Elizabeth Challinor, In Conversation With IB21. Reflection (final)

In Conversation With IB21 (a title I started off with, and never actually used) is a project focusing on the artists featured in Independents Biennial, an ongoing series of informal Q&A’s that focuses on how the artists had adapted to having to work with a now-digital festival and to explore what their overall experience was with Independents Biennial. The aim was to give a transparent insight into how the artists organised, planned and made their work, and now the shift from tangible work to virtual work might have affected their outcomes. The development stages of work are more crucial than the work itself, and I really wanted to try and highlight the ~behind schedule scenes~ of the work, the moments that lead up to the work being presented. I personally wanted to do this just because I’m an inherently nosy person, and I really love understanding how and why things are done. Like you know that programme where Greg from Masterchef takes you round the factories and shows you how tins of beans are made, like from growing all the ingredients to actually sticking the labels on the tins, basically just like that but for Independents Biennial. But anyway. I really love being able to fully understand people’s work, to know the ins and outs of everything, to see the rejected ideas and the progression. I think it’s something I’ve always been interested in. Even when I was in uni, I’d spend most of the time wandering around all floors of the studios seeing what everyone else was up to, letting me play with all their materials or teach me how to use their fancy machines, just sitting at someone else’s desk for hours and watching them paint. Being able to see how the work is made, and how the artist has managed to get themselves to that point makes the work seem so much more real for me, and I think it makes it seem a bit more human and personal. When we see work in galleries, most of the time it’s just the work offered to us with hardly any information available to us (I’ve already complained about this in one of my google docs lol), and it just makes me lose interest, it makes the work seem quite alienating. I need the context to enjoy the work, I need to have some sort of idea of what the artist is about. I need to know more, and that’s what I’ve really tried to get into with this project. I think especially with the festival being fully digital, it’s a necessity to have a bit more than just images on a screen, cos we can literally get that anywhere. I could go on Instagram now and find images of all the work that’s been featured in IB21, and it literally just feels like looking at any artist’s work through social media. Having the extra information and content available on the website really helps to put it in perspective and to understand the artist’s intent, and I’m really interested in focusing on making this information accessible in my work. To make it feel like by accessing Independent Biennial’s digital space, you’re learning more and developing a better understanding of the artists, who they are as a person and how this impacts their work, putting everything into perspective.

Transparency / open / explicit / informative / 

I don’t really know if I’m trying to reflect on my work or my own experience as an artist host or what. I just know I wanted to have something that actually felt like it was solely from me, and not regurgitating answers that artists have given me. Saying that though, it’s been really great having these conversations with the artists each week. I haven’t even been discussing my own creative work throughout all this, but through learning about people’s work, and having them telling me about what they do and what inspires them, where all their ideas come from, it really helps to put my own work into perspective and reassess how I view my own work. I think we underestimate the importance of conversation, especially in terms of discussing your work as an artist and being able to verbally present your work. Having the space to actually speak about your work, to think through all your ideas, to actually communicate what you’re doing to someone else is such a valuable thing, something that a lot of the artists I’ve spoken to have pointed out to me. It gives you the chance to think about all the work you’ve done in the past and helps you evaluate your position as an artist or creative. 

Thinking back on everything, I think there’s a couple of things I might have done differently. I started off by sending everyone the exact same 5 or so questions, really generic questions about what they’ve been getting up to for the festival and what their experience has been like, just to give it a bit of thematic consistency. (Is that even a thing?) Like person A replied to it like this, but person B replied to it like this. Like a point of comparison. But anyway, I’d send this first batch of questions out, with the full intent of asking more in-depth questions once they’d replied, focusing on their work more and being a bit more specific. Sometimes this happened, and I was able to have an ongoing discussion about their work and it was all great, and then sometimes I’d just get responses for the first set of questions and then I’d never hear back from them. I think it’s more that I wanted to be able to have like an equal level of conversation across the board, to be able to dedicate the same amount of time and energy and devotion to each artist. But then obviously people are busy, life gets in the way, we have to go to work and all that stuff, so I can’t really complain. I think when you plan something out, you just assume that everything’s gonna be sound, everything will happen straight away and it’ll all work out. Which for the most part it has. I wish there was more time to IB21 so I’d still be able to have lengthy conversations with everyone about their work. I mean obviously there’s nothing stopping me from doing this, but it would’ve been nice to have it all 100% done within the context of Independents Biennial. 

As cheesy as it is, being an Artist Host has really enabled me to ~develop new skills~ (excluding killing the massive insect that just walked into my kitchen as I’m writing this, proper HUGE, so vile). But yeah. I’ve found myself writing a lot more, but writing intensively & with a purpose. I’ve wanted to get into actually writing things for a while now, but it’s always been one of them things I’ve just put on the back burner. But IB, especially with Patrick’s weekly themes and topics of discussion during our “podcasts” (not a podcast, mostly just chatting shit for an hour or so), but it’s actually forced me to think about things and allow myself to translate my opinions a bit more clearly and make actual fully formed sentences. (This probably isn’t even a big deal, but my head’s been like mush the last few months) I think what’s always put me of is the idea that if you’re gonna write something, it’s got to be like ~academically styled~ with big words and I just can’t do that. I probably could if I really tried, but I just don’t see I would want to write something where I’m trying to sound a lot cleverer than I actually am. Like I’m not stupid, but I just write how I speak, how I talk to myself in my mind while I’m thinking through what point I’m trying to make. And it’s something I’ve definitely got better at over the last few weeks, so it’s really great that I’ve been able to chat absolute shit for this long. 

I’ve never had a paid arts job before. I’ve done a few voluntary things here and there, a few self-initiated projects, but I’ve never been paid for my work before, so that was a big step for me. It’s the first time I’ve actually felt a little bit professional. I’m really grateful to Patrick for giving me this opportunity, a chance to actually develop my own work into something useful. It’s been great to sort of reevaluate where I’m at in my ~creative career~ and think about where I might go next and to find new interests and skills. I’ve really enjoyed meeting all the artists and groups that have been involved this year, literally just getting the chance to talk to them about their work and see what they’re up to. And even getting to chat with the other Artist Hosts all the time. Having a chat with Harriet, Jo & Matt every week has been so great, and being able to discuss things and learn all about their work and who they are beyond that as people has been so beneficial to me, and I’m so grateful to have been able to share ideas with them every week. 

Anyway, I’m done.