Work and experience: Reflection on loving what you do.

I was recently looking for work, and I obviously had to reflect on the experiences I bring to prospective workplaces. It was an opportunity to look back at the history of my relationship with work. I am surprised, because I found myself feeling a little regret.

I’m too old and have too many financial obligations to be interning, which is a bit of a shame because there are a stack of things I’d love to try out, if I had the chance (read: money).

Especially because I feel like I wasted my chances with gaining a varied ‘work experience’ especially when I was in school.

I have never had enough money to take a gap year, or to do internships when I was young – I’ve always had to wrangle my money – so the school-based scheme was really my only chance at connecting my skills with all the possibilities of earning.

I don’t know what it’s like here in the UK, where I grew up we get two weeks – one each year at 15 and 16 –  to spend in a workplace relevant to our careers.

My two weeks

At 15, I was studying Italian, German and Japanese. My mother (and probably my school) suggested that, with those language skills, perhaps I should be an interpreter or translator.

If I could advise my former self, I would suggest other things. However, time has passed.

So I spent a week in June at an interpreter’s office, which turned me off the idea forever. The staff were all bored, spoke Turkish to each other – a language I couldn’t understand – and no-one really guided me through the process. I read a book for most of the week. Perfect experience.

I remember being really disappointed after that experience at the the interpreter’s office;
I was completely lost as to how to use the obvious skills I had with languages and no-one in my family, (or seemingly in school), had any kind of understanding as to how to apply them either. I was also at an age where I was having a lot of difficulty expressing how I was feeling. So couldn’t really talk about it with anyone.

So I did the best thing I knew how to do: scrapped that idea and changed tack.

I picked up science, headed towards something that I knew I could ‘use’ and that has some prestige to it.
Except I’m not a scientist and I knew it.
But I didn’t talk to anyone about that disappointment or lack of direction.
Not really. So I hid those skills (including my A+ skills at English) and wobbled off into the world alone.

At 16, I was working for a crook in a fucked up situation. I was getting paid and I was on a path of self-destruction. I manipulated the week so that I did ‘work experience’ with him and spent half the week with my boyfriend.

Those two weeks were my ‘introduction to the workforce’.

I don’t regret too much about the past, but in the middle of job-hunting and reconsiderations about the nature of my ‘work’ those lost chances are a tiny sore spot.

Lessons learned

So when David McQueen recently asked his twitter followers for advice to young students about work experience, I remembered that I had a lot of them.

Here they are:

1. Do as much work experience as you can. We only had to do one week each. At one firm each week. We got paid $5 per day (which was more I’d ever earned before), but it’s not really that much of a tester – considering how different high school or even university is from working life.

I would have spent time in a fashion house, at a funeral home, in a school, at a newspaper’s office, in a factory, working for a builder or an architect, – in all kinds of places.
Give yourself some real room for real discovery and experience.And write about it. Or blog. Tweet. Make videos, or songs or whatever it is that you do to express the deeper parts of yourself. Do that whilst you’re on that journey. It will help in years to come to look back at that raw reflection and see some truth in it.

2. Play to your strengths.  Go to places not-so-obviously connected to what you ‘want’ to do, but that use your skills.

It’s much easier to love what you do when you do it well, rather than just doing what you love. Don’t worry about getting it straight away – the happy accidents or the conscious changes we make as adults are invaluable. But it would be nice if you can get a bit of a head start.

3. Think laterally. Search websites for those skills from #2. And then some based on your school reports – even the bad ones will highlight the areas you are skilled at. Even if you’re a pain-in-the-arse-class clown, you still hold the skills of holding people’s attention, managing a room full of people, being vulnerable, witty and manipulative – skills that are great for management, public speaking, loads of areas of showbiz, teaching, etc.

4. Actually speak with someone about it before and after. Really – do your best to get some support for it. It will stand you in good stead for speaking with recruiters, careers coaches, counsellors and other people there to help and support your growth.

