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Chris Alton // Artist Talk and Tutorial

Chris Alton is a multidisciplinary artist whom takes interest in social matters and the inherent importance of peace, influenced by his upbringing as a Quaker. His potentially most poignant collection of work was his concept, EDL (English Disco Lovers), a project that aimed to deflect the aggression of the far right alternative EDL group (English Defence League). The work is intended to be a kind of spoof that contrasts social classes and values, and celebrates the ideas of love, acceptance and being free together; this is successfully portrayed in the collaborative piece, music video, Let The Machines Do The Work - Let Me Be The One. This was particularly poignant as it demonstrated humour, contrasting the relatively serious group that it aimed to spoof, and also valued the importance of participant interaction. Interactivity seems more vital in this day and age as the short attention span the majority of the population experience nowadays can only be counteracted if people feel a part of something greater. Whilst I do not want the participatory element to be quite so significant or intense in my work, it was a good way of seeing how such engagement can be achieved.

As well as a practicing artist, Alton is also a curator working for Turf Projects. I found that unlike previous visiting artists, this perhaps allowed for a slightly more open mindset when having one to one tutorials later in the day. Alternatively, I think that it was also really helpful as it allowed greater insight into the financial feasibility of this lifestyle and career choice - something many of us need to be made more aware of over the coming months. Alton's job at Turf Projects was his only certain income each month - and working here just once a week meant that the ensured income was minimal. He talked of how earlier in his creative career, he would frequently apply for residencies, open calls, exhibitions, projects etc. The quantity to which he was applying was excessive and he recognised this himself - whereas previously he was applying to at least one hundred a year, now it remained nearer twenty to thirty, and with a higher success rate too. Ultimately, it was a lesson to be picky and that it's fine to be picky. Don't apply to everything you see or hear about because it may not be a particularly valuable experience and you can end up running yourself quite thin - writing that many applications is going to get tedious and there's only so many of which are really going to be appropriate to you. Also, he spoke of trying to avoid exhibitions or projects of which you have to pay to even apply (as previously mentioned by Jonathan as well) - there are some exceptions where this may be worthwhile in regards to the recognition, contacts and exposure that you get, such as Bloomberg Contemporaries. However, as a rule, avoid doing so, you'll waste more money than you'll earn!

Later in the day I was lucky enough to get a tutorial with him which was an immensely valuable experience. On showing him my potential plans for the degree show, he was able to give me a number of artists to research from all areas of interest; conceptual, aesthetic and structural. After suggesting the potential of streaming the space elsewhere in the studio on a TV, Alton suggested the possibility of streaming it online - an ambitious and relevant proposal, however, one that may inflict data protection issues - something worth researching further. What was most valuable was that during the discussion, he managed to challenge me on one aspect of my plans that I was yet to figure out myself - when does the work manifest discomfort? My interests in social media remain largely around it being a platform for people to curate themselves in a very specific way; a false manner mostly, filled with ideals of perfection. This falsity irritates me, a world filled with filters to enhance our beauty and adapt our figures, and the way that people idealise their lifestyles creates a false portrayal that is proven to have detrimental impacts on many users, especially those of younger generations whom have grown up in a society very integrated within social media. Also, given the now seemingly frequent news of social media sites data scandals and news of how our smartphones are constantly listening to us, I consider a voyeuristic element to be necessary - particularly one that perhaps the viewer is less aware of. Whilst I intended to have a camera directly above the space, thus streaming the audiences interaction with the work, is it uncomfortable enough? The space, to be completely coherent with my ideas and achieving it's full potential needs to be Instagrammable, however, the detrimental impact also needs to make the viewer somewhat uncomfortable to make them more aware of the impacts it has on the wider population. With the current age of CCTV, I think the added camera element may not be uncomfortable enough - it may create an initial shock element but I think this will dissipate quickly. Whilst it is vital that I create this sense of discomfort, how I will achieve that is yet to be known. I could perhaps enclose the space more, making it somewhat claustrophobic? This might be difficult when encountering health and safety though and I'm not sure if this would discourage people from interacting with the space the way I intend them to. Something to ponder over the coming months!

Overall, a really valuable day covering many aspects of what life has to bring during, and after art school!


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