It’s only the beginning: A guide to surviving the after art school blues

Navigating the next step after an arts education can sometimes feel like an uncharted ocean: filled with a sense of exploration but never knowing where the heck you’re going. You see so many others who have gone before you, all leaving from the same starting point but the maps they’ve drawn up are completely useless when applied to your own journey. In the creative industry, there often isn’t a simple A to B set of instructions but there’s also no wrong route – there’s only the one that’s right for you. With that in mind, I’ve provided some suggestions based on my own experience (and the experience of others with far more wisdom than myself) in order to reassure anyone soon to sail into the unknown.

DO have an art detox

For your sanity alone, taking a break is extremely important. When deadlines are out the way and the degree show has come down, it will almost certainly feel alien to be relieved of the pressure of those goals. For me, it felt like I was just beginning to get to grips with my own practice at the very moment I had to leave. With all the momentum I’d gathered, why would I slow down now when it seemed like I was really making a breakthrough? For practical reasons that will likely affect most art graduates, (like loss of studio space, relocating and time constraints) I couldn’t continue making work and it was deeply frustrating. However, I also know that had I tried to continue at the pre-degree show pace, it would only have been a matter of time before I burnt out with mental (and physical) exhaustion. Taking a rest and stepping back to assess where you’re headed doesn’t mean you aren’t going to continue to be an artist – it actually allows space for you to process your work and ideas. If you intend on investing yourself in your art practice in the long run, remember that it is exactly that – a long run.


A guide to surviving the after art school blues

Courtesy Of Sarah Botha


DON’T get discouraged

Much easier said than done. The key here is to remember the point I already made about taking a break (you should be taking a break) which might mean stopping yourself from ‘panic applying.’ When the end is nigh, you will begin seriously Googling all the opportunities out there. At first, I was strictly checking arts jobs listings with an optimistic inner monologue – ‘Yes, perhaps I could do some curation for the Tate Britain. Such a shame it’s only part time though.’ It wasn’t long until I’d been turned down by countless employers and was furiously vacancy hunting on any job website I could find, praying to the gods that I wouldn’t have to go back to Costa. ‘Don’t apply to MI5 because you’re probably not quite right for the job,’ were the words of personal experience an older graduate friend gave me after I’d asked if she had any advice to contribute. Whether it’s a retail job, an exhibition proposal or a residency application, everyone will face being rejected at one point or another. A lot of creative opportunities will be looking for candidates whose work has had some time to mature, so don’t feel pressured to immediately apply to every residency programme you hear about. Most importantly, don’t lose heart if you do get knocked back and don’t give up – maybe you aren’t what MI5 are looking for but you are still a talented, capable and creative person.

DO go somewhere new

I’m not talking about a soul-searching trip through the depths of India (unless that’s what you had planned) but simply going somewhere different. It’s very possible that the only places you will have seen in your final weeks are the studio, the library and the view of the ceiling from your bed. Take a trip to somewhere you’ve postponed visiting because your schedule’s been too packed for fun excursions. And don’t feel guilty when that trip probably isn’t to a gallery.


A guide to surviving the after art school blues

Courtesy Of Sarah Botha


DON’T forget about your uni mates

The phrase ‘it’s who you know, not what you know’ is never more true than when said within the creative industry. The people you meet through your course are all part of your creative network – relationships with peers, colleagues, university staff and local art spaces are all connections you can maintain after graduation. You won’t know the importance of having a support system of creative thinkers around you until you fly the educational nest (and realise no one else understands your arty dialogue). Even if you find yourself in a different part of the country, keep talking to the people who encourage you and who you can bounce ideas around with – you never know when it might spark a collaborative project or lead you to an opportunity you wouldn’t have heard about otherwise.

DO remember what you’re passionate about

The reality is that not everyone who studies art will be – or wants to be – an artist. You’ll have learnt a lot about what your strengths are while at art school because you’ll likely have had a go at just about everything. Just after emerging from the haze of your final year is the perfect time to take stock of all the skills you do have and think about what you really want to do with them. It’s easy to get caught up in all the things you’ve had to do and lose sight of the things you want to do. Maybe you love writing; maybe you discovered how good you were at organising events; maybe you were much more interested in the musical theatre performances you were doing outside of your studies. When you feel you need to open up your art practice again, read through your artist statement and remind yourself what your core concepts are. Give yourself as much time as possible to refocus – you’ll discover what your talents are as you go.


