Shotgun - with its connotations of assuming a stance, taking aim and hitting a target – now has a five-year history. As this year’s participating artists and mentors have met, a process of reckoning has begun that could ideally continue for years to come. The cumulative workings of its mix of introductions, broader discussions and exhibition activities has been the subject of many conversations.
I was keen to be involved because I felt that aspects of my experience in Western Australia and Southeast Asia might be pertinent to the Tasmanian scene. Tasmania, which is shaped by the intensity of its island and colonial character, is unlike the Indian Rim, yet artists situated in all these places are working in contexts that are less visible to the art world’s institutions and markets. In such situations, greater weight is given to notions of geography and locality when accounting for artists’ practices. This tendency is often capitalised on in order to marshall arguments for the arts but should also be strenuously interrogated. With less infrastructure, there is added incentive for artists to create their own Shotgun program.
In 2014 past and present participants gathered for a workshop intended to complement Shotgun’s skills development activities. Its loose agenda was compiled to explore ‘points of commonality’ amidst our artistic and temperamental differences. The agenda touched on some all-of-life strategies as well as topics that included changing expectations of private benefaction – an issue exemplified by the role of MONA and Detached Cultural Organisation in the Tasmanian context.
Those present expressed concern about the ‘standardisation’ of artists’ careers and acknowledged the part that professional development programs can play in formalising artists’ aspirations and society’s expectations of them. (1) Quentin Sprague drew out these concerns by framing our activities in terms of ‘the intangibilities of sustaining an artistic practice’. One train of thought, for example, was led by Scot Cotterell who nominated the devising of personal filters as a way of dealing with the kinds of distractions faced by artists – whether the desire for external validation, the fear of missing out or the pull of incessant streams of data.
Sprague also focused my attention on the challenges associated with evaluating programs such as Shotgun. Shotgun will be difficult to review because the artists involved are at such different stages of their development and conceptualise their role as artists in multifarious ways. His commentary underlined that it should be difficult due to the tensions and contradictions inherent in the nature of practice. Assessing Shotgun’s effect will be thwarted by all that is latent, enigmatic and unforeseen in the artistic life.
Kylie Johnson sought to counter a model of practice founded on the ideal of individual accreditation by recalling why Shotgun was conceived as an ‘industry’ instead of a ‘professional’ development program. This word choice was intended to recognise the mutuality upon which the art world is built and prompted Hannah Mathews to emphasise the importance of community. It follows, therefore, that any analysis of Shotgun will begin with the experience of individual artists while considering how it intersects with the collective and institutional structures that the artists are working with.
In taking the step of suggesting that we would all benefit from our own Shotgun program, I am reminded of the title that the distinguished critic and theorist Rosalind Krauss has given to her recent collected essays. In introducing Perpetual Inventory (2013), she has stated that ‘the job of an art critic is to take perpetual inventory, constantly revising her ideas about the direction of contemporary art and the significance of the works she writes about’.
Krauss is describing far more than a mechanism for tabulation. In characterising her vocation as one of ‘perpetual inventory’, she seems to be proposing the dual necessity of being open and of being organised. In asserting what is fundamental to her purpose as a critic, she invokes ideas of routine and repetition. The exacting task of evaluating self and one’s enquiries is as reliant on long-term process as the injection of people and ideas. Krauss’ constant ‘revising’ is depicted as an ongoing incremental pursuit that owes as much to diligence and planning as to the bursts of self-scrutiny that often accompany travel, residencies and study. She advocates an unstinting commitment to personal and professional examination that can arguably only be maintained if it is folded into the rhythm of our daily lives.
In my experience of Shotgun, it was not unrelated to Krauss’ concept of ‘perpetual inventory’. Despite the centrality of feedback to its operation, it offered no assurances to its participants. Rather, it activated a process of taking stock – of reflection on one’s motivations and methodologies - which extended beyond the participating artists to encompass visitors and locals alike.
(1) This is a concern that has been voiced by the sector in the research report, Talking Points, A Snapshot of the Contemporary Visual Arts 2013-14 (2014), authored by Phip Murray and commissioned by the Australia Council for the Arts. Chisenhale Gallery in London which regards career development for emerging artists as a key part of its remit, has also recently commissioned research into artists’ professional development programs worldwide.