Art Against Ageism: Platform's Timefield exhibition
Platform in Glasgow host Timefield, a collaborative group show by five older artists who are above 50 but at the early stage of their art career, as part of this year's Outskirts festival
Does the status of emerging artist often imply a certain age range? When conjuring the mental image that comes with art student or recent art school graduate, what kind of age range comes to mind? As with any other profession, ageism tends to butt its way into the visual arts and create barriers or expectations that make it difficult to begin a new career progression later in life. In response to these conditions, the participants (all above 50) in Platform's upcoming exhibition Timefield sought to create a support network with each other to remedy some of the isolation that comes of being older than the normative age of 'new artists'.
The exhibition originated in February 2017, when all of the artists were involved in a residency at Cove Park, put together by Luminate (Scotland’s creative ageing organisation) and Magnetic North (an award-winning theatre company based in Edinburgh). Photographer and participating artist Frank McElhinney speaks about the impact of this dedicated period spent with other older artists. “It stimulated quite a bit of discussion. This residency was specifically called the Older Artist Lab, and one of the things that came out was discussing being an older person that’s revising their art practice or starting from scratch. One of the things that came back from everyone was a sense of isolation. When I was at art school, it would be me and everyone else would be in their twenties. Yes over time you make friends, but it’s not as easy as if you’re with your peer group.”
Writer Lesley Wilson also speaks eloquently about letting go of some of the personal barriers she had been feeling prior to the residency, and a radical change in her thinking that came with spending concentrated time amongst her peers. “During that week I developed a confidence and a sense of belonging as an artist. My imposter syndrome had been strongly driven by my own internalised ageism and a false belief that I had to start from scratch as an artist… whereas in fact I had a lifetime of experience and skills that could inform and support this transition to a new profession."
Throughout the interviews, the sense of relief from previous senses of alienation and anxiety recurs as a definitive part of their respective experiences of Cove Park and since. The work produced for the exhibition builds on this sharing of experience, and is, to varying extents, collaborative. McElhinney, when asked about his own work in the exhibition, immediately makes sure to correct any notion that he is individually responsible for any of the work in the show. “It’s not appropriate for me to talk about ‘my work’ [in the exhibition]." Ian Cameron makes the same point, that while there are elements of his own interests in the collaborative photography, he will not show any of his own work per se in the exhibition. McElhinney and Cameron made a series of new works along with fellow Cove Park resident, performance artist Kate Clayton.
McElhinney describes the main elements of what will be included in the show at the end of this month. Alongside a sound work by Lesley Wilson and wall hangings by Annie Peel, the collaborative photographs of the three artists will be shown as large scale projections. “There are four main components, Annie makes the wall hangings. So when you go into Platform, the whole room will be enveloped by wall hangings and some of them have abstract paintings on them inspired by the landscape. The third component will be Lesley’s work, as she went on to write two new pieces of writing. One is the voice that says how people forgot about the natural world. The second is an old woman who remembers.” During the Cove Park residency, they experimented with spacing out different people speaking the parts and engaged a sound artist to make it into a recorded sound work.
McElhinney speaks fondly of the work that he created alongside Clayton and Cameron. While the theme in place was the landscape, he sought to find common ground amongst himself, Clayton and Cameron. McElhinney identified that Clayton and Cameron both were very interested in the body, each coming from different kinds of performance backgrounds. What emerged is a complex and provocative series of long-exposure photographs of Clayton and Cameron, nude and in different postures and blurily moving.
While each of the artists speaks fondly and appreciatively of the support they have received from the organisations involved in making Timefield happen, participating artist Kate Clayton speaks sharply and insightfully of the unforgiving generalisation that comes with the label 'old artist.'
“I don’t want to be identified through my age. But on the other hand, I am the age I am and I don’t care, so it’s a double edged [feeling]. We’ve all got this tag now, as we met on the older emerging artist residency. That’s hilarious! But the feedback we gave was that it wasn’t old enough, actually. Would you lump all people together between 20-50? You probably wouldn’t, you’d probably say over 30 or up to 35.” Speaking of the over-50 threshold of the residency, Clayton goes on: “All those decades are significantly different. I feel very different now than I did ten years ago, and I know that in another ten years, I’ll feel even worse!”
Clayton laughs off this last part before she summarises with bracing candour the intention and momentum that energises her practice as an artist, and in doing so sums up some of the urgency of each of the practices that are on show in Timefield. “Maybe I do the work just to prove to myself I’m alive still and I want to be part of the world. I have a voice and I demand to be seen and heard.”