Please Learn to Work with Us
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am surprised to find myself here.
Cos actually my Mum thinks I am grounded!!!!!!!
I am surprised because Professor Fineberg's book, The Innocent Eye, sits in my bookcase at home and I never thought I would meet him. I nearly said that his book has pride of place in my library, but, Professor, I am afraid that goes to my Barnett Newman catalogue from the exhibition I saw here courtesy of Mr. Serota. I shadowed him for a day two years ago during the Artworks awards and I never thought I would share a public platform with him in his own gallery. When I interviewed Mr. Gormley for our film ‘What age can you start being an artist?' I never thought I would share a stage with him! Indeed I didn't think I would ever be lucky enough to meet him again and now we have met 3 times!
But ladies and gentlemen the real surprise is that you have invited Rob [Rob Fairley, at that time the artist in residence at Room 13] and myself to speak to you. Last time we did this, in England, we were so controversial that some people walked out and one teacher admitted that she found it difficult to talk to me as an equal – sort of shows how she treats her students, doesn't it?
Anyway, I hope I am not going to intimidate you.
I can't promise not to be controversial but you have to accept that what I am going to tell you is not just a whim made up as a school exercise but an opinion which has been formed by speaking not only to my contemporaries in Scotland but to members of all the Room 13 studios (10 world wide) and swapping opinions at the international IDEC in Orissa last December. It is an opinion formed over the last four or five years. And I can see by the expressions on some of your faces that you have immediately decided that by that fact alone I am not going to say anything of value!
Art is the means with which the human race explains deeply held thoughts, feelings and emotions and enables us to send them into the future. Looking at art enables me to understand what people long dead were thinking about – the stuff which makes us human. For an adult to claim that a nine-year-old is not capable of deeply held feelings should talk to a youngster whose parents have just broken up or whose parent has died. To say that these feelings are in some way less important than an adult's feelings is deeply deeply insulting.
What you must realise – actually, what you must remember – is that childhood is not the innocent rose-filled time you seem to think it should be. It is a time of being frightened by shadows, dogs, other children, the space behind the garden shed, adults, teachers, the school toilets – the list is endless. It is a time when you are aware of things like sex and war, you may not fully understand them but you are aware of them. Even a happy, well-controlled family childhood is not all fun. If it was it would be unrealistic and rather dangerous.
Those of you who remember your childhood fondly and with no upsets delude yourselves and are deeply worrying people, people who should not be teachers – because you will never ever understand us.
If it is reasonable and normal for young people to hold deep emotional feelings and if it is reasonable and normal for young people to be interested, excited, disturbed or upset by any manner of things then surely it is reasonable and normal for some of us to want (or need) to document this and pass it on? It has always disturbed me that the world in general will accept that Picasso can make his late great etchings on the subject of fading sexuality and praise him for his bravery in making such pieces. But if a young artist makes a piece about emerging sexuality it will be treated with disdain, suspicion and in most school art rooms will lead to the artist getting into trouble. Yet only young artists can deal with such a subject. If you, as an adult artist, do it you are only making work that looks back. Your work becomes a work of memory, not of reality.
The journalist who wrote about Room 13 Caol for the Telegraph pointed out the amount of work in the studio at the time he visited that related to the Soham murders and wondered why. It is surely obvious that the murders of two 12-year-old girls by a trusted member of a school community was most certainly going to be of interest to 12-year-old girls – it is surely obvious that we would look at all trusted adults in a different way – and that we obviously would react in a way different to adults. As adults are you actually saying that these feelings are less important than yours? They are different – you can never go there – but they are important! Or are you saying that murder is not the subject matter for art? Look round the National Gallery – murder is one of the main subjects in Western Art. More worrying – are you saying that murder is OK as a subject for adult art but not for young people?
So if we can accept – (just for a moment – please?) – that age is irrelevant when it comes to producing art works, how best can you help us?
How can we help you?
This is what Rooom 13 is. In our studios we have very simply serious artists working on serious work – sometimes frivolous work treated seriously! The fact that the age range can be from 5 to 50 does not matter.
When I was speaking at an international conference in India last Christmas I mentioned that the critical analysis in the studios was extremely fierce. You are very likely to be told that you work is ‘crap' – particularly if you have just been fooling around. The audience in India was seriously upset – you see it is not just in England that we upset people – saying that it was oh so wrong to tell a five-year-old that their work is crap. But then you have perhaps never come across a five-year-old looking at the mature world of a fifty-year-old and pointing out that as a piece it does not really work – it's crap. So it works both ways. It's for real. It's serious. If adults don't patronise us we will be honest with them. It's easy, simple, straightforward.
The problems we have always had with ‘Artworks' is that up until now they have been project based.
That means teacher/adult led.
We don't work like that.
Artworks have been great fun – and this is my third visit to London because of them – but the most creative thing our studio has to do is work out how we can fit any particular artist into one of your projects. Reading the judges' comments on our projects has always been interesting – OK, it's always been quite funny!!
It's interest too to note that Rosie and Ami's film did not warrant a mention in Artworks last year. We obviously were not creative enough to fit it into a category – but it was short-listed for a Grierson award, the BAFTAs of the documentary film world. So whose judging was correct?
To encourage creativity what you need to do is to help us build a network of Room 13s across the country. Everything else will look after itself. Rob, in a moment, is going to explain the adult side of the project. At the moment he has gone back to being unpaid because the only way we could take the project on and prove to adults who are only interested in short-term ‘evaluation' – and never in long-term results or startlingly fine artworks – was to prove that Room 13 Caol would work without him. We don't have enough money to pay another wage so he has had to step back to being a volunteer. Personally I find that a bit embarrassing as for every day he is with any of the studios I can't afford to pay him, and he is not earning from his own work – so in a way he is losing out twice.
Rob will give you a brief history of the project and explain what we are going to do.
What we are suggesting is going to happen.
My problem is that the team we have put together will inevitably go elsewhere when I can't afford to pay them. It will take us at least five years to become self-supporting. I have funding for one more year.
Two years ago my colleague Fiona Cameron ended her speech to the NCA/NUT conference in Tate Britain by asking why the gap in our expectations of you as adults, and your understanding of us is so great.
I can only echo her comments and make a plea for you all to stop looking around for quick fix solutions and please please please learn to work with us.