Artist?; from art in the depths of the garage to Micheal Landy’s Bin


Can you remember Shazia Mirza’s brilliant comic stand up line in 2002? dressed in hajib and introducing herself in monotone voice “hello I’m Shazia Mirza – at least that’s what it says on my pilots licence” the comedic nervous shock factor got her noticed straight away, as she headed for Edinburgh fringe accolades and, with many comedy awards later, she is certainly known as Shazia Mirza (and not for her pilots licence).

After the past 15 months of literally going nowhere personally, I got my passport out just to remind me that now things seem to be getting better I might even be able to use it again and started imagining a European gallery trip or literary gig or similar. The last one I went to was the Hay Book festival  in Granada, Spain with the Alhambra as its main venue and focus; and if you’re into that kind of thing there’s nothing like a creative fest held in gorgeous surroundings to brighten up what is essentially a promo Q&A.

So dusting my ticket to the world down and retrieving it from amidst previous ones I found that over the years my “identity” had morphed from export clerk, to mother, to IT admin with a smattering of artist in between, it read like a sort of life attention deficit disorder. This reminded me about meeting up with some friends the other day when I was introduced to someone new.

After the preliminary niceties the inevitable what do you do came up.  I know that it’s not used as much these days, but as far as I can see there is still no really unobtrusive  way of asking what someone does however outmoded the idea of actually saying it is. Personally after a couple of years struggling with the mother tag – not a denial thing here -I definitely was/am one, I’ve got the stretch marks and worry lines to prove it, but I felt I was more than that – if not a full-on career woman juggling family with work. A few years ago I eventually got over the are you mother or salary “man” tag and became quite happy to say I was an artist first, though baffling, even for me, I still felt tempted to hurriedly follow up by saying; but that’s not how I make my living or I haven’t made any money at it yet.

Last year proved pivotal on that one, filling in tick boxes for the dole, I found artist wasn’t going to fit in that box, nor were much of the other identities I seemed to have consumed over the years.  So the term what can you do seemed more appropriate. I resisted putting nurse cook and bottle washer in the box cos although I’d do it – I could envisage a literal interpretation of that and a spate of washer-up in restaurants imminent.

All the things I could do seemed to have been usurped by time, and especially with art; lack of funds to make or do, not that that wasn’t new, but it was impossible without affording some sorts of materials, so all my projects went on hold, half baked.

These days with my day job tentatively sorted I am now adamant that what I do is artist. My art work can still pay a permanent visit to or be found residing in the garage for a while before finding a home or a brief foray into the bright lights of exhibits.

So when I heard about Michael Landy and his Bin; you can’t miss it really, but if you did he’s commissioned a huge bin to be setup in Peckham Gallery where artists can deposit their unused work, dropped unceremoniously from the bin’s great height to go crashing into the heap at the bottom. This brought home how all the work that is not accepted or known by art institutions, establishments and gallery circuits and circus’s (and Landy’s definitely on the circuit) still has lack of relevance because of its unacceptability.

Artists will always be that species of their own making, but the past 20 if not 30 years has shown an increasing tilt toward the artist producing a commodity and as a commodity it has to have a use and value,  and like many commodities before with little known practical use were found catapulted to the giddy heights of luxury items with the money value of their work receiving a lot of attention, so the lines have become even more defined; us and them, if you like. The artists who had made it had really made it celebrity style and all the money spin off from that interest.

Michael Landy’s Bin and other projects around at the moment are highlighting the fact that art can and should be of use if it has a chance to.

The hashtag class project this February/March at the Winkleman Gallery is also engaging with the polemic of incestuous/competitive clusters of commercial art and its entourages with both establishment and private being exclusively positioned, excluding many.

Recent years have shown a special kind of art hierarchy fuelled by its own hype and money monopolies, which in turn send out messages; brand yourself, stand out, move on up, and even boho liberal’s, disenchanted cynical artists or both, still get given the message be there or be square or more likely don’t give up the day job cos you ain’t one of us yet.

Of Course there is bad art and good art, but that has been and still is very much the dictate of a few moguls and their directional interests, and with that, only a few artists can identify.  But it doesn’t stop others being artists, and the opportunity to validate that shouldn’t stop at school leaving age – the age at which the state stops being there for a lot of youngsters.

Music, art even PE are lauded as beneficial aspects of education just as the sciences are integral too (and strangely enough media studies – that shot to the top of the class straight away), but let’s face it how many of us when sat in front of the careers advice bloke, were, and are really encouraged in that direction other than to maybe go on to do arts degree level or seek out a job at the local gym/swimming pool (sports being slightly more ingrained as useful).

Purely commercial jobs (or art-o-tainment jobs) are the only option (and I’m not knocking them) the non highly commercial ones are pretty much left to the remit of public establishments, theatres, art institutions and dedicated groups for dance, comedy or whatever – and they are not exactly brimming with jobs or opportunities; with them lacking funds and chasing the coat tails of commercial entities holed up in their incestuous clusters in (usually) large cities.

And so on a very basic level the adage of “Don’t put your daughter on the stage Mrs Worthington” rings true, the arts as a profession still has that precarious life choice attached to it, one which you have to be either pretty determined to take and/or probably have fairly supportive parents.

Shazia was certainly determined and it is obvious what she does, for a lot of people though, their creative contributions will never grow past the collage that their art teacher thought was very good or the voice in which their music teacher saw promise. The structure to enable the praise given in school to grow outside of that is patchy and fraught, and for artists especially, being a fairly solitary activity even if you do survive that assault course and make some headway if you don’t play the games of media and hype (to name but a few) when reaching the giddy heights of the bright lights – it’s a long and possibly just as quick, way down to the bottom of that bin.