In the first six months of 2011 i could count the number of 'paid' days work on my toes. This lead to an impact on my pocket and my health. The pressure was immense, the sense of failure even bigger - self doubt - self esteem - you name it - the rollercoaster of being a freelancer. I had no idea where my next project was coming from. So when things slowly turned around - at first a few days turning a bridge into a formal garden, then an exhibition in leeds and wakefield, a residency in Dundee and so it continued.
I felt compelled to say yes to everyone and everything for fear of everything drying up again. This has been a massive learning curve. My health started to slide. Usually I am very good at self monitoring and keeping my mental health fairly stable. I was committed though and as a freelancer we know we are only as good as your last job. We are our own stock. Our reputation as an artist depends on what we do and how we do it. Managing this through failing mental health is fraught. everything you do has a psychological/professional/personal cost. Getting to the finish having succesfully completed commitments became a massive, nay monumental undertaking.
The fact i did achieve everything is in no small part due to some of the people i worked with along the way, particularly Sarah Derrick from Dundee Contemporary Arts - who was noy only supportive but very understanding and accommodating.
The final work i did was take part in the 'View From Here' exhibition at Salisbury Arts Centre, This was an unusual experience for me. I was invited by e-mail from someone i had never met or heard of. We had phone and e-mail discussions and i went to visit the site. As time and budget were tight i sent down ideas to be executed and installed by the team at Salisbury. This lead to interesting developments which i will write about eleswhere.
As part of the exhibition i was invited to take part in an artist panel discussion about the work shown. I wanted to take part but knew i was not at the top of my game - did i cancel? did i make excuses before i did it? did i just try to get through and ignore the whole mental health thing? It passed off ok but would i like it as a sole reflection of me and my practice? Probably not. But I did it, no one died.
This event was further complicated as I met someone who was wanting to discuss the prospect of a possibility of working together in the coming year. So there's me comparitively mentally unwell trying to say I can do this, this is my approach and trying to convince this person who I had never met before that i am a 'safe pair of hands' , you know how it goes.
I guess what I'm getting at is the contrast between making a living, keeping well, doing interesting and varied work - the whole juggling thing and keeping everything moving successfully.
I’m not whingeing. It’s just a fact. It’s hard and no denying it. This has been the hardest, year I have had since being a freelance artist. I am in the hinterland, on the cusp, of being emerging and emerged – whatever emerged means. It’s like some kind of spurious notion like somehow things will be totally different when you have emerged. I am not some kind of butterfly who is in the process of artistically cocooning himself in the studio to break out that chrysalis one day and .....Da Dahhh!!!! Fully formed emerged artist and successful to boot! Hooray. Thrice Hooray.
I know artists – as I keep saying and keep encountering – always talk up their game about how busy they are. Well, Grizedale residency – over 100 applicants, Halle 14 over 130, Knowle West over 100 and I could go on. I remember back in the day when you would apply and be unfortunate if 20 or 30 others applied. So I presume not everyone can be really busy – working on this, planning that, something on the back burner here, fingers in pies there.... I have had very few paid days work this year in relation to previous years. I work every week – I put proposals in, I make new work in the studio, I try to keep busy, moving to avoid drowning in the fatigue of not having purposeful activity.
Let’s face it – work gives us many things. Not just money. It gets us into the world, it keeps us socialised, it can help our esteem and confidence, it can contribute to our well being quite considerably. Up until the end of June I was suffering from rejection fatigue. Absolute poverty was snapping at my heels. My moods were seriously affected, I was very very low – although as my not very helpful psychiatrist would tell me – I was not ‘clinically’ depressed. Then he would helpfully throw in that not every low mood is to do with me being Bipolar. My partner is an artist. Both self employed. How do you get benefits or help to get you through the lean times. You fall between the cracks of the welfare state.
I have had exhibitions this year and I have more lined up – but they don’t put food on the table. They are definitely jam for tomorrow. So how do you get out of it? How do you get by? How do you keep motivated? How do you keep swimming against the tide? I was considering doing what I have never done before – take a non art job to support my art. Fortunately I never had to act on the decision. One day work came through my door, visiting like a long lost friend and bold as brass. I am enjoying it but I have one eye on the door wondering when that friend is going to walk back out.