Author: collectivegallery

Collective are committed to supporting new visual art through a programme of exhibitions, projects and commissions. Originally established as an artist run organisation in 1984 the Collective is an international organisation for the production, research, presentation and distribution of contemporary art and culture with a specific focus on new visual art and practices. We aim to foster, support, and debate new work and practices in a way which is of mutual benefit to artists and audiences. We believe that visual art can provide experiences that change the way we look at our world and understand ourselves within it. Collective is a space where people can come to witness, to be challenged, to learn, to experience others and their worlds; a space where risk and adventure are celebrated.

Collective support

My placement at Collective started in the City Dome building, which opened to the public for the first time in its history in January. This unique building was never used for astronomical purposes but finally opened its doors this year to exhibit art. The first show Faire le mur was a video work by a French artist Bertille Bak.

As a recent arts graduate volunteering for an organisation that supports new and emergent artists, it is a great opportunity to develop my own art practice and gain confidence. I contribute creative and practical support for the gallery, using skills that I already have, developing them further and working on projects that I am personally interested in. Collective offers me support, training and professional development with a budget for a preferred course. I’ve chosen to do a Video Compositing with Adobe After Effects - course at Stills, tutored by artist Rachel Maclean. In this course I’m aiming to improve my technical skills for my own moving image and animation work.

The void after graduating is frightening and finding the right direction is a great challenge. It’s not necessarily clear yet what I want to learn and achieve in the future, not to mention having to pay my way through life. A this point, being part of the contemporary art world, meeting new people and just taking interest in what’s going on is essential for me. Seeing behind the scenes in an arts organisation and learning the enormous amount of time and effort running it requires, is a very enlightening experience. Learning and experiencing the process Collective goes through when inviting artists to exhibit is important since I am hoping to make art a profession. During my time in art school I’ve learnt part of what it takes to be an artist but how to make it work longer term is a different story. A lot depends on how good I am at networking, at business, marketing myself and contextualizing my work.


Up until now, I’ve been part of several exciting projects and exhibitions at Collective, such as One to One Hundred Race, two Satellites Programme exhibitions, an installation by David Osbaldeston presenting 3D printed objects, a series of photographs, sculptural works and stop-frame animations. Still fresh in my mind is One to One Hundred Race, filming a new work by Cristina Lucas. What a day! 100 people of all ages – the youngest participants accompanied by their parents – took part in a 100-metre race in the Holyrood Park, where 100 lanes were painted on the grass. The starter gun fired and each participant representing their own age started running in competition with themselves. The weather was amazing, people enthusiastic and amazed by the drone camera flying above us. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves and the spirit of competition. The film crew, director, assistants and stewards were all working their best to stay on track despite the limited time schedule. All in all, the day was lot of fun!


Still, there are lot of things to look forward to – the forthcoming project Play Summit by Nils Norman that is part of the Glasgow International festival, the After Effects course, new exhibitions and discussing gallery visitors experiences and interpretations of the works. And most of all, Collective’s exciting transformation and moving into the entire City Observatory Complex, which will be open to the public in the next few years. Can’t wait!

Viika Sankila

Voluntary Projects Assistant


Work in Progress


For the sake of full disclosure, I should first say that this is my first attempt at blogging. This month, my first month as Voluntary Project Assistant at Collective, has been a time of new experiences. As with any new job this entails an introductory period fraught with uncertainty, in which the smallest task (like operating the enormous and unpredictable photocopier) can be a source of utter incomprehension. With that in mind, this entry will be a record of my first impressions, which I will aim to re-visit and re-develop over my time at Collective.

As a recent graduate hoping to enter a competitive field, I was overjoyed to have the opportunity of to undertake a training placement at a gallery as established yet exciting as Collective. The Voluntary Project Assistant program is an established one and offers a rewardingly structured engagement with the gallery, very different from the casual invigilating experience offered by most arts sector organisations. This was illustrated by the meeting for volunteers in the visual arts coincidentally held in the gallery on my first day at Collective. Co-ordinated and chaired by my predecessor Julia, it offered a chance to meet my counterpart Viika and to hear from Producer Frances Stacey and Director Kate Gray on their experiences of volunteering. This provided a fitting introduction to a dialogue-based role, which emphasizes a relationship of reciprocity between volunteer and organization. On a day-to-day basis the role entails front of house duties, with Viika and myself acting as the first point of contact and source of information for many of the galleries visitors. Within the internal structure of the gallery I provide administrative support to the Collective team, an uninspiring umbrella term which does noting to imply the diverse range of tasks I’ve encountered so far. It provides a comprehensive introduction to the complicated processes involved in co-ordinating and promoting events and exhibitions.