A guide to surviving the after art school blues

Courtesy Of Sarah Botha


DON’T worry about not knowing

See this next frame of time as an opportunity to take risks and find out what you love. If you haven’t already had a torrent of people ask you what your after university plans are then get ready for an onslaught of insatiably interested friends, parents, distant relatives, old school mates and even complete strangers. If you do know what’s next for you, that’s awesome. And if you don’t feel you do, then you’ve got an exciting time ahead. The important part is that you keep engaged with what you enjoy and you start to make your own map.




As a ‘gallery day out’, the Saatchi is still one of my favourite art spaces to visit. Stepping out into South Kensington always feels like a different (and dare I say more expensive) world but the gallery itself seems to provide a peaceful, light resting place. Their current exhibit entitled Pangaea unites a melting pot of different artists from across Africa and South America. Incorporating a breadth of mediums, the work on show feels strong at face value as well as being rich in cultural content.

Sara Casa Tomada, Pangaea, Courtesy of Saatchi Gallery.

Sara Casa Tomada, Pangaea, Courtesy of Saatchi Gallery.

From gaging the response of others who’ve visited the exhibit, the most memorable work in the show would likely be the first you encounter. An installation by Colombian artist Rafael Gomezbarros meets your gaze as you approach the first doorway, its efficacy immediately evident. Unnerving or even sinister, it is only once you are fully within the space that you realise you are surrounded. From the huddles of dark shapes sprawling across all four white walls emerge a colony of giant ants, their bodies each comprised of two cast human skulls on closer inspection. For the artist, this work speaks on behalf of thousands of Colombian people displaced by the country’s conflict and the many anonymous and invisible people who forcibly become immigrants across the world.

I was intrigued by a collection of work by Jose Lerma further into the exhibition. His enormous canvases house a mixture of densely built-up pen and paint markings, each portraying a complex array of political and cultural references. The layers of marks allow the artist to reveal and conceal information, creating vague figures on each surface. But it was the objects outside of the canvas’ frame that interested me – the weight of the largest canvas was supported by a small keyboard under one of its bottom corners and by a guiro (a wooden percussion instrument from Latin-America) beneath the other. The overall presentation leaves the work open to sculptural interpretations in relation to the historic place of the canvas.

Ejercicio Superficial, Pangaea, Courtesy of Saatchi Gallery.

Ejercicio Superficial, Pangaea, Courtesy of Saatchi Gallery.

Freddy Alzate’s spherical brick sculpture brought to mind Gabriel Orozco’s Yielding Stone; a ball of plasticine that the artist rolled across the street. However instead of absorbing traces of its environment, Alzate’s object appears to have been produced by the architecture of the urban surroundings itself curling into an orb.

In one of the lower galleries, Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama creates an encounter that envelops the viewer. The room is hung wall to ceiling with coarse, dirtied coal sacks, sewn together to cover the space entirely. The material quiets the echoes that would otherwise bounce against the smoothness of the gallery walls, bringing an eerie stillness and sense of otherworldliness.

Leonce, Pangaea, Courtesy of Saatchi Gallery.

Leonce, Pangaea, Courtesy of Saatchi Gallery.

As I often find myself commenting about many of the exhibitions I’ve seen at the Saatchi, each work is respectfully given the breathing space it requires to command the viewer’s full attention. Pangaea is no exception to this; the curation seems sensitive to both the art work’s individual presence and the conversations created between different subject matter. A considered snapshot of contemporary art from Africa and South America and well worth a visit.

Pangaea runs until November 2nd (2014).

Reviving Romford

Fact File

Name: Sarah Walters
Born: Upminster, Essex
Age: 27
Studied: Fine Art and Art History at Goldsmiths, London
Job Title: Director of Romford Contemporary Arts Programme (R-CAP)
Random: Holds a black belt in karate
I speak to Sarah Walters about life after graduation, being a visionary and never giving up…

Reviving Romford R-CAP


If there’s one thing I don’t doubt, it’s that Sarah Walters knows how to take on a challenge. Five years after graduating and two and a half years after the birth of R-CAP (Romford Contemporary Art Programme), Sarah never seems to have lost sight of her desire to see this side of East London culturally transformed.

