Tadao Cern, Black Balloons, 2016.

Earlier in the year recent graduate and New Art West Midlands 2017 alumna Halina Dominska was awarded an Engine Micro Bursary to attend Aesthetica’s Future Now Symposium which took place from 25-26 May 2017. She reports back on her experience.

Held at York St. John University in the heart of York, I attended Aesthetica’s two day Future Now Symposium in May. As an emerging contemporary artist it’s been useful to attend one or two symposia each year. They can reinvigorate and redirect your thinking. Meeting interesting people and being present at first class debates are just some of the aspects which can benefit your practice. Future Now also offered the rare chance for a portfolio review session. While there, I was interested to find out more about the Aesthetica Art Prize and exhibition (Entries for the 2017 Aesthetica Art Prize are open until Thursday 31 August 2017). As a recent arts graduate I’m keen to build up the profile of my work, one way to do this is through such awards.

The symposium opened with Aesthetica’s Director Cherie Federico, who commented on the digital times we are living through, and how quickly they have advanced from the millennium. She questioned what we did with our time before ‘being online’, and went onto highlight many aspects, positive and negative about our digital lives. One aspect highlighted was the reduction in ‘human contact’ in our communities, with the example of the introduction of self check outs in supermarkets and shops.

The idea of human contact unconsciously slipping away from generations of people is one that preoccupies me. How will this affect us? Will it affect us? Has it affected us? How will it change us as social beings? Can we change it? Do we want to? According to the phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty, we experience the world through our senses. To limit our sensory experience of the world and our connections in it will change how we learn, live and thrive as human beings. I wonder if the ‘gift of time’ the internet has given us (less administration, flexibility) could be used to replenish that face to face interaction with the community, friends and family. Cherie finished her talk with the thought: ‘Art allows us the privilege to stop, reflect and think on all of these things’.

Rachel Ara’s (Aesthetica Art Prize winner 2016) talk as part of the Sculpture Today session was refreshingly honest. She talked about her processes, an obsession with making and her ‘FARTS’, fast art which she makes in between her main projects. She sets out with the aim to use all women in the process of making. Rachel views her first works as prototypes to the work she really wants to make.

The funding and commissioning session included useful information from Wellcome Trust who are both financially and politically independent. They’ve recently made changes to their funding streams including their public engagement fund and application process, making it more streamlined. One piece of advice Alice Carey (Arts Partnership Manager, Wellcome Trust) gave was to think about your ‘baseline’ when making an application. If you want to make change in the world, firstly find out where you are starting from.

Gordon Dalton (Interim National Coordinator, Contemporary Visual Arts Network and Network Manager, Visual Arts South West) talked about the regional networks that make up CVAN, enabling lots of micro-funding even though they are not a funding body. Some of the schemes from Visual Arts South West include the Go and See Fund and a mentoring scheme.

Each of the sessions I attended had a variety of knowledgeable, well spoken and often charismatic speakers and chairs. One speaker that stood out was Season Butler. Season was eloquently articulate, but not only that, was entirely in control of where she wanted to direct the conversation. She beautifully prompted her panelists, ‘I wonder if…..’ was often the beginnings of a well thought out opinion or question.

It was a pleasure to attend the event; one that has given me much to think about and no doubt refer back to in the future.