Our careers counsellor at school was a little bit useless, so I got away with how shit it all was and possibly deserved the lost chance.

But, if you can grasp the great opportunity you have, bookend it with a few different people. Especially with someone who challenges you on your bullshit. It should be your Mum. or your Dad. But it’s also just as likely to be your older brother, or aunty, uncle, favourite teacher.

Try to properly analyse it. Don’t just fill in the form (any kid can do that, jeez) – but speak to them. Tell them your expectations, hopes and fears about the job/role/experience beforehand. And then again afterwards.

Then use that to create a bit of a plan of attack for the next time you do it. Because, if you’re doing #1, you’ll do it again.

5. Be strategic. Have a plan of attack. Really think through what you’re looking to understand about a workplace. Use the chats from #3.

It’s not always easy or appropriate to ask questions, so be as observant as you can about things like time, goals, visions, accomplishments and relationships:

How do people organise their time? How do they treat each other? What are the ways in which they celebrate success? How do they speak about their expectations.

6. Don’t do the work experience where you already work. Even if my ‘job’ wasn’t shady-as-fuck, I would suggest this. You already know how that job works. For all the reasons above – this is a chance to really research and uncover the good, teh bad and the ugly about a role.

Good luck!

Sounds we ignore

This is a follow-on from the post about jade’s story. And other women’s stories: my friend’s stories and my own.

Last week, as I was walking home from an amazing evening working on a friend’s solo dance work, I was accosted by a young guy in my local neighbourhood.

He was a charming young man, menacingly telling me how sexy i looked (‘babes’), did i want it?, ‘you know you want it’, delightful displays of his ‘big dick’ and threatening to give me one, even if i didn’t want it. Rapist-in-training type shit.

The whole thing pissed me off. The system in which that interchange exists is a common one and I’m sick of it.

After going through a particularly intense session of identification at the police station, I rang a friend, a trans* woman, who was incredibly supportive. And it occurred to me that she, thankfully, hadn’t spent her whole life rejecting the unwanted advances of men.

I can’t even imagine it.

Most women, since the age of 10 (or younger), spend the rest of our lives in some act of ignoring the unnecessary sexual words and actions of men:

in the street, from cars, right up in our ear whilst our hair is being pulled, in our faces, from across the room, behind us, towards us, sideways, from scaffolding, under their breath, on the tv, on twitter, in memes, passing on the footpath, on the bus, on the train, in the office hallway, in a pub, outside a pub, at a gig, outside a gig, on the dancefloor, outside the club, at night, early morning, whilst walking, whilst jogging, with kids, without kids, in a group, on our own etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc.


We develop a reaction early – the paying attention of those words and sounds, the instant assessment of them on our character and varying levels of disregarding them, depending on our character and our self-esteem.

It’s fucking boring and surely a waste of our energy.

I’m sick of hearing it. I’m sick of ignoring it.

hey you, you, hello, hello? hey slut, dyke, freak, nice hair cut, show us your tits, whistle, kiss noises, heyy, sexy, nice tattoo, nice legs, hey sexy, hey, hello?, oi!, slut! nice hair, nice tatts!, show us your tatts, tits, car horns, oi, ladies, hey lady, miss, hey miss, excuse me, you right? can i get your number, heyyyy, shamood, shamout, butana, yo ho’, belle femme, kissy kissy, check this one aaaart…

Give us a break.

Speaking up: the personal, professional and principles

I’ve been less ranty on here than I used to. I’ve been saving a lot of my diatribes for twitter.
It seems to be the place where i’m getting the bulk of my intellectual discussion lately, although it’s not always ideal. 140ch, even carried over a few tweets can get really confusing when you’re trying to debate someone or actually discuss things. It’s some kind of glitchy forum . However, it’s still the medium of choice for me for some serious brain food.Somehow I came to follow David McQueen. He’s an amazing man – involved in youth education, business mentoring and empowering people to really do what they do and be amazing. From what I can tell from his twitter output, he’s involved in a range of really interesting, worthwhile and actually helpful ventures, mostly talking to people and encrouaging them. And his #SundayReads are always impressive and provocative.

