Notes on Ruth Solomons – The Need for Space in Art Practice (2015)

The following notes were taken while reading Ruth Solomons’ 2015 journal article The Need for Space in Art Practice.

The abstract of the article begins with the premise that artists have “an intrinsic understanding of visual space through a theoretical awareness of spatial discourses in art”, which suggests a higher sensitivity to “the practical aspects of sustaining an art practice”, which expands into “the broader context of the socially felt space within which artists make work”. The article:

looks at practices that exemplify the artist’s need for space, in relation to: spaces in which artworks are produced, stored and distributed; the depicted studio; occupations which deny headspace; and gendered containment of domestic space.

A lot of this seems relevant to my project: the importance to have a space to make work (which perhaps becomes more pressing when that space is denied for whatever reason), the difficulties of storing work (and how that may effect the work that is produced), and the “containment” of the domestic space.

In her introduction, Solomons observes that a painting “when relocated to a different site […] communicates something about the space of the studio” in which it was made, “indexing” the gestures of its making.

Solomons refers to the “cynical” depiction of the artist’s studio as described by Daniel Buren (see this blog post), and counters that in a “post-studio context” the work of art is just as much produced in the gallery as it is in the studio. Solomons also uses the example of Alaena Turner’s Secret Action Paintings to suggest that certain works might even be “materially authored”, with the overall implication that authorship or production can not be reduced down to a single site, process or place of display.

Thus Solomons questions Buren’s notion of the artwork as a “portable” object, and also his reliance on the studio as a site of “storage”. In the case of works which are realized or otherwise completed outside of the studio, the studio is perhaps of secondary importance – a site of planning and preparation, rather than a place for completed artworks. This would also counter Buren’s claim that the artwork is “lost” when presented in the gallery, as in fact the public execution of a work that was planned and prepared in the studio would constitute the work’s full realization.

Solomons concedes that “traditional” art practices such as painting may still encounter the problems described by Buren in his essay, and asks:

What does the studio come to mean when a traditional material based practice and an engagement with post-studio debates come together?

This question is particularly interesting to me, as within my own practice I am engaged in traditional forms of “making” (mostly through painting), while also maintaining that practice largely outside of a conventional “studio” setup.

Solomons then describes how depictions of the studio in art and culture have reinforced a certain stereotype of the studio as an enclosed space which divides “reality” and “artifice”, whereas in the contemporary context the studio is understood as “an open, pervious space within a network structure of many types of practices”. Thus “the physical space of the studio has become increasingly replaced by the conceptual space of networked practice”.

Solomons goes on to suggest that the physical function of the studio as a “repository of practice” is a function shared by the various online blogs and social media sites in which artists document and present their ongoing work, albeit in digital form. To Solomons this suggests that “practice [might be] perceived as being now independent from site, but still requiring space”.

The next section of the text speaks of practices that constitute an “adaptation to [a] lack of headspace”, concluding that:

Art practice might [..] be considered to adapt to lack of space through gestures that are ideological (post-studio), illustrative (depicted studio) and conceptual (headspace)“.

This is interesting and relevant in terms of my project, as a “lack of space” in which to work (whether physical or conceptual) is one of the challenges arising from the conditions of the “minor” / domestic art-worker.

Solomons concludes her article with the following remarks:

Lack of space may lead to a situation where the artist becomes increasingly resourceful and adaptive. This can be observed in artworks through the ways in which space is quoted, and the strategies whereby boundaries between artwork and practice become blurred. Such strategies may sometimes be a result of artists’ practical needs, and will often incorporate a theoretical awareness of spatial discourses in art, a kind of theoretical impetus. However, […] it is hard to identify the extent to which either type of need has the greater influence in any one art practice. Therefore, an experiential, spatially aware approach to practice should be adopted with caution. While all artists may reasonably be expected to fulfil the theoretical impetus to respond to spatial discourses such as the ‘gesture’, objecthood and post-studio debates; only some artists, when confronted with a lack of space, may ultimately have the resilience to adapt and to fulfil their need for a place for practice“.

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