 Faced with such multiplicity perhaps the best way to paint an overall picture of my time with Collective is through the two openings I’ve attended so far. The first was the opening of the Bartille Bak show Faire le mur, a film work and a set of newly commissioned tapestries, exhibited as part of Factish Field, an on-going multi-artist project exploring of the intersections between anthology and art. As a born and bred Glaswegian this was my first visit to Calton Hill, and the experience of the view of over the many lights of Edinburgh provided a breathtaking first impression. The newly opened City Dome building, high ceilinged and packed with people warding of the cold with hot whiskey and apple, proved to be equally impressive. Bak’s video piece is simultaneously socially committed, thought provoking and very, very funny. The juxtaposition of her own contemporary medium with the more archaic communally fashioned tapestries evokes and contextualizes the historic continuity of community struggle. Making my way down the hill (more carefully this time because of the whiskey and the dark) I felt excited by ths reminder of the revolutionary potential of art and by the possibility of participating in Collective’s vision.

The second event, the opening of Satellites Programme  artist Catrin Jeans’ Recreationally Surviving the Great Outside, was a very different affair. This time there was no opportunity for contemplation and it was my turn to serve the drinks, man the front desks and greet visitors. This hustle and bustle gave the evening a carnival feel which perfectly complemented Catrin’s theatrical and playfully subversive art. Visitors entered the gallery only to be met with a pastiche replica of the very landscape they’d walked out of, and were invited interact with the artwork and pose amongst the ‘scenery’. This sense of play was continued throughout the exhibition, which included a nature walk and snowshoe building workshop for children. Fittingly, the exhibition opening ended with a hilarious performance by Catrin, followed by celebratory pizza.

 Although at times overwhelming, the past month has filled me with enthusiasm for the months to come. Ahead of me is a Web design Course at Stills courtesy of a generous research grant provided by Collective (with an aim to re-vamp this very site). In the immediate future I will be participating in the upcoming film piece made by Cristina Lucas and 100 people aged 1 to 100, in association with All Sided Games, and beyond that, Nils Norman’s Play Summit at the Glasgow International. And as I type, the new exhibiton by David Osbaldeston is being constructed behind the gates of the City Dome, and soon I’ll have attended a third opening, no doubt with new opportunities and challenges.


Christine Baird

Voluntary Projects Assistant

Volunteer Placement

My involvement with Collective all began with an informal challenge I was set by a visiting artist during my course at college. This challenge involved finding an opportunity driven by your own interests, and pretty much just going for it, in the sense of building for yourself a network of experience. This of course, I took seriously and stumbled upon a voluntary position with Collective’s offsite project at Meadowbank Stadium – Game Changer, part of the All Sided Games. Collective was always a gallery I had visited when spending time researching for projects and going to gallery visits in Edinburgh – there was always something about that wee gallery up Cockburn Street that was so different and exciting.

The role involved looking after the exhibition, and welcoming visitors to the space in which the exhibition was held, which in fact was a games room. The majority of the visitors (most of whom poked their heads around the door, essentially being nosey!) were individuals from sports backgrounds, hanging around the area waiting for a fitness class to start, or collecting their children from sports clubs. This was the perfect opportunity to discuss with such a variety of people, their understanding and interpretation of the works, as each of the works related to the context of sport, as well as art, in a very different way. Additionally to this, other tasks involved keeping count of the number of visitors, handing out leaflets and informing visitors of Collective’s recent move to Calton Hill.

A month down the line, summer was over and I had just started my 3rd year degree in Contemporary Art Practice. I was excited to be introduced to a module called Industry Related Learning, in which each student had to complete a work placement relating to our own interests. Who else to contact but Collective? Wonderfully, Collective agreed to host my placement and gave me the opportunity to see for myself what goes on in such a well-known organisation.

