“[People] want to believe community still exists and they want to call things ‘collectives’ and ‘communes’ and they want to put that above the door. But actually the real value of collaborative spaces is the organic nature of them. You should want to be there, and want to interact as a part of that community.” ~ Kit Powell
Kit Powell is an artist and photographer, recently graduated from University of Brighton from BA (Hons) Fine Art Critical Practice. Nominated for the Graduate Platform Award as a part of a 13 person collective, she has exhibited at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill, as well as speaking as a part of their recent PechaKucha conference.
We speak to Kit in the infant stages of her career to grasp the budding artist’s perspective on London’s studio spaces, the collaboration trend and the how contemporary art responds to crisis.
What is your definition of a studio?
Ooooh… My definition of a studio is wherever you choose to make your work. Actually, its just wherever you choose to call your studio; you could say “my shower is my studio” because thats where you have all your best ideas. Or you could say “the train is my studio” because thats the only place where I can’t escape the work I’ve got to do. Or you can go and hire a room that someone else is telling you is a studio. Labelling it is what makes a space a studio.
How effective do you believe collaborative/ open plan studios can be?
I think working in an open space is really enjoyable. It means that you can just walk over and talk to someone without feeling like you’re invading necessarily, because you share the whole space. But a downside of that is the lack of privacy, and whether that privacy is needed to be creative. So even though communal spaces can be great to help collaborative processes to happen, I think it would be nice if there was like a little private room, where you wouldn’t be shamed for being private. I think that’s something thats happening; people are getting scared to not share everything, and to not embrace a collaborative nature and actually you shouldn’t be scared to kind of go home with yourself at the end of the day.
I don’t think you should have collaboration for collaborations sake; which is what worries me about the trend. You know, collaborations are getting funding, collaborations are getting space, Assemble won the Turner Prize… That is what people want right now. They want to believe community still exists and they want to call things ‘collectives’ and ‘communes’ and they want to put that above the door. But actually the real value of collaborative spaces is the organic nature of them. You should want to be there, and want to interact as a part of that community.
Artists are said to bring cultural capital, and subsequently gentrification. As a result of this we can see many artists relocating out of London. How can we ensure that artists are a part of the future fabric of London?
I think that the easy answer to that is: conversation, discussion and education. If you go into primary schools and you do the careers days, and you go ‘this is what a fire fighter is, this is what a policeman is’, and then you say: ‘this is what an artist is, and this is what a designer does,’ if you made these positions/ roles/ careers part of a child’s understanding of the working world and you explain you can be in the creative industry and survive… You don’t have to be sad, you don’t have to be broke, and at times you will be, but that’s not essential to being a creative person. I think if you teach that at a younger age, then its not going to solve everything, but that helps people value artists and what they need to live, and where they need to live and the kind of materials and spaces they need. People thrive in communal spaces with bright lights and food! If that gets talked about and put out there, then it will help for the arts to be protected, respected and included.
There’s this idea that art should exist on the fringes or in some ivory tower. Art needs to be involved on every level of society. It can offer people a voice when they’re not being heard and hope when they need it most.
The 1970s ‘studio movement’ was grown from the need for studio spaces. “Solutions were achieved by the collective action of artists themselves, acting opportunistically in response to a depressed property market and the availability of redundant buildings” (Acme, Artists Studio ). What do you believe to be the future of studio spaces?
The difference between the 1970s studio movement and now is technology. Actually, I could do my work on a train. Writing, video and also talking is a big part of my work. What we accept as art has broadened. It’s no longer just masculine space taking sculptures, and huge paintings of expression. Its softer things as well. So I think art has responded to the removal of space by going online or becoming event based, and sharing stories, and pop-ups. If you look at the removal of permanent spaces and the rise of pop-up culture and how detrimental that is in the grand scheme of things… People are responding, but not in long term solutions, because the millennial attitude is; what future is there? I can’t rent a house, I’m probably not going to be able to afford to have kids, the country is going down the crapper, the NHS is going to disappear, I’m hoping to die in 10 years due to nuclear war… We don’t think permanence, and we don’t know how to think permanence because it doesn’t seem like an option. And so when something that has seemed permanent like the 70s studio movement disappearing, you think, ‘why did I even bother?’. It makes me wonder how much space we need for studios. Do we need spaces that could show the work and galleries that are accessible to people of all backgrounds, that can show any form of work? Is that more important to build now, and protect now?
In line with that idea, what conversations can be opened up between artists and developers regarding the production of studio spaces?
I wouldn’t know the odds and ends of how all of this works, but I would try and organise a day, a workshop seminar type day which would be artist-led, where you had artists, and developers, and members of the community and I’d find appropriate reading on gentrification, or a poem, or tour people round a piece of work someone has made about this, and so eventually conversation would rise and everyone feeds back. So instead of having a seminar day when one person is stood at the front of the room and everyone has to listen in silence, let everyone talk, it makes it far more communal and communicative and most likely effective. I think often with seminars, its so rigid that you can’t have a conversation, you can’t have the natural kind of questions, the off-shoots, or the jokes because its so business-like… So I’d make it a day of kind of small groups sat around tables, feedback, some lunch – so everyone’s sharing. I think thats the thing, it can feel so like its “us” and “them” that you forget that there’s somethings you can share.
The current generation’s understanding of what is feasible in terms of studio spaces has responded to the age of the ‘lack of permanence’. Differing from older generations perceptions of affordable, vast warehouse spaces; fresh graduates live in a world of realism, if not pessimism, expecting much less space, availability, and affordability.
However, it is critical that we not only maintain but encourage the infant artists, in order to nurture London’s creative landscape.
How can ensure we create relevant, high-quality studios to accommodate and encourage a new generation of artists?