As a visual artist it is often difficult to justify further education, as it involves taking time out from the intense stream of activity that typifies an art practice. Yet a MFA can be invaluable to an artistic practice, giving you the space and support to push your work beyond the usual formats and platforms, allowing you to explore, problematise, and challenge your own ideas and methods in a way that isn't possible in the real world.
‘My studio at Piet Zwart. Arranging studio detritus into tableaux, and then photographing them, is part of my practice, helping me move on in my thinking.’
I chose to undertake a MFA for all these reasons, and I applied specifically to the Piet Zwart Institute because it seemed a good fit for what I wanted to do: it seemed exploratory and open to practices that don't sit comfortably in the usual formats. Today, at the end of my first year here, I can say that my instincts were right: the course is a very good fit for what I want to do, and it gives me the support and the challenge I need.
Working in a blurred boundary between text and image, I had previously struggled to situate my work. Although I was able to maintain a practice of essay writing, performances, and exhibitions, I felt I needed a supportive context to help me refine my practice and find suitable forms and formats. The latter issue—finding the right form—is an ongoing challenge in my work, and focused studio time, as well as a programme of tutorials, presentations, and critiques has helped me problematise this issue further.
Furthermore, I've had the time and support to develop my own methodology. Currently I'm investigating what it may mean for an artist to behave essayistically. This goes beyond a practice of writing essays: it is a mode of address and a mode of practice, where you start with exactly that which is so obvious you cannot see it, and then journey through it. Behaving essayistically is to let your mind wander, to follow a logic problem until it becomes a tonal journey; it is a sensual thought-experiment, to allow emotion to shelter within thought, and thought to cluster into new configurations; it is to allow an interior perspective to exteriorise, and therefore become something else.
‘Part of a work called Aracdaesfacades.nl, which is a PDF collage situated online. At this time I was thinking a lot about surface quality; how surfaces configure themselves into pattern and image.’
With this methodology, I have been able to explore media and technique as my mind wanders through it: a physical landscape of coarse watercolour paper, highlighter pen, and Photoshop becomes an inner landscape, a tableau, a lucid dream. The results range: a clustered hang of prints and paintings; a play for two characters; essays where I swap subjects with the protagonist of a novel, and then dive into the graphic surface of its dust jacket. The freedom of this essayistic journeying has allowed me to experiment technically in directions I've never anticipated: I've printed photographs on adhesive paper, painted with watercolour on rice paper, performed a five-minute monologue from memory, designed a website of PDF essays ... And my basic skill set of writing, drawing, and performing has improved, by virtue of being able to spend so much time in the studio.
My studio work has greatly benefited from the critical programme available here, but it has also been nurtured by the thematic programme that PZI is well known for. In a thematic project, a visiting artist, writer, or critic leads a long and expansive project on a topic of their choosing, which can take the form of seminars, workshops, or presentations. The conversations these situations produce are completely unique, and produce ideas that entangle with my work in new and surprising ways.
Support from the Leverhulme Trust has allowed me to fully concentrate on my course, giving me more freedom to experiment materially and conceptually than has previously been possible. The course takes a lot from me, but it also gives me a lot. It has been intensely rewarding to be able to participate completely in this supportive yet demanding structure.
Miss Perri MacKenzie