Following my first day of induction, health and safety, and agreements with Collective, it was discussed that as well as participating in day-to-day jobs, including front of house tasks, I would be part of the All Sided Games team. This role included working closely with James Bell (ASG Project Worker) and Catherine Sadler (ASG Project Producer), assisting them with research and evaluation tasks from previous, current and forthcoming projects with the six artists to be involved in All Sided Games. This was a role that I was excited about getting my teeth into – working with various artists seemed ideal to me, as I knew it would give me inspiration and encouragement in my own practice. Just before I began the placement, Jacob Dahlgren’s project finished with the All Sided Games, yet I was warmly included in the evaluation process. Being able to see the main aim of All Sided Games to “connect artists and communities, and draw people together to make work of mutual interest” as working successfully, was really promising. I could clearly see that Jacob Dahlgren connected with this aim, and collaborated well with communities and families in Edinburgh.

As well as being involved in All Sided Games, I also had the opportunity to experience front of house tasks, both invigilating Karen Cunningham’s video installation and Goldin+Senneby’s performance work Anti-VWAP. Learning and experiencing the process that Collective go through when inviting artists to exhibit was quite an eye-opener. I have learned to appreciate this process, which certainly is not a one-man job – each and every staff member plays a different key role throughout the transition between exhibitions.

My most enjoyable experience has definitely been the chance to meet, and observe the progress of the work by Glasgow artist, Mitch Miller. He collaborates with communities in specific places to create large-scale drawings, bringing together people’s stories and memories. For the All Sided Games he collaborated with people from Piershill Community Flat. The process he goes through from start to finish is something quite heart-warming, the way he builds close relationships with the people he works with, gaining a sense of trust to allow people to share their personal stories and memories. Mitch Miller was such an inspirational artist to have been involved with –  from being kind enough to let myself, and the people of Piershill Community Flat visit his studio space in Glasgow,” the place where it all happens”, was something quite unique. Mitch, and the people from Piershill Community flat were so welcoming and pleasant (I even got invited to their Christmas Party!). They involved me greatly in their discussions of Mitch’s drawings, and it was so gratifying seeing each and every one their responses of the final result of Mitch’s drawing of their home.

My experience as a whole with Collective has been both exciting and interesting. Working within a workplace that I am not used to, proved to be challenging, yet I loved every second of it. Collective is definitely such a supportive organisation to be involved in, especially when still in education. I will always remember Collective as an experience which improved my understanding of arts organisations, in the sense that it has helped me meet a lot of new, and different types of people, from the staff, to artists, to members of the community who involve themselves within the art world, and make projects happen.

Alana Stewart

Volunteer Placement

Being First Voluntary Projects Assistant on Calton Hill

Time is running on. It feels like I only started my Voluntary Projects Assistant placement, but already it’s coming to an end. So, it’s about time for me to share my impressions and experiences. These six months have flown by, but lots of things have happened and have been achieved.

My placement started in August – festival time! The other Projects Assistant was Cherith, who lately left Collective for her new job in London (congrats to her!). Both Cherith and I are sort of pioneers. We are the first Projects Assistants working up on Calton Hill – Collective’s new home.

I remember clearly how everything started. The month of August was rather hectic, but also exciting for Collective because of the move to Calton Hill. And also, Collective had two festival spaces running simultaneously. One on the hill, and another was an off-site exhibition at Meadowbank Sports Centre, called Game Changer.

I’m pretty lucky to witness how Collective has evolved being on the new site. The first week we did not have any signage outside. It was fun experience telling every other visitor that “yes, this is an art gallery”.

Collective’s exhibition during the festival was an informative one. It displayed the history of the Observatory site and architect drawings alongside Collective’s future plans. To me Collective’s project seemed exciting and challenging. But not all of the visitors shared my opinion. Sometimes I had to answer a question: “Where is the art?”

During the first month we got signage all over the hill, a cool Mac for the reception (yes!) and many small things to support the gallery’s operations. But only after the crazy festival period did I get the chance to get to know all of the staff members properly and to come to understand better what I was doing here.

After almost half a year Collective has changed. The Dome building is about to open as Collective’s second and main art space. And the temporary building itself looks very different. There are lots of projects on the go, events and exhibitions coming up.

Speaking about my role, I’m doing a bit of everything. That is the greatest part of the Project Assistant’s role. So, I’m invigilating, conducting surveys, doing listings, running to shops to get any necessary supplies, helping out with the installation of exhibitions, serving drinks at previews, checking emails and responding to various visitor queries, and so on. I get lots of tasks from all of the staff members, which is an amazing opportunity to learn how the gallery works.

