Reflections on a residency

Photo by Andrew Sleigh at Lighthouse

My three-month residency at Brighton’s Lighthouse Arts came to an end this week. We finished with a bang of flashing lights and music and paper radios and my BBC BASIC slides, and BBC Click came to film us working for a segment for their show, which was great fun.

It was a lovely end to a really good experience sharing a space with the highly talented and modest Coralie and Seb. We were part of the first ‘proper’ round of Lighthouse residencies, and although we all agreed there is much work to do to optimise the programme, I’m in no doubt it’s been a good thing for me and Hack Circus. Having a place to go, even (or perhaps especially) a place that took me 1.5 hours to get to, put me in a totally new frame of mind and, I’m sure, altered how seriously I took the work. My list of goals included making a Hack Circus product, making something with sound and/or video about the project, making the Circus profitable, hosting an event and launching a podcast. I didn’t manage all of those, but I’m pleased with what I did get done.

* Halfway through the residency I hosted my third HC event, Access All Areas, in the building. It went off better than any of us had dreamed, going from slow ticket sales just days before to an overflowing room on the night, and a highly entertained audience – many of whom had travelled considerable distances just to attend.

* Boring practical things: I printed issue 3 during the residency, photographed it, and moved the site to its new home on Squarespace.

* Perhaps wrongly (?) I decided to focus on promoting the project as a potential route to profitability, and hit some frustrating hurdles – which I wrote about on this blog. As a direct result of those heartfelt blog posts, I experienced the most amazing groundswell of support. I was interviewed for the Guardian and The Times, and more importantly, blogged about and emailed by a number of incredibly supportive members of the community. Subs shot up, and a few full-page ads were snapped up in a matter of hours. I’m talking to other glossy mags and newspapers about contributions; it all helps, but these things can be slow burners.

* I did make a podcast, so we can tick that off. I did six episodes, the download figures were pretty good, but then the sponsor pulled the plug and as they’re very time consuming, and no longer something I can afford to do as a lovely hobby, I have had to pause them until I get a replacement sponsor.

* The film and audio hasn’t yet happened in an official, documentary-type way I had envisaged. But the next event, in September, will be filmed and edited professionally. And we have some audio records of the last show thanks to Lucia. And we’re going to be on telly.

Still, of course, Hack Circus is not ‘profitable’. But it’s issue three and I’m not losing money at the moment (naturally, I’m not making any either.) The worst thing is, the more I talk about and think about the money situation, the more options I see for turning a quick buck on it. But none of those options are very appealing and each come with a real world example of some project I’ve witnessed that started out fresh and now seems to be rotten all the way through. And everyone’s just nibbling around the brown bits. I still feel like there is an answer, and if we keep making quality stuff (and of course, examining the options) the world will reward us. I said something similar to an art world senior director the other day and she laughed. Five minutes later, still laughing. Possibly now, still laughing.

All this has made me considerably more ambitious for the project. Partly because I’ve been working alongside such cleverness (there are a lot of terrible pseuds in this industry, but Seb and Coralie are not among them, and that’s been incredibly refreshing). But it’s made me realise there are numerous routes open to the obsessively committed. When I left university I was taking a lot of rubbishy fashion photos for local mags, and told a tutor I wanted to get into magazines, but I didn’t think I stood a chance. “If not you, then who?” she said, completely correctly. I hate how much we are discouraged from ‘competitive’ work. Don’t go into journalism, don’t even attempt to get work in the arts, or fashion, stay employable, stay open to basically any money that’s offered you, that’s the main thing after all. It all feels uncomfortably close to that social message we’re all drilled with as girls: don’t be unpopular, stay likeable, be grateful for any scraps. I understand how it happens, of course, but it sometimes feels like everyone’s been kind of terror-programmed into servitude, and we’re not really allowed to call it out.

It seems to me that if you feel driven to break creative ground, you simply don’t perceive other creatives as competitors for attention. Most of the time, you probably don’t think about how others’ offerings are similar to yours, or how you’re engaged in a permanent war for the same resources. And maybe that’s a bad business mind. But is it worse than the message I remember getting all my life: don’t bother trying, that’s for someone else. Someone less afraid of competition. A natural winner.

So, I think spending three months commuting regularly to Brighton and Sheffield and London has done something other than just completely destroy me, physically and financially. I think it’s made me realise the value of seriousness. The things which do well are the things that have had the privilege of being taken seriously – by their creators, by influencers and by audiences. We’re not raised to imagine that we have to commit to our own madness to make magical things happen; magic and work aren’t compatible in this world.

But maybe it’s not the world’s problem, maybe it’s ours. This is what I mean when I talk about living outside of society: there is so little support, so few people trying this, so many odds stacked against us – our best option is to get our heads down and get on with anyway. Because not everything is rotten – there is still something in there. The world cannot make itself more delightful; someone has to amplify and interpret the good stuff. And if not us, then who?

One thought on “Reflections on a residency

  1. Pingback: 2014 – the year of the laser | Seb Lee-Delisle

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