“15 years ago, it was completely different; employers were so good with creativity and now its commercialised.”
– Ian Barrington
Ian is a London-based contemporary artist who practises within sculpturing and art illustration works.
He has been doing it for a long time and feels he particularly likes to investigate materials and the processes of making artworks. Whilst he is a Sculptor and Art Illustrator, he is also a Writer.
His multi-disciplinary work is particularly concerned with paradigms of identity and he investigates this through multiple art forms.
The first question is how do you define studio space?
Oh, for me it’s hard, I suppose it’s because I’m constantly challenged to find somewhere suitable with my practice and I have a practice within sculpture and installation and I also write for work, so I need a clean room that’s bright as well as having a facility to write.
What do you require? What are those facilities for you?
Well for me, as a writer, I need a quiet space, like you know, I need to write, but for my practice as a sculptor, I need pull-back ceilings. I also need wide access floors and the facilities to make them, so hard floors, and having thicker walls so if I’m documenting work, I can do it properly and professionally. This is actually really hard because a lot of studios have all sorts of things going on within the space which interrupts me, so clean spaces and internet access of course.
As your work is quite large, do you feel limited in regard to where you can store it? One thing we have found is that art seems to be moving in the direction of getting smaller and more digitalised, as people just don’t have the space to store their work. How do you overcome that?
I have to take the whole thing apart – I build, document and then take it all apart so it’s minimised. Unfortunately, the work that I’m doing, or what everyone’s doing, painting or whatever, I still run out of space. When I was painting, I ran out of space because I’m producing large pieces and I need it to be clean, so I can’t use the same space for storage as well as producing because there would be a risk of damage.
So is that part of your art or is that just something that you have to do?
It’s not part of my art at all, I just have to do it, yeah I don’t want to get to a point where I’m minimising my work because then I am constantly having to look at the pricing for when I do anything full scale and you know the weight and all sorts of things come into play. So, I just look for a large space if possible. Within London, it’s really hard, so I do work internationally as well which offers me opportunities to do what I want to do on a large scale.
But do you feel like you lose a sense of “being in the loop” with not being in London?
Luckily no, I have a studio in India as well and a really large footprint to work with and to relate to, so I can build whatever I want through the concept and leave it there.
Do you tend to exhibit in London? How do you utilise London?
I already exhibit in London – I organise exhibitions and I’m a founding member of The International Art District.
You see, that’s one of the things we found people are having to move outside of London to do, which is obviously a real shame because London is losing so much of its cultural capital. We’ve found a lot of people actually really struggle to move out of London – they feel really out of the loop, and they feel like they would rather sacrifice their art, in a way, in making it smaller, than be out of that; but I guess it just depends on how you work
Yeah, I suppose so, I mean, working in England itself? Comparing it to London, it’s such a stark difference, whether I’m working in Sussex or Scotland. You feel that instantly, you are out of London, trying to connect with communities which is really hard. You’ve built foundations of knowledge of artists and networks and it’s just sheer luck that I’ve been able to put myself in a new network overseas, but it’s a different challenge.
Is that a collaborative environment? How do you work with other parties?
Part of it is collaborative, and we organise exhibitions globally, so there’s a lot of collaborative work as well as management of the projects. For example, we run a residency and we just had a Biennale (this year), but as much as it is strong internationally or overseas, it’s still brilliant here and the difference is the discipline. Even now, I still struggle to work effectively within London, I don’t want to have to do it overseas, because of all the other practice costs and legal issues and loans. You know, resources. London is my home, and where I know the networks thoroughly, it’s easily accessible.
So what’s your opinion on collaboration in the studio space? I know you were saying when you’re writing it needs to be quiet, but if you were creating a piece of art, would you enjoy that or would it be a burden?
Well it depends on the project, sometimes I do need silence, you know I need to be alone, however in some practices I work with artists. Obviously, there are times I get a lot of feedback, just like university and we communicate and are able to see things that we wouldn’t because I am too close to the work. I do enjoy collaborative work, but I still need my personal space, and plus its security, which I require. I gotta have somewhere that I can put things and I know that it’s safe.
We haven’t discussed that with other artists, but it’s quite interesting that you say that because some other artists they say all you need is a kitchen space, whereas Rayvenn is digital so she’s in this pocket of her own space, which she’s quite happy with. So, what do you believe the future of studio spaces in London will be?
It’s constantly changing, over 20 years it has changed so dramatically and as much as there are now more studios than ever, there’s a lot of organisations who want to profit from artists and that’s saturated because you can’t be in a studio and work professionally at the same time. Also, in the studio, there’s no money coming through the system. As far as what’s going to be happening, I think we’ll be pushed out, I mean it’s already happening – 15 years ago, it was completely different; employers were so good with creativity and now its commercialised.
Do you think it will be pushed out of London though? I know that Walthamstow is quite popular at the moment, and Hackney Wick has unfortunately lost it now as sterile space is closing, you’ve got the new developments, which inevitably does kick out the artists, so do you think it’s just outside of London?
