The Falmouth Convention - responses

Responses

The responses quoted below are an edited compilation from the many emails received since the close of the Convention.  We should welcome further comments, ideas and suggestions to contribute to evaluation of the Convention and thoughts for the future. Please send responses to teresa@thefalmouthconvention.com.

It was an incredible experience in an outstanding part of the world. It’s a little hard to think that so much was done in four days!
Steven Rowell, artist/speaker, 25 May 2010

I very much valued the experience and have taken many thoughts and ideas away with me. I hope the Convention will be the start of further discussions and collaborations within the strong arts ecology in the southwest and beyond.
Donna Lynas, Director, Wysing Arts Centre, 25 May 2010

The biggest, biggest thank you for the BEST four days – word has already got round that anyone who wasn’t there knows that they missed something very good and special. Such a great programme, including of course the field trips.
Michaela Crimmin, Tutor, Curating Contemporary Art, Royal College of Art, 25 May 2010

One thing that just struck me in relation to the subject of the convention:  As an artist, I would like to see funding specifically allocated to the documentation, dissemination and reviewing of work that takes place in these potentially exciting zones in the ‘back of beyond’.  I think artists (still mostly based in urban centres) are sometimes nervous of committing themselves to projects in these places often with fledgling organisations (who are exciting and experimental precisely because they are often isolated, independent –  ‘perhaps innocent’ – and in a situation to take risks), however inspiring the context and engaged the commissioner, because the artist feels a huge mutual effort could well disappear into obscurity.

The infrastructure to mediate these projects is still centered on the capital.  Even within the capital, for instance, it used to be a massive effort to get people to visit Cabinet Gallery when it was in Brixton.  “It’s too far!” was always the excuse of the North Londoners. Ideally I would like to see a “guarantee of criticism” built into initial exchanges/contracts between artist and commissioner. There’s rarely much discussion of it between these two partners; It’s the last thing to worry about and it’s only on the launch night that you realise that the organisation has an out-of-date mailing list of 30 people, no money for documentation or to invite down writers etc. So, sometimes excellent work contextualised within a provocative and innovative exhibition structure that has the potential for international recognition, becomes marginalised into something parochial.

The idea that we (as viewers) might need to travel considerable distances to see exceptional work is a tough one; art fairs have contributed to making many of us lazy; Why bother trawling round lots of galleries when you can see lots of work (really badly) in one space? The idea of making a pilgrimage is a risky one. What if you go all that way and it’s not very good?!

Therefore, artists ‘save themselves’ (their energy, time and finances) for the metropolitan centre, thus perpetuating a snobbery that the city is always best. Especially in October. During the Frieze Art Fair. And so continuing a centralising of culture.

So, how might this be redressed in reality?

  • I’m not sure. I’ll have a think. Definitely something to do with earmarking money (it would not need a lot) and time (there’s the problem) for mediation.
  • eg: Allocating specific funding to art magazines or writers that can only be used to mediate (good) works that are ‘away’?
  • The Arts Council funding the travel for writers/journalists to these places.
  • Established public galleries creating a mentoring system of affiliations and, for example, including a mention of these projects in their websites, mail outs, but without strings.
  • Offering these ‘remote’ spaces the best databases of mailing lists etc.
  • Enabling these projects to have a prestigious  board of trustees so that everyone’s reassured; although the project is ‘far away’ via an organisation few have heard of, it is also properly networked into the centres, indeed is even more important and worthy of support for its bravery in not clinging to the establishment.

Adam Chodzko, artist/speaker, 25 May 2010

The convention was a great success in many ways and I felt that it more than fulfilled its purpose as a laying of foundations and ideas for the future. It was also good to hear positive feeling coming from Cornwall itself, and I hope that some of the excellent points made by artists working in the region are considered along with everything else.
Ian Nesbitt, Annexinema, 26 May 2010

I would like to thank you for inviting me to Falmouth. Never before have I experienced such hospitality and perfect organisation of any event. The whole time I spent there – I will not forget ever. I hope you are satisfied with the outcome of the conference. I have really benefited from it. I hope to come back to this magic place in the future.
Andrzej Przwyara, Director, Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw, 27 May 2010

