Artist Host, Conversation (Final)

Artist Host Conversation
– Elizabeth Challinor

Elizabeth Challinor
Jo Mary Watson
Harriet Burns
Matt Retallick

Elizabeth: So yeah. I wanna ask like general questions and we can just sort of chat, if everyone’s okay with that? So basically how did you decide to do your individual projects, like what made you turn round and be like “right for the next few months this is what I’m gonna work on, this is what I’m gonna write about”, like how have we all got to that point?

Jo: I didn’t really have any other choice. It was just a chance for me to concentrate even more on being a mum and how it all works together. So yeah, I applied to be an artist host already with this focus and already being honest, saying I have a child and there’s some things I can’t do, and time wise it’s probably going to be super chaotic, so I wanted to embrace that rather than shut it out, if that makes sense? So that’s why I concentrated on what I concentrated on.

Harriet: Can I just ask you Jo, in regards to coming to fruition as we’re reaching the end, how has that actually worked for you? How have you used your understanding or your like in the moment of parenthood, with either the themes of people’s works or the actual contributions you’ve needed, how has that been for you?

Really good in a sense of that I had lots of conversations with artists that were involved with Independents Biennial and artists outside of that with similar experiences, but because we shared so many personal experiences as well, there’s so much that I can’t share, but still it gave me a sense of belonging, like belonging with you guys because you were interested in what I was doing and I never think that anybody’s ever interested in what I’m doing, so it was a chance for me as well to just put myself out there, and it was a really good experience for me to see that there’s actually people who feel similar or are interested and stuff.

I love that thing of like I don’t think that anyone cares about what I’m doing, like if I don’t have that thought at least three times a day, I’m doing something wrong.

It’s like if you just do it and no one pays attention, like haha lol.

See this was really helpful for me as well, hearing you guys say that you feel the same, like you have this too, because it can feel so lonely as well can’t it, like the imposter syndrome thing. Like you think you’re the only person who feels that way, because everyone else has their stuff together, but nobody has their stuff together. No offence.

I think cos we’re all working from home as well, it’s not as if we’re all there. Like I think if we was all there together in the same room, it’d feel a bit different. It because we are separated at home, it does feel like solitary. Like my mum comes in and she’s always like “oh aren’t you meant to be doing work today” and like I am, and she’s like “well you’re just sitting there watching telly”, and I was like well the tellys allowed to be on in the background, it’s not as if I’m just sitting there. She tells me I need to take it a bit more seriously, be a bit more professional, but I don’t think the point of it is to be professional, like things are still happening, I’m not just watching telly. It’s weird. It feels like it should be dead serious but then it’s not at the same time.

Matt: I think what you’ve just described is how a lot of people think every creative job happens. They go “what do you actually do though”. I was given a great bit of advice once by a former lecturer of mine, and she said remember when you’re in the creative industries, if you’re sat there for half a day doing absolutely nothing, if you’re lying in the bath for two hours, if you’re doing all this kind of stuff, it’s a completely valid way of working. Because everything’s up here, it’s all sort of ideas generating, so you’ve got to allow yourself just to do nothing sometimes.

When I was in uni and going into the studio and stuff, I’d take my dressing gown in with me and I’d just go straight back to bed, just lie in the corner. And they’d always be like oh what are you doing today, and I’d just be like “oh I’m having a thinking day, it’s fine”. And then they’d always be like oh so you’re just hungover. But you do need to allow yourself time to sort of like reset yourself sometimes.

I completely agree with that. Like it’s so funny when someone’s like you’re not doing work you, you’re just sat there on your laptop all day, and it’s like what the fuck do you think I’m doing with this time, just sitting there? And even when I’m just endlessly scrolling on Instagram, the way I see it is that it’s all research, I’m always digging for something, even if it doesn’t look that way, and that thing of “ what do you actually do” has been a question that I’m looking at in this reflection that I’m writing. You know like what am I actually doing? What am I being paid for? How has that shown or followed? I think Jo saying about we’re all on the same page of this “I don’t have any confidence in what I’m doing”, but actually because we’re all in that same mindset, I’ve found confidence from that, and that kind of echoes what I think to be the ethos of the festival, which is to do with transparency, updates, showing that rawness of “hey I don’t know what I’m doing, does anybody else?” This collective. But Matt, reading through what you’ve written, I was thinking what’s the relationship between collective, either insecurity, coming back to the imposter syndrome, or collective “hey we don’t know what we’re doing”, how does that link back to a sense of independence?

It’s been like the biggest question of this project for me. I probably wouldn’t have even thought about that if it wasn’t for going on these walks and sort of noticing how people were interacting. I used the example of the bombed out church because it was perfect really, in that everyone feels this sort of ownership over it, but the ownership is on mass, because everyone is drawn to it, everyone uses it, everyone sits there, so it’s this kind of independence, but together as a group. I found that really interesting, it’s not something I’ve thought of before, and it’s a question that I don’t have any answers to. But what you was saying about the sort of construction of the scouser was really interesting in line with that. Do a bit more digging, see what I could find really.

