fees are excessive which I agree with, in fact I disagree with the funding structure of the whole arrangement but that is entirely by the by.