Artist Suky Best came in to talk to us today about getting commissions and funding. Having studied for an MA in Photography at the Royal College of Art she is now back there doing research as well as doing her own bodies of work. She wanted to talk to us not about the content of her work but more about the ways in which she created opportunities for herself. She believes opportunities don’t just come along, that you have to be proactive and sometimes bold and cheeky (but in the right way).
Suky shared with us the story of how she progressed from university. After producing a photo-book titled ‘Photo Love’ for her final major project she entered and was awarded joint first in the John Kobal Photographic Portrait Prize in 1994. With this recognition she approached John Kobal and the arts council and was successful in getting some more funding. In her experience Suky found that once one or two people were on board with your work and funding you are more likely to get other investors. For example she funded the distribution of her flick-book with Olay magazine by saying to potential funders ‘these people are already funding me, would you fund me too?’. She said we should not be afraid of doing this because sponsorship shows people’s confidence in your work. This was encouraging because we are currently seeking sponsorship for our degree show booklet and exhibition.
As well as funding Suky also emphasized the importance of friends and contacts in making a success of your work as an artist or photographer. Suky maintained good relationships with the contacts and friends she made at various conferences and competitions throughout her career and advises that by being generous enough to help those contacts they will in turn help us.
It was interesting to hear about Suky’s various bodies of work and how she funded them so creatively.
From her installation view work ‘Cleeve Abbey’ in 2000 she was invited to work within the ruins of a monastery funded by DA2 English Heritage South West Arts. She described working in this property of English heritage as challenging because she had to adapt her method of presentation to the non-electric environment where she couldn’t drill or hang from the walls, by building a bracing structure to display the work. She had researched the property regulations to prepare for these restrictions and emphasized the importance of research into all commissions.
With a research grant from the Wellcome Trust she was then able to work on a science-art collaboration of animations designed with the help of a clinical hypnotherapist to calm patients in hospital waiting areas. She also contacted the National History Museum to film insects for the animations. This project was particularly of interest to me because she described the aim of this work to help patients rather than be aesthetically pleasing (which is an approach I take with my recent bodies of work).
Suky then worked on a series of animations using stills of extinct or endangered species ‘ The Return of the Native’ which was funded by a film company as a result of her previous flick-book body of work and her hospital animation series. This demonstrates how contacts and publicity have helped Suky produce more work. But also how old bodies of work can be reintroduced. Suky also produced a body of work with Rory Hamilton which at first wasn’t very useful apart from a few minutes of animation ‘Cowboys’ 2005 which was later shown at Danielle Arnaud Gallery, and later at Tate Britain and Ormond Street Hospital (due to contacts made during other commissions). This was a good example of how bodies of work can be re-worked or re-introduced at a later stage to be successful.
One of Suky’s largest commissions was her winning entry to the Great North Run moving image competition that funded her £30,000 to produce her film ‘About Running’. Overall I found Suky’s talk helpful for me to see how links can be made from one body of work to the next and how contacts and commissions can lead to other work.
In a round table discussion with Suky after her talk we had the opportunity to discuss more about the way Suky works. She expanded on her approach to applying for funding; adding that it’s always a good idea to research the institute you are applying to in order to make sure you appeal to their interests. She advised us to personalise any emails and applications similarly to how one would alter a CV to best suit a job specification. She gets her awareness of available commissions from artist newsletters, websites and word of mouth from her contacts. In return if she sees a commission that would suit one of her contacts she forwards it to them.
When deciding what direction to take her work in, Suky follows what she wants to do not just what she can already do, then if new skills need to be learnt go out and learn them e.g. she learnt animation skills in three days for her hospital project. When considering what you want to do as an artist she suggests looking at all our influences such as images, media, television etc that we are engaging with and starting with drawings because these are a good way of exploring ideas. She believes all ideas should be exercised in this way because it is only by working through them that we can sort the good ones from the bad ones. In her experience most people don’t produce enough work in the initial process of planning a project, so she encourages us to produce work in preparation for our final major projects.
In a short tutorial I was able to show Suky some of the work I have been doing on dyslexia. It was interesting to learn that Suky herself was also a dyslexic and knows of many other dyslexics practicing creative subjects including photography at The Royal College of Arts. She agrees with the issue I raise in my research –that dyslexia may give individuals a creative advantage and that it certainly is not a disadvantage in this visual language we use. She found the statistics I had about the high number of dyslexics in prison really interesting, and offered me some suggestions to further my project looking at dyslexia from an experience point of view more so than a documentary point of view.