Part 1. Laura M R Harrison
What it is to be a professional artist
A series of informal chats with local artists, discussing their work and what it is to be a professional artist, maker, creative in Cumbria.
You can find out more about Laura’s work on her website.
Catriona So we’re sat on a bench near the river Caldew in Dalston, with Laura M R Harrison. Laura, can you tell me a little about you, your education, your practice. Laura Shall I start with education then? Catriona Start with education Laura I have a BA degree Fine Arts, and it was in 2003, I graduated for that. Then I had 10 years, well, just under 10 years, out from our practice started practising again, actually a little bit earlier than that maybe in 2008 went into a studio group, and then I went back to do my MA in 2013 to 2015 in Contemporary Fine Art. And this year, the beginning of this year I started a PhD in practice based Fine Art. Shall I talk about my practice as well. Catriona Yes, please do. Laura Since my MA, so since 2013, I've been working in predominantly video and audio. And that's very much installation based, and I'm interested in how space and place inpacts reading of artwork, and I am just starting to incorporate object and sculpture more into my work as part of my PhD practice. Catriona So, do you think that your practice has, almost in a sense, restarted since your MA or was it slightly before that. Laura Yes, really the MA kicked it off again, partly because I ended up with a concept or a theme that I was really fired up about. And that just pushed the work, and it was also. That's the point at which I learned to connect with researching properly. And that real understanding of how practice and research are intertwined, and that relationship and that's kind of what really fired the practice off, and I started working at a much more professional level in terms of my output. Catriona And would you define yourself as a professional artist? Laura It's not something I find particularly easy but I think I'm at the point now where I almost can't. And so it's almost like the reverse it's like, I think once you've been working for so long at a certain level and because of the type of work I’m making now. So, say if I started in 2013, that's quite a while now, I've been doing that sort of work and looking at certain sort of opportunities. And so yes I think I do now. Catriona So within your practice, you said that you worked with visual and audio and you're just introducing sculptural elements, do you produce products or pieces of art that are saleable? Laura In theory, some of them could be sold, but I don't. And that's a deliberate choice. And I think for me, there's an issue with how the commercial shifts your practice and shifts how you're able to engage with subject matter, and perhaps what you choose to make. The exhibition that I did at signal film, which you saw, which was the bricks. They are technically objects so you could sell, but I needed to get rid of them actually the money went to charity. And that was my preference that it went back into a different sort of system. And it doesn't, it's prevents the work being sort of commercial commodity in the same way. Catriona So you don't necessarily earn a living from your practice? Laura No I don’t, I've never earned anything. And even when I've had opportunities. I've been lucky, and there's only one way I've actually came out and I could have paid myself but I didn't, I decided to invest it in my studio instead. So that is the only one where I've been given enough money, where I've been able to produce the work and technically would have been able to pay myself, it still would have been below minimum wage, for the hours that I put in by quite a long shot. So no I don't earn money from it. Catriona So you've had access to funding you've, you've managed to tap in but... Laura Yeah it's difficult because I think our location actually impacts that, and I think it impacts the kind of the logistics of opportunities if you're in a position where you have a mortgage, and you have responsibility close to home. It makes accessing a lot of the opportunities a lot more difficult because the sorts of things I'd be looking at are longer term residences so you might be a month or a couple of months working away which I unfortunately can't do at the moment for financial reasons. And so it limits how far you can go, to seek those opportunities. And also it's not been easy to get a profile from this area, and that is limiting. So, there's kind of a level where I'm kind of stuck at where I can get a bit of money, but get into that next bit where you're going and doing opportunities and you're getting enough to cover all your costs, and pay yourself is like the next step. Catriona And so you can pay your mortgage back at home. Laura Yeah and that next step. I think is going to be really difficult to hit for various reasons. Catriona So do you work to sustain your practice? Laura I do. Catriona Can you just tell me a little about that Laura So I work as a civil servant, and I work for the rural payments agency. And it's basically admin work. But I work maintaining kind of the things that make an office tick, so it's been stationary, car park etc. I mean that's not quite as basic as that but first aid, health and safety sort of stuff. And then I'm about to change jobs, and I'm going to be "PA"ing for a department in DEFRA. So that's three days a week, and slightly condensed hours so the longer days that most people do. And that's enough to pay my bill Catriona And to allow you time to practice, and to develop work. Laura Yes and to do my PhD. On the PHD I’m 50/50, so 50% work, 50% PhD, and it allows me to split that time and so it's a part time PhD, it's a really long commitment of five to seven years, and but that's the only way that I could physically do it, or financially do it was to split between study and working. Catriona Did you tell me what do you think defines a professional artist? Laura My opinion on professional, what classes is professional? Because what you think of it for yourself and what you think of it for other people. I'm not sure it's necessarily the same thing. Catriona Well we're harder on ourselves. I think we're less... Laura Oh, I don’t know, I might be harder on other people. Catriona What do you think constitutes a professional artist? Laura There's there's an element of how long you've been working at it for. And for me, there's also an element of how you approach it. Which is really not very easy to define but I think, you know, I've been doing this on and off for a very long time now and personally I've got a lot of education and I don't think it necessarily comes down to education but I think it's an attitude around that learning, even if it's not formal learning. The learning through your practice or the learning and the way you push yourself and progress, but I guess this is also coming more from a conceptual art practice and, more so than maker designer kind of direction. But I think there is something to be said for the time that you've been doing it, and where you're placing your work and how you're positioning yourself in yourself in terms of your own learning. So you can't place a time on it, but I, there's that point where I go yeah okay I consider that person professional I know it's very much on a case by case basis so it's very difficult to define but they're the sorts of elements I would be looking for. Catriona Yeah, it is just a really weird... Like I spent years not thinking I was some sort of imposter in my making, and now I kind of have got to a point where I think I'm there-ish or on the path. And then I've gone back to education, which doesn’t set me back but its... Laura But, the thing with you is you've always pushed yourself so when I look at makers, just this is my personal interest it's not even about whether they're professional or not. I always like to see people who stuff, changes, they're not doing the same thing here and they're pushing and they're progressing and they're learning and you're always looking at new techniques and you're honing your, your glazes and your colours and you're always looking for those each little bits like I want this to be better or honing this bit I've done a bit of reading or watching or whatever about and those are the sorts of things I'm looking for. So when you put the output. I think you see it in the output particularly makers you go.. Catriona They’ve moved forward yeah or sideways, or in a different direction Laura And they’ve put a lot of effort in, you can almost see references, or things have been looking at in their work. Catriona Cool. Well, I mean it's 10 minutes but I think they've got quite a lot in it, Thank you very much for chatting! Date of Chat 17/12/20 Date Published 23/12/20