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Interview: SARAH COOK

I first met curator, writer and academic Sarah Cook when I was Director of Exhibitions at FACT in Liverpool, in 2004. Sarah was, at that time, engaged in pioneering work, establishing CRUMB (Curatorial Resource for Upstart Media Bliss), with co-founder Beryl Graham in Newcastle and Gateshead. Together they hosted workshops and courses worldwide and CRUMB was, and remains, a vital resource and network for curators of new media art.

Sarah continues to champion international artists working with technology, always creating new commissioning, funding and exhibiting opportunities for them. She thrives on immersing herself in deep research, has an enviable ability to retain facts and seamlessly weave the contemporary and historical to address the issues of our time. Throughout her work she marries the social, political and cultural spheres in order to help us re-imagine our engagement with technology, each other and how we shape the world around us.

In 2018, whilst I was Director of Programmes at Somerset House, the Director Jonathan Reekie and I invited Sarah to curate the exhibition 24/7 with Jonathan. As always, Sarah worked above and beyond, spinning academic, curatorial, writer and editor plates between Dundee, Glasgow and London, to ensure the show and catalogue were delivered in record time, and a success. This determination and tenacious dedication to her work is reflected in her habit of taking daily swims in the cold Northern sea.

Sarah Cook is Professor of Museum Studies in Information Studies at the University of Glasgow and based in Scotland. She has curated and co-curated international exhibitions of contemporary art and new media art including: 24/7: A Wake-up Call For Our Non-stop World (2019), Somerset House, 2019-20; The Gig Is Up, V2_Institute for Unstable Media, Rotterdam, 2016; Right Here, Right Now, The Lowry, Salford, 2015; Alt-w, the Royal Scottish Academy, SSA Annual Exhibition, Edinburgh, 2014; Not even the sky: Thomson & Craighead, MEWO Kunsthalle, Memmingen, 2013; Biomediations, Transitio_MX_05, Mexico City, 2013; Mirror Neurons, National Glass Centre, Sunderland, 2012; Q.E.D., AND Festival, Liverpool 2011; Untethered, Eyebeam, New York, 2008; Broadcast Yourself, AV Festival 08, Newcastle, 2008; Database Imaginary, 2004 and The Art Formerly Known As New Media, Walter Phillips Gallery, The Banff Centre, 2005.

Sarah is one of the curators behind Scotland’s only digital arts festival NEoN Digital Arts and was founding curator of LifeSpace Science Art Research Gallery in the School of Life Sciences, University of Dundee (2013-2018), where she curated 16 exhibitions including newly commissioned work from artists Mat Fleming, Heather Dewey Hagborg and Philip Andrew Lewis, Andy Lomas, Daksha Patel, the Center for Postnatural History, Helen and Kate Storey, Mary Tsang, Spela Petric and many others.

She is the editor of INFORMATION (Documents of Contemporary Art, Whitechapel and MIT Press, 2016) and co-author (with Beryl Graham) of Rethinking Curating: Art After New Media (MIT Press, 2010; Chinese edition 2016). Sarah has held a longstanding association with The Banff Center, developing exhibitions, summits, curatorial residencies and publications including co-editing with Sara Diamond Euphoria & Dystopia: The Banff New Media Institute Dialogues (Banff Centre Press, 2011). In 2008 Sarah was the inaugural curatorial fellow at Eyebeam Art and Technology Center in New York. She was curator of new media at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art from 2004 until 2006, hosting residencies and projects from Germaine Koh, Lev Manovich, Darko Fritz and Studer / van den Berg. For 3 years she was an associate producer with Locus+. After completing her PhD at the University of Sunderland, she also curated exhibitions for the Reg Vardy Gallery and helped establish the MA Curating programme and Professional Development short course with CRUMB.

Sarah holds a Masters degree from the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, New York (class of 1998) and is proud to have begun her professional career as a curatorial researcher in the longstanding internship program at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis working on exhibitions with Yayoi Kusama and Lorna Simpson.

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now that is helping you to stay positive?

During lockdown there were some new relaxing weekend routines (involving issues of Grazia and chocolate Magnums for instance) but there wasn’t one thing. Unless you count the Netflix production of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, which I’d been meaning to watch for years having loved the books, and it didn’t let me down. The world is quiet here. Whatever bad thing you think is just around the corner, it’s bound to be something worse. Look away.

