Text written as blogpost to accompany Clarke Gallery residency BERLIN / BIRMINGHAM / BEYOND at Allotment, mac birmingham 2012

See it on the Allotment blog HERE

Since Clarke Gallery began, the question of money has always been there. It always is there, whether one acknowledges it or not. No matter what one does. And within my generation of artists in any case, there is almost a kind of embarrassment when it comes to trying to sell or market one’s own work, or talk about money in relation to one’s practice. Money earning is something that is done on the side. And when grants or stipends are offered, they’re usually not enough to live on. Or it all gets spent on material costs of production. Certainly in art school, we weren’t taught any skills that would to enable us to get any kind of job, let alone how to try to live from what we studied so hard to do.
Even if you’re an artist in an unheated studio with very basic things and living a minimal existence with two warm jerseys and one rickety old bicycle to your name, the fact is, somehow, food is being put into your belly. And unless you are lucky enough to live on a farm (or have an allotment!) and have the skills and time and know-how to grow your own, that food has to be have been money at some point. And that money has to be have been earned or donated from somewhere.

The deal we’ve had in the UK - and still have - is way better than in many other countries. But there are cuts. We are all feeling them. But, even without cuts, I have always felt that it would be preferential - and render me less vulnerable to someone I didn’t know at some point changing their mind about continuing to fund my work - if I could figure out how to make my practice sustainable. i.e. If I could weave money in somehow. In a way that wasn’t about getting rich at the expense of others. But about finding ways to move it around in a better way…

So far, most of what I have done through Clarke Gallery and indeed through my own art practice, funding or selling has often been more symbolic than ending up as actual pennies in the bank. Although I have sold some work for private clients - sourcing art they would not have come across by themselves - , on the whole the worlds of artists (to which I belong) and the worlds of people who might have money to spend on the art that artists are trying to sell (to which I do not), do not overlap very much. Which is of course where traditional galleries come in. But these clients take money to entertain. And to present the work to a standard that might mean these clients can part with the kind of money that is being asked of the works, it demands a good address. A clean gallery. A beautiful gallery girl - or boy. And this brings with it a new lifestyle. There’s a ladder of events one has to do if one is to be a successful gallery, including going to art fairs and hosting dinners. As well as showing good work.

When I was offered this opportunity at mac, having been in Birmingham not so long (and still with very strong links, and spending still a lot of time in Berlin) I really wanted to take this idea of the Allotment to heart. A patch of ground to grow the seeds of an idea. To test whether something holds.
The three part exhibition BERLIN / BIRMINGHAM / BEYOND / was developed in response to the difficulty of getting funding as an artist but also in response to ’anticurate’, a project initiated by artist Trevor Pitt last summer within this same building. For this, Pitt sent out a call to anyone who lived in the region to bring forward anything they were making that they considered to be art. More than three hundred works (sculptures, paintings, videos, jewelry, drawings, and more) were delivered to mac birmingham over a couple of weekends. And then each week a new group of people, invited by Trevor, curated a show in the gallery from the 300+ works that had been brought there, resulting in very different exhibitions each time.

This project brought to attention the eye of the curator. The power of choice and of juxtaposition. And of the use of text alongside work.

Here, I would like to draw attention to the power of the collector. S/he who buys gets to dictate what others look at. And to make the link between money and visibility. In our highly connected world, I am also interested to see who might come forward to make those decisions. Will they be local, or remote? More and more art is being bought online these days. Will this be the case here?

This experiment really might not work. mac birmingham is not a commercial art buying venue. It is a venue that people come to watch films, shelter from the rain with their families and have tea and cakes after a day in Cannon Hill Park. It is always buzzing with hundreds of people. But it is not where people come to buy art. Birmingham’s art scene too, I feel, is quite community-oriented, into which the idea of having to delve into one’s wallet in order to see what lies beneath the first work does not really fit. Art should be free and available for all to see.

But the fact is, someone has to pay the artists to produce that work that everyone wants to enjoy.
So.. let’s see how it unfolds. I am installing the lettering and hanging the first work, which I chose to get the show started - Untitled #22 by Alana Richards - tomorrow, along with text that will explain to visitors then and there what this project is about.

The rest will really be up to you, the audience - both at mac birmingham (where the show is), Berlin (where most of my in-person visitors to the gallery still are) and beyond. But I like the idea that someone in China might think it’s a good idea to buy something from the project, and then, in turn decide what we all have to look at here. But we’ll see if the idea remains as such, or is actually given the resources it needs to move forwards. At the very least I hope this may generate some debate around money and art (and community) and visibility.

Elly Clarke

www.ellyclarke.com / www.clarkegallery.de

(Many thanks also to Charlie Levine for all her work preparing the ground for these ten plots to be able to exist at mac birmingham.)