Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Kiss Me Quick Project

We first began talking about the Kiss Me Quick Exhibition just before Christmas 2010. I introduced the idea to the group, telling them about my interest in the Turner Contemporary project in Margate, and how it would be great to build on the energy generated by Turner by having a summer show in Margate. As time passed the group of artists grew from the usual AirSpace Studio artists to include some of the other local artists that we have connections with and have worked with before. We invited Michael and Janine from Rednile to be part of the show, as well as Behjat Omer Abdulla who we have worked with on a few projects.

Meetings were held every few months to see how people were getting on. The main premise of the show was to look at the impact that an art space like Turner Contemporary might have on a down at heel seaside town, whether culture led regeneration might be witnessed in action, and also to think about notions of a British Seaside Revival in the wake of rising fuel costs. As a group of Stoke-on-Trent based artists, we also hoped to draw on the idea of the Potter's Holiday which saw groups of Stokies heading for the seaside in droves, a tradition which is dieing out along with much of the Pottery Industry.

My personal approach to the project was to directly reference the newly opened Turner Contemporary, and take the opportunity to talk to people in Margate about how they feel the gallery will impact on the future of the Town.
I was lucky enough to be selected for an A-N writer's bursary back in April, which allowed me to visit the opening night of the gallery and the public opening at the weekend - and used this as a chance to feel the temperature in Margate - and see how people were responding to Turner's presence. I was amazed at how vibrant Margate felt over the weekend - and wrote about my experiences here.

My first idea for Kiss Me Quick was to become a seafront fortune teller - complete with crystal ball, but visits to Margate got me thinking differently. I wanted something which referenced my own experiences as a Teenager working in the fun park - and was reminded of the big wheel, the lights and sounds of the arcades, and the general frivolity.
I decided to make a wheel of fortune.
I have to admit that my woodworking skills aren't up to much - and being part of a collective of capable artists helped here, with Andrew Branscombe stepping in to see me hand drawn plans realised.I painted the wheel with gloss and then had the job of writing the texts, which I was really nervous about - worrying that my sign-writing skills might not be up to it. Also painting the text in gloss for the first time was challenging and really scary as I didn't want to ruin the wheel.
It took a number of solid days to complete, but in the end I was happy with it.
The idea was that the texts should be ambiguous - they could relate to Turner's presence in Margate - or alternatively the participant might choose to see the texts as relating to themselves.
It was a mixture of positive comments and negative. They were: you will be great: you will amount to nothing: you will teach us to sing again: you will disappoint us: we would be nothing without you: you will let us down: please give it another try: you will make us proud and we would be better off without you.
Of course the main point was to start a conversation with members of the public - with the spin of the wheel as the ice breaker here.
For this summer show we decided to hire the Margate Harbour Arm Gallery. As a group we would never usually pay to exhibit our work - it is something we have discussed before and feel that as professional artists we should be paid to show, however, this year with cuts to funding the landscape looks very different. We decided that Kiss Me Quick would become an experiment, to see if we could raise funds ourselves for the show through a variety of activity in order to see what works and what doesn't and what we as a group might get out of the activity as a whole.We tested out a few different funding experiments in order to raise cash.
We held boot sales and a yard sale at the gallery - selling multiples and small works as well as bric a brac, plus we had a cake stall and coconut shy, and the ever popular AirSpace Binball Game was resurrected .
We also created a zine - which we hoped to sell to make money, but which we also hoped to use as a way of connecting with some Margate based artists - as we put out an open call for submissions from artists with a connection to Margate. This was great as we met Sara Wicks from Limbo Arts as well as a few other artists locally, who came to the show and got their mates to come too.
We also all made postcards to sell at the show.
Overall we estimate that we managed to raise around £800 towards the costs of hiring the gallery, hiring a van to transport works, paying for the posters/flyers and postcard and zine costs. However, individually the artists paid for their own works, transport and accommodation costs.Originally when discussing the project we had hoped that all of the artists involved in the show would be able to spend a week in Margate - this would give time to put up the show - have the show on from Friday til Monday, and then take down the show.
Many of us, while being practicing artists, also have day jobs, and as we have not gone for funding for this show this meant that quite a few people could not afford to take the time off from work to be in Margate for a week. In the end 6 of the 13 were able to be there for the full week, with the others joining us on Thursday or Friday.
The 6 of us found an apartment to rent, and arrived on the Wednesday. We hired a van and took everyone's work with us, and it was decided in the last meeting before Margate that myself (as project originator) and David Bethell (AirSpace Gallery director) would curate the show. This was necessary, as we could not afford to wait for all of the artists to arrive before making decisions about the placement of works.
The Harbour Arm Gallery is about 14 metres by 5 metres - so it was a real challenge to place 13 artists' work.Some works (my own included) therefore needed to be placed outside of the gallery space in order to avoid cluttering the space. As my work involved a performance, where the wheel would be taken out and about along the Harbour Arm this seemed to make sense. This was a risky idea though - as we could never be sure about the weather! Luckily for us, the weather was glorious all weekend. My performances went really well, and I found that though there are some in Margate that do not like the look of the Turner building, or are not keen on the current show, there is an awful lot of positivity about the impact that the Turner is having on the Town. One lady I spoke to who was in her 40s told me that she had lived in Margate her whole life, and that for the first time the week before, whe had sat on the seafront having s drink and listening to some jazz - that for her was a marker of how much the town was changing.
Watch the KMQ documentary slideshow to see how the show looked and what we got up to over the weekend. There are a couple of clips of my conversations with people too.