The first time we met came after I’d heard whispers of artists rallying in Romford; if there was something creative – anything creative – happening here, I had to find out who was responsible. Positioned in the north-east London borough of Havering, Romford has – in recent years – begun to develop as a large centre for retail. However its provision of creative opportunities has yet to reflect its proximity to east London’s art scene or the number of art graduates in the area.

Over the last two years, R-CAP has inhabited some of the town’s seemingly unloved and vacant spaces, drawing on local artists, college students and undergraduates in order to utilise art as a regenerative tool. Live events and site specific projects have animated abandoned restaurants and empty shops in a bid to bring contemporary art to places where its presence may seem alien. With a particular soft spot for students, one of their public projects was even consolidated with a ‘graduation’, after the participants had completed their ‘studies’ in such subjects as confidence, collaboration and resilience.

‘I think that’s where it started for me,’ Sarah says, recounting her time at university. ‘We were pumped full of all these ideas about ethics; about what we should be doing and what the art market should be.’As she graduated from Goldsmiths in 2009, Ideastap was starting to emerge. ‘I was organising the degree show at the time and thought, ‘I like this!’ So I applied for a grant to curate another exhibition once I’d finished. We wanted it to talk about what it was to graduate into this recession and how we were supposed to negotiate that. We couldn’t afford to make work anymore; we couldn’t afford to show work because competition entries have to be paid for.’ It would later be these same hurdles that would fuel future projects.

From that initial post-graduation exhibition came an art collective but – after a year and a half of waitressing full time and seemingly getting nowhere with sourcing more space and funds – Sarah was exhausted and ready to walk away. ‘I’d applied for about 30 grants and decided to apply for one more, thinking that I would stop if I didn’t get it. I was so desperate – I was basically begging them.’

As fate would have it, she did get the grant and – with that money – Exchange Studios was birthed. ‘We created a model based around the idea that it doesn’t always take money for things to be exchanged. The question we asked was: what does a graduate have to offer?’ I smile and wait for her to answer her own question. ‘They have lots of time – presumably because they don’t have a job; they have loads of energy and passion and enthusiasm; and they have all this knowledge from the education they’ve just paid for. But what don’t they have?’ This was answered by providing artists with equipment, rent-free studio space and an exhibition as payment for their time.


Reviving Romford R-CAP


I comment that Sarah clearly has a mind for business, especially seen through her seeming ability to negotiate almost anything with the council. ‘I definitely used to be the least business minded person in the room,’ she laughs, ‘but it’s a skill that has become necessary. The council know that art equals regeneration, which equals profit. It’s like having a second language – if artists can speak business, then they can also start to demand that things are done more ethically.’

‘What do you really want to see happen in Romford?’ I ask.
‘I think Romford has the potential to be a really creative place. I don’t want it to be the new Shoreditch – I want to tap into what Romford is. New creative graduates look around their home towns and think, ‘What’s here apart from my rent-free parents?’’ I wince slightly at the truth in her words. ‘Nothing! But we want to do whatever we have to do to keep those people in the area. Putting art somewhere isn’t a miracle worker in itself but – when you build a culture of creativity – you can start to change not only individual lives but whole communities’, she says.


And that’s exactly what R-CAP are aiming for. With a just-signed contract for a year’s access to a block of empty retail units within Romford’s busy centre, setup is already underway to host artist residencies, creative startup businesses, a performance festival and a fashion design competition. Another facet of their plans is to set up a shop where local artists, designers and art students can test a market for their work. It is this want to provide a platform for ideas that Romford so desperately needs if it is to keep hold of its young artists.


What advice would she give to graduates wanting to transform their own community?

‘Never give up! Don’t lose sight of the end goal and just keep going.’

Summer In The East End

In a lot of ways, I feel quite privileged to have studied fine art in Sheffield: my three years spent there demonstrated to me the importance of seeing beyond the capital for amazing artist communities. Yet now that that chapter has closed, I am once again living on the edge of East London and wandering what this new location will bring.

London can sometimes seem very big and menacing; saturated with artists and possibly intimidating to fresh graduates, who really require the support network of smaller gallery spaces. With the majority of the country’s big name galleries dotted around London’s centre, locating the slightly more hidden art spaces can seem a bit of a mammoth task. With that in mind (and with an abundance of free time), I set myself the task of doing the leg work and learning more about the art scene on my own doorstep. Besides, where would be better to start looking than in East London?

