December 29, 2014

2015 Prediction Nr. 3: No Need To Fake It Till You Make It

Don’t get me wrong: I dig the “fake it till you make it” message of Amy Cuddy’s TED-talk. You can fake the self-confident body posture not only until you make it, but until you become it. Nothing wrong with becoming self-confident, right - although in the arts, I would advice against it since isn’t it despair and doubt that evoke the best ideas in artists, huh. Na, I’m talking about the fakery in residencies and fellowships. Because yes, I’m spending my holidays in my home country where the continuous drizzle makes me surf the internet for residencies in all places but Belgium. See, there’s a difference between Belgium and my other home country Germany. In Germany you can only make it if you first make it abroad. In Belgium, you have to stay put to make it. No kidding, once a Belgian curator told me that he didn’t ask me to write for a catalogue because he preferred to work with writers who live nearby. One wouldn’t even think of making such an excuse in Germany- the farther you are, the better. Anyway, this little detour only to come to the main point: residencies are a great occasion to network, to work in peace, to change your habitat, to push your boundaries and once you’re in, the ball mostly keeps on rolling until you no longer apply but get invited for residencies and until, in the very end, you come to that point that you rather stay home. (However, beware, there is the risk that you end up being stuck in the first phase and never have an art career, just an art residency career... ). 

My best residency ever: the Getty Research Library, a paradise on a hill in Los Angeles

So what’s the fakery of residencies and fellowships and how do we participate in the faking? Let me give you one example of the many that I came upon. In Istanbul there is the maumau writer-in-residence program which “aims to create an atmosphere for writers in which they can work isolated from everyday life while experiencing the inspiring nature of Istanbul.” That sounds very promising until you read the details. For a period of 3 weeks the fee is 600 Euros for a bedroom and the use of a library, a common kitchen, a shared bathroom and wireless internet. Applicants “are responsible for the transportation costs including the travel to Istanbul, around the city, also the funding for their project and daily expenses such as food and medical care.” So you’re basically renting a room and it probably wouldn’t be more expensive (or even less so) to book a room on airbnb, which will equally enable you “to work isolated from everyday life while experiencing the inspiring nature of Istanbul.” Probably the owners think they can call it a residency because it’s located in a gallery building and it adds to their own reputation to have a so-called artist residency. Quite a lucrative business, working with artists... Art residencies are no longer about nourishing the arts. On the contrary, willingly or unwillingly there’re creating an art world that is accessible to only the elite. 

It gets worse when big reputable institutions start doing the same thing: giving fellowships that artists need to fund themselves. Like the legendary Rijksakademie residency program, whose call for applications was posted two weeks ago with a new amendment. Let me quote: “Every resident artist is asked to raise a Fellowship of € 15,000, preferably in their home country. Selected candidates will be provided with more information after the interview round.” Hurray, one must feel elated to get picked for that residency knowing that the application process is only starting unless you are in the position not to worry about 15,000 Euros. Nowadays the worst thing is no longer that you are mostly working without pay in the art world, but that you have to pay to get some work done. What else do we have left than to participate in this extortion of artists? One can say that crowdfunding makes it even worse, because it lets the institutions off the hook. So shall we stick to Amy Cuddy’s advice and put the arms up in the V of victory in front of the bathroom mirror? Maybe, but for now, New Years Eve, there is this great opportunity to write down your goals for 2015 (here’s a post from the minimalists on how to do it right) and then you put them in a crack of a wall (this worked for a friend of mine) and everything you wish for will become reality in the year ahead (or maximum 3 years). 

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