Artists talk about work

Extracts from interviews with Kelly Lloyd, a multidisciplinary conceptual artist who focuses on issues of representation and knowledge production. Her work prioritises public-facing collaborative research.

AnonymousAttila / Brad / Cecile / Finn / Julia / Kristine / Lise / Merve / Nora / Pedro / :pillow / Robin / Warren

Anonymous

Believe me, I’ve speculated a lot about this because I’ve been on and off in this industry since 2015, and I haven’t succeeded in getting a permanent position. I have a friend who is working at Kunsthal Aarhus, and she has been employed in a paid position for around four and a half months, but again it’s nothing permanent. It’s a great experience and she gets a lot of exciting tasks and a lot of responsibility, but there are no promises. Of course museums in Denmark have staff, so of course they have full time positions, but it’s very difficult to reach that point: I really don’t know why. I guess the main issue is that they don’t have enough money. And every time they want to employ someone for a full-time position or a project, they have to go find funding. Myself and others I know have been told if you want to stay you have to write applications for funding because that’s the only way we can pay you. That’s the big issue.

In my opinion [internships] have become a way to give people the opportunity to take a step into an industry and to get experience, but it also sometimes, unfortunately, keeps people in unemployment because you’re trapped in limbo. Maybe you’re paid there for four months and then you’re left to yourself. I can see both sides, there are huge benefits but there also major drawbacks to this system.

Attila Kiss

Atilla Kiss
Atilla Kiss

If I feel a bit frustrated, it’s because it took me a year to be able to acknowledge myself as a writer. I’m not acknowledged by my environment as a writer, especially by my family. This is the point: you want to work, you’re willing to work, but most of the people around you say that what you want to do is not work, that it’s of no use because you are not contributing to the economy. You are not making money. You are not making anything useful. My problem was that I could not consider myself as a writer because that would be the same as saying that I am doing nothing. This scholarship [interview took place during Kulturkontakt Austria scholarship] is my first acknowledgement, because I am spending my time here as a writer. I get my scholarship for being a writer.
We are not being acknowledged for what we want to do. Society expects us to do the same ‘hard work’ that they do. For example, my father is an electrician. He doesn’t like his job but he has been doing it for the last 40 years as he did not see any other option. He said to himself, ‘I have a family, that is the project for my life. I need to earn some money, and that is ok.’ That’s what my family expects from me: that I would earn money, and that would be the project for my life. I think that’s the point in the whole of society: that you are forced to choose something that is useful for the economy, so that everyone has more money.

Attila Kiss attended the literature course at Kodolányi János University from 2016 – 2018. Recent contributions to online and print publications include Petike és a robotnyuszi (Little Pete and the Robot Bunny) in: Petike és a farkas (KAFFKA PLUSZ PROKOFJEV), and Túrós csusza (Curd Snack) and A varázsló halála (Death of the Magician) on András Petőcz’s blog. Kiss was a Writer-in-Residence with KulturKontakt Austria in 2018, and currently lives and works in Budapest.

Brad Feltham

Brad Feltham
Brad Feltham

We recognise, in the years to come a need to develop fundraising – like all charities. We’ve been a very discreet and confidential organisation and our profile in the contemporary art world needs developing. Who we help and how we help is never discussed, we’re not able to because it’s private.
A lot of artists that I see are worried. They don’t even tell their gallerists they’re ill if they can hide it. I know a couple of artists with breast cancer who haven’t told their gallerist because they just think their career will start to really falter if their gallerists know. I was quite surprised because I thought the gallerist would be really supportive, but they don’t want them to know at all.

I find artists endlessly fascinating. They’re uniquely individual, so one case is never the same as the next time. I think there is a certain amount of uniqueness to artists in [the UK]. They’re all self-employed, they don’t have an employer looking after them, and it is really tough. If things start to go wrong, it gets even tougher. It’s like a conveyor belt protecting your career and your work and your reputation. If something awful comes along, an artist’s life or career can just [fall apart] unless you’re really successful. Then you can take these bumps and you can take these knocks. But I know a lot of artists aren’t…

Brad Feltham is CEO of the Artists General Benevolent Institution (AGBI).

Cecile Tulkens

I wasn’t paid for my first job and I sort of assumed I would be.

I think it took me about five weeks to crochet this bloody thing. And then it did really well. He loved it. He put it on the first look that comes out. It’s quite big, the opening look. Then it got on the front page of the paper. And then he was like, “Thank you so much.”