The East End has seemingly undergone a transformation in recent years with several galleries – like the White Cube – relocating to more central locations. There does appear to be a question mark about how areas like Shoreditch – previously the playground of the YBAs, when they were in fact young – will evolve, especially as property prices increase. However, there is still a strong alternative gallery presence and a multitude of spaces to discover. Heading to Cambridge Heath (just a couple of stops on an overground train from Liverpool Street station) would be a good place to start and puts you in walking distance of a host of galleries between Bethnal Green and Aldgate.

That’s exactly what I did when setting out on my gallery search and (just to warn you) sometimes you do have to search. On an impulse, I made my way straight to Supplement Gallery – a short walk from the station on Teesdale Street – which I soon realized was in the middle of a whole terraced street of small galleries and artist work spaces. Another thing to note about many of the spaces in this vicinity is that they are only open Thursday-Sunday, with some open on Wednesdays. It so happened that this particular day was a Tuesday, so it was advantageous that I’d emailed ahead about my visit. Supplement has strong links to the Sheffield artist community and represents a group of already well established artists – their July show Ends Again looked excellently considered (Cecile B. Evans’ video work especially caught my attention) and sat well within the domestic-sized space and beautiful wooden floors.

Vyner Street signFrom there (after being given an amazing list of galleries in the area by Supplement’s director Adam Thomas) I walked to Cell Project Space (Cambridge Heath Road). Set back from the main road and sandwiched between a snooker club and a dry cleaners, it would be easy to miss this gem. Their next viewable show opens on September 18th but they also have a passion for providing affordable studio space for artists working nearby. Furthermore, they also run a yearly internship program, aimed at new graduates and artists in further education.

My route then went as follows: I continued on to Minerva Street, where I found a rather silent matte black building front and an interesting solo show inside. I then carried on to Vyner Street which is lined with artist initiated galleries, Wilkinson Gallery and Vyner Street Gallery being examples. Next was The Approach Gallery – one of my favourite finds. The gallery space is actually the top floor of a pub, which makes an excellent resting point after a while of trundling around on an art adventure. Their current painterly exhibition runs until August 10th.

Supplement, by Cecile B. Evans

If you’d like to follow this same route and find yourself not fully satisfied at this point, you can make your way to Herald Street (nearer Bethnal Green station) where you will come across Herald Street Gallery, Laura Bartlett Gallery, Maureen Paley and Campoli Presti – all of which consistently boast fantastic shows. Mile End Road is home to Carlos Ishikawa – a space that plays host to young, experimental work. Another space that has become a personal favourite is Chisenhale Gallery, which you would find if you were to continue east from the Approach – I admire the way the gallery appears to completely transforms for each show it holds.

Back at Aldgate, there is of course the Whitechapel Gallery: my favourite thing about this well-established space is the Zilkha Auditorium, where they are currently showcasing artists’ film from around the world (their café is pretty delightful too). As you get closer to Shoreditch, you’ll also find smaller spaces like Raven Row, which is very near to Liverpool Street station. Their Yvonne Rainer retrospective is open until August 10th, with four dance performances happening daily.

Now, I would think that that’s quite enough gallery hunting for one day. Maybe we should go find some coffee.

Meetin Marina; 512 Hours at the Serpentine Gallery

I remember the first time I heard the name Marina Abramović. It was during a lecture in my first year of university – I’d opted for a term of performance art workshops, with the intention of throwing myself as far out of my comfort zone as possible (I knew I’d chosen correctly when our tutor’s first instruction to the group was to walk through the university’s campus barefoot and in single file).

As that particular week’s session was coming to a close, our tutor handed us all some additional reading material – a stapled booklet of photocopied excerpts from several articles about the work of Marina Abramović. Later, as I began to skim through the text in the silence of my bedroom, I quickly became engrossed in the story of someone who not only created art work but seemingly lived it out.

Now pegged as a matriarch within the realm of performance art, Marina Abramović has fostered a career spanning the last 40 years. In that time, she has repeatedly challenged her audience as well as her own body, carving out an area within art that requires both physical and mental endurance. Some of her most famous works required Abramović to push her body to its limits, sometimes until she lost consciousness and was unable to continue. A piece, part of her ‘Rhythm Series’ literally left her life in the hands of her viewers: providing a table of objects and implements (which included thorns, a blade and a gun with a single bullet) she resolved to stay passive for 6 hours, while the audience could use what they pleased on her. Despite what might sound confrontational to some, I don’t believe her work revolves around the danger or even the risk but would say that it is rather concerned with the very nature of being alive; of being conscious and present and with the point where you can no longer maintain this state.

