Help Desk is where I answer your queries about making, exhibiting, finding, marketing, buying, selling–or any other activity related to contemporary art. Submit your questions anonymously here. All submissions become the property of Daily Serving.
A few months ago I moved into my first professional studio, which I share with two other artists. They have been friends for a long time, but I don’t see much of them because my work hours are different from theirs. One of the artists is not very respectful, she keeps leaving her things in my part of the studio (we don’t have dividing walls between us) and possibly even borrowing my tools (often things are not where I left them). She doesn’t seem to do this to the other artist. I’ve moved her things back into her space and left a couple of notes but the situation continues. I also mentioned the issue to the other artist, but she didn’t seem to want to get involved. Help! What should I do?
Tracey Emin in her studio, circa 1996.
Let’s start by assuming that a crisis is not looming; some people just don’t have the same need for rigid boundaries of space. Generally they don’t intend any disrespect, they just have different ideas of what’s appropriate. Maybe Artist A grew up in on a commune, or is from a culture that regards shared space differently than you do. Perhaps she is simply thoughtless, which is certainly not the worst crime ever to be perpetrated by a studio mate (ask me about the jackass who drunkenly urinated on a shared wall, where it soaked into a colleague’s work on the other side). In any case, clear, forthright communication will be your deliverance. Without knowing many of the finer details—like exactly what she is leaving in your space, and where, and why—it’s not easy to determine what you should convey to her, but here are some general strategies that might help.
First, it’s a good idea to figure out precisely what the offenses are and why they offend. Is your work easily damaged, and the potential for disaster is stressing you out? Are you irritated by the thought that your tools might be lost or broken and not replaced? Do you just need to have a space that feels 100 percent your own to be secure? You are entitled to set boundaries, and knowing specifically what you need and why can help you craft some language that might convince your studio partners to respect them. Just remember, they have needs too, and you might have to negotiate or come up with helpful solutions. If having a visible, inviolable physical perimeter is important to your peace of mind, you could mark areas of the studio with tape or paint on the floor, or hang a curtain (these options should be discussed with your compatriots before being enacted, or else your gesture might be read as furtive and petulant). You could also discuss mutually beneficial options: If Artist A moves her canvases into your space because there’s not enough room to work (and then forgets to put them back), then building a shared rack or rearranging the studio to make a storage space might be the answer. As for your tools, you can always buy a locking cabinet (this measure has the added benefit of helping to prevent theft in a more general sense, in the case that the studio is broken into).
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