We had no agreement, we hadn’t said anything verbally [about being paid]. I don’t really know what I was expecting. It wasn’t an internship, it was someone who needed help. He said “I need help with the crochet.” And then I ended up basically designing the whole thing and doing it for him. He had no part really in that. He said, “Yes, I like the idea. That will look really good. Can we do anything with this shape at the back of the neckline?” I think that was the conversation that we had about changing it. Then I thought, at least, he would be like “Yeah, that’s such a good job maybe I’ll give you 50 quid or something.” I wasn’t expecting a lot, you know when you’re that age. I’m more angry at myself being so naïve. Why would you think that just because you did something for him that he would feel any kind of responsibility towards you? Because you did that for his brand which is what he was expecting anyway. It wasn’t even a favour to him, it was what I had to do, do you know what I mean? I saw it as I was doing him a favour, a person to person relationship, whereas he saw me as beneath him and he is the head of the brand and I am the under-worker. My production was made only for the sake of his brand, therefore he doesn’t have to pay me. And the experience that I got and the fact that I can say to people, I made that crochet top, is enough. You know, he posts photos of it even now and it’s not credited to me … no way.

Finn Thomson

I think it’s interesting to see how people integrate what they call their art practice into their day-to-day life, and where work comes into that. One of my friends got some community arts funding through Gasworks, and he made a film about the Latin American community in south London. The private view last night was crazy. There was dancing, music, empanadas – the film was made with this tight community and had lots of locals starring in it, so they were there to see themselves and each other represented. It was an amazing private view because it involved everyone in the project both from the artists life and the wider community. The artist Seth Pimlott is the facilitator and he has a strong filmmaking style, but running alongside that was the Latin American community organisation Sin Fronteras. The film was also theirs. It was a merging of work, told though one story. The question ‘what do you do to make your work?’ wasn’t necessary because the project was about making the film. It is a funded community project so those things like who you get money from, where you call in favours, who’s backing you up, became really strong additions to the project.

Julia Vogl

Julia Vogl, Pathways to Freedom (photo Dave Lally)
Julia Vogl, Pathways to Freedom (photo Dave Lally)

The reality is that art isn’t seen as necessary for survival. It’s never a priority. We live in a world that’s getting greedier for security and self-indulgence, and art that questions this position is in a very precarious situation. It seems to me that societies that are brave enough to fund the arts tend to be more equal.

I have won a few art prizes that have served me well, and I am grateful for the recognition; but reflecting on my experiences, much of the motivation behind art prizes, it seems to me, is the prize-givers trying to make themselves look good by saying, ‘doesn’t it make us look great that we invest in young people, or artists.’ I believe many art prizes are not purely motivated about supporting emerging artists for their own benefit but rather are about financial investment and social status. We, the artist, play along with it because money is money, right? And a little bit of buzz helps us keep doing what we want to do. But so much of the performative distribution of money in the art world is a part of a gain in social capital to make people look good and bring in more business.

Julia Vogl has an international practice. Her social sculpture artworks has engaged an individual exploring his epilepsy to thousands across Boston -to unearth a human definition of immigration and freedom. Vogl aims to make bold work that activates strangers and familiar communities in fun, culture and exchange.

Kristine Schiess Højmose

Kirstine Schiess Højmose
Kirstine Schiess Højmose

There will always be someone behind you to take your job or your place in an exhibition. Say I ask you to do an exhibition but am not able to pay you, it’ll be nice publicity instead; if you refuse to take part there could be another artist waiting behind you to take the opportunity instead. But maybe if you said no I would think, ‘Damn, I want her in this show! I have to find some money.’ Or maybe I’d have to cancel the show this year and apply for some extra funding to do it next year. Maybe it would be good because we do stuff even if we don’t have money. Like with our residency program. If we only get half the money we applied for, we just scale it down. The part-time employees will need to work a little less, and I’ll need to work a little more. Maybe if more people said ‘no’ and started caring about working conditions in general, that would also help. It might be that we would do fewer exhibitions, but artists would be paid and art administrators wouldn’t be as stressed.

Kirstine Schiess Højmose is director of Aarhus Center for Visual Art, an art historian and curator.

Lise Skou

Lise Skou
Lise Skou

Solidarity among artists is not there, basically. If I’m invited to take part in a show and they don’t want to pay me any fee and I refuse, there’ll be somebody be right behind me who says yes. As long as we keep doing that, we will never get to the point where institutions will pay artists for their work.

I think you’ve met me at a point where I’m quite negative about how to manage this as an artist. I have been very much living off scholarships and the Danish Art Council and funding for, I don’t know, 10 years maybe? But it’s very, very fragile. I wanted to do this project, the Exchange Library, was because I wanted to have my own economy and be more independent. So I could do what’s important: make art, not just sit down and write five funding applications every third month. I wanted to have this sustainable economy, be independent, and then I could do all the interesting stuff that I wanted to do.