It was the 2002 work A House with the Ocean View that I was first reading about – for this piece, Abramović spent 12 days in the Sean Kelly Gallery, consuming nothing but water. Her dwelling place consisted of three raised ‘rooms’ that acted as bedroom, bathroom and living space, each of them open to the public’s gaze. When talking about her desire for the exhibition, Abramović has said that by cleansing her own body through fasting and ritual, she was opening up a space in which anyone who entered would be free of time and purely in the present. By dedicating the gallery in this way, she even hoped to affect the space on an atomic level. I’d never before heard of an artist who confronted their audience so powerfully (and literally) while remaining so vulnerable.

In the hour that I stood awaiting my entrance to the Serpentine Gallery – on the opening day of Abramović’s new exhibition 512 Hours – I could feel the anticipation of the event building. Being in the present; what does that really mean? The question swirled in my mind as I stood with the friend who’d accompanied me, both of us speculating as to what we might be about to experience. I wondered if it would be similar to her 2010 MoMA performance The Artist is Present; a one on one encounter, sat facing the artist herself. I’d heard that that particular work had evoked tears in many of the people who came to sit with her; I wondered if I would cry, if that was what was to happen.

Marina Abramovic

Image courtesy of Serpentine Gallery, Laura Ferrari, Rahi Rezvani and Marina Abramovic.

A gallery staff member was moving down the queue, informing all those waiting, of the exhibition guidelines: we were to remain silent and to leave all bags/watches/technological items behind before entering. We edged closer to the front of the queue, excitement sparking as if we were about to be let on to a rollercoaster. When it was our turn to go inside, I felt my heart leap in my chest as we briskly moved through to a locker room. Already the air was different; the assistants gestured in silence, their faces warm and calm. Feeling already naked without the objects I’d come with, my friend and I exchanged an inquisitive glance and quietly crossed into the main gallery space.

People; just people. My eyes darted around the room, searching the space for an understanding of the layout. Standing facing the walls, sat on chairs, drifting in the open – I could not fathom the reasons for the different stances people had assumed. Then, like a sweeping breeze, a hand took hold of my own. I immediately felt safe; open. Leading me gently, this woman and I were gliding through the space, past other linked pairs, past poised figures staring ahead pensively. Another figure began to come into focus – an unmistakable face. Marina Abramović’s long, dark hair swayed in a straight plait as she too guided someone by the hand. Based on my track record of star struck gawking even when in the presence of fairly minor celebrities, I was surprised when I was able to take her in as if with no prior introductions. But her presence was strong and my eyes remained fixed to her until I was led into an adjoining room. How long would this hand be in mine? We come to a thick, white blind hanging across a section of the gallery’s large windows with our faces just centimetres away from its surface. I feel the presence of other people swell and fade away into the distance. A pause and then a whisper: ‘You may keep your eyes open or closed, but stay here for as long as you can. Just breathe.’ She let go of my hand and pressed her palm to my back for only a moment before leaving me there; I felt my breathing slow as the feel of her touch evaporated. I stayed in that spot, my gaze roaming the white light of the linen barrier before me. Just breathe, I thought.

I did eventually move, although I couldn’t say after how long. It was probably about the time I realised I’d not come alone and I’d left my friend in a relatively alien situation. My hand was taken on a second occasion as well, this time the interaction coming to a close when I was seated in one of the wooden chairs dotted throughout the gallery. This second woman placed her I did eventually move, although I couldn’t say after how long. It was probably about the time I realised I’d not come alone and I’d left my friend in a relatively alien situation. My hand was taken on a second occasion as well, this time the interaction coming to a close when I was seated in one of the wooden chairs dotted throughout the gallery. This second woman placed her hands on my shoulders, their weight softening my posture. Now in the main space once again, I was watching the movement of people on a square, raised platform in the room’s centre. For a while, Marina Abramović was leading several people, one by one, onto this slightly elevated stand. I failed to decipher what she whispered to them but many closed their eyes and stood for some time. She moved like a river, gently meandering between people and moving some as she went. It seemed as though energy was being transferred from body to body, like electricity that soothed and quieted those it touched.