Which is to say, I adopted a slight ‘ignorance is bliss’ or serendipitous happenstance approach to stop feeling overwhelmed, not just by the bad news, but by the amount of digital creative art content available to consume online and the pressure to be producing material to add to the discussions around it.

Given my academic post in museum studies, I should be writing about the massive change museums have experienced during lockdown. As a sometime historian of new media and digital art I should be tweeting non-stop about this thing called online art that museums are only now discovering. I am doing a bit of both, but it is not possible to do only that given the projects I have on the go and all the time-pressured tasks that come with University work (not least planning for an uncertain year ahead). Despite lockdown lifting and museums and galleries now open again, it’s still not over. I'm watching it all, taking notes, lodging these cultural shifts in my memory, they’ll come in handy later.

I’ve been able to stay positive by not guilt-tripping myself if I miss being part of a conversation thread online, or by delighting in the serendipity of checking social media and finding a link to a live discussion or performance happening right that minute and tuning in for as long as I can. I’ve given myself permission to be both present and absent. Or as Lemony Snicket would say, to do something else right now if it will save my life: “There are times to stay put, and what you want will come to you, and there are times to go out into the world and find such a thing for yourself.”

Installation view of the exhibition The Gig is Up!, 2016 Curated by Sarah Cook for V2_,
showing crowd-sourced drawings of clouds by self-employed creatives working on fiverr, by Addie Wagenknecht and Pablo Garcia

Do you have an enthusiasm, specialism or a research focus that you bring to your teaching and academic practice?

I love works of art that take pieces of information and turn them into other, often networked, experiences. I like forging connections between early works made with networks or technology, with new works, often made for collective experience.

I have knowledge of media art history - including Internet art - and of the intersection of art and science (which has patches of history of technology and philosophy of science thrown in too). This might explain my curatorial choices.

So, for example, the large-scale exhibition 24/7: A Wake-Up Call For Our Non-Stop World at Somerset House (which I co-curated with Jonathan Reekie) included (among many other things!) Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg’s Machine Auguries, a light and sound installation based on an AI-generated dawn chorus, Thomson&Craighead’s BEACON, a flap sign displaying randomly a decade’s worth of Internet searches mixed with live searches, and Daily tous les jours I Heard There Was a Secret Chord - a room where you could collectively hum Leonard Cohen’s song Hallelujah, creating a choir based on the number of people listening to the track online around the world at that minute. All of these works used innovative software coding and to a certain extent ran live, some in a generative form.

And in the spin-off of 24/7, the show Sleep Mode (an online takeover I curated in June at Somerset House because the original show at Glasgow International in April was cancelled due to COVID-19) viewers could watch Addie Wagenknecht’s online security tips disguised as beauty tutorial videos, or Hyphen-Labs compilation of yawns taken in their facial recognition photo-booth, or hear Alan Warburton talk about the digital rendering of 3D ‘natural’ landscapes in virtual space, on-screen, and how at odds that feels with our desire to collectively experience real nature, off-screen.

lnstallation view of Daily tous les jours' I heard there was a secret chord, seen in the exhibition 24/7: A Wake-Up Call For Our Non-Stop World,
Somerset House, October 31 2019-February 23 2020. Photo courtesy of Somerset House

I currently teach students who want to go on to work in the cultural heritage sector - galleries, libraries, archives and museums - and so to help them understand the practice of curating (and digital curation, which is not the same thing) I use these ‘lively’ interdisciplinary art works to foster discussion around big ideas that curators have to ask themselves, like, where is the audience? How much context is needed to understand this thing? What happens if the material a work uses is unstable – which part is worth preserving? Where or when does the art ‘happen’? Who is responsible for that encounter?

We are living through a huge shift in what we understand to be ‘cultural heritage’ if everything we produce digitally is now part of that. The cultural heritage sector has to rethink what role its institutions play in the creation of culture too. Digital art might tell us as much about the digital transformation of our lives as a defunct computer in a museum display case; bio-art might tell us as much about the major developments in life sciences as an unreadable genome sequence. The Instagram photos of the demonstrators toppling the statue of slaver Colston tell us more about this moment than the removed statue itself does. In a time of total information overload, where do we draw the line around what is a valuable piece of information and what isn’t? Is the Bristol Museum going to save the Instagram posts as well as the graffiti on the statue they dredged out of the harbour? Can we tell the difference between authentic and post-produced types of information (#fakenews)? Perhaps an artist can tell us. Or point us in the direction of the real story.