How have you all actually being doing your work? That feels like it’s a really stupid question, and you’re gonna be like oh well I’ve just been writing. But obviously like from my approach, mine has literally just been me constantly sending emails to people, being like “oh answer these questions for me please”. But it’s weird cos with my work, I just started off by sending everyone the same 5 or 6 questions, just so it had a bit of consistency to it, so it was a bit connected, and then I’d go on and go into more detail about their work and discuss it more. So that was a lot of back and forth, and a lot of waiting, but like what’s it been like from your sides of it?

I think that the sort of structure of the Independents Biennial has been really helpful for that, because it has been quite open and there’s no pressure on you. In my average work like, I hate moaning that I’m busy but I am very busy at the moment, curating an exhibition, doing a phd, two writing commissions, all of this has been going on over the last month or so, and it’s really nice that I didn’t have to force what I’m doing for Independents Biennial into something in particular. I could use those gaps in my week to form that, and I was trying to devote Wednesdays and Fridays to Independents Biennial but in reality it didn’t quite work like that, so I’ve had to borrow time back from myself. The structure’s been really valuable in that respect, if there is a structure, there probably isn’t a structure really.

It’s interesting that you’ve said that you don’t feel like you have to force yourself, because the way I’ve been working is by forcing myself to keep updated so that I’ve got visibility of things that I can respond to, so this idea of being reactive and responsive to whatever’s there, be it the themes of the week or artists work, I do have to force myself to dig for that, but then everything that comes after that is not forced, and when I do that it’s not forced, like you said you had the idea it was gonna be Friday and Wednesday, and that’s not how it’s manifested, and it’s the same for me. I’m probably not as busy as you, but having to separate time for uni work and for IB festival work, that’s not felt forced, but in order for me to continue generating stuff, I do have to force myself to research those things. Like the associates programme, I’d done all the artists, done all this, and I got to do that now, and I don’t want to do that, I’m gonna watch these videos of the studio spaces, and obviously once I’d done it, that’s fine. I’ve got all the motivation and groundwork to write stuff for it. But yeah, that just comes from the actual way of working, which is reactive, or has been reactive for this festival, where it’s less idea generation, and more looking for the idea generation from other people and then responding to it.

What did you think about the associates programme?

I’m not sure, maybe we can ask Patrick at some point, but out of all of them, FOUR WORDS and Alan Dunn’s work feels very much like another artist, and it’s a shame that I don’t have more time to reflect on his work as part of the reviews I was doing for the artists. Whereas you said, the other ones, are they just there to simply get their name out? Which is fine, because looking into Make or ROAD Studios, or the other spaces that are actually available to book and use by the artists, it’s really great to get visibility of that, but by the way of what can I add to that, what can I get from that, what can I write about, what do I wanna ask them? I was drawing a bit of a blank as well, and it’s like what can I possibly do that they’re not already doing, which essentially is trying to draw awareness or attention to their work, or their facilities. So I don’t know, basically.

I wonder if we were back in the real world and there was physical spaces and stuff, if that would feel very different?

I thought that because like the last few biennials, it never used to be called Independents, I think it used to be called Biennial Fringe or something and it changed to Independents Biennial, I can’t remember. But it wasn’t formatted the same way as Independents, I might have got this completely wrong, but it didn’t feel the same. But it was literally all the galleries and studios just doing exhibitions alongside Liverpool Biennial. But then the past few years it feels like Independents Biennial has been more of a thing than that way, so I don’t know if they’re just using the studios in the same way as they would have if they were showing exhibitions at the same time.

I agree. Like you’ve got some crossovers with those who are doing residencies with Metal who are also artists on the programme, you’ve got some people who have spaces in Hazlehurst and stuff, but unfortunately as much as their work is interesting, because we’re not being given a visibility of that because they’re not part of the artist listing, and because we can’t get into those spaces which maybe we would’ve been invited to if they were open, they might have said why don’t you guys come down and document it. I don’t mind that it’s not like that because obviously the thing Patrick was banging on about was that there is no exhibition at the end, there’s no final product, it’s not about that, but it does make it difficult because it’s such an unorthodox approach that we’re expected to adapt to and understand. It has been difficult but I’ve enjoyed it, cos obviously it’s given me massive freedom in what I want to do in response to that, but I agree. If things were normal, we would’ve probably been invited to those spaces or could’ve at least just turned up, and drawn something from the physical navigation from that, whereas obviously all we get is their website or Instagram, which is what everybody else gets anyway, so what information are we even drawing from responding or reflecting about that?

