Anita Bruce: Top tips for applying to Textile Art Groups
With a background in both the life sciences and textile arts, Anita explores the boundaries between the arts and science, particularly with reference to biodiversity. Her intricate sculptural textiles explore the structure and technology of hand knitting, while challenging preconceived ideas of process and materials.
Anita has been commissioned to create work for the Crafts Council’s handling collection and exhibited her ‘Knitted Plankton’ series in a Cabinet of Curiosities at the Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House. As a core reef contributor to the ‘Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef’ project, she exhibited at the Hayward Gallery and the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington DC.
Anita is currently artist in residence for a local countryside trust and textile artist in residence at the Time and Tide museum, Great Yarmouth, while continuing to develop her wire sculptures in response to her current obsession with anatomy and skeleton trees.
Anita is an integral part of the renowned art group Prism. In this article, which is part of the Business of Art series, she discusses the benefits of joining a textile art group and how best to present yourself when applying.
Prism – Textile Inspired Art
I am currently Co-Chair of Prism, along with Jackie Langfeld. We curated the group’s last three exhibitions at the Mall Galleries in London, and have just overseen the move to our new annual venue in Hoxton.
Prism was founded as a textile exhibiting group in 1999 by the late Julia Caprara, Prism members are drawn from across the world and represent all regions of the UK. In 2009 Prism entered a new independent phase, retaining a focus on showcasing high quality fine art textile practice and craftsmanship. Our aim is to highlight the breadth of textile making and challenge notions of textile as decorative and domestic. We were recently featured in Textile Artist’s Top 5 UK Textile Art Groups, a great accolade.
Prism’s Application Process
Every year we put out a call for new members via our website, following our annual exhibition in May/June. It’s a two stage process, with applicants submitting digital images, a cv and statement in the first instance. A team, selected from across the membership votes on the applications and a short list is drawn up. They are asked to send a small, representative selection of their work and the team then meet to review and discuss the applicants. We don’t have a quota or a rigid list of criteria, but through discussion have (so far!) unanimously agreed on the applicants we ask to join us, usually about 7 or 8 each year.
The information in this article is based on my experiences of Prism’s selection process, and hopefully is relevant to other groups. I am going to look at how you should research the groups that you are interested in and how best to present yourself in terms of images, cv and statement to make an impact.
Anita’s Top Tips
Reasons for wanting to join a textile art group
This is important for matching your skills and requirements to the groups available so that you apply to the most appropriate ones for your needs. This could include: –
- Exhibition potential
- Enhance your profile
- Developing your work
- Provide teaching opportunities
- Social interaction with other textile artists
Identifying which group is right for you
- Look for exhibition reviews and listings in textile magazines, blogs, facebook and websites like textileartist.org.
- Look to see which group’s textile artists that you admire and relate to are members of.
- Try to visit an exhibition, look at the work on show and talk to the members stewarding
- Read reviews in the textile media and blogs
- Look at their website – many groups also have a facebook page such as ours
- Find out if the costs involved in membership and exhibiting are affordable
- Do you know a member you could have a chat with?
- What sort of group is it? Do they exhibit, have regular meetings, run workshops?
- Would your work be a good fit?
- Recent exhibition titles and venues – do they inspire, would you be interested in producing work for them?
- Make a checklist of what is required, and the deadline!
- Read between the lines – what do they really want to see?
- Check how many images they want and at what resolution
- Check word counts for statements and number of pages for a cv
- If the application is a digital process, don’t print forms, hand write and scan – it doesn’t look professional
- Meeting the brief proves that you can follow instructions, a big tick for a new member!
Edit your cv down to include key exhibitions, events and achievements, rather than include a full list of everything you’ve ever done.
- The selection team will really appreciate a single page highlighting key events
- Tailor your cv for each application. Eg. if the group your applying to is focussed on teaching, include any workshops and venues where you have taught
- Include any website and social media links (for your artwork, not personal stuff), so the team can look for additional information if needed
- Limit your list to a reasonably current time frame where possible – unless you have something spectacular to include (I’m certainly not going to edit my cv to exclude being a named exhibitor at the Hayward Gallery with the Hyperbolic Crocheted Coral Reef in 2008!)
It’s vital to get this right as it allows you to explain the meaning behind your work, what drives you and to show your personality and passion. Think about what sets you apart.
- Be concise and don’t repeat your cv, but maybe include a few projects or exhibitions that are highlights
- Include any skills that might be useful to the running of the group!
- I regularly update a current statement about my work as I find it a useful focus, but will then tailor it in response to a particular opportunity, as I do for my cv
- There’s already a great article on this on the TextileArtist.org website
Selection of Work
Think carefully about the work you want to represent you. You will need to be selective (Prism asks for a maximum of 6 images, to include the whole work and a detail).
- Your selection needs to reflect your current body of work and tell a cohesive and consistent story
- If this is a digital process, your photos need to sell your work and if they are poor, will detract from your work and maybe suggest a lack of judgement.
- If you need to send in work, don’t select pieces just because they are easy and cheap to post. This will be really obvious!
This is a big subject and TextileArtist.org have already covered it at. However, I couldn’t resist a few tips.
- Plan ahead! Take (or have taken for you) good installation shots of your work with lots of details.
- If your work is behind glass or acrylic, photograph it before it’s constructed – avoiding reflections later is almost impossible!
- If your work is particularly large, you may need to keep an eye open for a suitable venue to photograph it
- Its difficult to get lighting right – flash can make the work look dull and outdoor lighting can be too harsh. If your work is particularly complex, as are some of my wire sea creatures, research lighting setups. I have a low cost light tent, used for photographing the ‘Knitted Plankton’, but its possible to construct bespoke setups yourself
- The background for your work shouldn’t be a distraction, preferably plain and unobtrusive – use fabric or a large sheet of paper to disguise. Keep an eye out for ‘foreign bodies’ creeping into shot
- Site specific work is shown at its best in situ. Trophy Birds was photographed at the top of the Hell Staircase at Burghley House. Professional photographers were able to use additional lighting to illuminate the painted ceiling as well as the silk feathers
- Often useful to show a detail as well as the full piece, consider a montage
- Be analytical about your photos – are they good enough?
- Invest time in researching and testing out setups for photography that will work for you – consider it as part of the job of being a textile artist! However, if its really not your thing, invest in a good set of professional images.
The Application process takes time and energy if you do it seriously, but can also be a useful process in your own development, so be prepared to invest in it.
Be ambitious, but don’t be disappointed if you are not successful first time. Don’t take this as a personal failure; there may be many factors that you are not aware of (Prism, like many groups, does not give feedback but will often encourage re-application). You can be sure that your work has been carefully considered and that the team have gained pleasure from looking at it.
Are you a member of a textile art group? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.