It turns out it didn’t work, and recently I have had to find a cleaning job to make the money to pay my rent. So I’m like, OK, fuck it. Trying to do these socially engaging critical projects, trying to build up new structures, it doesn’t let me survive. I have a bit of an identity crisis at the moment because this job is 20 hours a week, which is quite a lot when you also have 2 kids, so all of my time right now goes into cleaning and driving my kids back and forth from school. Being an artist, what does that mean? Where am I? Who am I in all this?

Lise Skou is a Danish artist, educated at the Academy of Fine Arts (1998-2004), the Whitney Museum of American Art (2002-2003), and holding a BA in Art History from the University of Aarhus. Through her projects, Skou deals with economy, labor, value, care, new economic narratives and the capitalist logic of existence. She is interested in the structured dichotomies of work/non-work; value/non-value; paid work/unpaid work, as well as their impact on social roles. Since 2015, Skou has run the Trade Test Site project, reflecting the hidden economies around us. Exploring precarity has meant exploring her own experience of work, class-consciousness and identity.

Merve Ünsal

Merve Ünsal
Merve Ünsal

I think one of the things that happens in the art world is that people only get to make demands when they’re successful or when they’re in positions of power. As an emerging artist you show wherever they want you to show, you go wherever they want you to go, there is a lack of choice. It is a sweet moment when you get to have agency. The reason I write my will, publish it, think and talk about it all the time, is that I actually have the ability to make those decisions. The fact that I don’t get to exert my own agency it the rest of the time doesn’t mean that I don’t have full awareness of all the things that I am.

Merve Ünsal is a visual artist based in Istanbul who employs text and photography, extending both beyond their form. She has participated in artist residencies at the Delfina Foundation, London; Praksis, Oslo; the Banff Centre; and Fogo Island Arts; and was a participant in the Homework Space Program 2014-15 at Ashkal Alwan, Beirut. Ünsal holds a MFA in Photography and Related Media from Parsons The New School of Design and a BA in Art and Archaeology from Princeton University. Merve is the founding editor of the artist-driven online publishing initiative m-est.org.

Nora Silva

Nora Silva
Nora Silva

I try to survive by making money elsewhere and re-invest it into my artwork, unless I can get money that doesn’t compromise my artwork, which is very rare. I got a full scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art and I wasn’t asked for anything in return, and then I got a grant from Spain to do my project in Bucharest, and all I had to do was to put their logo and to write an article about what happened. Unless it’s like that, I just cook. Cooking is such a transparent economical transaction and I’m happy with that. This is what I’m making, you’re going to eat it, and you’re going to pay me for it. It’s very clear. There’s no real speculation: although because it’s in Hackney it has to be a bit more expensive, it’s the clearest economic transaction I could find. But it’s hard work. A combination of art and cooking works for me for now, but I don’t know how long I can sustain it for. Oh well.

Nora Silva is a Spanish-Chilean artist based in London who has performed at leading UK institutions such as Tate Exchange, Design Museum and Camden Arts Centre in London. She graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2017. Recent solo shows include I Never Went at ODD in Bucharest. Nora manufactures contexts and builds sculptural installations as a fiction from where to address political issues. She also co-directs The Gramounce, an exhibition supper club, and MilesKm, an arts collective for the research of collaborative practices within the arts.

Pedro Moreira

Pedro Moreira
Pedro Moreira

I just got fed up. I got tired of being vocal. I was very vocal at the time and I was very tired of having to explain myself, and having to play the race card, or the immigrant card, or the Queer card in order to be listened to in discussions, because I would always get pointed out for using that card afterwards. I was just tired of having to explain something that should be a given. And I felt like I was fetishised a lot of the time by the white men that I dated, so really it was all racially charged. This whole thing about me living in the UK, moving to Mexico City, and coming back: I don’t know my place in the world. I feel like everyone wants something out of me because of a background that I had no power over, or wants to judge me for that same reason. And it’s just hard for me to get my foot through the door, anywhere. It’s really hard for me. So I decided to find out about my country. Where my parents grew up. I want to try to understand my place in the world by moving back to Porto. So that’s what I did, after a summer of being back in London, I went to Porto.

