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.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Update on Blue and Gordon's dialogue

Another update from Blue and Gordon's dialogue on Blue's forthcoming show:

Blue > Gordon:

"Just wanted to drop you a line to tell you where my thinking is for The Assistant. I have continued working on the current work in the studio that we discussed when you were in but have changed my mind and may not show any of that work. Hear me out. I have done quite a bit of thinking since our meeting and I think that the proposition that I might show something which is not as polished as my work usually is for exhibition is the one that I have dwelt on most. I always exert a great deal of control over the way my work is made (usually involving laborious and time consuming techniques) and the precise way it is exhibited. Before I start a piece or prepare for an exhibition I am pretty clear on what the final outcome is and I work methodically towards that.

I think your 'no rules' approach is a way of trying to get me to to reconsider my approach. I have to admit that it is frustrating for me not to have parameters within which to work as I feel I won't know when I've finished if there is not something or someone that indicates or dictates that. The anxiety around not completing a work in time or not being prepared for an exhibition is intense for me, possibly unnecessary and mostly self imposed.

Based on our discussions I feel that what I have to do is to work against my instincts and destroy my understanding of what work for an exhibition and an exhibition itself can be. To upend my regular approach and thinking for a show I choose not to use any of the works I have been preparing, but to instead start working on Monday, five days before the private view, to make new work and set up the exhibition. Once I have completed the installation on Friday I would like to invite you to make any changes you see fit. This way you can chose to wrestle away from me the control and polish I surely still would have attempted to have given the final work in spite of my best intentions to leave things unpolished.

How does this sound to you? It think this approach to an exhibition would be a most challenging and exasperating experience for me - but I'm up for it if you are. Add or subtract to this proposal for the exhibition as you see necessary".

Gordon > Blue:

"Sounds fine to me.

You've interpreted what you call my 'no rules' approach as trying to make you re-consider your approach to your work. I think this is already implicit in the project that we agreed to participate in. I was meant to set a rule for you from which you was meant to adapt your work to. However from the outset I wanted to respect the artist's own sense of development and creative trajectory. To set a rule dictates a structure to make work within that I felt was potentially inhibitive and essentially a waste of time especially as I had very little experience of your work.

Our meeting was meant to map a good route from which to make work that would benefit our creativity.

That you have interpreted our meeting quite so apocalyptically in terms of destroying your understanding of how you ordinarily produce work for an exhibition is interesting......

I shall look forward to seeing the results of your conscious transformation of your creative process and decision making that will crystallise into an exhibition/installation that matches the power of the work you already make".

Blue > Gordon:

"Thanks for the response. It may seem a bit 'apocalyptic' to my regular approach, but I think that apocalypse was just under the surface and although you never emphasized a need to reconsider anything about my practice or way of producing work for an exhibition, I had long been doing so. I will still leave that window open for you to come in on the last day to make your changes to what I propose to show .... but realise now that this is probably not in keeping with your approach to the project and the creative process. At any rate, it would be valuable to have a last conversation about the Assistant sometime this week while I am working in the space if possible. I'll get down to work in Deptford in the coming days and let's see how it all goes ...."

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Assistant Part 2 - Gordon's Update

Gordon updates on the process and pitfalls of dialogue and negotiation with Blue so far:

"Blue and I met up the other day in his studio for almost 3 hours. Before the meeting I had set a rule where he was to find a myth that was important to his heritage and to produce ideas from it. He emailed back with some research but nothing particularly concrete about what sort of work might come from it and that he found it difficult to understand what I was looking for so I decided that we should abandon the rule idea and meet up to talk and to organically find some sort of common ground to germinate some ideas.

I was a little hesitant to actually set the rule in the first place as I would not personally work well to someone ‘telling’ me what to do and therefore would not expect anyone else to do something I would not be comfortable with. This was something I voiced concerns about when I was first asked whether I would be involved in the project and I was in two minds about whether to commit to this project but having seen Blue’s work I thought it might be interesting to see what might come from it. I was hoping for some creative discussions and explorations of ideas to do with art and the process of creative decision making.

This was perhaps an overly optimistic situation to occur from essentially strangers who are asked to collaborate/meet. What did occur was initially a long hour of having to define what the word ecology meant to each of us. To Blue it appeared to be a huge ‘hang up’ about being constrained and contained by a single word that might ‘lock’ down his work as being about a type of sloganistic political statement about ‘man vs nature’. For me it was just a word to describe the objects from nature that he was using such as the conch, shark’s jaw, artificial palm tree leaf and so on and it was frustrating to be entangled in semantics. The next 2 hours were a little bit more productive in terms of discussing what and where his work came from and figuring out what he might end up showing.

The meeting with Blue was ok but perhaps less productive than I had hoped considering 3 hours were spent. I was somewhat surprised that he was waiting for my ‘rule’ and hadn’t really been thinking about what work he might make for the show. But then again the premise of the project is for me to set some rules so fair enough that by his own admission he had not given much thought to ..... I guess in this context you can’t really make something until the parameters have been set. I suppose I took it for granted that as an artist you just make art from the parameters that you set for yourself and the show adapts to the work.

I think that I was too confident about the potential mutual dialogue about some of our overlapping ideas and the prospect of finding a great dialogue about making art and how we come to visualise our ideas and feelings.