If you ask me which part of gallery work I enjoy the most, it would be communication with people. The site of Calton Hill is a unique place where you can meet various types of visitors from all corners of the world. I have an opportunity to make people’s gallery visit memorable, and as for the visitors – some of them I will remember for a very long time, because of their unusual personalities or conversations we had.

One of the most exciting parts at Collective is that I am given freedom to explore my own interests and creativity. At the moment I’m fascinated mostly with the cultural heritage sector and marketing. So, it was decided for me to conduct some research, focussed on a series of contemporary arts organisations in historical sites. This research is in progress now and hopefully will be valuable both for me and Collective.

Also, although the Project Assistant’s position is unpaid, we are given a small budget to spend on training or education. I chose to undertake a marketing course. Collective offered me an opportunity to personalise the training around my interest and needs, enabling me to work with a professional from Culture Republic. My course is about to finish now, and I have enjoyed it a lot.

Oh, and of course the team at Collective. I forgot to mention it in the first instance! Collective staff are extremely friendly, supportive, helpful and of course very professional. I am grateful to each and every member of Collective, as they have taught me a lot and given useful advice. I could say, each of them left a print on the map of my personal and professional growth.

I have to say that I love it being at Collective. I love everything I do. Every day I learn something new and every day is different. Collective not only changed itself, it has also changed me.

Julia Svede
Voluntary Projects Assistant

Cup of tea?

In the month of June this year I was lucky enough to spend just under a week at the Collective gallery for my work experience. I had no idea what would come of the week and my best friend suggested that I’d probably just be making the staff tea and coffee. I had to hold back a laugh when one of the first things I was asked when I got to the gallery was “Would you like something to drink: tea, coffee, juice?”

The women on the Collective team were all very welcoming and friendly, regularly asking if I needed any help or anything to drink.

Whilst sorting through posters, recycling unwanted files and helping to open and close the floor-to-ceiling hand-wound blinds, I became accustomed to the comings and goings of the gallery. Everything would be turned on and started so that all day there was a woman’s narrative voice echoing throughout all of the rooms – part of Simon Martin’s exhibition – “.1963 was 1963…” It gave the gallery life and a character of its own as people quietly came in and walked around.

The Collective gallery is a lovely place to be and I found that the hours I spent inside just carried themselves away – even as I heaved around posters and Googled art galleries to update contact details : things that most people wouldn’t see as ‘time flying’ activities.

Also, as more people visited the gallery to take in the contemporary art held within and their attendance was being noted down and counted, I noticed something that’s becoming less apparent within art galleries and museums: personal contact with the people of the gallery. With the size and layout of the Collective being the way that it is it’s hard for a visitor to go unnoticed by at least one member of staff: a lovely feature lost in places like other larger organisations. It also means that if a visitor so wishes to ask a member of staff member for their insight into the current exhibition then they can. I liked that part of the gallery day, smiling at people as they came in the door and watching them walk around. I also enjoyed attending the volunteer meeting and preparing for it – covering strawberries in melted chocolate was definitely a work day bonus.

I’m very thankful to the Collective team for letting me into their lovely workspace and allowing me to work with them for the week. I look forward to seeing the new layout of the gallery when the team make the move to Calton Hill at the end of this year and I’m sure that their personal touches and individual atmosphere will continue to exist in their new space.


Megan McDonaugh
Leith Academy pupil

Voluntary Projects Assistant – Month Two

The final weekend of Simon Martin’s Louis Ghost Chair means the arrival of roughly the two-month mark of my time at Collective as a Voluntary Projects Assistant so this seems like a good time to reflect back on how things are going. Throughout the last month Collective has been open with Simon Martin’s Louis Ghost Chair, this has given me a chance to really experience how the gallery runs on a week-to-week and day-to-day basis – there is so much going on all the time and it is great to be in the midst of it all, soaking everything up like a little sponge!

Throughout month two I have really enjoyed spending time with Simon’s work; overhearing the voiceover and regularly cleaning the glass as well as interrogating visitors when asking them to complete a survey and attending all the corresponding events. Ultimately, my favourite moments in the past month have probably been the events we have had for Simon’s show. Claudia and I are now starting to plan our own event for later in the year so that is really exciting (and a bit scary!).

