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Drawing Connections

We have to form a group of no more than four people and apply for Arts Council funding. Our teachers tell us there's no point in being resentful that your work isn't getting shown - the Arts Council want to give us money, figure out what you want to do, and ask for some. People look at each other uneasily. My friend Dave asks to be in my group. Someone is talking to Mary and Eva and they are all smiling. I imagine this person building up to ask Mary and Eva to join their group - this must not happen. I interrupt, "Hi, how do you feel about being in mine and Dave's group?" They look at me. Eva says "Yes, OK." I say to Mary "What do you think, Mary? It's OK if you want to be in another group." "No, that's fine." We queue up for coffee, and Mary and Eva continue talking to their friend. Obviously, they are regretting their decision. Another student comes over and sits down with us. Mary and Eva talk to him. I'm in turmoil. Don't they realise we aren't going to get anywhere by being friendly to the other students? "Let's go for some food, " I say suddenly in the middle of a conversation about someone's work.


Later we are sat outside a cafe. Our exhibition has to have a theme. Dave says "Drawing is coming back. People are interested in it again." We all draw. Over the next couple of weeks we go to the cafe and talk about drawing. "What does drawing mean to us?" I want to know. Dave and Mary say it's about ideas and seeing how someone's mind works. I talk to Eva on the Tube - I'm not sure what I like about drawing but that isn't it.


One evening we go to a cafe. An ex-student comes over to talk to us. I remember her in a seminar saying that drawing is old-fashioned so it looks sad. "Well, good luck!" she says. "You too," I say insincerely. I've been at work and am feeling nasty.


We decide to say that because we are artists whose main practice is drawing, we're curious what work people are making. I think that this is good because it's true. Dave looks at the form. "So we are..." I begin, "We are inviting students to submit a drawing.” "Inviting! Yes," everyone agrees.


"When we say drawing," Dave looks thoughtful, "are we including videos and photography?" "No," I say, "it's a drawing prize." "Yes, we are," says Eva, "we want it to be as broad-based as possible." "Yes," says Mary, "the Arts Council will want us to be inclusive."


The following week, we meet up at college one evening and look at our budget for this exhibition. It's dark outside and the studio is empty. The drinks machine isn't working. We sit at a table and eat Eva's crisps. "How much for studio space? How much for a guest speaker?" "Shall I ask?" I say. "Or maybe one of you would like to?" Nobody does. I stand up and steel myself to knock on the staff-room door. I see a teacher. "Hi." I walk back towards our group. "We were wondering how much galleries charge for people exhibiting stuff, like..." The e teacher talks to us. "You need to do a lot more research," she observes, and chuckles. We all nod.


It's nice to have friends to go to lunch with. Over another latte, we discuss who is going to judge the pictures. I think Brian Sewell. "We're not having Brian Sewell," everyone agrees, "he's a reactionary." Mary looks aghast. Dave makes a joke about me not liking any art made after 1950 and they all laugh.


"Tracy Emin!" says Mary the next week, smiling at me. We're in a different cafe. "I like the way she uses language." "No, " I say. "David Shrigley, " says Dave. "OK," I concede. "That woman who showed those big architectural drawings at the Whitechapel," says Eva. "No," I say, "she's awful." There is uproar. "Just because she's a woman," I begin, aware that Eva and Mary are now glaring at me, "doesn't make the work exciting. It's still dull." "I like her, we are having her," says Eva.


We haven't got a name for our group. I say "Something to do with how it's difficult to work on your own and we want to encourage links between artists who use drawing. Um..." I look round. Mary's face lights up. "Drawing connections!" Everyone is pleased. "Mary," I say, "that is brilliant." "It's because of what you said before about encouraging links between artists," she says generously.


Who is going to do the presentation? "Dave," I say, "you're good at this. It's your chance to shine.” A few weeks later, Dave says that he's experiencing trepidation at the thought of doing the presentation on his own and he'll feel better if I do it with him. The big day arrives. We are group number 13. We wait while the first 12 groups tell everyone their idea. Several talk about interacting with disenfranchised members of the community, enabling them to appreciate art. "Wake up! Look around!" says one student. "There's loads of interesting stuff to see in the city, all the time!" The slides her group have made prove that this is true. One woman's hands are trembling. I feel numb. "Hello," I say feebly and wave to everyone. I explain why we're doing this - exhibitions tend to show drawings by older artists, often dead, and everyone knows the images, so we'd like to find new work, because if you draw, you need to see it. As I get back in my chair, humiliated, Eva and another woman smile and pat me on the arm: "That was fine!" Dave talks about how people are interested in drawing again. Sadly this proves not to be true as far as the other groups are concerned, and we fail to gain a single vote. I can't bring myself congratulate the winners.


We go for a pie and mash. I say, "This means we never have to collaborate with anyone ever again." Everyone laughs happily.

Drawing Connections
2014