Biting the Big Apple
Following on from their success in winning the annual Wallace Award Paramount Prize in 2009 – the first photographic work to ever win the paramount prize – Sue Jowsey and Marcus Williams report back on the six months they spent living, working and researching in New York City as part of their Wallace prize.
Sue Jowsey, Lecturer in Design and Visual Arts, and Marcus Williams, Associate Professor Design and Visual Arts, began collaborating about 15 years ago. With their stipend from the Wallace Foundation, a research grant from the Unitec Research Committee and their own funds, Marcus, Sue and their children Jesse, then 12, and Mercy, 10, headed to New York in June last year to experience artistic immersion New York style.
Arriving in a New York heat wave, they chanced on a loft to rent in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, only three minutes to the L train subway and right in the centre of one of the most dynamic art scenes in the world. They quickly set up their Wallace-funded studio at the International Studio and Curatorial Program (ISCP), set in the midst of brick industrial Brooklyn architecture, and began to experiment.
Research = new knowledge
For Sue and Marcus, New York was a time for conducting research and gaining new knowledge, which involved producing a body of new, original artwork. Marcus says that in a similar way to scientific and social scientific research, creative research involves the gathering of data, information and facts for the advancement of knowledge. This knowledge is then interpreted, summarised and communicated.
“Artists begin a project by posing a hypothesis… ‘What if I combined these forms with that concept using this range of techniques?’ The artist must then test the hypothesis and the results generally lead to a range of new possibilities, which in turn are tested,”says Marcus. “The results are summarised, interpreted and communicated appropriately. In a general sense, all art could be seen as research, but in academic or professional terms, not all art is quality research.”
Marcus says that there are benchmarks in art at both academic and professional levels with respect to rigour and particularly context, the latter of which ascertains the level of relevance and significance of the work in terms of ‘advancement’ – ‘Is the art in question (theresearch) advancing our knowledge?’
“That is the million-dollar question and just as is the case in academia, art has peers and experts who cooperate in a dynamic, increasingly-globalised, hotly-contested discourse about meaning, value, quality and advancement. This field is extremely competitive and difficult to navigate. All the problems in academia, (prestige, funding and the limitations of paradigmatic thinking) exist in art.”
Marcus says that the ISCP fellowship gave him and Sue the opportunity to test their ideas and bring the results into a highlycontested, professional arena, equivalent to a high-calibre research think-tank and conference.
The pair chose to work exclusively within a studio context while in New York, as the neutral background allowed greater freedom for digital construction and reassembly and meant that images shot at different times could exist in the same moment, without predetermined relationships. Added to that, they also introduced elements directly onto or into the surface of the photograph, through ripping, stitching and the introduction of other materials, such as plaster and clothing.
“We were inspired by the Big Apple and challenged by the sheer calibre of the 29 other artists at the fellowship programme who came from across the world,” says Sue. “We were able to build on existing ideas, develop new strategies, discover previously unexplored terrain and create new works, which would never have been possible otherwise.”
Sue says the time to devote to practice-based research was the key element, but having access to some of the greatest cultural institutions in the world and the highly-competitive and professional nature of the fellowship was both intellectually stimulating and highly motivational.
The new contacts and networks formed during the fellowship have already given Sue and Marcus numerous opportunities and future possibilities. They have since exhibited in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Chicago and Colorado and have just been invited to participate in the trans-disciplinary Kaunas Bienniale in Lithuania.
While in New York they were invited to lecture at New York University, Parsons New School of Design in Manhattan, Rochester Institute of Technology and Georgia South University and Sue has since been accepted to present a paper at the 6th International Conference on the Arts in Society at the Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Berlin. “The ISCP in New York was an incredibly important opportunity for us and the benefits of this are already filtering back to Unitec,” says Marcus. “It was also a rich and fascinating personal experience.”
With two hundred languages spoken in New York and world cuisines to match, Sue says even choosing where to have dinner offered unlimited opportunities - the choice not being Somalian food but whether it would be southern or northern. “The strain of having to decide was somewhat offset by the fact that you can easily walk to both restaurants.”
And while they arrived in a heat wave, their parting gift from the American continent was a 45 centimetre-deep snowdrop on Boxing Day. “The snow completely transformed grimy, dusty Brooklyn and made the final trek up Metropolitan Avenue to the chrome and neon Kellogg’s Diner for pancakes, bad coffee and lashings of Brooklyn hospitality all the more rewarding.”
Last edited: 15 July 2011