Overall, Simon’s show has been a great experience for me and the film a wonderful backdrop to the beginning of my placement so I am sad to see it go. However, I am also so excited about what is still to come. I really enjoyed being part of the whole run of Simon’s show through the install, opening, supporting events and day-to-day setting up and visitors – I am excited to help to get Mick Peter’s show installed and see how I find the same process and timeline with some very different pieces of work and in the middle of the very busy festival. Another very exciting prospect is Collective’s Summer School – the plans have been in the works for ages and it is finally here. Over the last few weeks I have assisted with the some of the practical details; sourcing the film rights and booking flights and hotels for workshop leaders so I am excited for everything to actually take place and see how it works as an intensive opening to Mick Peter’s show and the Edinburgh Art Festival as a whole. 

Hope to see you there!


Five Hats – Simon Martin

Thursday 19  July saw the launch of Collective’s new discussion event format, entitled Five Hats. The intention of the series is to foster discussion and debate by having a variety of speakers come to present and discuss on their own area of expertise or interest and its relation to the current exhibition. Thus a variety of ways of seeing and interpreting the featured work will be offered and explored. It is hoped that it will be an interesting and successful way of exploring different perspectives on each exhibition. If our first Five Hats on the work of Simon Martin is anything to go by, this is going to be a great series.

To discuss Simon’s work we had two speakers from very different backgrounds exploring different aspects of Simon’s practice. Our first panelist, local artist and co-director of Rhubaba Gallery and Studios, Rachel Adams, talked about the work of Donald Judd. Her presentation focused on the recent Rhubaba show she curated ‘It’s hard to find a good lamp,’ an exhibition exploring the thoughts of Judd, specifically his ideas about the relationship between furniture and art. Rachel discussed some of the theories of Judd and then talked through some of the decisions and issues that arose about the relationship between furniture and art as she put the show together. I know very little about the work of Donald Judd and Rachel’s talk just made me eager to learn more – free Judd essays online here I come!

Our second speaker, Dr. Sarah Smith, is a lecturer in Historical and Critical Studies at Glasgow School of Art and also wrote an essay used in the interpretation for Louis Ghost Chair entitled, ‘Spectres, Absences and Frames.’ Her presentation expanded on the contents of her essay and focussed on the influence of John Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’ on Simon’s work and the ways Simon’s practice engages with it. She also moved on to discuss the theories of Walter Benjamin and Roland Barthes, touched briefly on some feminist issues, analysed the changing meaning of specific pieces of art and concluded by discussing the idea of different ways of learning. She really explored the way Simon’s work interrogated and engaged with educational frameworks and very traditional art historical texts. As a just-graduated art history student I found it really interesting and inspiring to hear Sarah talk about really familiar and traditional art-historical texts and images to interrogate and frame such contemporary work.

We had a great turnout with barely enough room for everyone and I hope this reflects how enthusiastic people are about the new format. For me it offered a great concluding event for Simon’s show, offering a wonderful expansion on the issues raised by the exhibition and the preceeding events.




Simon Martin In Conversation Event

On Saturday 30 June Simon returned to Edinburgh for an event involving a discussion between himself and Collective’s Director, Kate Gray. Simon arrived during the afternoon so he could have a chance to see the work after the show had been open for a while, he seemed happy with how everything was going and claimed everything was exactly how he had imagined. That was music to our ears!!

Collective closes at five as usual on a Saturday and this event was due to start at five so it was a quick turn around for us to get everything ready, specifically the chairs out and the drinks poured, ready for our prompt first arrivals. One focus of the discussion was the continuity of Simon’s work and the nature of Louis Ghost Chair as the second part of a trilogy, which began with his 2006 piece, Carlton. To allow the discussion to successfully explore the continuity and development between the two films we screened Carlton in the Project Room overlooked by Atilla, while we kept Louis Ghost Chair running as usual in Gallery II, allowing everyone to grab a drink and see both before the discussion got underway.

Once everyone had arrived, got a drink, seen the two films and settled into a chair the sound recorder was set up and the discussion got underway. Kate led the discussion raising points and allowing Simon to expand, discuss and explain his process and thoughts while also offering her own thoughts and ideas on the works. The discussion explored the nature of Louis Ghost Chair as the second part of a trilogy so Simon discussed the development and continuity between the first two films especially the use of the same professional voice-over artist, despite the original intention for Louis Ghost Chair to be narrated by a teen actress. It was an interesting example of how things change and develop from the original intention to the finished piece we encounter. Simon also talked at length about his plans for the concluding piece of the trilogy, it was really interesting to hear about a piece of work in progress and having heard about it in these preliminary planning stages it will be wonderful to see it in the future as a finished piece and see what developments and changes have occurred.

