BAG Art Camp (Final days and Open Event)

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*Many thanks to everyone who shared their images, many of which I have used in this post. You are duely credited –  Tita, Malin, Gayle, Elida and Petra.

It’s Tuesday 12th June and I’m back in Newcastle. Unfortunately, it’s been difficult to update this blog quite as regularly as I would have liked in the final few days of the workshop due to a broken laptop and a very busy but productive and inspiring final four days in Bergen. I hope that instead of anything very in depth this final post will serve as a way to reflect on my experience at the BAG Art Camp and summarise some of the things it has inspired….

Our collective efforts in free distribution and low cost production continued well in the zine. The artist proofs came out really well on Thursday evening so on Friday we went to print. The final copies were distributed on Saturday in Bergen at the open event and I’ve brought some copies home for distribution around Newcastle. One focused on our discussions around domestic/low funded residencies and the other around the broader theme ‘self-organized practice’.  If anyone is interested in receiving a few copies and/or distributing them near you, please get in touch – frances.elizabeth.arnold@gmail.com

My contribution to the zine, and means of explaining to myself the essence of what the workshop has opened up for me, is a folded artists’ (hand)book, which is intended to be read as a kind of balancing act for self-organizers and artist runners (!). Artist-run practice is so often a demanding model of working, yet I know I chose for it’s independence of mind, intelligent contribution to the arts and lightness of touch. Perhaps this balance has been lost on me recently. It’s  hard to do so much and to juggle so many different ‘hats’ and we ask a lot of ourselves when we do it long-term. I guess I hadn’t seen quite what I have been doing so clearly until now. There’s a real chance of burn-out in this way of working with an added pressure to always exceed expectations, even if they are just your own, which takes it toll.

It left some of us asking ourselves ‘What is success?’. Can it simply be ‘work’ and ‘creativity’? Can we accept seeing ourselves as ‘mediodcre artists’ as a result!? I think so. Because in the end I think for me it’s about finding a balance in life that eases the pressures I know I put on myself to achieve many goals simultaneously and therefore enabling me to find a different kind of success as an artist; one I feel more comfortable in expecting of myself.

If you’d like to download the book, print, fold and distribute or keep my your side for troubled times, please find copies here: Artist (hand)book page 1 and Artist (hand)book page 2. (I recommend printing them back to back or overlaying one with the other. For info on how to fold the paper into the eight page book, please see here – just don’t bother with the bit about cutting away excess paper!).

The camp and our conversations together have also really clarified my interests. I continue to feel, although more strongly now, that working with the limitations as well as the exceptional potential of a site outside the four fixed white gallery walls is so important to me. I value the flexibility and independence it offers and, at least for now anyway, I value and celebrate the short-term project! I see the usefulness of art as a product or service, particularly as it serves so many with an opportunity to make a living from what we love and means we so often have an opportunity to work with and inspire others. Equally, I see the excitement to be found in creating work for free – for free distribution, for sharing and exchange of knowledge, and for the benefit of low-cost, low-funded projects which have the potential to expand our understanding of what great art can be. I’m left thinking that art is fundamentally freedom, in all it’s possible forms.

Our conversations continued in many directions, most notably for me in terms of a discussion around domestic and low-funded residencies and subsequent the creation of the White Circle – a network of low-cost residencies for artists in domestic and alternative spaces around the world. It has been so inspiring and exciting to hear others as excited as I am and have been about creating work in a domestic setting in particular. At the moment, this has formed the content for one of the zines as well as an emerging online network, details of which I’m sure I’ll be able to share in the near future. For now, things are simply building from a distance now that we have all parted company….

As Thursday and Friday progressed quickly towards the open event, the organizers secured an alternative space to the Bergen Ateliergruppe studios for us to host the open event. Due to a public-sector strike it wasn’t possible for us to use BAG for this event, as the harbour guards were also on strike. (We had to pass through the harbour check-point each day where we had to show our passports to security guards in order to gain access to the studios). In the end, I think the AiR Bergen/USF Vertet space worked out really well for everyone. It was lovely to simply be in a new place; the studio set up suited our collective need to show process work and simply meet and talk with people from the Bergen arts scene; and to top it all, we had a superb view of a very beautiful sunset! (Not to mention a free bottle of champagne in the bar downstairs from a very friendly Norwegian and a fabulous trip on an ex-lifeboat!)

Inspired by the image potential of the phrase ‘artist-run’, Elida created a BAG bag which formed part of the open event and our final days in the BAG studios….images from the slide show above hopefully capture the enjoyment of the whole experience! Also at the open event, Tita and Irwan captured and shared our discussion on ‘art as service’; Basha and Alex exhibited collaborative drawings and collage; Basha collected all our different languages in writing and sound; Krisztina created a short video and text focused on ‘the 80%’ of artists who do not make a living from their work (see Hans Abbing’s Why are Artists’ Poor and his lecture notes on the same subject – from Newcastle Uni no less!); Kaigwa exhibited a collection of drawings made of all of us and without looking at the page, which also became a folded book; and finally the mind-mapping on the topic ‘knowledge and skills exchange’ was displayed on the table.

A wonderful collection of works and great discussions. It was an honour to be a part of the event and the camp. Thank you everyone; it was a real pleasure to meet you all.

I’m left without so many words….

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