Thank you so much for ‘The Falmouth Convention’ – something very special occurred there, an extraordinary coming together of people, place, substance and weather and fun! It was great to be involved and extra special being in Falmouth again.
Lucy Gunning, artist/speaker, 4 June 2010

I thought it was a really memorable, quality event. It was brilliant to see a concerted interest in these topics coming from a broad spectrum of the sector and I think the contributions from all participants were extraordinary. Where we take this next is of course, as Lucy Lippard pointed out, all of our responsibilities.
Sara Hughes, Curator, Tate St Ives, 7 June 2010

I am writing to congratulate you on such an amazingly organised, well programmed and potently executed event. In short, the event injected new energy, voices, eyes and ears into the contemporary art scene in Cornwall and created a vibrant hub for discussion, debate, exchange and, through an emphasis on ‘out of hours’ social time and field trips, the circumstances for leveled dialogues was created. The convention, with its international context and highly established and significant contributors, offered artists in the immediate locale, such as myself, the opportunity to meet and discuss issues related to contemporary practice and issues specific to Cornwall in one place, within a positively intense time period, without having to travel anywhere.

The potentials of a convention like this are limitless and I was amazed at the people that I ended up talking to, some knowingly and others not, those who I may never have ever had the chance to talk to otherwise, let alone get a chance to get to know over the few days. Opportunities have sprung out of it for us and for this we are very grateful. The event has placed Cornwall firmly into national dialogues and through being well hosted and ‘held’ for a few days, has recruited a new load of advocates for what is happening, has happened and is due to happen in Cornwall within the next few years within the contemporary arts. Through the diverse range of participants and their individual networks word will be spread fast that something interesting and worth looking out for is happening in Cornwall.

For criticisms, I do feel that there could have been more time for questions from the floor after presentations. I feel that this is the space where the ‘nitty gritty’ can be teased out and the audience can offer another perspective and challenge the often carefully selected and prepared PowerPoint and the scripted delivery, and can, with their questions and observations, knit together any loose ends, draw parallels, and challenge fleeting statements. I also feel that there could have been a presentation of a project that had been previously delivered in Cornwall, whether institutional or artist led, and also feel that, although it was recognised and stated by the panel, there could have been an artist representative on the panel on the Sunday. Suggested by other participants, I agree that the show and tell approach of other relevant models internationally has its advantages at imparting information, but I do feel that if done again a more dialogic and exchange-based environment would be greatly beneficial, one that facilitates a more focused look at Cornwall and what could be achieved here, with the knowledge of all the models and strategies available.
Paul Carter, 12 June 2010

Thank you for bringing together such a wonderful event – it felt almost surreal to have a gathering of such quality in Cornwall.
Sara Bowler, artist, 16 June 2010

I attended Lucy Lippard’s keynote speech as a delegate. I felt it was well organised and there was a definite buzz about seeing such an eminent speaker. It gave the event a great opening. Lucy Lippard was a good choice as she is scholarly but not dry, setting the tone for the future events.

I had a fantastic time, listening to high quality speakers and meeting interesting people and others I knew and was happy to catch up with. I think more spaces could have been programmed in , more contingency time between events maybe. It was excellent and I only wish I’d had the means to attend the whole thing.
Karen Howse, 23 June 2010

The convention was an excellent experience. I was a steward and got to chat with people from diverse backgrounds – curators, writers and artists.

It provided great insight into the business of the art world. There were some excellent speakers and the energy and passion they held for their areas was inspiring.

The keynote on Thursday was a great start – having a speaker come over from New Mexico opened up both the local and international relevance of the themes of the conference. Overall, the mix of local and international speakers was great. I especially enjoyed Simon Fujiwara’s input over the weekend.

I didn’t make it on a field trip though I enjoyed the summations on the last day and if Urbanomic are running their trip again I would really like to attend. All in all it was an excellent experience that brought people together and created a surge of artistic energy. I feel inspired and grateful to have been part of it.
Emma Hogan, 30 June 2010

Just a note to thank you and your hard working colleagues sincerely for a wonderful three days in Cornwall. This began with the pre-Convention material right through to the final session, a truly warm and welcoming experience. The quality of contributions was a critical factor, from Tacita Dean’s value in ‘disobedience’ to Bassam el Baroni’s theory of ‘enigmatics’ and the chance to be guided (misguided!) by the Urbanomic team into the toxic mix of the Kernovian syndrome.