YoHa (Graham Harwood), Lungs-London.pl, Commissioned for the exhibition Database Imaginary, 2004, Curated by Sarah Cook, Steve Dietz and Anthony Kiendl,
for the Walter Phillips Gallery, Banff Centre, Canada (and touring)

What systems or processes do you use to ensure a contemporary critical teaching practice?

I follow the artists and their work. Which means, I encourage students to interrogate what an artist has done, how and why and who for. And then I question where that reading of the work has come from: Have they been misled by patchy documentation? Did anyone record a first hand experience of the work that they could consult? Is the artist’s intent recorded anywhere? I try not to reinforce an academic hierarchy between sources, but question their authenticity, and thereby encourage students to make their own documentation. In my ‘Curating Lively Practices’ class last semester I said that no one could cite a Wikipedia page in their essays unless they’d edited the Wikipedia page themselves. I think that frightened a few, which it wasn’t meant to, it was to encourage participation in the creation of resources about art, participation in the online culture we all unthinkingly consume.

What aspects of your teaching practice do you work hard at to keep consistent and why?

Probably being approachable and slightly tangential in my thinking, drawing on my own experience and offering my own connections, memory or impression of something as a document to go test the veracity of. I show I am connected to current practice, that I have seen or attended exhibitions or talked to artists or other curators, or visited museums, or tried to keep my own papers and digital documentation in order (and failed). This means I can be understood as a practitioner constantly engaged in research, and therefore that curating is an ongoing, iterative activity.

 Installation view of Bill Miller, Ruined Polaroids, at NEoN Digital Arts Festival, 2017, Installed in DC Thomson’s West Ward Works,
former newspaper printing facility in Dundee, as part of the curated exhibition Media Archaeologies

What art educators, art colleges, courses or curriculum have inspired you?

A friend who has written a book about toilets (Lezlie Lowe’s No Place to Go) was asking something about public conveniences in the UK post-pandemic, and it sent me on a deep trawl of Archive.org’s Wayback Machine to find the syllabus for a course (I didn’t take, but a friend did) at the defunct MRes/PhD programme The London Consortium (run by Tate, The AA, The ICA, The Science Museum and Birkbeck) about the history of shit and civilisation. I was reminded how much I love an idiosyncratic reading list (that combines art work, philosophical texts, historical records, museology, archival theory, sociology, film, etc.).

I think if an artist or designer wants to work with digital tools then I’d send them to the School for Poetic Computation, run by TaeYoon Choi, or Interactivos? run from Medialab Prado. Or if they want to experiment with biological materials in art I’d send them to Cultivamos Cultura in Portugal, or to Symbiotica at the University of Western Australia...There are any number of niche communities and hard working organisations out there for whatever it is an artist wants or needs to learn.

Learning from practitioners is key. I was taught by an amazing roster of curators when I was a masters student in New York last century. I particularly remember being challenged by the art critic Peter Schjeldahl to be less dashing in my disdain in my writing, and to not overthink or over-intellectualise things (still failing at that!). Dia Art Foundation curator Lynne Cooke (now at the National Gallery of Art in Washington) taught me that conversation with the artist is the most important thing - go to their studio! Diana Nemiroff, longtime curator at the National Gallery of Canada, taught me that context, facts and materials need to be properly researched and understood in order to curate, more so than (the then emerging) tomes of curatorial theory. Art historian Linda Norden taught me to follow my instinctive reading of a work down a path, articulate it. And during lockdown, a few months ago now, Canadian artist and lover of libraries, Cliff Eyland, died, and I remembered that after I’d curated a mad show about snowboard culture, he told me that my ethnographic methodology (curating outwith the bounds of my own expertise, infiltrating a scene, and trusting the experience and knowledge of others) was valid and I should continue with it. I think I have.

Nowadays I am inspired by and learn from the younger curators, curatorial assistants, exhibition producers, technicians, and digital producers that I work with, recently at Somerset House and with NEoN.  At NEoN we’ve had two recent graduates from University of Glasgow’s Digital Media and Information Studies programme join us on summer placements and I’ve learned a huge amount from them, not least about digital file management!

