Week 9: Reflections

The week shot past much taken up with my portfolio of work in progress. However, the coursework involved two of the most helpful readings so far.

The first was Hans Obrist’s “The Kitchen”, his account of mounting an exhibition in his own home. (Obrist, 2015: 81-87) There was a lovely chain of circumstances. First, an unlikely but very convincing connection made by an economics professor between medieval alchemy and paper money. Then an idea for an exhibition which wasn’t conceived by Obrist himself but suggested to him by his friends. And then an exhibition which by this stage was a group exhibition too.

Each link in the chain made something more of the original idea and a combination of artists made the whole greater than its parts. Besides, as Obrist pointed out, citing the Sir John Soane’s Museum in London, there is a long and successful tradition of the home as a theatre for the arts. It happens here in Oxford every year when scores of artists open their homes for the ArtWeeks festival in May.

The second reading was Grant Scott’s “The Power of the Personal Project”, full of grounded, knowledgeable, practical suggestions. (Scott, 2015: 82-109) He set out not only why personal projects are very important – because they nurture creativity which feeds back into professional work – but how to approach, conceive and execute one. I value his distinction between emotional projects and intellectual ones. I liked being introduced to the work of Jim Mortram, a great example of what can be achieved even within a short radius of one’s own home.

Two things emerge here for me. The first is the importance of lateral thinking. New ideas can come from the most unexpected directions so it is important to nurture a range of different interests and activities. Nothing should be ruled out and an obsessive interest in just one thing is likely to dull you.

The second is the power of the network and especially in both these cases the human network. The internet can be hugely helpful but is not enough and as we all realize by now it can become a trap. Nothing beats the richness of human contact. Neither Obrist nor Mortram would have been able to do what they did without other people. There would have been no exhibition in Obrist’s case because the idea came not from him but from his friends. In Mortram’s case there would have been no subjects and no human interest – and it is the human interest in his story that has made his project such a success.

So, overall, very productive readings which will help my practice a lot, I hope.

OBRIST, H. U. (2015) ‘The Kitchen’, in Obrist, H. U. and Raz̤ā, A. (eds) Ways of curating. London: Penguin, pp. 81–87.

SCOTT, G. (2015) ‘The Power of the Personal Project’, in Scott, G. (ed.) Professional photography: the new global landscape explained. New York: Focal Press, pp. 82–109.