Students from two Irish art colleges are collaborating on a project which has been developed outside ordinary institutional frameworks. From February to June, Art in the making challenged the theory-practice divide, seeing the two as complementary, on the basis that as soon as we think or talk about work, we are applying theory.
One student saw Art in the making as “a fledgling artistic cooperative, involved in the process of new art, new voice, new ways of making, seeing, speaking, thinking and doing art." Early on, another student said about organising, “this is all new to us, we have never done this before. Where do we start?" Later, Dobz O’Brien asked Limerick students what they thought Art in the making was. One spoke of providing talks as a way to make up for cuts that had affected visiting lecturers; others said we were a collective, working on art as praxis, as intervention in the social.
Art in the making has a presence in this summer’s Avant (art festival in Cork organised by Fergal Gaynor from 10 July 2010, see Avant website, Cork). Art in the making will hold a one-day conference (‘Thinking outside the box’) and exhibit in the Crawford College of Art. The conference itself takes place in a vibrant community arts centre, the Camden Palace Hotel, Cork, with the participation of the new Art in the making collective, the exhibiting artists, Cork Contemporary Projects, Faber Studios, and people working for the Glucksman, the Sculpture Factory, UCC Art History Department and CCS, Limerick School of Art and Design.
Art in the making was originally inspired by: a conference on practice-based research at York St John University (2008); by the Cork Clinic collective -legacy of the Caucus art festival – by research on the mechanisms of commodification of education at third level, and by ‘Knowledge’, a conference in Art and Design (organised by the UK Higher Education Academy in 2007), which made it clear that what is at stake is to consider the alternatives and the potential of resistance to commodification in education. York articulated the creative potential of research and the difficulties facing artists who are also theorists. It begged the question: could we find a place inside academic institution for the lost (creative) knowledge, bridging the artificial gap between art practice and theory practice in art college? And perhaps Foucault was wrong after all; maybe the carceral nature of all institutions can be challenged in practice as well as in theory.
There was also this vague idea of forging informal links across and outside college, to encourage collaborative research among people who have never worked together; to bring together students and others as people rather than identities or differences, to help make new space inside the colleges, a culture-making space, a social and political space, over and above the strictures of timetables and institutional deadlines.
The sessions ran simultaneously in Cork and Limerick every Tuesday and every week, February to May for only half an hour at lunchtime. Once Art in the making was launched in Limerick, the Student Union got involved. While in Cork, the students took turns to organise sessions, either by inviting an outside person, or triggering a discussion with an art action.
We worked inside and outside the forum to develop the project, using video, photography and sound-recording and documented what we did. Both student collectives set up Art in the making Facebook pages, with large numbers of members and now there’s also a weebly and an e-mail address (http://artinthemaking.weebly.com; firstname.lastname@example.org).
What was just a name materialised into a steady following, sometimes up to 40 – 50 participants and organisers. This is how some Crawford students described it: “freshness"; “informality, exchange / pushing of ideas." “The idea of process coming into play. Getting to talk to other artists and curators with similar interests and views" and: “especially passionate about the curation of the final exhibition." “How the boundaries of art can be pushed and changed according to people’s different interests and how different practices can combine in different contexts"; a Second Year: “pushing the meaning of art and questioning the public as to what art is and how it is practised."
Art in the making has opened a different kind of dialogue with practising artists, bringing together practitioners from across college, as equals, to talk about their work, finding out what is in common, seeking to overcome the theory / practice divide, seeing instead the two as closely related and even complementary. (As soon as we think or talk about work, we are using theory, it is inevitable).
At a time when a post-meltdown pessimism pervades Irish society, individuals inside and outside college gave their time (some even travelled far to be involved). Art in the making engaged with Max Le Cain, Cork Film Centre’s film-maker and editor of online Experimental conversations; Glucksman Gallery curator Matt Packer; Sculpture Factory artist and curator, David Dobz O’Brien; Cork Contemporary Projects’ Edel O’Reilly; Wickham Studios’ Alan Crowley, Faber Studios’ Chris Boland, artist and academic Justin McKeown who came down from Belfast.
Limerick questioned traditional presentations, slowly freeing up the dynamic of participation and sometimes holding open discussions. Elaine Reardon explained how she managed to establish an Irish Pavilion of ceramics in China and suggested how to make the most of unexpected opportunities. Justin organised artists’ residencies in his Belfast home, where the domestic space has been the place for culture since the 1960s; Matt Packer broke the boundaries between curating and making, Alan Crowley displayed a pile of sketchbooks produced during his years in college and explained that the mountains of non-assessed work was more important than work specifically made for college; Evelyn Glynn exposed the need for remembering the Magadalen Laundry through oral history and art interventions, and Dobz invited students to choose between being art students or artists who are students.
In the Crawford, Art in the making blossomed into eight weeks of sheer creativity, staging discussions with artists’ collectives (Cork-based The Space and Limerick-based Faber). It found out how they became collectives, and what difficulties are involved in balancing curatorial duties and their own art practice, discussed everyday objects in the corridors (Banister exhibition), it gave humorous talks around the topic of puns (Punny), came together to create chalk drawings on the pavement and walls of college to experience a free and uninhibited creative moment (Chalk), interacted with a performance artist’s poetry, music and street theatre (Tom Campbell), gave a talk about painting’s influence on cinema (Kevin Mullany), played ‘Flicktionary’, a variation on the game Pictionary, using film titles as the clues with Max Le Cain who also screened a number of his own video works which were then discussed in detail. (Video footage for some of the sessions is viewable on facebook, Art in the Making-CCAD).
At a poetry reading group in Cork, one of the Art in the making collective read the contents of his wallet as a poem. In Limerick, a river clean-up took place in April, organised by other members. Then in May, the collectives joined up to participate in Kevin Flannagan’s ‘Copyleft’ talk at Faber Studios, in one of a number of ev+a events. All actions to think outside the institutional box.