In a Shetland Landscape, Kay Aplin, part of the Landscape: Islands project

In a Shetland Landscape, Kay Aplin, part of the Landscape: Islands project

It’s been a tumultuous year, a tumultuous 18 months really, following a disastrous General Election in 2015, and subsequently a government that has barely been worthy of the name. It certainly hasn’t spoken for me. It doesn’t represent me, or my views, and it doesn’t distribute the country’s wealth in any way consistent with my values, or the needs of a mature civilised society (imho).

I feel similarly about Brexit, where yet again my vote, and 16,141,240 others, didn’t make the required difference. I’m out of love with first past the post and convinced that a less crude form of democratic participation is required. We’ve never needed it more, and we’ve never been so far away from getting it.

Which all adds up to a sense of impotency and frustration, which are powerfully negative feelings. And if I feel it, as a white, middle-class, well-educated, reasonably well-off individual, what are others in less privileged positions feeling? How much frustration, anger, despondency and weariness there must be in the UK right now. Enough to sink a boat. Enough to sink a mega-cruise-liner crammed with millionaires. Enough to sink an entire nation in apathy, withdrawal, despair.

In the meantime, the Old Etonians tapdance smugly across the world’s stages, and one-nation Toryism seems like a blessed relief and improvement in comparison.

So I haven’t commented overly much on the one area in which I can claim any expertise – cultural policy. Because, to paraphrase a great title of a great paper by Dr Dave O’Brien, we have no cultural policy to speak of. Under the Coalition and Cameron, there has not been any national cultural policy project. There haven’t any  great intellectual ideas being generated, debated, experimented with, tested, abandoned, argued over. There has simply been a war of attrition in which too many cultural producers are struggling to survive; and working hard to protect their own jobs, whatever the level they are working at.

I don’t really have anything much to contribute to this non-debate. Too many aspects of our national life are under too much strain for no good reason to focus on this one thing, when so many other outrages are taking place simultaneously. I’m putting my energies into local politics.

But the arts are still surviving, even if new voices struggle even harder to be noticed and acknowledged. And it’s still the arena in which I earn a living, doing my very small part to support the arts infrastructure, and the production of alternative meanings and experiences.

The year started with me wrapping up My Mother’s Laugh, after a successful R&D period culminating in two performances, in London and in Lewes. Actor Eleanor Buchan and director Mark C Hewitt did such a wonderful job with my script, and it left us wondering where to take it next? We had amazing feedback on our performances – many many thanks to all who came and supported it – with comments including:

Beautifully written with a mesmerising performance by Eleanor.”

Very moving”

Thank you for an inspiring and thought-provoking evening.”

A compelling thing to watch and listen to… I was so involved with it… The moods of the narrative were very well modulated so that the text was constantly alive.”

The aching void of what we don’t know and can never know was so well realised for me and totally believable.”

All in all I loved it and lost myself in the story that you told.”

“I thought the play was a dramatic tour de force and I’m so glad we were able to see it.”

I was particularly interested in the way the personality of the mother alters during the piece from a fairly simplistic almost stereotypical housewife to someone of depth and complexity, at the mercy of events and not in control of her own destiny.”

The Arts Council has supported us thus far, and I am desperate for the monologue to be seen more widely. But – it’s awfully hard to get a new show off the ground and into theatres without a champion or an agent (read Finn Kennedy’s excellent analysis here). I don’t have the energy to push a boulder up a very steep hill, or to keep banging on locked doors, or bashing my head against glass ceilings – pick your metaphor of choice – particularly when the climate is against such endeavour. I decided that an agent is the way forward and that’s what I’m working towards. Although if any small-scale intimate theatres are looking for an unusual, profound, brilliantly written one-woman script, please do get in touch 🙂

I’ve been very lucky to work with the excellent Hastings Fat Tuesday this year, evaluating their 2016 festival, and working with them on funding for the 2017 event. Working with music people is a new experience and I’ve been so impressed with their commitment and integrity. Adam Daly and Bob Tipler are the most supercool men I’ve had the pleasure of meeting recently!

I’ve also been mentoring creative businesses as part of a publicly funded programme, which has been a privilege. There is so much sincerity among people who are doing what they are good at, because they believe in it. People are, as usual, the best antidote to all that despondency and frustration I talked about earlier.

I’m constantly asked to comment on and advise about interpretation in galleries. I’m maintaining the Interpretation Matters website – and looking for new contributors so please email me if you’ve got something interesting to say about art writing – and The Interpretation Matters Handbook continues to sell (with the pile in my living room slowly diminishing). I’m looking forward to being a keynote speaker at the Accesso Cultura conference in Lisbon at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in October, with a talk I’ve yet to write but which will concentrate on the often unfortunate intersection between language, ego and audience access I think.

And I’ve continued to write, in several different ways and formats. The year started with a commission from Phoenix Gallery in Brighton for their exhibition Press & Release in April, curated by Maddy Rosenberg, where I talk about the intricacy and subtlety of artists’ books (and it was a serious, and seriously staged, exhibition).

I’ve been pleased to contribute my response to Jenny Steele’s exhibition at the Grundy Art Gallery, An Architecture of Joy. I’ve interviewed Joseph Young and Kay Aplin about their project Landscape: Islands for their catalogue. Their project is part of Brighton Digital Festival and is working with international artists on sound – ceramic collaborations.

I’m 35,000 words into a huge writing project that won’t come to fruition for another eighteen months at least, and I can’t say anything else about it yet…

I was asked by a-n The Artists Information Company to analyse the data gathered in their EU Referendum artists’ survey, and I’ve continued to write for their Art News site, which is an absolute joy. It’s given me various trips to wonderful events and allowed me to ask nosy questions of some very interesting artists and arts managers.

So in the interests of good marketing and assuming I’ve caught your interest, here’s a list of articles where I avoid talking politics but hopefully talk good art:

A Q&A with Soheila Sokhanvari, Champagne Life, Saatchi Gallery

A Q&A with Tonico Lemos Auad, De La Warr Pavilion

Women in the Visual Arts: Leadership is Not a Gender Neutral Space, essay

A Q&A with Gillian Wearing: You see what connects Us

A Q&A with Nico Vascellari

Whitstable Biennial: Experimental, Unusual, Sincere

a-n Member’s Survey: The Impact of Brexit has been Immediate

Press & Release: The Evolution of the Artist’s Book

Architecture of Joy, Jenny Steele, Grundy Art Gallery

A Q&A with Fiona Banner, De La Warr  Pavilion

For those in the cultural sector, it isn’t easy at the moment, but it is still worth it.


2 thoughts on “Politically Pants

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