He’s also a tall, black man with 2 daughters, a gorgeous wife he’s been married to for 18 years and incredibly invested in seeing change around education, agency, race and principled people. I know this because, with measure, he didn’t deny his personal effect within his professional adventures.

That’s probably how he ended up in my timeline (I follow some pretty rad people, you know).

For example, he didn’t pretend that it didn’t effect him when Travyon Martin’s killer was acquitted, he didn’t pretend that the media blow-out wasn’t influential during the Woolwich murder of a (white) British soldier and the ensuing EDL can-can, and he posted an opinion which I respected about Mos Def’s intense video undergoing the Guantanamo Bay force-feeding regime (which I personally related to and valued the discussion, having done an artwork about the audio torture on those same detainees).

This was the scope of a professional life of a man living in London, with the connected joy and connected prejudice.

Anyway, about a month ago, David announced that he was going to set up a separate twitter account for his more-personal musings, rantings, humour and introspections. And keep his David McQueen account for professional discussion.

And it’s probably the right decision.

Because his clients don’t necessarily want to acknowledge that issues of race, poverty, education, homophobia, religious extremism, media sluttery (my words, not his) influence the business of running businesses or educating young people.

But I continue to nag on him for it.

Because –  to my mind –  culture and privilege and media and bigotry do effect the world of business owners. I like hearing that a successful, powerful man invested in education, with great results, is affected by these things, but continues to educate children, empower people with businesses and talk to people daily about how to overcome obstacles in achieving what they desire: regardless, because, despite and in spite of.

They’re real things that happen.

And for me, it enacts the business of doing what you need to do in order to contribute to the world, without pretending that you’re not in that world.

So what is the political balance between personal and professional?

I retch at the industrialist idea of a person solely being a unit of labour, a denial of the social or personal effects on their work and vice versa.

I do believe they’re interwoven – with the best and worst aspects of those effects (see under Roman Polanski, Catholic Priests, etc)

I have to acknowledge that I have a privileged position in this.  I was raised by women who kept reminding me that the personal is political. I’m also white, middle-class and really don’t struggle (except financially).

When I go on about something, I’m not expected to be speaking for all of ‘my people’ and if it affects my professional capacity, it’s unlikely I would have wanted to work with those people anyway.

And I’m not married with children, so my opinions about the world don’t effect my husband’s or my children’s lives. I don’t have corporate responsibility or institutional ties.
And even if I did – as an artist, writer and creative business owner, it’s also kind of expected that I might be outspoken.It reminded me about the criticisms of Barack Obama during the Zimmerman acquittal (and other recent changes to American life that were influenced by race). He was criticised for denying his race. For acting as though he was separate from it when calling for calm or whatever. For separating his personal priciples from that of the Head of State. The suggestion was that to deny that the political was also personal, was, to some people, also a crime against other persons.

But is this unfair pressure on someone to be 100% accountable all the time, whilst I am as C-grade as it comes on the same scale? And if so, whose responsibility is it? How do artists marry the similar fine line between professional practice and their capacity to challenge authority.

Does this not just set up a sliding scale (and/or slippery slope) of behaviour in a public life heirarchy – a disconnection between what you do and how you feel?

Or do we just need to accept that this is the nature of contemporary times and multiple egos, where we have the need and skill to distance ourselves from others in a variety of ways and that there’s nothing actually wrong with that.

world listening day

Started by the excellent World Listening Project, the 18th July is a day to celebrate the aesthetics of listening – music, art practice and probably theatre works which encourage the act of listening.

Commemorating the birthday of R. Murray Schafer, a composer and writer who is crucial to the study of acoustic ecology, who coined the term ‘soundscape’, and is influential to contemporary artistic output of music and sound cultures. WLD has been slowly building over the last few years through autonomous actions around the world.

Last year I spent it doing one of my listening session artworks: 4 hours at Berlin Olympic Stadium. Specifically as the site of the Summer Olympics of the XI Olympiad: a complex sporting event in modern history.

