All entries for October 2010

October 20, 2010

The Invisible Ladder

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Recession, n. Receding, withdrawal, from a place or point; receding part of object, recess; slump in trade.

Strangely enough, and contrary to expectations, a number of last year's creative writing graduates from the Warwick Writing Programme, who I've been in touch with or bumped into in train stations, are thriving. Quite a few of them have turned their back on postgraduate study, which is a shame, but universities are often considered an expensive delaying tactic when the economic weather is excessively short of pula.

By thriving, I mean they're gainfully interning, or even self-employing, paying their bills and feeding their pet iguanas. A couple have managed to pick up contracts to deliver creative workshops in schools. Another couple have attached to the walls of a theatre like the best of the bloodsucking race of giant leeches known to the Amazon, one as a stage manager, the other in a writing collective. Tenacity is what is important now: holding on until the next opportunity reveals itself, either in this place of work, or elsewhere.

Recess, n., &v.t. & i. 1. Temporary cessation from work, vacation, esp. of Parliament; receding of water, land, glacier, etc., from previous limit, amount by which it recedes; retired or secret place (in the inmost ~es of the Alps [as created by Tristan Tzara], of the heart); receding part of mountain chain etc., niche or alcove of wall; (anat.) fold or indentation in organ.

This steady advance across the invisible, while blindfolded, is how career progression in the arts is understood to work, by society in general. A feat of extraordinary proportions is conducted by these individuals, stepping unsurely and insecurely across the abyss of bohemia on the invisible rungs of an ancient ladder. Witnesses swear they can hear the ladder creaking in the slightest breeze and with each footfall they grip their lorgnettes tighter and gasp and cry aloud to themselves about law conversions and mutter curses under their breath, like, "What about a job with a tie?"

Fortunately, along the ladder's invisible-to-the-unimaginative-eye route, are various halfway houses and havens. Whole palaces sometimes exist along branches just a mere rung away from the base of the ladder. Like a bonus Nintendo level, aspiring artists can slip down pipes into the worlds constructed by the lionised survivors of society's despairing conservatism. These havens provide many opportunities, including training, photocopying, ushering, reception management, gallery monitoring, shadowing opportunities, rodents and other snacks one can take home to feed the reptile collection and the chance to upgrade the quality of silk used in one's blindfold.

Hopefully they also provide a small degree of the meditative time in which one can continue to project the scintilliating visions of future creations onto the recesses of the eye's curtains. And the other key benefit is a further private space within these semi-private sanctuaries, containing the key to further palaces, underground coin-runs and mushroom grow-bags. Most novices will find that there's an essential balance to be learned between staying too long in one place, exhausting the creative water level, and moving on to the next opportunity.

-ion, suf. mainly thr. F -ion (also direct) f. L -ionem (nom. -io) forming nouns of condition or action, rarely f. adjj, & nn. (communio), occas. f. vb stems (legio), but chiefly f. p.p. stems in t, s, x, producing the compound suff. -TION, -SION (-xion), -ITION, -ATION.

Access to these innovative wombs of opportunity often arrives through determination and simple awareness-raising. A noun of action must be employed, as the doors are often open, but unattended. The hopeful ladder-walker must make the effort firstly to find the sewer lids of relevant chutes and then to post an interesting enough request through the letterboxes (in the form of a general CV and cover letter, or application to the relevant scheme) to acquire the correct sesames to unlock the portals. Some of these gateways are incredibly crowded, the passwords jealously guarded, while the opportunities within amount to nothing more than a small medal, in the shape of a dessicated kidney bean that one can wear like an albatross to insist upon one's tenacity and willingness to suffer for one's arts career (cf. Penguin summer internship programme).

Other opportunities, often unguarded by anything more than a thin sheet of Japanese wall or theatre skrim, contain such unimaginable heaps of kidney beans and bowls of water in which to soak them, that, even if one is not particularly taken by kidney beans, the urge to share this stash will be irrepressible. Soon, everyone will be wearing their very own kidney bean medal, eating homemade frijoles and teetering gainfully forwards on the endless, invisible ladder. Towards what exactly?

Ideally, an internship at Polarity Magazine UK. These exist only in the mind at this stage, but we are looking for web content, links to exciting personal web pages where things surreal manifest on a regular basis, online video content, suggestions for punishments for the Proposed System of Taxation on the Internal Mind, articles in this vein, creative content and, yes indeedy, marketing support. Heaps of that. We even have an idea of what these might entail. In return, you can expect kidney beans by the coffee cup, critical support for your own artistic development, and immortalisation in the opening pages of the print magazine.

Email us with ideas, suggestions, CVs and feedback.


October 13, 2010

A few good things…

Intertitle from Aelita, Queen of Mars

A quick survey of spirit lifting oddities, for your delectation...