Overall, the evening was very relaxed and members of the audience contributed their own thoughts and questions as the discussion progressed as opposed to saving all outside contributions until the end. This really added to the success of the evening for me as it allowed individual perspectives and expertise to be highlighted as the audience picked out and contributed to their own areas of interest. It also allowed Simon to expand and share information that people were really interested in. These encompassed in-depth discussions about the work of Judd, the history of living room furniture and infinity curves and swimming pools. An interesting example was the discussion that arose over the Judd sculpture Untitled featured in Louis Ghost Chair, as the discussion of it progressed it became apparent that some of us thought it was an original Judd. In fact, Simon had made it himself and this corresponded to issues of appropriation in his earlier work and led into a discussion of the more practical aspects of the work, for example, the making and hiring of the furniture featured and the nature of the collaboration with National Museums Scotland.

I had hoped that this discussion would add depth to my understanding of Simon’s work and ultimately it was even better than I hoped. Not only did I gain more factual knowledge of how Simon produced the work and the practicalities of getting everything together, I was also exposed to lots of ideas and thoughts about ways to think of different aspects of it. Hopefully, this exploration of the myriad meanings of the work will continue with the final event related to Simon’s exhibition and the first of our new discussion series, Five Hats – Simon Martin.


 Listen to the whole of the discussion as a podcast at





A response to the Simon Martin exhibition by Cristiano Agostino

Collective recently invited people on our volunteer database to get blogging. The brief was very open and allowed people who have been involved in any way, to have their say. Cristiano, who volunteered for us at our 2011, off-site project The indirect exchange of uncertain value, has submitted a review of the Simon Martin exhibition, Louis Ghost Chair.

Simon Martin’s Louis Ghost Chair
Review by Cristiano Agostino

It’s not every day that the key for interpretation of an art work is provided by a tacky, blank-stared and not particularly friendly looking garden gnome; even rarer, for such a dignified garden gnome to be plastered on a wall, as a black and white billboard spanning the best part of a gallery’s room. Yet, this aesthetically debatable lawn ornament is a necessary step to understand what Simon Martin’s aggravatingly ambiguous video, Louis Ghost Chair, is trying to tell us. The film, along with the already mentioned wall print, and an array of three glass tables displaying photographs of headrests from across Africa, tells us of multiple worlds that art inhabits: the art that we use everyday; that which we decide, from use, to elevate as art; the many items that become art force of their ironical artlessness. Louis Ghost Chair invokes, among many other possible readings,  a double analysis of that great conundrum of twentieth century art – the relationship between (art) practice and practicality, art and craft.

There is a slick, fetishist kind of beauty, and yet an unnerving undercurrent of uneasiness haunting the camera lens, as it pans over the various items Martin gathered; each one of them in its own manner and fashion addressing, through the accompanying narration but also in force of their mere presence, a cultural ‘ghost’ of sorts. Two chairs, one a Louis XV wooden relic and the other a mass- produced, contemporary plastic object by Philippe Starck , stand precariously side by side, tied as they are by the double thread of their historical distance – which is also the distance between manufacture and mass production – yet related by their aesthetic and functional similarity. Donald Judd’s impenetrable assemblage Untitled remains, in spite of the complex theoretical discourse the narrating voice builds around and upon it, remarkably nondescript and banal: the camera presents it to us as a luscious object of aesthetic enjoyment, yet its simple rectangular forms, vaguley resembling a modernist bench, make it more fitting as a sitting tool than the semiotically charged chairs themselves seem to be.

In between art, craft and kitsch; in the midst of historicity and modernist-leaning indoctrination, Starck’s garden gnome stools stand as a paradoxical, yet inevitable outlier: their garrulous visual presence, whose quizzical inclusion is preposterous by context yet perfectly logical by functionality, comes to be yet another ‘ghost’ questioning us from the other side of the lens. The garden decorations stand as paradigmatic of that cultural scarecrow that, like the label-less ‘otherness’ of African headrests, always lurks at the periphery of accepted discourses of art: the impossibility to reduce art, and its multifarious expressions, to its means of production and cultural theorisation as telos. Among designer furniture and minimalist sculptures, the homely lawn gnomes seem to remind us that, when all is said and done, still there are within material culture chances for radical resistance to high culture’s intellectualising discourses.