On 1 August 1936, The grand aesthetics of Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich were displayed in glorious spectacle – proof of its power and might – in the opening ceremony, and guided through the impressive film work of Danny Boyle Leni Riefenstahl.

Despite it being a conduit for Nationalist-Socialist Party propaganda, Jesse Owens – a fine, fit black man from the United States won the most medals, killing it on the athletics field, with the hyped ‘snub’ from the Chancellor on his victory in the 100m sprint.*

Reading the Wikipedia entry on the games and the efforts to ‘clean up’ Berlin including signs saying: “Jews Not Wanted” sent a chill through my spine. Especially in light of this going around town at the moment:

I digress.

World Listening Day.

So, on 18 July 2012, Berlin Olympic Stadium was the site of a few school tours, incessant rain and the miserable sound of a super-sopper on the blue track going around and around in circles. No birds, no traffic even and a smattering of sociality as teenagers flirted with each other in bleechers. It was the most depressing list/listening project I’ve done to date.

I didn’t realise that the sound such emptiness could exist on the site of such grand spectacle. It’s almost like the more image-focused a site is, the less connected it is to a sound of humanity.

Perhaps this year I should have listened at Queen Elizabeth Stadium as a comparison.

This year, World Listening Day 2013, however, I was unable to make a work for it.

But I have compiled a small list of recent listening-based shows to see:

Sounding the Body Electric
Experiments in art and music in eastern europe 1957 – 1984
Calvert 22

I hadn’t heard of any of these artists before – unsurprising because my understanding of experimental music (especially that which crosses over into art) is self-taught and mostly through the experience of seeing shows like this.

Highlights included the great reading section, which I wanted to just lounge around all day in, the proto-Marclay records and music by Milan Knižak (pictured), which made me want to spit rhymes all over it, and the graphic scores by Katalin Ladik and Milan Grygar.

Musically, I noticed my complacency, feeling like I’d heard a lot of the works on film soundtracks already, yet fascinated by the link between post-war Socialism/Iron Curtain and electronic music, obviously sanctioned by the State’s ideology through the Experimental Studio of Polish Radio.

Huw Hallam has written a great thesis on the link between post-totalitarianism and electronic music, and the works herein expanded my understanding of rejecting propaganda and a need for music that is without dramatic reference.

Calvert 22 is such a great gallery, especially for small theme-based shows and this one was no different.

At the moment of being heard
South London Gallery

I had heard about this show almost 6 weeks before it opened. as soon as any of the promo came out about it, I had tweets, FB posts and emails from everyone emailing me about it and I was looking forward to seeing it on my return from Australia.

Especially given that it featured some artists who I have admired for a while and some that I was looking forward to learning more about.

I enjoyed the exhibition – there were some typically subtle and gentle works that combined softness and tension – Rolf Julius’s pigment-filled speaker cones (pictured) and crys cole‘s salt speaker combination were beautiful. I really loved the photographic work of Reiner Ruthenbeck for the documentation of those daily sounds, without a sound.

Having said that, I thought it was going to be a little more about the act of listening – a more philosophical or even theatrical look at that moment of being heard – not just changing what is heard, but on a deeper level of how.

Granted, it’s not easy to make work about listening, (I know, as an artist I suck at it), but I was hoping for some guidance, from people who’d been doing it for years. It was a bittersweet show.

In the upstairs gallery Variations of Silence by Boudouin Oosterlynck was more about the action of listening, of the collection and pursuit of silence using the variety of ways one listens – a detailed dossier of quiet sites, on paper.

Aesthetically, I found it difficult to really enter into, possibly a language barrier, or a resistance to a particular aesthetic, but I still spent time hanging out with his journey.

Tom White’s Public Address is also a work that intrigured me, but because I went on a Thursday, wasn’t able to see it in the flesh – it’s installed in the housing estate that the gallery backs onto and only accessible on Saturdays.

