Thursday, 13 January 2011

Grappling The Meaning of Success for Installation Artists

Feeling ill, after having finished another installation at the Warwick Arts Centre and with a little bit more time on my hands, I'm blogging again...


So what's better these days? fame, fortune or success? What is fame, what is fortune and what is success? for profit or not for profit? To become rich from your art? To sell? or to have received some good opportunities? And what does this all depend on, your ability to build your social capital. To create a buzz about yourself in the art world. To build a prolific portfolio and biography. To have exhibited or be collected by the best names in the world. To act like a lunatic artist just to boost more sales.



Joaquoin Phoenix attempted this stunt in Hollywood becoming the mad rapper prior to his next movie and failed, but then again you see this bohemian type of stunt in artists all the time, and soon it becomes just another boring fa├žade - "Oh how dreamy art thou!". I want to fuck you, oooh!


To schmooze with the right people? To have your ideas accepted by somebody important? (They say, all it takes is one person to like your work). Film-makers who struggle each year with the costs of sending their films to all the major festivals with the hope of getting one of their films accepted often lose hope. This is the price to pay for success. It is the same with artists and competitions. Once you are accepted into a major film festival, it is easier to get into more. But are all the artist's competitions geared upon success? How is installation received in such competitions that are aimed more at commercial objects?

Another question to ask is whether it is better to be a struggling artist (as most installation artists are) or a successful artist?


Do the two overlap? What consequences will it have on our future art history?


Will the next generation of art historians only be interested in what was successful at the time, or are there people who are interested more in who the unknown, unsupported, un-established artists were, the ones who truly lived the Van Gogh lifestyle, who found life to be more of a challenge, who at times risked their careers by doing the dogs body jobs, who pushed the boundaries on their own steam, and did not sell out, or become driven by the market?

There are buyers, collectors, sponsors, grants museums for installation art, but tapping into this world is a difficult niche. "10,000 artschool graduates each year" I heard them say last night. Does an installation artist find avenues of commercialising his or her work, to build up fame and noteriety, success before being able to make installations.


The big coin question I thought about at my degree show was do I wish to proceed with making more commercial works to sell to investors, collectors, become a puppet to the system at my show, or will I make an opportunity of the space granted to do something ambitious, to show what can be achieved given the right budget, time-scale, planning and opportunity. Something daring, exciting and courageous. To push boundaries. Not to succumb to the commercial market. I did not train to be a businessman but an artist I kept telling myself. How could I squander an opportunity to pass on an art form that is so difficult to make a reality?

In saying that, does the artist (particularly in installation) desire a difficult life or an easier one despite what unknown events, luck, or fate comes to him/her. Everything weighs up. Of course an easier one would see the artist granted more opportunities, let alone success. The artist would still have to sing for their supper, but how loud? And under a strained voice, can the artist achieve a higher octave than the another who is simply singing comfortably.

To pull the advanced trick out of the bag seems to impress all the well connected judges and curators these days. Art and science, art and chemistry, art and physics, art and kinetics. Progression. How much money is in my back pocket. It seems to drive people crazy.

Soon we will all be in simulators each time we visit the gallery. We will be taken on a roller-coaster ride of skill, ingenuity, colours, light, sound, and emotions! The perfect cake-walk installation. How can we push art forward? how can we make an insane break through? If technology progresses, then surely art that combines technology is a progression! Am I a genius for pointing that out? No.

Building something clever and calling it with a completely mind baffling name seems to do the trick. Because art is meaningless these days, lets make it meaningful by confusing the hell out of the audience. Not only are they fascinated by the technology, they are also baffled by how it relates to something philosophical or mythological.

Of course to be successful is to constantly have innovative ideas and inventions up your sleeve, not simply a one trick pony, and also to make them commodities - commercialise them, things that people could buy for a grand (or more) at least per piece! Are they really pushing the senses, pushing society, pushing philosophy, pushing the limits, or are they pushing the collectors into buying art for arts sake?

And how does one go about pushing the collectors to buy their particular art for art's sake. Does it rely on their art advisors? or perhaps the galleries and the hard sales business men we call dealers? what about the interest from leading curators who will juxtapose your work with other people. What does one do essentially to sell?


The more buzz around the artist, the better the works will sell surely? Does it work to have a PR agent, a consultant, to run a press campaign for 6 months, to work a day job to afford their fees? At what point do the right galleries fall into place, and should we question whether working with a gallery is the right option for us? How do we strenthen our social capital and create the right opportunities even if the links are already established?

Back to the product, is it about selling something fresh or about making something fresh. Does an artist make a work of art with the intention of changing the minds of collectors or changing the minds of the people. Normally quite a big question is who is art made for?

Many artists make it for themselves with the intention of selling it to someone who will cherish it and protect it. But what about installation? Often it is temporary. It may consist of elements that can be bought or sold and collected, but certain site-specific works or temporary installations that are built specially, can no longer remain.


Last night I was at futuremap 10 housed at the Zabludowicz collection featuring the latest emerging artists from MA courses from University of the Arts London colleges. Amongst the art collectors, I spotted Richard Greer (whose wife was on the panel of judges for this competition). This man supported an installation artist called Mike Ballard for his installation entitled "The All of Everything" where the artist had painted the entire space.

So determined to collect a piece of this work, Mr Greer hired a truck and some people to actually rip out the the painted room before the building was to be demolished, and drove the remnants back to his country depot.

It makes me think about the serious interests of the collectors to immortalise all artworks.

I often think about how at an early age I used to play around with spray paint on the legal walls of fame in Crouch End, on the footpath of Parkland Walk. Each week a new artist would have painted a brand new mural. And each week theirs would get replaced by another great piece of art from someone else. A continual contribution. A sketchpad of sheer creativity. The root of this art form being temporary, a non permanent existence of a beautiful artwork, has now shifted into canvas for urban art galleries around brick lane and Redchurch street. Or moved into the commercial world, the T-Shirts, the Nike and Adidas trainers.

Artists like Insa and Astek who realised: at what point must a hobby become something I can make money from?

In this case, product design and graphics is the transition between graffiti and making money.

If I apply this to installation art, is it simply too much of an expensive hobby for an emerging artist? As a Graffiti artist would spend his hard earned pocket money on cans that would only paint a temporary piece, an installation artist also spends their hard earned money (from doing those dogs body jobs) renting an empty warehouse, organising all the expenses in order to be seen? Must the installations tick boxes in order to receive grants from the council? just as graffiti artists must produce something hip and street that ticks all the "cool" boxes for the kids to buy the shoe product?


Being an installation artist means needing to have a business plan as well. Chiharu Shiota has smaller sculptures and drawings aside from her large scaled installations that impress people into buying.


Is this something that all installation artists must now consider in order to break even? must we cramp our ideas into boxes?


I love flipping through Thomas Hirschhorn's catalogue for his show at the Whitechapel Gallery over a decade ago. The faxes he sent to the curator "This is an artist's bridge, not a designer's bridge". Ultimately it highlighted the available sources, the collectors, sponsors and vested interests, the funds, the technicalities; a real insight into the struggles, trials and tribulations of an artist working in un-elitist materials like cardboard and tape, whose work is classified as temporary and site specific. A slice of what it could be like.

I think to myself, what about Gustav Metzger? How did he survive all this time, perhaps that will be something for me to look into; his life more so than his work, as a point of interest.

Well I will conclude here with no real conclusion as their never is in life. I've simply stated how it is, how it could be, how it wants to be without wanting it to be. Why it is, and won't be. Some things are purely in your control and the other things are entirely up to the Devil, all has an important part to play in shaping an artist's work success, opportunity, skill, talent.

Fini

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