Transcript from my joint presentation, co-authored with Ellie Power:
[Image 1] For our placement we worked with the artist Güler Ates. Guler is an ex Wimbledon student and did her MA at the Royal College of Art.
We were very lucky with our placement and got in contact with Guler through Jennet. Guler was looking for assistants for an upcoming solo exhibition at Marcelle Joseph Projects, a pop up gallery in Farringdon. The exhibition was a look back at her recent residency in Rio de Janeiro.
A nice quote by Josephine Rout about Guler’s work…
“Gender, faith, identity and cultural hybridity are both central themes and the driving forces of Guler Ates’ practice. The lone veiled woman is the primary motif of her work, a figure whose identity is consistently obscured… denying the viewer authoritative gaze over the figure…” – By Josephine Rout, freelance curator, London, 2013.
Guler works with video, photography, textiles and performance. Her work generally relates to idea of identity, but on her residency she was also very interested in the idea of the home. The work she was making was a reaction to her own experiences of regeneration in the area where she grew up in Istanbul, as well as the housing situations that she saw in the favelas in Brazil. From this she created a number of costumes with local people, and they were used for performances around the city.
[Film Home 2014 https://vimeo.com/119179251%5D
We spent most of our time making a costume based on the pieces Guler created during her residency. This involved making 50 cardboard buildings: a mixture of shanty houses and skyscrapers out of cardboard boxes. This involved very basic skills, cutting, sticking and painting, but was fun and we were given some creative freedom.
We then attached the houses to the costume and helped set up some of the exhibition.
[Image 3 -6]
During the exhibition there was a performance similar to the ones Guler had organised in Brazil using the costume that we had helped to make. We assisted with the performance and documented it. One of Gulers friends, Gemma, performed in the costume. Because of the nature of Guler’s work: her motif of the anonymous woman, Gemma was entirely covered and unable to see beneath the fabric. As she walked we had to keep watch so that she didn’t bump into any walls or the guests. [Image 7] The performance involved Gemma walking across the gallery space wearing the costume. Because of the weight of the cardboard city attached to it she had to drag the costume with her slowly.
[Image 8] The most important lesson that Guler taught us was the importance of food. Guler insisted on lots of hot beverages and snacks, mostly of the sweet variety. A list of those that we can remember:
Digestives, Croissants, Oat Cakes, rice cakes, Shortbread, Brazilian Chocolates, Almond and Cinnamon Biscuits
And for drinks… Green tea, black tea, cranberry tea, coffee and Hot Chocolate.
As humorous as it may sound this was a sacred part of the working process. Apart from keeping us motivated, it gave us to time stop and chat and bond, as well as getting to know some of the people who were working in the gallery itself, as we offered them tea and biscuits aswell.
I think an important lesson for the future that Guler taught us was that having a studio and lots of materials isn’t necessarily needed to have a successful career as an artist. Guler doesn’t have a studio but applies for residencies often so that she can make larger works. For this project Guler asked if it was possible to use one of the upstairs rooms as a studio for two weeks before the show to build the work as the gallery is located in a disused building, which was soon to be demolished for development.
Guler also taught us to be resourceful. One of the main materials used for the work was cardboard which Guler (and we helped with) collecting off the street and from shops. This not only added to the meaning and method of Guler’s practice but meant that one of the main materials had no cost except time spent scavenging.
[Image 10] Guler also taught us the importance of working with others and asking for help. She received lots of help from friends and other artists while we working with her. She invited people to join us whenever they could, offering to buy lunch and tea and biscuits to lure them in and repay them. She was very hospitable and looked after her guests as well as us, which made everything more fun and meant that her friends were very willing to help her out in their spare time.
Guler recommended offering to swap skills with other artists, offering to help out with other people’s projects and them helping you in return.
Guler also tried to reinforce the importance of networking. However she felt that it was more important to make friends with people and that people being your friends rather than ‘contacts’ makes them more willing to help you. For example, the gallery owner Marcelle was a friend of Guler’s, and in addition to curating and housing Guler’s solo exhibition, she also offered to help Guler submit her work to be accepted into big collections like the Tate’s, as Marcelle has links with a number of large galleries.
On reflection, one of the main things we learnt was the value of building and maintaining a supportive community.
Guler also showed us the importance of making your life financially sustainable if you want to work as an artist. In addition to her artistic practice Guler also works as a digital print tutor at the Royal Academy schools, as a means to support herself financially. She explained that this gave her some stability as working as an artist involves intense work followed by quieter periods. This also covered the cost of materials, as funding isn’t always easy to obtain.
One of the lessons that Guler relayed to us was the value of self promotion and getting your work seen by people. Not only does this help you get new opportunities, it also helps you develop your practice as you get more feedback on your work. Guler has had a number of exciting residencies that allowed her to travel around the world and encounter different cultures and political realities that fed into her work. She was able to get these residencies through hard work and self promotion.
We also experienced the difficulty of working as an artist’s assistant whilst maintaining your own practice. Even working for Guler, who was flexible and understanding of our other commitments, we both found it very challenging to get on with our own work, as most of our time and energy was consumed helping her. This is something to bear in mind in the future, that you need to make time for yourself and balance your commitments.
Overall we had a really great experience on our placement. Guler was so lovely to work with. She was very aware that we should get something out of the time we spent working for her. She made sure to introduce us to people who she felt it would be useful for us to know. She gave us lots of advice, pointed us towards other opportunities and also had a crit with us about what we were working on at the time.
We both feel we were very lucky to have had such a positive experience and to have come out of it with a good friend and mentor.