The public programme for the exhibition is pretty exciting. I wish that I was a 12+ teenager, so that I could do Barby Asante‘s workshop at the end of August (I couldn’t get to do her DIY one as an adult either, so I just have to press my nose to the window for a while) and the Ambarchi and Umeda gigs, of course, look great.

Reading and Being list

Both of these exhibitions had supporting reading lists and publications, which I really appreciated. And I have some more to add – bits’n’pieces which relate to listening that I think are great:

The Hush at The Shed National Theatre
According to the blurb on the The Shed site, The Hush asks audiences to listen in a way they never have before. Performers interact with live foley and immersive sound design to recreate the past, imagine the future and give voice to The Shed itself.”

Again, I’m looking forward to seeing this work, to see how others create work about the action of listening. Sadly, I can’t make the Thursday Q& A (which looks great), but I’m going to see the show soon.

A Listening Mind: Sound Learning in a Literature Classroom by Nicole Furlonge on Sounding Out
When I read this post, I wanted to be Nicole. Her understanding and interesting in pushing pedagogy and teaching and experience of the world outside a dominant visual paradigm (yes, i just used that phrase) is inspiring, and exactly the kind of thing I’m into.

The way she speaks about it is amazing and a deeper undestanding of listening and why World Listening Day needs to keep existing.

The Sounding Out blog consistently posts stuff that I love reading about. They posted about the Afrika Bambaata record collection being catalogued at Gavin Brown Gallery and I almost wet myself. And through that I found out about..

Hip Hop Aesthetics Summer Course by Shante Paradigm
As if this wouldn’t be a RAD way to spend the summer…

I’ve been following the progress along of each day’s topics (including, unsurprisingly, the verdict on the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer. What’s Hip Hop without Hoodies…).
They’ve covered some ace stuff like Big Freedia’s Azz Everywhere, Lil Mama’s Lip Gloss, Black Aesthetics, Feminist Aesthetics and Opposition Discourse, Total Chaos and Ian Maxwell‘s thesis about Hip Hop Aesthetics and the Will to Culture –  which I loved reading about, not just for the generic content, but because I knew some of the peeps mentioned in it; a bit of home-town pride and nostalgia for my time with Quiz and the writers and MCs of inner city of Sydney in the 90s.

Other links to cool listening works

Surfacenoise’s Peter Lenaerts
Dan Scott
Sam Underwood
Stan’s Cafe’s The Commentators and their Cult Listening
The Soundscape
Hearing Cultures
Audio Culture (which i’m ASHAMED to say I’ve not read nor do i own)
Resonance by Susie MacMurray at Fabrica, Brighton
This year’s Primavera featuring Kusum Normoyle

*Who needs that to be a ‘thing’, really, to highlight the gross racist antics of the regime – they only ‘allowed’ black and jewish competitors after a bunch of people pressured them into it, for goodness sake. Is Jesse Owens really that heartbroken over not having his hand shaken by that pariah? Surely not.

image credits:
Migrant Rights UK and Home Office YouTube
Milan Knižak, Destroyed Music, Calvert 22 website
Rolf Julius, Singing, 2000/2013, South London Gallery website

London Gallery wrap-up: words

This week’s accidental London art trend seems to be work related to words and/or text.

John Latham and the APG at Raven Row.

I first saw works by John Latham at the Whitechapel library/reading room about 3 years ago. It was his series of works on books and I remember being relieved that art subverted books, whilst revering them and that writing and the written word still had a place in art.

Latham is part of the Artist Placement Group – Artists that believed in being embedded within ‘society’ – organisations, workplaces, schools, etc, etc; that the concept, process and open engagement of an artist’s life was the crux of a practice worth investigating.

Raven Row is hosting a retrospective of the Group’s work, featuring great posters and text by John Latham and his placement at the Scottish Office, some beautiful currency prints by Barry Flanagan, the impressive steel sculptures/industrial interventions of Garth Evans and TV Interruptions installation/videos by David Hall, connected to his Scottish TV connection.

