Artists’ groups – together we are beautiful

On 11 December Cardiff will be a-throng with artists from Bristol, Birmingham and, of course, Cardiff, cementing a three-way partnership that’s been blossoming for  years. Artists who work away from the perceived art centre of London, who work in ways that’s hard to comodify or Saatchify.

These visitors will, by and large, be part of the burgeoning artists-collectives networked across the UK.

Artists come together for all manner of reasons: to share studios, to exhibit together or simply to find a forum to discuss their work.

Wales with its dearth of dealers and commercial galleries (not to be confused with the galleries that sell work, who are not to be denigrated), seems well-placed to host this celebration of the off-centre, to focus on practice not prices.

Cardiff’s artists’ groups

And here in Cardiff we’ve got artists’ groups coming out of our ears. From the well-established: g39 is eleven years old; Trace: Installaction art space is nudging towards its first decade, albeit in a different form; Old Library Artists have been together since the early 1990s and Butetown artists have been around in one form or another since the 70s,  to newer initiatives like Open Empty Spaces. And then there’s tactileBosch, ten next year and not flagging yet.

tactileBosch, in an old Victorian laundry in Llandaf, has become a major player on the visual arts scene in Cardiff, but its reach is truly international.

It’s a proving ground for artists, whether they’re still in, or fresh out of, art college, or more established but wanting to try new things.

Everything is possible

Founded by Kim Fielding and Simon Mitchell (who went on to found  Volume Projects in London) nearly ten years ago, it’s been a seat-of-the-pants ride for this artists’ collective. They don’t get any sort of core funding from anywhere, business rates reductions from Cardiff Council are by negotiation and building repairs come courtesy of the Probation Service.

And yet, somehow, they punch far above their weight,  infinitely accommodating of proposals and ideas. Offering vital (if sometimes wet in winter) studio spaces, artists, such as recent graduate Sam Aldridge (left pic) get critical support and feedback as they develop their ideas.

Every year tactileBosch programmes those hard-to-deal with art projects: performance, complex installations, moving image, sound, alongside more traditional art forms. They’ve latterly added their painting strand: Wood, Canvas, Steel, that takes in print and drawing. I’d signpost you to their archive but they’re in the process of moving their website.

The images featured here reflect part one of an ambitious three part exhibition called Auxesis. Curated by resident tB artists Andrew Cooper, with Michael Murray, part one is the easiest to pin down, as it’s happened. It was largely installation/moving image based, although the opening night of any show will feature performance and music, that’s part of the ‘Bosch tradition.

Part two folded in nicely to Experimentica, reviewed in an earlier blog: tactileBosch goes Experimentical, featuring a raft of performances that complemented the Chapter Arts Centre programme. Part three opens on Saturday 23 January 2010.

tactileBosch is the first staging post for December Eleven. Which is where we came in.

Are friends collective?

Trying to define what makes an artists’ group or collective is as easy as wrestling with a barrel of eels: sometimes it’s about sharing spaces and resources, sometimes it’s about geography and most often it’s about tackling the imbalance between the number of artists out there and the scarcity of gallery slots available to show certain kinds of work.

I spoke to tactileBosch co-founder Kim Fielding, and he shared his memories of the early days of tB,  when he and Simon Mitchell  came up with the name and the tag line The fist in the velvet glove, and how things are shaping up now. tB is now truly a group effort.

Kim Fielding 2009, img EG

mind the gap

Kim refers to a problem across Wales and probably further afield: the cracks that newly graduated artists can slip down after leaving an art college, about the transitional period: “Coming out of college, there’s a gap. So mind the gap.”

But there are other cracks in the system too. In Wales there’s no discrete pot of funding for artist-led activity, unlike in Scotland. This means that these groups are up against priority-ticking projects bidding for lottery funds, most of which have headed over the Severn Bridge to a large sporting event planned for London in 2012.

Next week the Arts Council of Wales begins its most radical funding review ever. Simply put the funding from government is at a standstill and may well decline further. There’s not enough jam to go around the existing portfolio of clients so there are cuts to be made.

This process won’t have a significant impact until 2011. Let’s hope that the Arts Council creates some breathing space for the next generation of artists to truly flourish.