Review of Twoty-Twoty-Two (2022): Becoming a Spike Island Associate

Spike Island Associates banner

In the autumn of 2022 I was working on a book review. To get a bit of headspace and exercise, I was cycling or walking to work on it at the Spike Island Cafe.

Spike Island is an area of Bristol (UK) almost entirely surrounded by water. The name suggests it should be fully surrounded, I know, but it ain’t. It has the docks on one side and on the other the ‘New Cut’. New in a geological sense, but this channel to divert the River Avon was dug over 200 years ago. It takes the tidal waters of the Avon in and out of Bristol while a series of sluices and such keep the docks at a constant level. The New Cut, by the way, is an absolutely massive channel, which is has to be, because the Avon has the second highest tidal range in the world.

Spike Island is also a world class contemporary art gallery situated on Spike Island, the not-quite-island in Bristol. It recently staged (if that’s the word) Veronica Ryan’s exhibition Along a Spectrum, for which she won the Turner Prize.

Spike Island (the artspace) is housed in a former tea-packing warehouse. The industrial history of Bristol, like that of many British ports, is intricately connected with colonialism. Within the repurposed building there are artists studios and co-working spaces as well as exhibition spaces. Like all good art galleries, it also has a lovely cafe. That’s where I found myself reading ‘Dystopias and Utopias on Earth and Beyond‘ in preparation for writing my review. And it’s where I found out about the Associates programme.

Joining the Spike Island Associates programme

The Spike Island Associates programme is open to artists, curators, writers, designers and producers. There I was, writing notes in my book, preparing to write my review. I am genuinely writing something, I thought. I can tick the box that says I’m a writer. As I was writing an academic book review, I ticked the ‘academic’ box on the application too.

I joined the programme for the following reasons:

  • 24/7 access to a workspace. This means whenever I can escape for an evening, or whatever time in the morning I manage to make it in, I can work without needing the cafe to be open
  • The money I would save in the cafe would more than pay for the membership fee. (There are kitchen facilities available by the workspace for making a cuppa or putting lunch in the mee-crow-wah-vay)
  • To be part of a community of artistically-minded people and all the potential cross-fertilisation of ideas that could bring
  • Some of the events open to Associates looked cool, including gallery tours and workshops

So those were my practical reasons for joining. But the biggest benefit to me so far, I think, has been that moment where I self-identified as a ‘writer’.

Like university, but for utopians

Previously, the structure that confirmed the validity of my work was university. Doing a Master’s degree brought a kind of legitimacy to my endeavours. What are you doing? Oh, it’s my MA research. However, I’ve continued to work long beyond finishing my degree. And while I have considered a PhD, lately I’m turning against university as a focus and locus for my work.

Becoming a Spike Island Associate has given me confidence to see myself as a practising thinker and writer. It has also been a way of securing some of the benefits I previously associated with university: a library-like workspace, a set of cohorts, mentors. As a utopian, I’m always pleased when I can find my own way of doing things when I’m uncertain about the system I’m working within. And becoming a Spike Island Associate has been one of those utopian moves for me this year.