I have given a report to our Arts Council here in Ireland. Considerable activity has been bubbling up throughout rural situations in Ireland in recent years, and I hope that this also will surface within the wider European platform that you have so ably contributed to building through this occasion.

Imagine meeting Sir Nicholas Serota and Sandy Nairne in the Lemonade Factory, bathing one’s toes in the sea under the shadow of St. Ives and letting Lucy Lippard’s words of wisdom cascade in the humid air of a flowering of Falmouth.
Jenny Haughton, Public Art Adviser, The Arts Council (Ireland), 4 July 2010

I always like an excuse to visit Cornwall, though in truth to begin with I may have had a slight reservation about going because I feared that it might disrupt my much longer, personal connection, going back to the mid 70s. This is something that Lucy Lippard touched on, the sense of one’s association to a place being personal and private, a place that is special because it is one’s private map, not a map that anyone can pick up and gain access to. I become concerned that places close to my heart may become ‘discovered’ and perhaps re-branded through a new or different cultural identity. Although Cornwall has of course had a very deep and long association as a place for art and artists, the idea of the contemporary art world descending en masse was slightly scary for me. What if Cornwall suddenly became deluged by people on an art pilgrimage and, like Georgia O’Keeffe is to Santa Fe, Alfred Wallis became its patron saint?

But I quickly realised that this mild paranoia was misplaced. From the moment that I bumped into Michaela Crimmin at Paddington Station, I was enjoying myself. Lucy Lippard’s keynote address was a wonderful way to kick start the activities, and I am pleased to hear that you have published this on the website. I connected up with Hadrian Piggott that evening and we kind of hung out for the whole of the next day too when we went on the walk with Assembly et al from St Just. Hadrian is an old friend, and also a local. The weather being glorious was of course a real boon. The lunch at Assembly and the walk was really superb. I liked the fact that most people didn’t know most people, though everybody knew somebody, and so we all had an opportunity to get to chat on a level playing field. Jon Brookes from the National Trust was engaging and informative, and his knowledge of and enthusiasm for the hundreds of years of history of Cornwall was inspirational.
Ingrid Swenson, Director, Peer, 7 July 2010

Thank you all for organising and co-ordinating such an inspiring weekend. I thoroughly enjoyed the three day event.

I was particularly impressed with our field trip, ‘Assembly Walk and Talk’, because it was well-organised, whilst being welcoming and relaxed, was highly informative, thanks to the interesting experts, and was great fun.

It was a pleasure to talk with other artists and writers whilst walking along together. Several of the peripatetic exchanges were fruitful and gave the rest of the weekend more meaning. I also enjoyed the delicious food and warm welcome “en famille” at Assembly. To finish off a job well done, our leaders gave an excellent summary of our walk on Sunday’s feedback session. I was deeply satisfied by the whole event.

The presentations on Saturday were also informative and held my attention, for the most part. I do think it would be good to provide more time for interaction between presenters and delegates to make future conventions more participatory in nature.
Stephanie Horton, 7 July 2010

The Falmouth weekend was a highlight in my calendar, especially being given the chance to re-evaluate my relationship with Cornwall having grown up there, and learning so much from a place that I thought I knew so well. It is an incredible achievement by both you and all the team to have not only co-ordinated the whole project but importantly have dreamed it up in the first place. I can only imagine how I would have felt if something like this would have happened whilst I was living in Cornwall in my late teens. I know from all my colleagues who were there that they too thought it was magical.
Simon Fujiwara, artist/speaker, 10 July 2010

I should like to thank you all for such an extraordinary event, with a fabulous programme of speakers and field trips, which I very much enjoyed. I also enjoyed the opportunity that the programme enabled for informal discussion of ideas between participants. Perhaps for the next Falmouth Convention there might be some way of including more discussion and debate as part of the programmed events?

