In an age of buy to invest instead of buy what you like, the making of Art has been torn from human hands as mass-multiple prints flood the high street. Instead, the buying of art is often seen as rarefied and reserved for a wealthy few. Sketch-O-Matic is a full size photo booth that first debuted in the busy ground floor café-bar at Cornerhouse, Manchester’s’ international centre for contemporary visual art and film. But where the machinery should be is a tiny, fully equipped artist studio.
Over the course of a ten day residency, the public were invited to sit inside the booth as if for a photograph and make a minimum donation of £1 to an artist through an anonymous slot in return for a self-portrait. Wait five minutes (give or take) and the image appeared in the side-wall slot, accompanied by the warm blast of a travel hairdryer. If you hankered for that still-wet sensation, the artist might even lick it for you.
It could be a pencil drawing, doodle, cartoon, collage or even word-poem. Take it, frame it, consider it. Now you are both patron and muse! A whopping 954 sitters were processed in slots of 1 hour per artist, on average featuring 9 – 10 artists per day, drawing upon the skills of 40+ different artists and poets.
The response was originally conceived as a parry to the spate of press articles, arts funding announcements and lemming-like initiatives that naively heralded private philanthropy and Peggy Guggenheim-alikes as a means of plugging the arterial gush of hard cash from cultural organisations. This included a bare-faced visit from the government’s own advisor on such matters to the above venue who suggested that would-be investors were blithely standing around for the reaching, like low-hanging berries to be plucked from the branch. Oh, so ripe and grateful to be milked!
We now know this to have backfired – instead, investment by businesses in the arts has dropped to its lowest level for seven years, despite a government drive to encourage philanthropy.
If we are to ask the public to start digging into their own pocket, there has to be recognition of what is classed as affordable to many (a lot less than the cost of a wing for a new museum), whilst many of us feel excluded from art as an elite form of investment medium for the mega-rich. That said, we still wish to live with nice objects and pictures that represent something of our personalities and interests, but hesitate to call this ‘art’. Art is whatever you choose it to be – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Equally, in our state of advanced-manufacture, seemingly limitless multiples and built-in redundancy (from smart phones to home décor), we lack an understanding of how the making of, say, a picture or painting or doodle has an intrinsic financial value – a creative wealth.
My wish was simple. The exchange of gold, of coin (£1 – admittedly a nickel-brass alloy, but run with me here), in return for a perceivable creative act. That act being an offbeat but still recognizable form of portraiture, a traditional and historical precedent that combines altruism with self-aggrandizement. Because it has to start somewhere, and we’re at least being honest about our motives. I say we, because I include myself.
The artist (I’m wearing those shoes for the sake of this article, although they pinch and rub), creates for a variety reasons that sit somewhere along the spectrum of self-affirmation, so we’re all in this together.
The response was unexpected, both from those who wanted to draw inside the booth, but also from the queues that formed daily. Lunch hours saw a spike with local office workers rushing out, sandwich in hand, frantically checking their watch and monitoring movement to gauge the chance of getting inside, whilst a regular pack of Sketch-O-Matic addicts returned each evening in their pursuit of yet more pen-and-ink cameos from artists they hadn’t yet encountered, tips for preferred names traded in lowered tones with sideways glances as if recommending a new illicit high.
One, a friend of mine, was nicknamed ‘The Collector’ by the artists themselves, such was his frequency and Pokemon-masterly dedication to securing a portrait from as many hunkered artisans as possible on the other side of the screen. Sketch-O-Matic will return in October 2012, effusive thanks to all who took part, also Tom Antell for his construction and needlework skills, plus David Bailey for both appearing within but also illustrating the exterior of the booth.
Participating artists and poets included Paul Mayers, Simon Misra, Mary Naylor, Lauren Lucie, Anne Wilkins, James Clayton, Mandi Caine, Mika Shephard, eight bit, Kate Dunstone, Amy Victoria Marsh, Jimmy Lee, Tasha Whittle, Lyndsey Winnington, The Hammo, Bethan Hamilton, Jilly Cooper, Mark Aspin, David Bailey, Gemma Parker, Ross Phillips, Leanne Bridgewater, Kayleigh Williamson, Steph Pike, Jonathan Edwards, James David Condon, Radu Andriuta, Len Horsey, Pascal Little, Sue Shaw, Paul Loudon, Hannah Dawn Henderson, Louis Cochrane, Rebecca Crompton, Anna Violet, Laurie Pink and Mike Chavez-Dawson.