Aelita, Queen of Mars (possibly one of Guy Maddin's major influences)

The Leeds Surrealist Group

Jan Švankmajer's Dimensions of Dialogue (possibly the inspiration for the Brothers Quay's video for Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer)

The International Necronautical Society

Esau's wood-saw would saw wood.

The art of collage.

K Silem Mohammed on Jennifer L Knox at Octopus: "If I were a professional literary critic, I would stab myself in the ear with a flathead screwdriver over and over."

My Love for You is a Stampede of Horses, by Kate MacDowell:

A birdskull thing, ribs on display

Sometimes, the internet is beyond enriching.


October 06, 2010

Holey/Holy/Wholly Pockets

Once upon a time, most new cultural forays like Polarity existed thanks to the toner-cartridge pulsing of the government's bureaucratic heart. Used to be, so I've heard, you could walk up to the offices of the Arts Council, or whatever it was called back in those days ('Official Bureau of Questionable Public Spending'?), act strange for half an hour, show a few pencil sketches of your mother having an epileptic fit and pass yourself off as a bona fide Artiste. After which, you walked away with £10,000, or more if you'd washed that day, with which to do something artistic and, hopefully, not blow the money on stacks of jellied eels and a lifetime supply of broken wing-mirrors.

These days, not so easy. Buried within the squawking of New Labour's sloganeering and buzzwording (“Accountability!” “Education!” “Military spending!”) was the germ of the Arts Council's erosion. Now, sadly, public money must be transparently totted up, penny by penny, into a list of targets, effectively or ineffectively attained. Forms forms forms. The application annd evaluation processes are so form-based these days that they even set up a roadshow to try and explain to us poor provincial taxpayers how we're supposed to fill in some of their boxes. Not with a set of colouring pencils, clearly.

(As a side note, I should mention that there are other places that offer start up funding, or loans, who could be considered a little more qualitative in their approach, compared to the Brazilian dystopia that the Arts Council has become. If you're still in puberty, or whatever they call people under thirty these days, The Prince's Trust is a good place to go, but I remember them expecting a high degree of business acumen from me when I met them, several years ago. I also heard about something called IdeasTag recently, but still need to look it up. Also lots of art foundations and trusts around, like The Moose Foundation, or the Paul Hamlyn, but I'm not sure how rigorous they are in their processes now.)

Most of the funding applications I've written involve attempting to learn another language in order to convert an artistic idea into a string of meaningless statements. 'Teaching kids from refugeee backgrounds how to play with language and use their imagination' becomes 'Community outreach in minority ethnic / BME communities to improve language skills, build confidence and increase cultural cohesion'. (Well, my language might be a bit out of date now, but you get the idea.) Done well, a funding application can tickle all the right phrenological zones in a bureaucrat's target lists, but ensure that the artists delivering a project can actually get on and do whatever they want without having to think about the evils of reducing humanity to a stack of statistics. They can just imagine, create and throw tantrums, like they're used to.

Yet the more applications I wrote, or consulted on, the more I felt like I was becoming one of them. My facial features began eroding and dark staining in the shape of a grey tie began forming around my neck, complete with an Arts Council England tie-clip mark just below my sternum. The vocabulary and administration you have to lean begin to colonise you annex your creativity. I've been involved with supporting organisations receiving hundreds of thousands of pounds ('RFOs' as they're cunningly acronymmed to) and peanut-sized writers' bursaries. I no longer feel the offer of money outweighs the price of the administration, in terms of the damage it does to my creative drive; and there's also the question of whether I want the funder's Rottweiler's sphincter of a logo slapped all over my produce. Eventually I made the decision to stop asking government offices for money. I signed up to the idea that if my artistic ideas could not survive independently in society, then they didn't deserve to survive.

The current government might agree with me for different reasons: art should stand on its own two feet, like any industry, without government bailouts propping it up. A free market would allow the public to decide what stays and what goes. The Arts Counci's days may well be numbered and that's ultimately a bad thing - some people are good at writing bids, playing that game and getting some great art made along the way.

In reality, though, artists have survived through community, giving, long before government funding existed – friends, family, other artists, bring support in the form of things other than hard cash and red tape. The Arts Council is very nearly anathema to the spirit of gift-giving and community-building that artists need to survive, in my opinion, and Polarity is one way of proving this to myself. So for the time being it's entirely funded by me and anyone willing to offer me money towards the costs.

What tends to happen – what's always happened, I reckon – is that heads turn when you do something ambitious. Some of those heads will like what you do, and some of those heads will choose to give you something – a handful of lentils to keep you going to the end of the week, a free website redesign, or maybe some money towards print costs. You then become responsible to them for certain other things – maybe a list of patrons on the wall of the theatre, or free tickets to performances, and so on.

Did I mention Lewis Hyde's The Gift? It's a great answer to all this.


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