Installation view of Braking Matter by Michel de Broin; viewing the work are artists Sascha Pohflepp and Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, whose work Yesterday’s Today was also part of the exhibition
(Q.E.D., Liverpool John Moore's University Art and Design Academy Galleries, September 2011, as part of the AND [Abandon Normal Devices] Festival.) Photo courtesy of AND Festival

Which contemporary artists seem to be influencing artists today and why do you think that is?

Come back to me with this question in a few week’s time after I’ve reviewed the Goldsmith’s MFA (online) degree show! I’m expecting to see work influenced by artists such as Rachel Maclean and Tai Shani (fictional+digital+persona+history+storytelling+performance+++)

What tips or exercises do you recommend to artists who have creative block?

During lockdown I tried to chat regularly with friends who were furloughed and am still checking in with them as to how they’re staying engaged when facing uncertain job futures in the shrinking cultural sector. I think uncertainty or doubt leads to inertia, so you need a routine to fall back on (even if that involves chocolate magnum ice-creams or issues of Grazia). I was reminded of Ellie Harrison’s Artists’ Training Programme which was a spoof website but had a very good daily schedule as part of it. At the time she made it, it was related to all the work she was doing about quantifying her life, and data tracking. The schedule involves always listening to Front Row - tune in after the Archers - whether you like it or not. Routine is important to give your mind time to wander. This might not get you to make art, but it might send you off down another research path which might later become part of your work.

Installation view of Hyphen-Labs, Gospel According to Yawn, seen in the exhibition 24/7: A Wake-Up Call For Our Non-Stop World,
Somerset House, October 31 2019-February 23 2020, Photo courtesy  of Somerset House

What current issues, themes or concerns have you noticed arising in students practice in recent times? And which philosophers, theorists, writers or thinkers are influencing students today?

Those students focused on museums are deeply concerned about expertise, authority, accessibility, transparency, ethics - who decides what gets collected, what gets shown, how it gets talked about. With Black Lives Matter and the attention to public memorials and statues, anti-racist and inclusive practices of co-creation are a key concern. In rethinking the museum I’ve also been encouraging students to think about alternative spaces where culture is produced or preserved, including digital spaces, and so that includes thinking about who owns those spaces, how they are run, what they prioritise, are they held in common?

In 1968 Jack Burnham wrote in ArtForum that we’d shifted from an object-oriented culture to a systems-oriented one, where “change emanates, not from things, but from the way things are done” —museums have evolved to recognise that culture means not just looking after things but enabling audiences to engage with those things in new ways, but the artists are still ahead, always suggesting new ways for things to be done, new systems. Perhaps now we are shifting to an (inter-species? post-human?) experience-oriented culture, change emanating from how we experience the world (and all those experiences are unique, if understood to be connected). I’m not sure if this reflects what artists are working on, but I sense a real mixing of the disciplines, an intersectionality (influenced by the writings of Rosi Braidotti, Anna Tsing, Tim Ingold, Timothy Morton, all the materialist-object-oriented-speculative-design folk, and by reading horoscopes, magic spells, tarot cards, learning other knowledge systems) whether that is across social and political discourses, environmental and ethical concerns, gender and science, personal and private or collective, historical or future-oriented… COVID-19 will be part of this too, as will the Black Lives Matter movement.

So despite not having time, I’m going to dive into yet another Slack thread about how museums are responding to lockdown, in case I can convince any of them to collect some digital art made from it…

 

 

Follow Sarah Cook on Instagram @littlecurator and Twitter @sarahecook and visit her website http://www.sarahcook.info/

Please share this interview

 

 

And do subscribe to our newsletter for a monthly round-up of some useful creative hacks, insights, opportunities, and introductions. At the end of each month we host a free special 30 minute online subscriber event on Zoom, providing subscribers with the opportunity to meet and ask Ceri Hand questions about creative careers or in relation to mentoring.

The next informal Q&A session will be Wednesday 30 September 6pm-7pm  and newsletter subscribers will be sent an invitation a little closer to the time.

Feel free to email or contact us via socials @cerihand

Coming Next...

