I am working as the Research and Development Coordinator for the Knowledge Transfer Partnership between Axisweb and Manchester Metropolitan University. My role is to coordinate the research project in collaboration with Professor Amanda Ravetz and Mark Smith , and facilitate the creation of the online platform through a series of research and development phases.
I completed my doctorate at the University of York, which focused on alternative histories of British monumental sculpture. This project gives me the opportunity to broaden my professional experience, and create something that will directly benefit contemporary artists working outside of the gallery system.
The principle of “Validation” is a complex and critical issue within the visual arts. Etymologically, the term implies an exercise of power by a higher authority; a “validator” - a person or body who has the power to determine who is deserving and undeserving, who is right and wrong, who fits in and who doesn’t based on their assessment of their artistic practice. I think that the question of How artists validate their practice? Who validates them? And What validates them? Are crucial to a fuller understanding of how artists operate in society, and the ecology of contemporary artistic practice.
I am interested in picking apart what validation means for these artists, not to critique those involved with the established gallery model of validation, but to address a fundamental gap in its reach. As an online platform and collaborative partner for the research already completed by Amanda Ravetz, Axisweb is in a unique position to host a new system of validation for artists with a socially engaged practice. By asking the question #whatvalidatesyou?, we will hopefully facilitate a wider understanding of the validation processes for artists operating #beyondthegallery .
As academic lead on the project my role is to provide supervision and guidance on the academic aspects of the research. The principle of a KTP is that because knowledge, technology and skills needed for innovation are often spread across industry and higher education, transfer and adaptation is needed to bring about change.
My research interests include visual anthropology, arts and health and artists’ development, which together give me several entry points into the KTP. Lucy Wright and I carried out the pilot research that fed into Axisweb and ManMet’s bid for the KTP. One of the things that excites me about the work is the chance to develop a more rhizomatic model of validation than exists at the moment, giving better representation and access to the diversity of people, places and ideas involved in art beyond the gallery.
The project began in early May 2017 and at the time of writing we are in the early stages. If we are going to create something of real use, it’s really important that we involve those who have experience and ideas and opinions on validation from the beginning. All KTPs have to make significant change to a business. But because Axisweb is a charity, and its main beneficiaries are artists and those working with them, our changes will only work if they are useful to the charity’s beneficiaries.
As Lucy and I wrote at the end of our report:
the diverse values artists bring to their work in this field must be carefully listened to and taken account of if there is to be a rethinking of systems of validation for those working outside of the gallery system. Any new provision should be artist-led and/or developed in close consultation with artists who have achieved a range of different kinds of validation already. Without this, artists could be disenfranchised through external values being imposed upon them in “top down”, regulatory ways. This in turn might undermine the existing quality and nature of artists’ work occurring within the broad category of socially-engaged / non gallery art.
This is the principle and the challenge we want to keep uppermost.
As Executive Director of Axisweb, I’ve witnessed how many more artists are working in socially engaged practice – where communities and individual people, often unrelated to the arts, form the material and outcome of a practice. These artistic practices are challenging the language of display and the very idea of the aesthetic experience that forms the basis of many gallery programmes.
Yet, I’m all too aware of the tension created by not ‘fitting’ within existing frameworks and conventions. Recognition, support and value of such artistic ‘social’ practice is marginal compared to practice supported by galleries.
Is validation the answer? Validation increases reputations and opportunities for more work. And raises many more questions. Where do we look to tell us what is good and if it’s okay to like something? Is the reference for an artist’s career exhibitions in galleries? What if an artist’s work doesn't fit, does that mean it’s not much good?
My desire for the project is to explore how socially engaged practice is represented, valued, preserved and transmitted. If we can understand these implications then we can go some way of achieving our purpose of making artists work possible.