Cristiano Agostino

Professional Development Evening in collaboration with Cultural Enterprise Office, hosted at Stills.

Professional Development Evening in collaboration with Cultural Enterprise Office, hosted at Stills.
Realising the value of Internships and Volunteer Programmes.
Tuesday 26th June

Guest speakers:
Rachel Adams
Kate Martin
Carol Sinclair
Iain MacLachlan


It’s no secret that Voluntary placements have gotten something of a bad reputaton over the past few years. The nature of rewarding voluntary work is surely based on the mutual exchange of knowledge, experience and support and this balance is sometimes difficult to maintain when times are hard and jobs are scarce. However, particularly in the creative industries, these placements provide some seriously valuable insight into how companies really run, as well as the opportunity to meet and work with highly qualified and knowledgeable people. Helpful, too, for many going through their post-grad Benjamin Braddock-in-The Graduate phase, where you want some meaningful direction, but don’t want to pin yourself down to a long term commitment. As obvious as it may sound, sometimes knowing what you don’t want is the gateway to finding what you do, and that’s one way in which volunteering can be its most meaningful- it gives you the time to reflect, yet still be proactive and learn. 

In the spirit of this discussion, last Tuesday Stills gallery on Cockburn Street hosted an evening for those interested in learning more about the benefits of unpaid placements. Many of us there were either on such placements (like myself and Carly Shearer, Collective’s other Voluntary Projects Assistant), or had done them in the past, and were now working for organisations interested in knowing more and being part of the discussion. After introducing ourselves, Carol Sinclair of Cultural Enterprise Office ( started things off, introducing our speakers and giving us some illuminating facts and figures relating to employment in the visual arts.

Unsurprisingly, both jobs and even voluntary positions relating to the arts in Scotland are dauntingly competitive. With 90% of those in the visual arts claiming to be self employed, it struck me that people in my position really need to educate themselves with some core business skills if they intend to nurture a future in the creative industries. A good wake up call, indeed.

Our first speaker was Kate Martin, now working freelance as a curator and arts educator, under the banner of Contemporary Art Exchange ( Kate, who has an MA in Museum studies and World Heritage studies, is originally from Australia. Now located primarily in Edinburgh, she spoke to us about the many curatorial projects and self-motivated ventures she undertook whilst holding down paid jobs in order to expand and cultivate her growing interest in curation. She mentioned at one point working a seven-day week to support her interning. Taking a big swig of beer, I thought to myself how insane that sounded, and how long and difficult a journey it can be. However, Kate was pragmatic as well as enthusiastic, explaining that it was only for a limited period and how many of her most exciting opportunities arose through chance encounters whilst in such roles. 

At this point Iain MacLachlan, a HMRC representative, contributed some practical advice, addressing questions on paying tax, National Insurance, tax credits, claiming benefits and how this affects the above. He also enthused about the business link website (, a resource which gives support and information relating starting up and improving businesses.

Next, we heard from Rachel Adams. Rachel is full time visual artist – always an encouraging thing to hear – with an MA in Fine Art, as well as co-founder of Leith-based gallery and studios Rhubaba ( - great website, by the way). She has recently worked at ECA, getting paid to be a digital media assistant but, like Kate, she had previously done a massive amount of labour-of-love type work, with the set up of Rhubaba itself being a mammoth mental and physical undertaking. She brought up the fact that one of the most over-looked parts of interning is the opportunity to improve your practical skills, whether building your studio from scratch or teaching yourself to make a website. She also emphasised how important it is to know when to stop volunteering – when you feel like you’re not learning anything or your heart’s not in it, she said, it’s time to move on.

What struck me overall was a sense that there is no definitive ‘route to success’ with volunteering. There is frustratingly little you can do about the issue of funding yourself through a period of voluntary work (seen as many as a sort of ‘luxury’ when, really, you have little choice most of the time and have to work hard to do it). Having said that, it seems there is a lot you can take control of- such as the opportunities you follow up, the connections you sustain afterwards and the way you choose to interact with whichever organisation you’re working for. The Holy grail of paid employment in an area you love is rarely found through placements alone but from listening to Kate and Rachel, it seems like you greatly increase your ‘luck’ factor by getting stuck in and trying things out. The evening as a whole was a really interesting and positive look at a subject that draws some skepticism, and sharing individuals’ own experiences proved a really good way to structure a useful and inspiring discussion.

Many thanks to Stills, for beer and hospitality, and to the speakers, of course!