Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Vivi-Mari Carpelan 2011 "Tied Up" (copyright)
After months of encouragement from the Arts Council of Wales, the meeting that was due on Friday in my home was cancelled because there has been a great deal of interest in their programme for disabled artists, and others who are more deserving than me have taken precedence. I do get it. I don't blame them. At least they talk to you and inform you in person, and give some kind of explanation to their process of elimination.

The bottom line is, I'm too articulate and have too big a body of work, so supporting me and my development doesn't meet with the criteria that have been set up for this funding project. I think the idea has been that truly disadvantaged people with no voice but artistic potential can emerge. These criteria are not set up by the officials but come from higher up the rank. It doesn't matter that my CV is not as great as it could be because I have not had all the opportunities of a healthy person, nor that I have great trouble reading complicated guidelines, or that I have wanted to get serious messages across about the reality of invisible illness. In fact, if you're articulate enough to describe your need for a grant in great detail, it's probably the reason you won't get it through this programme. It's a Catch22, I fall into a slot, in a no man's land. I belong nowhere, fit in nowhere, and my art cannot be neatly categorized. I'm too healthy to be a real outsider and too ill to be able to keep up with the normal people. This makes for a very lonely journey, which to be quite honest is starting to look really pointless. And seriously - trying to save the world is such a juvenile notion.

The support would not only have included some money (I desperately need a printer in order to do anything with the abstract photography), but also mentorship and help with contacting galleries and reaching an audience. I admit that I broke down on the phone to the lady I've been dealing with. I know none of this is her fault, and I told her so. But my sense of desolation is very real, I simply couldn't hold back my emotional reaction. I guess by the end of the day, the encouragement I received was the last straw of hope I was holding onto. You could argue that it wasn't wasted, that I learnt a lot in the process, and not least, that I specified ideas that I might put forward through the ordinary grant application process. The reality is, however, that I feel really spent, and that Martin would have to be my mentor and assistant to make sure that I got it right. It's not fair on him, he needs to work on his own artistic process and on trying to make a bit of money that we can live off as our finances are not adding up at the moment.

As far as reading guidelines goes, that's exactly where my disability really hits me, as I have no ability to read complicated text without a great deal of difficulty and multiple re-reading and double checking. It may not seem that way, because I can write - this is the irony, I can more or less follow my own train of thought (though it's getting harder to reach my thoughts due to brain fog) but there is no way I can apply for grants as if I was a normal person. On top of that I find this country incredibly competitive, which to me simply soul destroying for someone as sensitive as myself, and I ask myself if I should withdraw altogether because this never ending struggle to receive some valid recognition is just taking too much of a toll on me. In fact I dream of relaxing in a nice country house and spending the rest of my days away from civilisation.

Vivi-Mari Carpelan 2010 in Hanko, Finland (copyright)

The ideas that I presented to the Arts Council was about my own development, about making it even more contemporary by integrating my abstract photography into collages about invisible illness. I was going to start with myself (well, continue doing what I have already doing but in a more poignant fashion) and then I was going to bring in other people's experiences in order to create a new and much more meaningful body of work.

Ah, in fact I just got some more feedback and it seems that the themes I wanted to work on were interesting to the Arts Council but for whatever reason that remains elusive to me were not at the top of the list of priorities.

As it is, I'm tired of seeing the old work on my walls and I am prepared to get rid of it at almost any price - in fact, I will have to lower myself to the level of an amateur artist in order to have greater chances of selling anything. Even then, there is no guarantee it will sell or that I have the energy to put into this process.

Vivi-Mari Carpelan 2010 in Hanko, Finland (copyright)

After the rejection from Axis, I started a discussion on Linkedin and the Facebook site for Disability Arts Cymru (Wales) about the difference between modern and contemporary art, A few people have joined in, which I have much appreciated. Some have been encouraging, and I thank them warmly.

One of the artists did not believe self-expression and social commentary were valid ways of defining either category. Another was of the opinion that the idea of a authority or "club" that gets to decide who is contemporary is against the very ideals of modern art, i.e. the freedom of expression. I answered: "The idea of freedom - that's very interesting and I wonder how one could analyse that even closer? I did a course on modern and contemporary art very long ago when I was at University, it was fascinating but I don't necessarily remember more than a vague distinction between modern and contemporary art. And much has happened in the art world since then. My illness and to be fair - a general lack of interest and a lack of information have been the reasons why I haven't pondered these issues until now when it's all opening up to me in a new way. The general definitions of these two categories were taken from some websites I quickly googled, I admit that I need to do much more extensive research. I do however think there is some general truth to the notion that modern art was a lot about individualism (hence the idea of self-expression), and that it evolved into the contemporary art scene where it's often the go getters with a strong sense of self or ego who manage to get the attention of collectors and funders. 

I do wonder, though, if anyone really knows exactly how to define these things, as the notion of freedom certainly implies that pretty much anything goes. It seems to me that you can make art the old fashioned way, in which case it's really almost a form of pastiche. There is a danger in not looking deep enough for more meaning than that, however. I have a suspicion, (though it remains a suspicion as I have no evidence to go by other than Axis's woolly guidelines) that the Axis judge who looked at my work went by a shallow interpretation of the elements of the work, thinking it all looks old fashioned, when in fact there is nothing old fashioned about my subject matter and my messages. And who knows... maybe he was also influenced by the fact that it is 2D, shock horror! 

I still maintain that there is much snobbery within the art world, and there is often nothing very exceptional in terms of message in work that suddenly "makes it" within the art world. As far as I can see there is also an even wider gap between the work that galleries are willing to represent because they know it will sell, art that collectors are willing to invest in because it seems novel, and art that public galleries are willing to show because it's not commercial. As usual, I personally seem to fall into a slot somewhere in a no man's land, and this is the reality myself and many other artists have to deal with. You do ask yourself if it's really worth the hassle."

All photographs are by myself and subject to copyright.

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