I’ve been in contact with Bold Street Studios, because they’re like a women-only space, and I have a meeting with them next week I think to talk about that, and about women who are mothers and what kind of ideas they have in place. Like are kids allowed, are kids not allowed. But that’s the only studio that I can reflect on.

Do you think all your work would’ve been different if we ended up doing a physical festival? Like do you think you would’ve ended up doing the exact same work you’re doing now, or do you think that’s a result of purely working online?

It’s hard to say because the work I allow the way I work for the festival to basically mirror how I write for my course in regards to documentation, and I’d have to think like if I was gonna be physically there for uni, what would that have looked like and how would that have moulded what I’ve ended up with for the festival. A part of me wants to say no, because I have had access to university, and I have got a certain way of “I’ve got to document that to use at a later point”, and it’s the same for this festival. You know, would it have been less writing, more interview, more interaction, more primary photographs of my own, but I don’t really think so. It would be fundamentally changing my style or approach, which I think far exceeds what’s been the limitations of lockdown, so I can say that I think I probably would’ve approached this the same way, but I can’t say how everybody else feels.

I think that in some ways the way I have had to work has been quite positive for me actually. I think that ordinarily even though I walk as practice, and have done for years, I think if we were back with physical exhibitions and I could visit studios, I probably would’ve done that, and those walks would’ve been to artists studios to have a chat with them. But actually the thing I’ve learnt in doing the phd is you get quite canny in gathering information, and I think the questionnaire actually worked quite well for me, but it’s not something I would’ve considered at all, and it just felt the easiest way, like a necessity to do it that way really, because I wanted precise information that I could cross over and see where the trends were, so I think it would’ve been very different, but I think it’s been a positive change I suppose.

My approach would’ve been the same, like I would have included E, but I feel like if we were able to go to places and actually see people, it would’ve been more interesting, to see the way she reacts as well to spaces, people, artworks we would have seen, so we missed a big opportunity of seeing her react to stuff, but that’s just how it is right now.

I really liked it last week when you took her to the Biennial and you was posting all the things being like oh this is her favourite piece of work, it was so cute.

I was just about to say that, that Instagram post where she’s talking about the big boobies or whatever it was.

Literally she shouted “look it’s mama’s boobies” through the whole room, and I was like oh okay.

I love watching and listening to how kids react to artwork, I find it fascinating. They don’t have the trappings that we do, they just see what’s there, and it’s great.

Yeah, they don’t have the whole thing of being like “oh this is not art, is just this, it’s just that”, they literally just think “oh this is cool, let’s find something to do with it.”

That innocence of association of like this is the visceral thing I think of when I see that when I see the sculpture of the boobs, but I really like that, and I keep it close to me and my practice, so yeah that’s probably what I thought or maybe it’s not, but eventually thought that. Or when something reminds me of a meme or some other stupid, non-artistic thing, I try and keep that close to my own documentation so that whoever’s reading it doesn’t feel stupid for thinking “well it does look like that”, but youse aren’t saying it looks like that so I feel stupid for thinking that it does look like a pair of boobs, because whatever reviewer or writer isn’t addressing that immediate connotation, and it’s the unfiltered, unblemished, essentially naive and possibly uneducated reception of the work, where they’re not thinking oh it’s about feminism, about fauvism, is about this thing, that thing. But obviously what they say then, you can think okay they’re talking about boobs, motherhood, feminism, all the rest of it, so it’s not ugh it’s not pertinent observations, and actually they can probably open up into more profound writing than if you’ve got loads of critics and writers putting their own two pence in.

I think visual analysis has become really out of fashion, and actually it’d be really nice to go back to that bit more. I remember in the Pompidou, I was there years ago, there was of them great big Yves Klein things, you know where he’s using women as brushes, questionable, there’s a lot to be said about that, but this kid just went up to it and said “that’s a dog”, and I looked at it, and it was absolutely a dog.

It was like Patrick taking E’s drawing, cos she said it was a bear, and he said well it is a bear.

Yeah, and he sent it back and I was like what!

Yeah. Loved that.

I’ve found that I do that kind of thing when I’m writing, like I can’t remember what I was talking about the other week, but right in the middle of it, I literally remember mentioning the village from Hot Fuzz, being like this it what it feels like. I can’t remember why, but it was just so weird. But that’s how my brain works, cos I end up watching so much shit on the telly, and like that’s the only way I can relate to things cos that’s all my head is full of. It’s just weird isn’t it.

If someone is reading about your writing and they see you’ve mentioned the village from Hot Fuzz, I’m sure more people would go “oh my god, yeah”, instead of you saying “it reminds me of this composition from this thing that you’ve never seen before”, and writing for an audience, especially the Independent Biennial’s audience where we’re trying to engage the audience, whoever that might be, it’s so important to have those references, so the layman people out there can go “yeah actually, she said that, so that’s the thing”, and it’s balancing the identity of you as an artist with you as a normal person who watches crap telly, and using that to influence the writing to make it more accessible.