Gender Lab response - Rob Evans

Rob Evans by Geraldine Heaney

I was going to begin this response by asking 'what makes an artist?', but I wonder if a better question is how come we sometimes produce art and at other times we fall far from the mark. I think it has something to do with failure.

A person making art is often a person who is failing. That's why they can be so annoying to have in a room or round to dinner; always looking into the middle distance, unable to pick up a fork properly, or comb their hair. They are failing to fit in. Or even the less cliché ridden ones, the ones who have smart suits and driving licenses, maybe even their own helicopter, if they are producing art then they are failing. They are unsettling everything. They are making us feel like everything we take for granted might not be take-for-grantable after all.

I have a suspicion that many of the People Who Make Art have failed as children in some way. They just haven't quite been happy with the world around them, not quite able to fit in without feeling like a fraud, and they think it's their fault. If they're lucky they might start to find a way to stop taking the blame and wonder if it's the world around them that needs a good telling off, a good bit of rearranging, and lo and behold some of them become People Who Make Art. However, for a whole load of people they just keep on taking the blame.

And when the People Who Make Art get better at it and start to hang out with other People Who Make Art it can all become rather successful. They have dinner parties where everyone has messy hair and it's the people in suits that feel like failures. They might all read the same news and agree on the same things and become a bunch of People Who Make Art and are totally stuck in a rut.

Every so often (every few years for me) you get a chance to stop making things and just sit and listen and be inspired and actually reassess the way you have been thinking. You get to see that you had started to feel very...fine...just fine. Everything was fine. Nothing was particularly failing. And as the days pass you find something inside is growing. A sort of feeling that you might want to make something new. You want to start to coax out what this new things is and find ways to get at it, to call it. It's very exciting because you might not have felt it in a while. This was the feeling I had during the PUSH workshop.

Being gay was probably the thing that most made me feel like a failure as a child. Not because I was embarrassed or even necessarily ashamed (though I suppose, when I think about it, I was) but because the ripple effects of having something so fundamental to oneself go unacknowledged in the world around me were huge. If you can't see anyone like you in the images and stories you are given, or if the only times you see someone with your sexuality they are hidden away in some 'adult' section or dying of heartbreak of HIV then you simply become a liar. You are forced into being a liar. You are told all the time that you need to tell the truth, but if you were to tell the truth about this you would be ridiculed, shamed and outcast. So you know, you know in your bones that the world is hypocritical. And on some fundamental level knowing this means you don't feel safe. You can't be yourself. You can't even find out what that 'self' is. You have to look around you constantly in case your behaviour is giving you away. You have to work out from other people how you are supposed to behave and you have to stick with it. It's a corpse you have to drag around with you and hide whenever anyone is looking. And how do you hide a corpse? With great difficulty, a lot of energy and some great lines.

And so I look back at the start of this response and I realise what a hidden person I probably still am. 'What makes an artist?' 'Failure?' It all seems like a load of pretentious old shit. But I'll leave it because it's how I got to here. It's an example of how hard it is to respond with your brain. If I could just ululate I might, but even that wouldn't do it. No one would understand, and besides I'm in a caravan in the highlands. Oh, maybe I'll do it anyway...there. I like ululating, but I think I'm a writer. 

Push made me remember the boy I was. It made me think about how much of a force failure (and its consequent need to seem normal) has been in shaping my life. It has made me want to make some work that would appeal to that boy. But more than that it has made this work seem vital. I don't want those young people to feel like failures. I don't want them to spend half their days wondering if they've done or said the 'right' thing. I don't want to make excuses as to why sexual identity can't be a part of children's work. It has to be or we've really failed. We've failed to see what's needed.

Finally, the week has given me some ways to excavate the things I'm talking about. From Yvon's workshop to Eilidh's subtle questioning to just having 15(?) other artists banging into each other and bits of them falling off I have had my ideas as a maker refreshed and added to and, I think, made more daring. I can close my eyes and feel some kind of compass from that week pointing to where I might want to go, both in new work and the work I will get to revisit.

PUSH was a success. It was undoubtedly a success. You could feel it in the room and I know that we will see it in the work that follows.