For me, the event provoked much thinking about the sustainability of current art practices and ideologies that are reliant on centralised models of production and dissemination and made me realise just what an enormous shift is required for the art sector to edge towards a more distributed and sustainable approach. The Falmouth Convention seems to me to have made an enormous step in this direction.
Kate Southworth, Research Cluster Leader, iRes Research in Network Art, University College Falmouth, 12 July 2010

I like the field-trip as a central idea for further Conventions and beyond. Getting to Cornwall is an excursion for most people after all, unless they happen to live here, so there is always a journey to start with. Then, rather than a central destination point, focus radiates out in all directions, encouraged by the artist projects and field-trips. For instance, Urbanomic might repeat their field-trip at intervals, so that at certain trigger-points over a year there would be other opportunities for people to experience it. Other local artists and groups might also come up with home-grown field-trip projects. Content might grow and change depending on the artists and on the day…but it means that there would be continuity and activity during what might be the research period for other longer-term commissioned artists projects. I can see it leading to a rich lattice of ideas and engagement which would be very exciting.
Hadrian Piggott, artist, 12 July 2010

Having listened and participated in the Convention I felt that there were a few key themes which emerged. It is worth noting that I was personally interested in ideas of Residency – and so picked up on related or relevant themes.

TIME

‘Imagine being here now’ said Lucy Lippard in the key note speech. Her words brought us into the present, and located us in space/place. In an art world context increasingly associated with the speed of international movement and virtual connection, these words struck me as a knowing call to awareness. Her notion of ‘the continuous present’ offered a potential pathway for us to overcome the polarities of heritage and the contemporary, which so often constrain debate in Cornwall. It allows us to locate ourselves in a place of perpetual presence and possibility. A place where all art is contemporary (to quote Martin (quoting someone else?)). The obstacles and baffles of art referred to by Bassam create the possibilities inherent in delay. Lucy’s ‘lived, walked, touched, felt, smelt experience’ laying a firm foundation for…

RELATIONSHIP

Throughout the Convention I was aware of the web of relationships which were created – between the visitor and the resident, the ‘international’ artist and the ‘local’ artist, between narrative and place, host and guest. Someone (possibly Adam Chodzko) spoke of ‘There and Elsewhere’, a perfect evocation of our ability to be in a place and beyond it, both here and somewhere else in our imaginings or concepts. To work in Cornwall does not demand that one’s vision is limited to Cornwall. I understood Bassam to refer to the danger of assumed polarities, and advocate the embracing of ‘undefined complexity’ (which is perhaps allowed in a continuous present, when we are here now, immersed in our experience).

On a simpler level issues of trust, of listening (Listen very well to the storytellers!), and of being conscious of the relationships that inspire, inform, and support arts practice, arose as key issues. I was left considering how you create and sustain an ecology of relationships which allow for the nurturing of arts practice. Which leads us onto…

STRUCTURE

The key question here seems to be ‘How do you structure openness?’ What are the necessary conditions to support arts practice and/or debate? How do you manage the relationship from the original invitation, through the expectations of the host and the artist, to the defined or undefined outcome? What is the nature of the contract? What levels of financial reward are needed and how much support, resource, and care is necessary. The luxury of the Banff model suggests a structure of total support and privilege for the artist with little outputs demanded. The Grizedale model demands a utility of practice, with an element of social engagement created as part of the contract. Which leads to the last question of …

VALUE

In each of these themes there is an underlying question which is almost unanswerable. What is the value of an artist residency, exchange or convention? If the structure is one of openness – with the implication that there are no or minimal contracted outputs, how do you measure success? Equally, how does the ecology which supports the resident realise a sense of value and benefit in the process. We were exhorted to ‘protect the indescribable’! In Lucy Gunning’s and Tacita Dean’s presentation of their Field Trip, they showed us photos of their group signalling to each other with mirrors from boat to shore and shore to boat. We saw the context – the place, the people, heard the now historical narrative, but could not share in the flash of light and the moment of connection as the mirrors turned. As we move forward we need to develop a describable ethos and value framework which allows these fragile moments to rise and fall, outside of the demands of our output driven culture.
Mark Osterfield, Executive Director, Tate St Ives, 15 July 2010

Lucy Lippard’s keynote presentation was a dynamic start to the Convention; I hope her ideas will be considered in relation to evolving networks and creative developments that take place in Cornwall (Manifesta or otherwise).

