You might have noticed that the Elbow Room Competition Guidelines aren’t particularly specific about the type of work you can submit beyond details like word counts or the number of pieces per entry. There is a reason for this; one that runs to the very foundations of what Elbow Room is all about and how we started.
We’ve spoken a little in earlier blogs about what inspired us to start Elbow Room. This isn’t about the why but rather the what and the who. What work do we select? Who do we invite to submit? What defines the journals identity?
As an artist I often have trouble entering competitions or submitting my work to publications because, more often than not, they want work made about a specific theme. I am largely incapable and in fact mostly allergic to making work to a theme. I get flashbacks to secondary school and my mind goes blank. After deciding to start Elbow Room I created our submission guidelines based on the things that annoy me. If they bother me, I decided, I would do the opposite. Rather than defining Elbow Room by theme we would be defined by our openness: our openness to different mediums, styles, subject matters, backgrounds, ages, genders, nationalities, education. We wouldn’t specify any of it.
This decision, made without forethought, has become part of the foundations of Elbow Room. It effects how we curate each volume (and why we use the word curate), the work we receive, the shops we are stocked in (and which shelf they choose to place us on) and the book fairs we attend.
It has also come to effect the competition.
We want the work you submit to the competition to be work you are genuinely creating, not work you’ve tried to slot into a square hole despite it being circular.
Does this make our jobs when it comes to designing the publication and curating the London event more complicated? Possibly.
Do we care? No.
We want you to submit your work to us, whatever theme, whatever subject matter, whatever style, whatever medium. We want to be able to select the best pieces from among the submissions based not on whether they deal with a set theme appropriately but rather on whether the work is of the highest quality possible.
And we relish the challenge that will come later.
So please, when you notice that our guidelines are without boundaries, Don’t Panic. Don’t try to second-guess us or assume we’ve missed out some vital detail. Don’t try to please us based on the work featured on the website or in our publications. Send us the work you are proudest of. That’s all we have ever wanted to see.
All the very best wishes
Rosie, Zelda and Lauren