EM14's writer-in-residency Shelley MacDonald - the first Installment.

EM13-er Shelley MacDonald returns to Surface this year to be our writer-in-residency and voice of experience during this years East Midlands Graduate Project. She begins her first installment as this years residents move into their new home...


Julia Kiely / Megan Lynch / Tina Mirsharifi / Ali Morgan-Tansle /
Sarah Wilson /Tony Moss / Christine Stevens / Alex Wallis

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"Shall we begin at the beginning? But, surely, it began before? Before eight artists-in-various-states-of-arrival gathered at 16 Southwell Road, Nottingham, at the back of the ice skating rink ready for their Bolero moment even though half in attendance were barely pre conceived when Torville and Dean’s orgiastic dance melted the great British reserve as the YBAs were friezing a different kind of creative coupling; that of capitalism and art. Three decades separate now from then and three decades separate the assembled artists from youngest to oldest. What trans generational offspring will form from this year’s EM14? Against a glocal backdrop of the female, black judge sanctioning womenslaughter by privileged white men, Scotland’s threat (now thwarted) to pull the blue from the Union Jack and leave blighted blighty seeing red, waving white as empiric citizen’s heads roll in distant deserts by hands reared in London estates, the East Midlands asserts its geographical tenure and invites recently graduated artists, birthed from Iran to Ilkeston, to reside in a gallery for 4 weeks and produce some art. This is our Middle East, captured in the cultural quarter of Nottingham, as volatile as a cup of cooling tea and yet....

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The First Meeting

The artists group in the basement of Surface and information is shared without propriety or power. Last year’s cohort existed in penury without even the bus fare home. This year there is an embarrassment of riches but no one is blushing for this is simply how it is this time round. The entirely voluntary endeavors of Jez, Chris and Holly have gifted each resident artist with £500.00 plunging them into receivership without a hint of insolvency. So what happens when money crosses palms giving a fiscal kick-start to the creative process? Is prepaid art without struggle merely production? When two anti-leaders with Marxist and Socialist tendencies hand over the spoils without even envisioning the small print, the beggars’ belief elicit questions. ”When you say ‘commission’ will the work belong to us at the end?” asks one artist. “Is the money for us to spend on materials?” Are there silent calculations of alchemic husbandry or merely pure accountancy? Each artist is given a key and 24/7 access to the gallery. “Is there a code? Is it difficult to get in?” “No” is the answer. The dissonance between giver and receiver continues. Some talk of how they could have done with the money to use in their end of degree shows. Das capital’s feed always beget hunger?

On which planet have these artists landed? What is the terra of the Surface world? What language is spoken here? Not only do they not want to own the artist’s art, they don’t want to own the artist. The artists are accountable to the jurisdiction of their own personal morality. They could take the money and run, they could submit previous work with no one in pursuit other than their own conscience. There are no leaders, no tests, no inspections, no outcome measures, no one to tell as long as they show. Thatcher, Blair, Cameron and Gove are all dead here. There is such a thing as community and these graduates have four weeks to interpret a brief which transcends art. 8 artists, interested in interior landscape, architecture, maternity, play, binary oppositionalism, negative space, nature’s reclamation, disrepair, the language of paint and modernity and much more besides, what new synthesis will emerge?"

Photograph by  Joe Dixey

Photograph by Joe Dixey

The EM14 Graduate Residency at Surface Gallery begins on 19th September.

Written by EM14 writer-in-residency Shelley MacDonald.