My head hurts!

Not because of the copious amounts of wine I’ve been drinking with friends and family during my stay in Bristol, but because today I was required to think… and quite hard, too. I’ve attended my first sessions at the IMPACT conference in Bristol and it’s been really interesting.

I’m fascinated by what happens when artists and academics get together (and yes, I appreciate that there are artists who are academics as well as academics who are artists and that sort of dualism isn’t particularly useful). I’ve not been to other professional conferences (unless you count the times I used to deliver sessions on the tax advantages of charitable giving, many years ago, but that was when I was a speaker, not in the audience) and so I’m very ignorant but I imagine that if attending a conference on theoretical physics, say, then all the sessions and most of the speakers would be ‘on topic’. What struck me today was the diversity of topics in discussion and how difficult it must be to try and corrall speakers into an overall session theme.

The consequence is that topics are so diverse that sometimes the session titles are either misleading or meaningless! My first session on ‘Theoretical Approaches to Print’ was fine, with erudite discussions on materiality, the interface between art and science in one speaker’s art practice and the digital matrix in printmaking.

The second session I attended was titled ‘Print in the Social Sphere’ and whilst I was impressed by the diversity of speakers I detected a lack of underlying cohesion in the topics discussed. We moved from talking about the paradox of printmaking and the implied production of multiples as an egalitarian art form against the elitism of art collecting and the consequent incongruity of multiple anything in a world awash with multiples, through the necessarily emotive topic of printmaking as activism, as evidenced in the political commentary in apartheid South Africa (with the attendant AWFUL verb-making word “conscientize”! YUK), through to a presentation on lamp posts as a public gallery space in Buenos Aires to a final two-voiced ramming-the-point-home-repeatedly piece about sustainability in printmaking that was a bit like a Fry and Laurie monologue but without the humour or the self-awareness.

At least one person fell asleep, which is not entirely surprising since the Q&A session at the end degenerated into a holier than thou exercise in individual print practices, debating the merits of particular sorts of vegetable oil in post-printmaking cleanup. No-one was satisfied with stating that they use vegetable oil instead of solvents without scoring points about whether ground nut oil is more ecologically acceptable than blended vegetable oil which might contain palm oil or soy bean oil, both of which are intensively farmed in South America, destroying huge swathes of rainforest. I sat there with eyebrows slightly raised as delegates around the room chipped in, only slightly surprised that we didn’t extend the conversation to include a debate about the energy embodied in producing plastic oil bottles versus cans…

What’s on the schedule for tomorrow? Well, I think I’m going to a morning session about ‘Applied Arts’, then coming home for a short time to meet up with Dearest Husband and Darling Daughter, who are currently flying over the Indian Ocean on their way to Europe, and then I’m off to the UWE campus at Bower Ashton for a product fair, academic poster event, open portfolio sessions and various exhibitions, which I’m really looking forward to (if I can figure out how to get to the campus without a car). Adios!

3 thoughts on “My head hurts!

  1. Sounds “interesting.” I've only been to one art conference and that was back in '94 I think. I think that one will probably do me for my life time. I'm beginning to think maybe all art conferences are similar in that it is really all about the speakers – both the actual speakers and their ideas and the delegates who speak in question time and their ideas. I noticed that many of the delegates questions ran on for up to 5 minutes before the break to allow the answer, which was usually quite brief because the 'question' wasn't actually a question at all. I hope tomorrow is much better for you!
    (ps I use blended vegetable oil but I'll be checking for the addition of palm oil to it in future just in case!)

  2. Hi sara, what a nightmare! reminds of many dept of education 'staff development' days – everyone just seems to miss the point. Hope you are having fun in the 'mother country' …..apart from the headachey conference. cheers jane a.

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