I think it must have been some time in 2007 or 2008, during ID’s crossing borders series of talks, that I heard this story from Heather Ackroyd. She had been going through a difficult time and withdrew into a comforting process that she had often turned to in her artistic work: planting patches of grass. The story is that at the same time an artist named Dan Harvey had begun making work using grass and was told by an associate that there was this artist, Heather, who was copying his work! The duo became Ackroyd and Harvey, sharing both a personal and artistic partnership and creating work using grass, such as their chlorophyll images ‘Mother and Child’.
Today I was supposed to complete and publish a post about the importance of glut balance for lower back health. But on the last day of work for this term, I felt the need for something more reflective.
A number of conversations that I’ve had in the last 3 months have prompted me to think about the idea of control. I think it’s easy to feel that we can have no control over events in our lives, in our relationships, in our profession, in our country, in the world. So much so that we resign ourselves to just taking what ever is tossed in our direction. Rather than being pro-active, we get stuck in re-activeness. Re-activeness is pretty safe. There will always be something to complain about, and as long as it’s someone else’s fault, at least our abilities, drive and focus are never brought into question. But if the ball is always stuck on someone else’s side of the court, then how will you ever serve an Ace?
In January I was scheduled to meet with a programmer who runs one of the major production venues in the UK. The meeting had been planned from two months before, so I was well aware of the need to be prepared to get the most out of the event. Naturally I was after some kind of commitment towards my next project. (It’s an irony that as artists we’ve clearly put the need to make money secondary to our drive to create, and yet we always seem to be asking for money…) I don’t know if I really achieved my aim. Asking someone to support you is very much like leaving things up to them, again placing the likelihood of my next project in their hands. But what I did receive was some extremely insightful advice. He said that opportunities are great and always worth applying for if they suit your needs. But you cannot build a sustainable practice on the back of opportunities alone.
We all know that selection processes are highly competitive. We moan about how closed or un-transparent these processes seem. How is it that some artists are always supported by certain institutions? The truth is that success is often down to an underlying relationship that has already been established and this is a good thing! In the past I’ve submitted tonnes of applications (I still do), carefully scrutinising the guidelines. I felt as though I was always answering everyone else’s questions and then getting genuinely upset when applications fell through (which I also still do). When I look back at the perfectly planned schedule that I set myself on leaving college back in 2003, I realise, now, how flawed it was. Almost every goal I had set myself relied on my success in open auditions and application calls. Each one placed the ball squarely on the other side of the fence, I was at the mercy of the elements, totally disempowered. No wonder I was so disgruntled!
I’m writing from the perspective of a dance artist, but it applies to a much wider community. I think we can become so desperate to prove ourselves, to gain validation and recognition or to find security through regular income, that we hurl ourselves all over the place, never stopping to think: what are my questions? Who do I want to work with? Where do I want my work to go? I think we could all do with tending to our own little patch of grass, sowing the seeds, watering, pulling out the weeds and watching it grow.
I’m writing this on the back of many fresh disappointments, and one surprising achievement in the last few weeks. It’s a frustrating business building a project from scratch. But as I retreat away from it all to rest, my aim is to re-focus the compass inwards on this little patch of grass that’s under my feet.