As part of their public programme, they featured a performance by sound artist and improviser David Toop. The performance itself was quite an intense work that was like a freight train through my skull at some parts. I closed my eyes the whole time, as it was so immense. It featured a variety of instruments, found objects, electronica and vocal distortions.

To the degree that APG embody arts practice within society an its organisations, Toop places sound expression within the body of the audience, so that the experience is visceral and affecting.

Ian Hamilton Finlay at Tate Britain

I have always cringed at the term concrete poet. In the same way I have cringed at the term music concrète. And I cannot tell you why. There is something hard and horrible about the word concret that neither poetry nor music holds. But that’s my thing and I need to get over it.

Especially because, as a concrete poet, Ian Hamilton Finlay was quite a joy to discover. He makes words into things. He makes objects into words – plays with the relationship betweent the two.

His show at Tate Britain is a series of works/words in the main gallery hall –  installations which played upon severity of The Message (as an idea in itself). His large hanging stone ‘tablets’ The World Has Been Empty Since The Romans is in equal part reassuring and ultra depressing. Crumbling and precarious, the Words are only just held – swaying, like some kind of odd jewellery around the old building’s nave.

Then there were his monuments to plaques. These odd, flat columns/pedestals holding flat plaques – taken off the walls for which they were seemingly intended and bringing them into the gallery space, making them discreet objects and Art. Not just a salutory relationship between words and art, but more significant than that.

His display of worded tiles, prints and other text ephemera were a joyful discovery and, perhaps for the same reason I love John Latham – he is an artist embedded in the written word and beautifully designed things – tiles and nautical natures.

Lawrence Weiner at Tate Modern

Weiner’s work is one of Tate Modern’s recent additions  on the third floor. They are seen as you wind your way up the stairs and, as such, are animated through your movement. You never quite get a full picture of them, as they are visible between stairwell and from below/above. Such fragmentation speaks to the not-quite-known of most art forms and certainly of word forms.

Mel Bochner at Whitechapel

I saw this show so many times – en route to the cafe, the auditorium, other shows and by the end I kind of liked it and kind of hated it.
If I’m honest, I didn’t really like a lot of the text works – large letters, squished in and a little overdone.

However, I did really enjoy a single work about measurement – numbers, rather than words – as significant elements. The series of coloured canvases that stretched across the gallery wall, all of various sizes, and their widths painted across the work. All the works, lined up to present a continuous linear measurement of the space, according to the individual measurements of the paintings.
The paintings become valuable as a marker of a tangible fact and symbol of arbitrary ways in which we have marked that curious idea ‘space’. And as you walked through the space, it was like a Wes Anderson tracking shot, almost following you through the gallery.

As though such text and words and clarity-of-meaning were following you, peering into your soul a little and nagging you to work out what it is that you really want to say.

london fashion

I’ve always engaged on some level with fashion design. you would have NO idea from the way i dress (or my wardrobe that fits within Ryanair luggage restrictions), but i regularly admire and covet high fashion.

You’ve probably seen random posts of mine about Hussein Chalayan, Ann Demeulemeester, McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, my work trying to integrate fashion and interactive art (which has been put waaaaay on the back burner) and perhaps wondered how I always end up at Dover Street Market.

The exciting thing about London is that I can properly engage with that aspect of my life (and practice) again. I don’t have a fashion design background AT ALL. But I can still appreciate and learn on the fly. Actually, I plan to do that a whole lot more here, because I can

Even in the week I’ve been here, I’ve able to visit DSM (which is where I can get up close and personal with some of the designers I like), check out the Issey Miyake range, apply for work with Westwood, McQueen and Chalayan.  I’ll check out St Martin’s soon and keep an eye out for local designers (like the amazing Tanique Coburn stall at Portobello Market – watch this space for this girl!).

Once I’m settled and financial again, I might even do something to properly upskill in this regard, but in the mean time, i’m going to learn from the public intellect – the V&A, libraries, working studios and fashion on the street.


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