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Balancing art against the other things



10 pairs of tortoises cannot oppose it, DIG Space, Lewisham

My ritual movements are first to clean thoroughly, to make repairs to the work – redressing the pigment on the floor, to document, and finally to dismantle completely and to clean further. Moksha Patam, our most recent exhibition, was up for 48 hours only. Recently I read on the performance artist Anne Bean's website this excellent opening:

'The content of this website is not the work. Nor is it a document of the work. It is a physical manifestation of certain intersecting circumstances More organised but no more significant than any others. My work is a continuum.'

Documenting my sculpture with Josh's camera on Sunday is difficult. My work is installed and contextualised within a space. It is, and has always been, ephemeral – even the last little clay statue is given to the Thames. My processes are exhausting, and I have a tiny window – perhaps two to four days – in which to install. There is a scene in Gattaca in which the brothers in competition are swimming out to sea. Later, the weaker brother, Vincent, explains:

'You want to know how I did it? This is how I did it, Anton: I never saved anything for the swim back.'

Sometimes making my sculpture feels like that. I give everything of myself in the days leading up to and have no thought for after. When it comes time to dismantle and document I want to lie down and cry – not because I am taking my work apart, but because I have no energy left.

The photos of my sculpture are not the work. They are perhaps a document of the work, however, void of the spatial, temporal and textural qualities, they are only a hazy reproduction of the primary manifestation.

My constructions are birthed by a concatenation of accidental moments. The process is a careful rigorous editing of myriad tiny synchronicity. For example, in Always and forever your mind I decide to use plants because of Josh's greenhouse on the roof, because of Danny's gardening, and because of James' gardening. These are the things that have been on my mind and, as I make the work, I discover the symbolism that the collocations hold for me.

In 10 pairs of tortoises cannot oppose it, between the cardboard tubes one day, I place a broken triangle of jewellery I found on the road. It is a vulva! And this leads me to realise that the two figures entwined are the male and female Buddhist tantric deities Vajrayogini and Chakrasamvara.

The titles of the works themselves are fragments of text that have caught me in the weeks leading up. This process makes the sculptures warm, brave and vulnerable. It makes it difficult to make proposals to galleries because of the countless unknowns involved in any project.

My friend Diana has written me some questions. I would like to write some thoughts provoked by them. The questions Diana asks are about how one can make art, how we can reconcile ourselves with the commercially driven art world, how we can afford to live in London.

In the winter months, when the metal bins are like fridges, we skip for food – though my flatmate and I are often lazy about it. We do whatever part time jobs we can – invigilation, making cocktails, café work, to leave us as much time as possible for our own practice. If we can, sometimes we get money from our parents. We get working tax credits or we sign on the dole for short periods of time. We walk or we bike because transport is too much. We live illegally or semi­legally in studios, warehouses or squats. We do whatever we can to get by in a city where the rent prices are increasingly and ridiculously rising. It costs at least six hundred pounds a month for a small room in Hackney. We have more fun in Limehouse and actually, despite the tribulations, our standard of living is fantastically high. We always have food and some among us are excellent cooks.

Favourite artist run spaces like Legion TV, Arcadia Missa and Auto Italia are becoming more established, more permanent, and as they do other new project spaces like DIG Space in Lewisham are ascending. There is great community among artists and writers in London, links that have grown and been nourished within the art school system and beyond.


What does 'art world' mean, what amorphous abstract entity is contained by that phrase? Often it feels like a scapegoat for discontent. I think being savvy about finance and business is great and I would like at some point to make money through my praxis, despite the fact that ephemerality will always be a key concern in my work. Nevertheless I feel that for artists the primary challenge is the same that it has always been: cultivating belief and discipline in one's practice. Money is probably secondary to that, or at the least the journey is the goal so one has to enjoy the stages.

I think often about choicelessness. For me there is no other way but art and surrendering to that makes me stubborn in the positive sense. I am romantic. I believe that if one is wholehearted there'll be a way through and that it'll be a good way. I believe in being genuine 100% with what one is making. London is our city and for the most part we love it.

© 2018 by Llew Watkins.

Dressing up Bars. Hinterland Shift. Llew Watkins artist website.

Writing, art, sculpture.