Spaces for Commoning, 2020
How are you?
I'm okay thank you. This time has been weird hasn't it?
Certainly has. How is your MA going?
Weird, things are half finished, but that's okay because nothings really finished anyway. I handed it in this morning.
And how does that feel?
Anticlimactic I think. I didn't think I'd feel like I didn't care about it so that's disappointment in myself I guess.
But you need to remember, flitting between survival mode also encompasses making work to forget about what's going on and also not being able to make work because all you are doing is surviving.
That is true and that has been happening. Showing the work I have made in survival mode has felt like the least useful thing I could do, so I thought I’d share a story. Sharing my work, makes me feel hyper-visible and that's never useful, especially in the time of a pandemic but sharing stories or common interest in place of where my work would be has been a really interesting thing.
I’ve been really interested in the bastardised journey of the goldfish, so I made a giant curtain in shapes of the first recorded goldfish ponds in UK public gardens (1880). And to be honest, my MA has been about that journey. I’m not really happy with the work because of Covid / workshops being closed. That’s maybe why I’m not sharing, or maybe because sharing work feels like a massive inconvenience at the best of times.
I think galleries are the most uninteresting places to show work.
Sorry go on.
So the goldfish was first recorded in 10th century China as golden mutations of carp. The golden carp were not eaten and selectively bred into breeds of fantail goldfish. Goldfish are invasive and pretty much will eat anything in sight, so all other fish in the pond die from starvation, or breed to make more goldfish and contribute to the booming population of undesirable and tasteless food. I think this is kind of interesting in relation to what parasites do in terms of feeding off the host or environment until it is eventually depleted. Kinda rings true when artists, I'm talking about past experiences anyway, do residencies and the institution is asking everything from the artist, and actually the artist receives very little in return. The institution is the parasite.
But artists can be parasites too! Take all you can from the institution, ask for more money, say no, take their pens with you, ask for more workshop access, ask for more time.
This has been me at uni, something I'm consciously doing because I'm pissed that I'm paying to study. Coming back on residencies over the years, asking for them to pay for informal courses that's not necessarily relative to my MA. And then I tell everyone about it so they do it, and then we are overpopulating the host with more parasites. The goldfish did this. Eventually goldfish were overpopulating natural waterways in China and had to be selectively fished to control the species. They were given to Buddhist monks as gifts in acts of self-purification, where the monks kept and fed them in mercy ponds, fang sheng, where the goldfish lived up to 40 years and formed part of trade negotiations with Japan in the late 16th century. The goldfish arrived in The Netherlands the following century as pets and living ornaments for aquaria and foundations via Macao, coming to England in the mid 1700s. Keeping a goldfish was exclusive to the aristocracy, showing large financial autonomy to travel across the world and requiring gardens to house the goldfish ponds.
Towards the later part of the 17th century, goldfish ponds had been installed in public gardens in London and by the 1880, the goldfish had reached America and were commonly given away as prizes at fairgrounds in plastic bags, losing their mystique and exoticism along the way. The US government even gave goldfish away. In a publicity stunt, from 1884 to 1894. Residents of Baltimore and Washington, D.C, could write to their congressman in support and the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries [today the National Marine Fisheries Service] would send you goldfish. Some 20,000 were given away each year before the program was discontinued.
I decided to make work about goldfish when I was cleaning out my Grandads’ house after he died three years ago and found a book on garden brickwork from 1971. There’s a short chapter about building fishponds and on the first page of that chapter is the best picture of anything I’ve ever seen.
The last sentence in the book reads: “The graveyard feeling is caused by an unsuccessful submersion. Like when you go fishing under water; there, too, you dive into a new element, the water. If you leave the water without having caught a fish you feel a chill, you get a cold, whereas after a successful catch you are content and get the impression that the water warms your spirit. But if you are not a practical person and have never had the inclination, or the time, to work with your hands or to learn new skills, turn to page 88. There you will find a list of addresses of various organisations that will put you in touch with good, local draughtsmen and builders.”