Absolutely. Zone by zone we will be pushed out. There’s a lot of unused buildings and they are right for kicking and I would love to get hold of some new buildings, but they are out of the way at the moment, so that is the challenge. Staying in vicinities for us to travel in one way or another to these remote buildings, and we’re to generate some kind of price, some kind of creativity in exchange for it, but we don’t have that and we can’t spend £25 paying for travel. So that’s a challenge. A big portion will still be underground – we will work overtime to the point where we will be forced to go smaller and to change our medium. Either way, it creates opportunity to do new things, you know, I think right now because I have been forced into this position, because I had studio shares where I can’t work properly, the work’s damaged – things get stolen or missing, so I can write anywhere, nothing has changed there.
So you mentioned about travelling, is it important for you to be close to home?
On some level yes, I still have to have that time to go there if I’m working full time then, 40 hours a week plus I have to do another 5 to 10 to travel there if it’s on the other side of London and that’s a lot of time, I haven’t even got into the studio yet, and sometimes we want things relatively closer otherwise it’s even more stress than ever, because we are, you know, doing two or three jobs at a time, so its great to find this time to practice.
So you mentioned your residency, are you in charge of or how does it work?
Yeah, the organisation, we do exhibitions, residencies, plus the biennale and that’s run by the committee, so we have a large category of artists who take part, so the biennale, it was 400 taking part, but exhibitions, many of them they go up to 150. We do lots of impromptu/ unconventional, where we take over train stations or something like that, here it’s not possible, but even there, we need to be able to travel to something and take most of your stuff with you, so even that has its challenges.
Yes, so with regard to developments, it obviously takes 5 to 10 years in London for it to go through and be fully built and there are about 4 years when it is going through planning permission. So there’s something called a part-time development, so in that space, until it’s developed on or received planning, they’re trying to utilise these spaces to get the area up and running before they put in these developments. Do you think that could be a solution? So these temporary structures that are for artists.
Oh absolutely, even the government has a website where it publishes a list of unused buildings that are available to rent as a temporary or permanent space, so there’s availability, but typically, it’s not really seen that well or planned. The submitted photos of how it is being kept ruin it, but then it comes down to funds, it comes down to finance for every market or organisation, but yes, using these spaces whilst in transition, even temporarily, will help immensely.
What do you think would be the ideal time for a lease? Some artists like to stay at a place for years, some people would like their studio to know they’ve got it for 3 years, whereas some people like the option to move in 3 months or even one month.
There is no such ideal time because everyone has a different idea of practice; some move with their work and love the idea of working within different areas, because it generates more ideas, but being able to have an open contract, so if someone were to take this for 3 years, they could stay for 3 years. I think that is an important number to work on; it does generate exciting changes, however, it does limit a buzz within a community of artists.
So we’re actually over in Here East, on The Gantry, have you seen that before? The Trampery own it as a form of “we work” scheme and we rent a space from them. They actually handpick the companies that go in them, so they can create the best of a community. Do you think that’s something that is beneficial or something that’s too forced?
No, it’s beneficial, if you have four levels of painters that all do abstract, then there’s no creativity it all just becomes one block, they can exchange ideas, through different practices from photography to reading to horticulture. So having all of these levels of interest generates a lot of ideas and relativities.
We want to encourage communication between artists and developers so both parties understand their individual aims. If you could speak to a developer, what would you say to try and improve the artist community?
Look at the numbers. Rather than trying to focus on making a profit, focus on building a new-build that can create something that you can still profit from – not all profit comes from money. You know, rent is too high, up to £30-45 per square foot, it’s just not gonna happen. They need that creativity or they make small amounts of work, as they develop their practice and going back to my point before, they’re all about making a profit. If there can be some kind of level where they can combine studio use and galleries, that would be great. That way, they can understand the professional practice, possibly get in professional people to help develop that side of the market, and then they can learn how to manage things, commercialise themselves, become an identity. It’s multi-layered.
Definitely, it is sometimes easier from a developer point of view to just focus on “how quickly can I make this money”, whereas realistically, it is pointless just building something when the area isn’t sustainable.
I think if a business has enough of a profit margin that can be transferred to the next generation of creativity, that will then feed back into the company – how can they lose? They see figures, they look at next year’s targets, it doesn’t fuel creativity it fuels anxiety.
That’s all of my questions, is there anything you would like to discuss?
I suppose what is it you’re looking to do through this project?
That’s a great question, we are looking to have more conversations like this so that we can open the dialogue between ourselves as designers and developers, and the contacts we have made to try and get a conversation going about how we use space as artists in London.
As a developer, its a lot of focus on trying to make money from every angle, well that’s the quest of the building in the first place, so there are questions on both sides, there are groundworks to look after the facilities and they do add up, the larger the building the larger the risks. There are only so many buildings we can use and that can be affordable. There’s a lot of control from upper-end developers. An organisation has to be like a charity to try to stay afloat. It’s a challenge.