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.
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.
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.
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.
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: