Subsequent Notes from Pete
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The seemingly endless procession of To Do items appears to have subsided, just in time for the heatwave to switch from novelty to "I'm just going to lie still and wait it out." Today was mostly spent doing as little as possible but as evening beckons and a light breeze finally tickles the hair on my arms, it's time to get writing.
Some musing follows, which might take a while as I have a fair bit to figure out, so feel free to scroll down and skip to the links.
I've been thinking a lot about what I might do next, and more importantly how I might make it happen. My usual way of making stuff happen breaks down into three broad areas.
- Someone employs me to do stuff, either by contacting me or by me applying for a job. This results in money going into my account. This is freelancing.
- I apply for funding for an art project, part of which is earmarked as my income.
- I do stuff for free, subsidised by 1 and 2, with the general intention that the stuff I do for free might lead to future income-related work.
And of course there are grey areas, and sometimes it's great and I'm happy my life led me to this way of working and sometimes I feel like I'm spending all my time on admin and not doing whatever it is I'm supposed to be doing.
But this has been how my life has worked for the last decade of freelancing and side projects and becoming an artist. A rapid sequence of small overlapping jobs with occasional extended periods of of funded projects. It works ok, but it's not that sustainable in the long term. And I've started feeling like I could do with some stability, income-wise.
Now, what someone like me should do in a position like this is at the very least find a regular client or even go the whole hog and get a job. This has occurred to me, but I like the stuff I do and I don't know anyone who would regularly employ me to do it in the way I want to.
And while seeing all those zines and comix from the 90s spread out last month was a weirdly unsettling experience, dredging up a Pete from the past who was not the best Pete, mentally speaking, and who used that scene as a massive displacement activity, it did remind me that the culture of DIY media, of taking control over and responsibility for what you put into the world, is important to me.
Declaring myself an artist (which is essentially all there is to becomes an artist) was in part a way of changing the terms of how I trade stuff for money from the increasingly rigid marketing-only constraints of the social media consultant to something more nebulous which I could define on my own terms. It allowed me, in many ways, to indulge my academic-ish tendencies without actually becoming an academic and to work with photography without having to be a photographer.
Art's hazy relationship with definition has allowed me be myself; to figure out what myself might be. More importantly it's let me build systems for the generation of income which fit me and make me happy. They might be scrappy and not particularly lucrative, but they mostly leave me fulfilled. And when they don't it's a useful lesson in something.
At this point I was going to write about how the Instructions for Humans exhibition taught be some important lessons, but I've tried numerous times and am still not happy with what's coming out of my fingers. But without explaining the details I can comfortably say I have no strong desire to undertake a 6 month Arts Council funded project in association with a gallery space again. That was the third funded project I'd applied for and run, and each one was supposed to push me forwards or upwards or in some other positive trajectory. While they were not failures and useful lessons occurred, I came out of all three uncertain as to what had just happened and where it left me. What should be a system of support seems to become something to fight against, which is not ideal.
The methodology I adopted for the Arts Council's Grants for the Arts scheme, on the advice of those who work in that world, was to take an artistic idea and then rigorously tailor it to the aims and goals of that scheme. This can be useful as it forces you to question why you're doing something and to what end. But it can also be dangerous as you start tweaking your plans to what you think they're more likely to fund to the expense of what you actually need to do. This is doubly bad because no-one can tell you what the Arts Council really wants to fund. The nebulous definition of "artistic", suffixed by the intangible metric of "excellence" on top of shifting agendas and remits makes second guessing an art-form in itself.
My favourite, by which I mean my least favourite, part of the application is always explaining what the activity will lead to. What tangible outcomes will this investment produce? In terms of artistic excellence and all that. This is the textbook example of setting yourself up for disappointment.
As you can no doubt tell I could go on, at great length, and maybe I will one day, but suffice to say I don't want to go through this process again. If I'm going to apply for state funding, which I doubtless will do at some point because that's mostly all there is, I don't want it to be defining and shaping what I do. I don't think it's healthy, for my anyway.
This is what I want to be able to do.
- Write about stuff. I want to write more and part of the reason I don't write as much as I used to is a sense that I need to spend more time writing more words. I have a 4,000 word draft written on Art and AI which reads like an introduction to a book rather than an accounting of my experiences last year. (You can read it here) It's in no way ready for public consumption and is going to take a while to work into coherence. I also need to write about other things, important things that are nothing to do with AI. I have thoughts and ideas which I need to work through and which I hope might even be interesting to others. Writing is very important to me and I certainly need to spend more time time on it. I'd like to aim to produce a couple of decent length, coherent articles a month alongside a lot of shorter, looser blog-style pieces, with the long-term goal of writing some kind of book.
- Make more lens art. One of the big successes of my art career has been the Birmingham Camera Obscura project with Jenny. Given it has mostly been done in our spare time it's produced the most smiles and awe in the shortest time of any work I've done. We both put it aside to concentrate on other things, but I think I need to return to it. I've made two experimental lens pieces for Black Hole Club this year which use camera obscura principles and I want to develop this further, both with the BCO and alongside it. Lens art lets me work with the science and theory of cameras and visual media through the actual making of stuff out of wood, something I've gotten much better at over the years and want to improve.
- Explore photogrammetry. I've been evaluating and closing off areas of "digital media art" that I've realised are creative dead ends for me and/or which I'm never going to master. Mostly this involves programming which has become the diametric opposite of fun, especially on a Linux computer. But one area that has remained fascinating has been photogrammetry - the creation of 3D shapes from a sequence of 2D images. This ticks all my boxes and after using it in a school workshop and learning how to create 3D environments in Unity, I'm really keen to make some actual art with it. I have all the tools and most of the knowledge - I just need time to build a proper project.
- Create sustainable communities. This is both a big and small one. Having a social structure around me is vitally important for my work, mostly because I'm really bad at socialising without one. I dread going to "social" events where there's no structure. I much prefer it if there's a plan, however loose, that brings everything out in the open. This is my mild Autism coming out (and boy do I need to write about how that realisation has snapped my life-so-far into focus!) but I find everyone benefits when Autistics are made comfortable. Or maybe I just know a lot of borderline Autistics. Anyway. I've benefitted hugely from the artistic communities I've been part of, from Flickr to BOM Fellows to Black Hole Club, and have recently found a spiritual home at Artefact in Stirchley. I'm starting a regular Stirchley Salon next month and want that to kickstart an environment of peer support for artists in south Birmingham.
- Develop Photo School. This is the closest I come to running a business, but it's always worked in a very reactive way. I schedule classes and bookings come in via word of mouth and Google. Occasionally a business will hire me for a bigger job but it's always their initiative. After five years I've never really found the time to push it to the next level and there's a real sense that I'm leaving easy money on the table. Photo School is currently brings in a quarter to a third of my income. I need to get that higher, while keeping it on my terms, run in the way that makes me happy (and it really does make me happy).
I started writing this on Sunday and it's now Thursday so I'm going to put a big To Be Continued here and let you know next week how I plan to support what I want, and need, to do.
Thank you for your time. Here are the links.
Links for the Link God
Three pretty things that I like.
SLITSCANSPACE is a web-based slit-scan demo. If you've seen me talk about weird camera stuff you'll know I love slit-scan but can never explain to an audience exactly how it works, but a demo always helps. Load this up, give it access to your camera and marvel at its grooviness.
How Tree Trunks Are Cut to Produce Wood With Different Appearances and Uses. I first learned about this during my initial forays into woodworking (which are progressing quite nicely, thanks for asking) and it explains why some planks of wood warp while others don't so much. It's all down to how a cylinder is turned into thin rectangles and how much waste is permitted. The simple equation is less waste, more warp, as these lovely diagrams make clear.
Below the Surface. 700,000 objects of interest were found when a riverbed in Amsterdam was drained and archeologists let in. They've all been photographed and put online in date order, from a 2005 mobile phone to 3000 BC cooking utensils, showing a history of Europe through lost and discarded junk. It's overwhelming and awesome and thank heavens for the Dutch, eh?
Two new web publishing tools that are actually doing something new and interesting with that tense area between ease of use and owning and controlling your web presence.
Blot takes any broadly formatted text document in a Dropbox folder it has access to and turns them into an old-school date-based blog on their servers. Having used Jekyll on Github Pages for the last year this looks very similar but without all that fiddly Github stuff (which is great for coding but kinda extraneous if you're just using it as a publishing platform. I'd love to have a play with this, particularly as a way to indiscriminately blog like we used to before all this was thinkpiece essays. Theres no free trial yet but maybe I'll throw $20 at it for a year.
Itty Bitty is more of a tech-demo and I'm struggling to find a real world use for it, but it's very impressive. They host code which, when downloaded to your browser, can render whatever is in the URL address itself, so all you need is the rendering engine and the address, which isn't an address - it's the content. For plain text this is a bit pointless (just send the text) but for data and code that needs to be interpreted by the browser this is very smart as, engine aside, it's completely offline and so completely private. The only downside is you need to connect to Itty Bitty themselves to get the engine, but that could be replaced with a plugin or similar. File under interesting.
Two articles about the rise of Fascism which made it into my Faves list.
When It’s Too Late to Stop Fascism, According to Stefan Zweig - We should never stop reading contemporary accounts of the how the Nazis came to be, because the parallels are chilling.
Trial runs for fascism are in full flow - Fintan O’Toole pulls no punches here and makes a disconcerting observation that while Trump is a proud ignoramus he's also a master of test marketing and is weaponising the methodology of ratings-based television and public relations.
Eventing with Pete
Not much art stuff happening for the rest of the summer. I will be taking the Camera Obscura to the Hazelwell Allotments summer BBQ, should you be one of Stirchley's allotmenteers. I'm hoping this will kickstart more public obscura action after too long a break.
I'm starting a new series at Artefact, hopefully in August if I can get my act together, called Stirchley Salon, an informal event where two artists will present their work to an audience of peers and interested folks. I've been to a few events like this and they're really useful, interesting and nice, three things I think all events should be. Watch this space.
Well done for making it to the end. Here's a photo of Sweep and Mogwai, two of the Fat Fluffs permanent residents. Fi and I now regularly volunteer there on Wednesdays helping with health checks and bonding. It's very rewarding.