I probably would have a nicer time in Lisbon because it’s a much more multi-cultural city, whereas Porto is still very white. But it was a battle that I felt like I could fight here with more temperance and less outrage than I did in the UK because I feel like I have more people I can have conversations with about my issues here. In London I felt like it was me against the world and that’s not a healthy mind place to be in. I didn’t think I was accomplishing much other than creating a very hostile identity around me because all I spoke about were the issues that perplexed me and I think people just saw me as a buzzkill. [laughter] Which is not fair because I’m a fun person! [laughter]

Pedro Moreira, also known as the digital artist persona Ped.Moreira, is a queer multi-racial artist based between Porto, Portugal and London, United Kingdom. Their work explores the idea of reality through theology, identity and virtual theory. Using videogames, social media, and other virtual landscapes to create multi-disciplinary work, Pedro is interested in expressing the concept of ‘virtual-existentialism’, or the acknowledgement of one’s own existence in a virtual and imaginary environment.

:pillow

:pillow
:pillow

Members of project spaces have a responsibility to create the right situation for the critique. For example, The Brown Project Space in Milan lasted only two years from 2008 and it was a place for friends. All of the exhibitions were in a space with a sofa, the first space in which they tried to create some really different dynamics. It was not only an art scene, it made connections and networks between people and a place to create something cultural. The next generations couldn’t really understand it because it’s so difficult to create a documentation of this part of the work. You document the exhibition view and the artworks but you will never document the dinners, or the coffee that you take together, or when we smoke a cigarette outside the studio. That part is really the core of the practice of a project space because it’s about the human relationships that you create. You need to be relaxed and create a trust between you and the artist and all of the other people around, including the people in the building in which you work. That part is invisible but it’s something that maybe you should pass to the next generation by talking about it face-to-face. Maybe you need a storyteller to pass it on, because in the end I think it’s the most important thing.

:pillow is a soft and comfortable duo composed by Alessandro Moroni and Giulia Ratti, born out of the shared experiences made as /77. :pillow aims at supporting your stay in the art world by making it more pleasant. :pillow is pulpy, slushy, sloppy, supple, squishy, oozy, doughy and semi-liquid. :pillow is committed to carrying forward on a path of hybridization of artistic, curatorial and critical practices. Their existence as a collective is preparatory to the creation of a community. Their main interest is not in the work of art as a finished product, but in the connections implied by its existence, from the conceiving of the idea to the moment of fruition. The focus of their practice is on all of those parallel dynamics inherent in the structure of the art system.

Robin Waart

Robin Waart
Robin Waart, Dedication(s), vinyl lettering on window, 2018 (installation view De Appel, Amsterdam), photograph Ayako Nishibori

Art can help us think and feel differently about the world, about the things we see and do already. It can help us widen our perspective, become less automatised and be more autonomous: to form an opinion, to voice an opinion, to have different opinions. It’s a discursive device, but not just something inside your head, because it’s also social, physical, psychological, scientific, theoretical, and it can encompass a lot more. Basically, I think art can console. It can make you laugh. It can make you cry. And I don’t think that’s a secondary kind of need… To laugh, to smile, to think, to experiment, to fail. I think that’s actually essential.

Robin Waart uses repetition and collecting as a framework for projects with books, movie stills, photography, polaroids, and pages. His work raises questions about (dis)continuity and what it means to look at, and do, the same thing over and over.

Warren Andrews

Warren Andrews
Warren Andrews

Around artists, I’m very keen to distinguish myself from them. Not to detach myself from them, but to distinguish myself as not an artist. Around artists, I feel very comfortable saying, my sense of what that means is radically different, but I’m still tentative about using that way to describe myself. Around non-artists, I call myself a researcher. But I worry that if I turn around to a group of people who are non-artists of my social background, the working class, that they see an artist as boujee and can’t see how I’m still attached to them and can serve them.

I have an aspiration to serve that community and play a role in working with those communities as they understand themselves. To detach it from the more problematic parts of itself, and to allow the positive sense of the social and the common to flourish. In service of them, not other communities. The working class is the class. It’s the largest class and it includes the most vulnerable people, those who need to work for others for their own existence. I would hope that anything I do, and I say ‘do’ rather than ‘create’ or ‘make’, would be in service to them. I would hope.
People can say what they like about where I am in terms of my class. All through art school people were telling me, ‘Oh you’re not working class anymore.’ One, it’s a cultural thing and two, yes I fucking am. I want to develop a politics that serves my parents, the people I grew up with and the friends that I have.

Warren Andrews is undertaking PhD research in the Centre for Arts and Learning at Goldsmiths University. He will be exploring the relationship between art practise and learning. Warren Andrews graduated from the Goldsmiths politics department in 2014 with an MA in Art & Politics. He completed a BA (Hons) in Fine Art at Wimbledon College of Art in 2011. He is a member of the collective PACTO.

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Kelly Lloyd
By Kelly Lloyd
An annual online journal by Artquest that draws together the art world with wider social, economic and cultural issues.

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Projects, resources and advice for contemporary visual artists, alongside research into their working practices, motivations and careers.