On the Saturday someone pertinently asked what purpose art might have. Hans Ulrich Obrist attempted a response that focused on urgency and necessity (rather than purpose) leading to the concept of ’slow art’ – a welcome and familiar notion to those of us interested in context-led responsive practices and certainly a good idea in relation to meaningful production that is environmentally aware.

Tacita Dean entertained us with her notions of ‘disobedience’ re the expectations and curatorial aspirations that artists find themselves manoeuvring in commissioned projects. She also spoke of how she felt it important for her work to be removed from the context of its production in order ‘to breathe’.

In contrast to this concept I would like to have seen the inclusion of context-led arts practice that was durational, immersive and responsive. This was touched on re. Lorca’s house (Hans Ulrich Obrist) in terms of the time it takes to work in this way, but the house imposed an overarching curatorial thematic – that of Lorca, his life, writing etc – rather than an open investigation into a locality. The nearest the Convention came (aside from Lippard) to what it means to respond to a specific place was the brief panel presence of Adam Sutherland (Grizedale Arts, possibly the longest-standing residency project in the UK) – who picked up on the previously eluded query about art’s purpose to say ‘we do see a purpose for art, and we do see that purpose being manifested locally’.

The final panel was interesting – on the one hand there was an obvious gap in artist representation (acknowledged by Newlyn’s James Green) and someone from the floor commented that she would like to have seen an ecologist working with the team. Meanwhile Miranda Bird spoke about the importance of cultural tourism – raising the profile of Cornwall as a cultural destination and viable economic resource.

I found myself concerned that we might be dangerously underestimating people (residents and visitors alike) if we categorise tourists through a belief that ‘Art’ with a capital ‘A’ attracts a more culturally sophisticated visitor… also, we can’t afford to ignore the impact of tourism (environmentally, socially and economically) on the region. Cornwall is already overstretched to accommodate visitors, so what we need is a responsible approach to tourism, one that acknowledges that culture is already here in people’s imagination, knowledge and experience – and that these ’senses of place’ (Lippard) can generate creative relations and trans-disciplinary activities pertinent to the complexities of particular situations.

It’s fantastic that the Convention stimulated people’s thoughts in order to look forward to the potential of creative manifestations here in Cornwall. Whilst Hans Ulrich Obrist spoke of ‘the future being the countryside’, Lucy Lippard slipped in the notion of countrycide (as in genocide or suicide) re the realities of land issues. I came away from these wonderful polarities with a reinforced enthusiasm for what’s possible – if we are to curate in the true sense of the word (Latin cūrāre, to take care of) we will care for where we are and what we are doing.

‘So, where are we now?’ we might ask, having convened to explore Cornwall through a ‘lens’ of activities that was The Falmouth Convention, its focus being ‘to consider a bid to host the international exhibition Manifesta in Cornwall in 2014′.

Perhaps we need to forget the buzzwords, the abstractions of site/public/audience and ‘cultural capital/tourism’ in order to engage with the complexities of locality and its implicit meshwork of connections. Aside from saying a big ‘thank you’ to everyone who worked to bring the Convention into being, I hope we can continue to remind ourselves of Lucy Lippard’s insightful keynote questionings about art, place and tourism that are so relevant to Cornwall:

‘So, would any of this be of interest to the international art world? It might be, if it were recast in the guise of a new and critical regionalism. While regionalism has been relegated to the attic as parochial and provincial unless it’s adopted by art stars, the art market is always restless, always seeking new forage. In the last couple of decades there seems to be more openness to projects dealing with place-related endeavors. And good regional art is not the small picture but another large one, with both roots and reach.’
Annie Lovejoy, artist and doctoral researcher (UCF), 16 July 2010

Read Gareth Bell-Jones’s ‘Postcard from The Falmouth Convention’ in Artvehicle 51.

Coline Milliard’s response to The Falmouth Convention appears in the Jul-Aug 2010 issue of Art Monthly (subscription or purchase required).

Six months on from The Falmouth Convention, Axis, the online resource for contemporary art, commissioned Lucy R. Lippard to reflect on the event. The article is part of an Axis webzine mini series, ‘In Focus; the arts ecology of Cornwall’ which also includes interviews with Dr Ryya Bread and Steven Paige by Axis webzine editor Lucy Gibson.