Fly Eric Symposia series – Changing perceptions of what artists can do
NO. 3: Expanding possibilities for artists’ professional practice
and opportunities for artists in industry
I have a small confession: I am completely and utterly out of the loop. A little bird informed me that in the professional art world that just will not do. In an effort to correct the damages of my hermit-like existence I decided to attend the last of the Fly Eric series which was held at Manchester’s Castlefield Gallery. The idea behind the Fly Eric symposium series is to encourage open and informed discussion into issues concerning contemporary artistic practise. The third of the series can be succinctly described by its own descriptive if not distinctly unwieldy title: ‘Expanding possibilities for artists’ professional practice and opportunities for artists in industry’. In other words: the perfect remedy to correct my bad habits and to gain some fresh insight and inspiration to kick-start my practise again.
The event began with the eloquent Mitra Memarzia. Mitra is an artist who aims to maintain a socially engaged practice which is expressed through a wide variety of media. Considering the scope of her practise she did make the perfect chairperson for this event. In her opening talk Mitra discussed the need to rethink the way we consider the word ‘industry’ in the artistic professional practise. The word ‘industry’ can be perceived negatively, conjuring up images of people working towards some common yet ultimately soulless goal of a mass commercial enterprise. However perhaps as artists engaged in professional practise we should remember that our enterprise should not be focused solely on the commercial but inspired by the social. This became a common theme and presented itself through the work of the three speakers, all practitioners whose focus is not on the sale of art objects, but on utilising their artistic skills to become essential components in communities, whether those communities are structured around the electronic, the environment or the modern career based family.
The first speaker was Hazel Grian. Grians career is pretty hard to categorise even in the capricious creative career market. Her diverse career has included theatre and writing but it was her experiences in the early nineties that set her on her current path. Looking to find a new creative outlet that would allow her writing to reach new audiences, a tip from a friend instigated her to look into the world of Alternative Reality Gaming. If, dear reader, you happen to be like me and are rather unfamiliar with the links between blogging and gaming, allow me a quick explanation. Alternative Reality Gaming is a form of story telling that utilises cutting edge digital and social networking technology. The story is often elusive and mysterious and if the reader wants to know more they must seek it out through the resources available on the internet. The Alternative Reality Blog Grian created soon lead to a huge and dedicated following. Grians success ultimately resulted in her working for big name companies, creating storylines and finding innovative ways in which to communicate with her audience. This communication was particularly inspiring. Hazel is hyper aware of her audience, she respects their needs, is constantly on the look out for new communication devices all while retaining her own originality.
After a brief break involving much over indulgence in free cakes the symposium continued with Richard Layzell. Layzell and Grians practise superficially seems entirely different. Layzells practise rarely concentrates on that of the digital world, his practise concentrates on human realities, relying on interventions and humour to create events that naturally seems to create a stir. However they do share common ground and the success of their work stems from these mutual concerns. Like Grian, Layzell creates modern myths with his work. He designs humorous situations that take the audience from the everyday and provide a talking point. He allows the viewer the opportunity to have a shared experience with a wider social group. For example Layzell has previously worked as an artist in residence for a well known I.T company. During his time there he got to know the individual members of staff. He found out the on-site driver had a talent for stand up comedy. Over time Layzell in his workshops encouraged this member of staff to show off this side of his character, ultimately allowing the driver to reveal more of his personality to his fellow workers. The driver became a bit of a company legend. Perhaps more importantly his fellow employees began to see beyond the restrictions of their job titles to get to know each other that bit better.
Layzell, much like Grian, aims to provide a new experience with his audience. These experiences provide a fun framework for connection that can help build a sense of community, even in the seemingly dull repetitive monotony of the working day.
The final speaker was Alice Angus, artist and co-director of the innovative arts-informed company Proboscis. Like the previously discussed artists Angus’ and Proboscis’ work is hard to pin to one main element. The company seeks to provide solutions through creative means. Angus uses her artistic practise and skill to help companies or social groups to communicate and connect on a more intrinsic level. Proboscis organise playful activities and events that introduce individuals to new ideas and allow improved forms of communication. The outlandish nature of the events and the engaging creative elements allow the audience to connect and interact in unexpected ways. An example of this would be the eco-carnivals the Proboscis has organised. Carnival entertainers use the latest technology to gather information from smoggy city centres and to highlight environmental issues. Proboscis believe if we integrate fun, creative activities into our data collection and sharing we can create better connected societies with more effective and more collaborative communication. In a society swamped by data, Proboscis aim to create creative devices to make even the driest of information palatable. Much like Grian and Layzell, Angus uses the joys of escapism, fun and story telling to help communities find common bonds.
Friedrich Kittler once compared the information overload we face today to eyewash. Without intrinsic connections information washes over us, assaults us and inundates us. A form of disconnection seems sadly inevitable. When the senses are swamped with information, reality quickly becomes diluted and distant. The artist in their practise has always had the power to weave information and ideas into new unexpected forms and to take methods of production to new levels. With such skills the role of the artist in industry is invaluable. Society needs modern myth makers and creative shape shifters to take hold of disparate forms to create possibilities and to look into the potential of technology and decipher its worth. Perhaps now, more than ever, artists can take their creative skills to help society move on from the technologically influenced self-imposed distance to allow greater levels of communication. Artists seeking a professional position for their practise would do well to consider the power of call and response, to use innovation and creativity to allow communication that is applicable, relevant and perhaps just as importantly… is fun.
So did the Fly Eric Symposia help me get back into the loop? Well perhaps it did. However I hasten to add that the rest of the audience, an interesting, informed and friendly bunch, probably had a lot to do with that. The role the Fly Eric Symposia played was to show the audience that professional practise need not be soulless, commercial, industrial. It need not rely on the commercial value of art-objects. It can be a satisfying and as worthy as a personally focused practise. By remaining true to individual skill, whether that is the desire to tell a story, your humour or childlike enthusiasm, an artist can use their creativity to inform their professional practise and to reach out to a wider audience. To get in the loop.
…. And if none of that claptrap appeals the Fly Eric Symposia supply bloody good cakes as well 😉