We left not knowing how long we’d spent in that space. As the Hyde Park sun filtered across our faces, we both remarked on the state of calm we felt even then. ‘Not like a religious experience,’ my friend commented, ‘but still an energy.’ I wanted to let the encounter sink in; to ponder what this very different gallery experience had been. ‘They are my living material; I am their living material’; Marina Abramović’s words prior to the exhibition’s opening. In that space, I had been the same material as I was now. Maybe I was more aware of myself in that space; someone had given me permission to breathe, to be stood where I was stood. Someone had given me the opportunity to leave my belongings somewhere else; someone had let me be without distraction. Someone had asked me to be present.

What’s mine is yours

What’s mine is yours

Discussing the perks of working within a shared studio community

As much as I refuse to acknowledge it, everything is about to change. The life that I have spent the last three years cultivating will very soon be coming to a close and – as well as having to leave a beautiful house in Sheffield and move back in with (deep breath) my parents – I’ll also be geographically separated from the group of creative people I’ve come to know and value (cue the violins). The only consolation is knowing that I am by no means the only fine art graduate that will be walking this road.

Of course, I’m being rather melodramatic and it isn’t the dark ages – I’ve got trusty Facebook and Twitter to help me keep in virtual contact with the people I’ve met across my studies. But that’s not what I really want. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy friendly banter just as much as the next person. But what I know I’ll really be grieving for is the studio.

Art Studio

The space.

The knowing that there’s a specific place I can go to where I can make a mess. Or I can just sit and think. Or I can talk to someone about those very thoughts. And that right there is the crux of it – someone; having a someone to bounce ideas around with. The idea of not having anywhere to gather with like-minded people on an almost daily basis is a daunting thought, especially after being so privileged whilst at University. Speaking as an artist who often makes fairly large, sculptural work, the physical space of the studio has been integral to my making process. However, the emphasis of importance is far less on the architecture and much more on the people it houses.

A truth generally acknowledged on art courses is that students who work in close proximity often begin to produce art that bears some similarity to that of the people they work alongside. In a setting where difference and innovation is the goal, this should seem a strange phenomenon. But because artists are working amongst one another, talking to each other and sharing ideas (probably as well as material resources – it’s really handy when your peers love shiny textiles as much as you do) – there is sure to be some overlapping of interests which then surface in what they produce. Seeing how another artist works enables you to view your own process from the outside and establish why it is that you do things one way and not another. But sometimes what it shows you is that someone else is doing it better. It has often been this realisation that has helped to refine areas within my work that I felt unclear about. Recognising the similarities between art practices also makes it possible to determine the differences – this open balance builds a willingness to enter into collaboration with other artists, as you both explore your making together.

Art Studio

The opportunity to collaborate (particularly within the safety of a learning environment) can be an incredibly rewarding venture. S1 Artspace – a Sheffield based artist studio and gallery – has recently been the backdrop for projects pushing the boundaries of what shared studio spaces can mean. Launched by artist Keith Wilson, the gallery has been providing a place for artists to inhabit a completely unrestricted studio environment and question the format of what an art school should look like. Hester Reeve – a performance artist and lecturer at Sheffield Institute of Arts – utilised this freedom by taking over the space with her art and philosophy class. The 24 Hour Origin of the Work of Art Lecture was – as the title suggests – a 24 hour lock-in, in which Martin Heidegger’s text was given as the main topic of the ‘lecture’. When recounting the experience, Reeve said, ‘It allowed me to feel like I was part of a brethren – we were all committed to the same space and time. It felt like creative exploration.’

In comparison with her more regular teaching schedule, she commented that the intense time period was ‘much more conducive for linking theory to practice than a one hour lecture’ and that she much preferred the relationship she had with her students in that setting.

Art Studio

Live together, talk together, work together. In a lot of ways, this project truly emphasises the strengths of entering into a space dedicated to artists becoming a community. The atmosphere bred within shared spaces of creative work is one not only of friendship but also of development. It seems straightforward to say that where people with common goals congregate, there will be conversation and hopefully encouragement. In my experience of an art studio, it is not just encouragement that occurs but a sharing and expanding of ideas. When I asked Ashley Holmes – an artist who works across video, sound and sculpture and one of four final year students to receive a place on S1 Artspace’s studio bursary programme in 2013 – about his time in the space, he replied:

Working in a shared studio is such a rich experience; that sense of community and simply having people around has been invaluable to me. I’ve been able to be in constant dialogue, bounce ideas off of people and receive feedback, meaning that the things I was thinking about within my practice (as well as things I hadn’t really considered) could be addressed thoroughly.