KMQ Slideshow from ve strata on Vimeo.

Since the Margate show we have had some ongoing conversations about the way that the show was organised, curated and the workload involved in a project of this scale.
With a project involving 13 artists, and happening somewhere other than where you live, and with no funding, there is an awful lot to organise and do prior to the exhibition opening, when installing, and then when taking down and evaluating. Feedback conversations have centred around the need for the workload to be properly understood and distributed. In terms of group development I believe that this project, though an absurd amount of hard work - has been very worthwhile. I realise that in this case I have done too much, and was really burnt out after the show. This was mainly because we had not distributed roles properly, or understood the need to do this. We now have an understanding of what needs to be done, when, and so for future projects will be able to ensure the bulk of the workload does not fall on just a few of the artists involved. We also discussed the fact that at certain times people may have other commitments that mean they cannot fully commit to working on the project as much as others. The feeling about this seems to be that with a group show of this nature, where noone's time is being paid for, though it needs to be understood that at times during the process individuals may not be able to give 100%, there are always roles and responsibilities that are not 'time dependant' for example - web based advertising can be done at any time, and everyone should be able to commit something to the project. If individuals feel unable to commit anything but a piece of work, they should be realistic about that, and sit the project out. Hopefully all of this learning will mean we get it right next time!

There have been other points and issues that have been raised through the project - in particular, one of the artists was unhappy about the way their work was displayed, and this has raised a need to discuss more fully who curates a show of this nature. As the artists are contributing their time and work for free - is it really appropriate for others in the group to take the role of curator, or should all artists be given free reign to show what they want, how they want? This has turned out to be a very contentious issue. My feeling is that someone does need to make the final decisions about the placement of the work, in order to ensure the best outcome for the whole group. The requirements of individual artists should always be carefully considered, but with a project like this, it is not a series of solo shows, but a group show, and therefore there needs to be a process of conversation, cooperation and at times, compromise. This was agreed by other artists at the meeting, but it was also mentioned that if there is to be one or two people curating, then those individuals should change, and not always be the same people.

Unfortunately, with Kiss Me Quick the artist concerned was not available to have a conversation, and therefore a decision was made to show their works in a different sequence to how they had asked, this decision was not made lightly. Although the conversations since this decision have been difficult, I really hope that we can learn something from this for future shows.
After the Kiss Me Quick show we had a meeting to evaluate and discuss how it all went, where all of the above was thrashed out. We had planned to do a return show, documenting and presenting all that was done in Margate.
It was decided that other people would take the lead for this return show, which I was really relieved to hear! So this time Glen Stoker and Katie Shipley would be project managing, with Kate Lynch and Behjat Omer Abdulla curating, Michael Branthwaite offered to organise invigilation, flyering and performances, as well as organising with Janine Goldsworthy the Preview drinks, with other people taking up other roles...So, if early changes are anything to go by, it seems that the group has already begun to develop in a healthy direction. This new way of working allows individuals to try out new things, picking up new skills with the support of others.
For the Kiss Me Quick Slideshow I decided to use the evaluation survey which the artists filled in as a way of creating a new piece of work - a Kiss Me Quick evaluation cocktail.The online survey asked 9 questions - and before the artists took the survey - each question was randomly linked to a cocktail ingredient. The 4 highest scoring questions were chosen as ingredients for the KMQ cocktail. That meant the KMQ cocktail will contain: ginger beer, rum, grenadine and vodka. The survey also told us, that although there have been a number of issues raised through the project - overall the artists involved enjoyed the project, felt that the project allowed space fro them to be involved and develop their own ideas within the project, felt that this was the sort of thing they would like to be involved in in the future, and were happy with how their work was shown and represented within the project.

At the KMQ: Slideshow preview I got my cocktail uniform back out and served the cocktails. It was a chance to talk to people about the experience of the artists within the project, but also to talk about the way that the project had been funded, and how much it had all cost.
I prepared these pie charts to show how much of the project was paid for through our fundraising initiatives, and how much the artists had contributed themselves. The second pie chart showed exactly what the money had been spent on. We all felt that it was encouraging that the biggest bulk of the money had been spent on artworks. This also looks good - for if we were to decide to apply for funding for a project of this kind in the future. The slideshow preview was fun, and the works looked fantastic.I was pleased that the Sentinel agreed to do a piece for us, which brought a few people in on Saturday. We have decided that each day that the show is open, individual artists will perform in the AirSpace Gallery window. We have wanted to have some form of live art in the window for some time, and this was a great opportunity. Each artist will use their time slot differently. Friday Glen Stoker occupied the window, using it as a time for reflection, he quietly recalled as many summer holidays as he could, writing them down on slips of paper and attaching them to the window.
Andrew Branscombe put on his scientists uniform from the show, as well as his welding mask - and became a human statue.
Saturday, Janine Goldsworthy held an impressive yoga demonstration in the window.
For my slot I plan to use the time for something that I never got to do in Margate - relax! I will be getting my holiday rep uniform back on, and sitting in the deckchair and reading book.
Images of the Slideshow, preview and window performances to follow!