There are two art students at Chelsea College of Art who are far from the stereotype of lazy students. Alongside their studies, they’ve managed to find the time to confront the key issue facing today’s art graduates: what now? By convincing players in the art world to award four Chelsea graduates studio space or funded shows, HARRY MAJOR and KIKI CLAXTON help to set up artists in this notoriously difficult industry. I went to discuss their powers of persuasion, in possibly the most vibrantly colourful studio space I’ve ever seen.
So, tell me about the work you’ve been doing with Acme studios.
Harry: Ok, so I guess before Acme came into it we were sitting down with some other people and talking about what happens after you graduate, and the attitude was generally like ‘ah, so what do we do?’ And then a friend was telling me that in Glasgow they give out these prizes to graduating art students, but they were all things like BA travel awards, where you just go on a nice holiday and things like that. It’s a nice idea, but a bit of a wasted opportunity since it doesn’t really make you a living or anything. So we decided to set something up to help graduates.
Kiki: We wanted to start something to help art students see that graduating is the start of something rather than the end; something that moves you forward as a sort of stepping stone into the real world.
H: Ah, the real world! Yeah. And we were also quite keen to do something that allowed success outside of government-set learning outcomes, to allow the idea that you can still be very talented and not get a first ‘cos you’ve failed to jump through some hoops. Things like that. So we decided to set up some prizes or awards, and that’s how we came in to contact with Acme. We sent them a letter saying ‘can we have a studio please?’ [laughter]
K: And they said yes!
Did you have to keep pestering to get a result like that?
K: No, not at all. We sent about five different letters to each private studio, about thirty letters in total, and Acme were one of the few that got in contact with us straight away. They seemed really interested, especially as it was a student-initiated thing. We went to meet up with Acme relatively soon after that, didn’t we? About two weeks or something, and after some chatting about our background, and seeing what they wanted from us, it became this very fluid thing. We felt we’d almost already got what we wanted in Acme being interested in us, so who they chose was very much down to them, as well as for how long.
H: We had the idea that the prize-winner would have to negotiate these things, and that would help to build a rapport between the two. Not only this, but we also find that you can build connections with other artists in the studio too.
Do you think it’s a bit of a shame that art is so much about networking now?
K: It’s likely that the problem of someone talented being lost will pop-up somewhere down the line.
H: I think with anything that has so many people involved it’s necessary to network. But the Chelsea award is something that very much recognises that issue and attempts to level the playing field to some extent. It supports not only the people that get the award, but also teaches skills to whoever applies since you have to write proposals and go through interviews. Although obviously the winner gets more!
K: Yeah, and we’re looking to have a mentoring scheme now too where graduates can spend some time with practicing artists and curators.
H: And hopefully getting Acme to provide a bursary, so you don’t have to work in McDonalds after you graduate.
It sounds like a lot of work; I can’t believe you’re juggling all this with our studies!
K: The project is actually a major part of our practice, an artwork itself really.
H: But also at the same time yes, it becomes a lot more difficult in order to give it all of our time so we can do more than last year. So what we’ve done is we’ve picked a current second year student who’s helping us with the setting up of the prizes, and we’re training her up to take over when we graduate. Then she’ll find a second year to take over, and so on.
K: We like to set up structures that can carry on and survive in our practice.
H: So hopefully our work can continue as something student-led rather than being completely institutionalised.
So after you graduate, will you go to do a project that’s similar?
K: Hopefully. I mean, it’s all coming to a head a bit now, isn’t it? But we’ve still got so much on right now…it’d be nice to carry on in the same vein.
H: We’d really like to expand it so that other sorts of practices are encouraged in the same way.
K: Like sound, performance art, things like that.
H: It’s often fine arts that benefit from shows and awards, and they’re generally a little bit more conservative.
Would you be interested in expanding your work into places that maybe have a less developed art scene?
H: Absolutely. Whilst we’re at Chelsea, everything is very Chelsea-focused because in a way it’s a shame to waste it while you’re here. It’s such a good environment to do all this in, but when we graduate we have to look for ways to incorporate these structures into other things. We’d definitely like to work with other institutions and maybe encourage a trans-national relationship.
K: That’s the direction we’re looking to go into; internships, more mentoring, learning more about other places.
And is there anywhere in particular you’d like to work?
H: Somewhere nice and warm would be nice!
Text: SIOBHAN LEDDY
Photography: KATRE LAAN