In terms of the bursary opportunity itself, Ashley said:

It not only provided a studio space in the city but also tutorials with artists and curators from the area which again, gave me some invaluable feedback and things to think about to move my work forwards. First and foremost, everyone is friends and it was generally a real comforting and exciting environment to be in.

With all of this in mind – as I stare at my bedroom, now filled with all the materials that composed my corner of the studio – I’m determined to continue to engage with a space that begins with people and leads to an exploration of new creative territories. This next post-university chapter will see me moving back to East London in order to be involved with a group set on regenerating an abandoned night club for use as an artist studio space. I hope they like sharing shiny materials too.


Sarah Botha


Even though I’m heading back south, Sheffield has some fantastic spaces that cater especially to new graduates and fresh-faced artists. Here are some points of contact for three of the city’s creative hubs:

S1 Artspace

Bloc Projects

Yorkshire Artspace

Ian Kiaer at The Henry Moore Institute

Ian Kiaer’s work is hard to talk about. Perhaps this isn’t the way that I should open an article about his current exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute. However, the difficulty of discussing art work that relies on an encounter still stands as a valid obstacle in trying to convey its weight and presence. An encounter – a physical meeting – is exactly what Kiaer’s work asks for.

The exhibition Tooth House spans across the last decade of Kiaer’s art practice, drawing on references within architecture, literature and philosophical writing. His chosen mediums are for the most part familiar within our everyday lives: bubble wrap, polystyrene and plastic sheeting all appear throughout his material decisions. The elevation of the ordinary in order to portray concepts is something very much considered by Kiaer – he has said that ‘very often the work fails to carry the literary ideas or references within the work’ and that it is this ‘failure to carry or hold information’ that interests him. The balance is held between theory and materiality injects the atmosphere with an unspeakable, poetic air.

On visiting the show, it was the lightness of the work in the space that I was first aware of. Whether his work should be spoken of as a whole or as a collection of discrete objects is uncertain; regardless, each component appears to be in dialogue with the others around it, while simultaneously breathing in the environment itself. Kiaer’s light and sculptural gestures seem to whisper to one another through a material language, echoing and reflecting shape and colour. A yellow used in a 3D form is mirrored in a slight drawing hung low on the wall; a geometric configuration creates a subtle visual link between a work on paper and a nearby sculptural element.

FMG Arts MonthlyImage Courtesy Of The Henry Moore Institute

In the first room of the exhibition, the viewer is initially presented with work at floor level, while a translucent, spherical form comes into sight further away. Erdrindenbau project: building for Scheerbart – the title of a once clear, now dirtied mat that seems to bear the unconscious marks of a painter’s studio – appears like an object barely there. As I was beginning to observe, the fragility of Kiaer’s materials encourage a careful investigation of what is seen. The inflated construction titled Erdrindenbau project: inflatable is continually filled by air from a domestic fan that also tethers it to the ground. On closer inspection of the shape that stands a little taller than myself, I see a silver sheen on a part of its surface; the silver-leaf has begun to flake away, like a skin being shed. This noticeable changeability of Kiaer’s objects allows for an element of site specificity, as the physicality of the work is altered simply through movement or reconstruction.

Something surprising about Kiaer is that he often frames his work through the discipline of painting, rather than directly aligning himself with the history of sculpture – an association that would seem quite natural, given that many of his materials could be discussed in relation to the ready-made. Through sculptural constructions, he manages to navigate contemporary notions of painting and its proposed death, while decidedly avoiding the fixed viewpoint of a 2D landscape. On the contrary, the art objects present, feel open to being rearranged; each article becomes merely a sketch of a thought or a model of something to come.

In the exhibition’s publication, Kiaer comments that a ‘model can hold multiple associations and also remain unknowable. It could just be a very particular form that is impossible to describe, or a piece of material that stands in, or acts as a foil to something else. The model is both evasive and ridiculously precise.’ In this way, the work does not provoke or command but rather presents you with an idea through material experience. Kiaer’s titles allude to a variety of literature and theory but when I’m stood in a room with the work itself, all I can see is the way the silver-leaf clings to the surface of a plastic sheet that towers above me; all I take in is the glow from a yellow, Perspex ceiling. When the weight of an idea is heavier than the material it embodies, perhaps it’s better to avoid talking of the unknowable and being present within the encounter instead.


Written By Sarah Botha