I did ask for him to continue to let me know what ideas he had for the show as by the end of the meeting we came to the conclusion that he should go and see the space and come up with some ideas for what to show and from there we can continue to discuss what might be good to pursue. I had not heard from him and I am afraid that my other commitments to exhibitions have taken priority until he let’s me know what is happening".

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

the Assistant Part 2 - Update

Blue's work in progress

Update 2 from Blue on the preparations for his forthcoming Assistant show:

"I admit I'm not doing much heady thought about the assistant but rather just getting on with work that could potentially be shown. I was telling Julia [BEARSPACE director] that my response to 'no rules' and the idea that we are on an equal footing and that I'm not his assistant is to turn him into the 'assistant'.

He asked me if I would show unfinished or less polished work and I said that I don't know how I would do that as unpolished would would be the new goal I'd be working towards and therefore it still wouldn't have that authentic unfinished/unpolished look I think he was wanting to see. I would probably polish even work that is supposed to be unpolished or, in consciously deciding when a work would be in a good unfinished state to show, kill any of that energy of process that I think he was enjoying when he was in my studio.

So I'm thinking I'll keep working as I am and then during the week of the exhibition ask him to pay a surprise visit, interrupting me, and pick the things in my studio he thinks he can make an exhibition of and perhaps let him arrange the pieces in the gallery. It is true that I'm a bit of a control freak and would never just show unfinished stuff or let an installation get out of my hands ... but this idea could be a way that I actually get something out of the process. Sorry, coffee hasn't kicked in for the morning and I may not be making myself clear ... but the idea is that I have made some work and I hand the gloves over to him to make it into a 'show' in whatever form he sees it working. I guess this idea can only work if we have the time that week to do this. I like the idea that I would walk in and not have a clue what he may have done with the work. I could deliver the things that he suggests to the gallery and if he has a day that he can come in to set it up this could work.

I haven't promoted the show to my contacts yet, but if we get that going we can pull a rabbit out of a hat next week and it will all come off just fine".

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Kate- feature in Time Out

the Assistant appears in Time Out this week...

photo by Helen Sumpter - Courtesy of Time Out

Check out the current In The Studio column in Time Out this week for an interview with Assistant artist Kate Pickering...

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Assistant Part 2 - Update

Blue's work in progress

Update from Blue on the preparations for his forthcoming Assistant show:

"Sorry, yes, blogging or keeping you posted are obviously not my strength.

Well, Gordon and I finally got together today to start work on the assistant and I guess the first thing that I had to get over was that Gordon is insistent that he impose no specific rules on what I do! I wanted some parameters - or expected (based on the proposal of the project) some - within which to operate, but he doesn't work that way and so therefore doesn't expect someone else to have to either. He's interested in talking about the making and letting that happen rather than directing it or controlling it (to poorly paraphrase him).

It was a relief that I had no rules to impinge upon my practice but at the same time a frightening prospect that I would have free-range to produce a show. He was surprised that I had no solid idea of what work I would put in the show, but I had locked myself off from thinking too much about it on my own and was awaiting the initiation of this joint thinking effort. I joked that I was hoping that I would at least have him to blame if things went tits up!

work in progress

So after about an hour of discussing what we each thought our roles were supposed to be in this project, we turned to the work I am currently producing in the studio. I've included a few quick snaps for what their worth to you. We had a good session sorting through what I might want to do for the show. He challenged the concise and beautifully finished nature that most of my sculptural forms take and asked if it might not to be a consideration to somehow show a work when it is in looser initial stages. For me it just felt like I would then be producing something which would be intentionally arrested in its development to be shown as a final product would therefore be contrived in my mind - but I would consider what that could mean in the context of this show.

Apologies. I feel I am missing out the bulk of 3.5 hours of conversation we had culminating in lunch at the local chippie, but wanted to tell you that my head has been set straight on what my responsibilities are in the project and am on it! We will see each other again next week to discuss where some of the ideas for work for the show have taken me".

Friday, 14 May 2010

Kate- Installing the work 2

Installation of vinyl lettering in the Bearspace window.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

the Assistant Part 1 is being installed

Kate is here at Bearspace today, busy installing her work ready for the opening of the Assistant - Part 1. Blue also popped in today to check out the space again and take a few pictures to help him in planning his install which will be happening in a couple of weeks time. Kate's show however is now not far away at all, the work she will be showing is a video piece comprised of various fragments of text and images I believe and she is busy blocking out the light into the gallery in order to project the work onto the back wall. She has also just installed a section of text as vinyl lettering in the front window. I haven't seen the work myself yet and look forward to seeing what she has come up with. There is still much more installing to go but I'm sure it will all be ready for Friday, I hope that you can come down and join us from 7-9pm, this Friday, 14th May at Bearspace on Deptford High Street.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Discussion Page Published

Those blog posts which relate to discussions on the topic of artists assistants and the role of assistants/interns in the arts have been moved to a parallel page that can be found here in order to make the structure of the blog more clear. Posts on this page now relate specifically to the exhibition in terms of Kate and Blue's progress towards their respective shows. I would definitely recommend heading over to the discussion page however as there are some interesting, worrying and amusing assistant stories and some thought-provoking opinions and positions proposed It is great to see this blog element developing in the way in which I'd hoped, opening a discourse around the work and around the exhibition (as a form of work in itself) which examines and draws attention to the artistic and social relations within which these artworks are emerging.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Kate- work in progress 3

Video stills- work in progress.