An interview with Gavin Wade, artist-curator, Director of Eastside Projects, and Senior Research Fellow at Birmingham City University. His curated and co-curated exhibitions include Sonia Boyce: In the Castle of My Skin, (2020), This is the Gallery and the Gallery is Many Things X, (2018), Display Show, (2015–16), Temple Bar Gallery/Eastside Projects/Stroom den Haag; Painting Show (2011–2012), and Narrative Show, (2011) at Eastside Projects.

Harold-Offeh-Blog

Interview: HAROLD OFFEH

I first recall learning about Harold Offeh’s work when I worked at Grizedale Arts in 2003. I have enjoyed watching his playfully challenging practice unfold ever since.

He is committed to tugging at the edges of things and drawing them and us in closer. He is a shapeshifter, a cuttlefish prepared to make a spectacle of himself for us, to swim in the darkness to reveal the shafts of light.

He reminds us of what is at stake in the perception and consumption of the body, of images, of our relation to each other. I love his commitment to truly engaging with people and place, of keeping it simple, stupid. Sometimes wild, sometimes tragi-comic, his work has the catch of a stellar earworm pop track by an alternative band - meaningful, surprising, yet cheekily catchy and accessible.

Harold Offeh, Selfie Portrait in the Studio, 2020

Harold Offeh is an artist working in a range of media including performance, video, photography, learning and social arts practice. He employs humour as a means to confront the viewer with historical narratives and contemporary culture.

He has exhibited widely in the UK and internationally including Tate Britain and Tate Modern, South London Gallery, Turf Projects, London, Kettle's Yard, Cambridge, Wysing Art Centre, Studio Museum Harlem, New York, MAC VAL, France, Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Denmark and Art Tower Mito, Japan. He was a Paul Hamlyn Visual Arts Award Recipient in 2019.

He studied Critical Fine Art Practice at The University of Brighton, MA Fine Art Photography at the Royal College of Art and recently completed a PhD by practice exploring the activation of Black Album covers through durational performance. He lives in Cambridge and works in London and Leeds, UK where he is currently a Reader in Fine Art at Leeds Beckett University and a visiting tutor at the Royal College of Art, Goldsmiths College and The Slade School of Art, UCL, London.

Upcoming projects include a new video commission exploring the redemptive power of joy through social dance for the Wellcome Collection's (London) season, 'On Happiness'. Offeh will be exhibiting as part of 'Untitled, Art on the Conditions of Our Time' a major group exhibition of British artists of African descent at Kettle's Yard in Cambridge, UK. Hail the New Prophets, will see Offeh realise his first major public sculpture as part of the Bold Tendencies exhibition in Peckham, London.

He is a Trustee of Wysing Arts Centre, Cambridge, UK; Peckham Platform, London, UK and Pavilion, Leeds, UK.

Selfie Choreography, 2020, Workshop and performance presented for Eastside Projects, Birmingham, UK, Photos: Ashley Carr

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now that is helping you to stay positive?

I’ve been watching lots of random stuff on YouTube, an eclectic mix of political commentary on the upcoming US election, Solange's music videos, gardening tutorials and too many reaction videos. What keeps me most positive is just speaking to friends and other artists. Oh, and food!

Object Action, 2018, London College of Communication, London, UK

What are you working on and how have recent events affected your ideas, processes and chosen medium?

I've been working on a couple of projects that were due open in May. They have both been postponed till next year, but I’ve been agonising about the relevance of the initial research I did pre-Covid. One project is a commission for the Wellcome Collection. I've been looking at the history of social dance as healing for societal trauma. This has led me on a journey from medieval dancing plagues to 90s AIDS dance marathons. I was about to shoot a film with performers that was about collective bodies and movement, sadness, and joy. I'm most unsure about the process of making this work. I'm sure I’ll find a way, but like all of us it's about coming to terms with a whole new societal context.

Bodies International, 2013 Art Basel Miami, USA 

What do you usually have or need in your studio to inspire and motivate you?

I would say I need books and music. When I was writing my PhD thesis last summer I would have to listen to Alice Coltrane whenever I was stuck. This has continued into other projects, particularly writing proposals. I thank Alice all the time!

What systems, rituals and processes do you use to help you get into the creative zone?

I procrastinate a lot. But I've learned to embrace this. Whenever I'm meant to work on something that is difficult or I just can't get a handle on, I procrastinate by doing something else. That could be cooking, watching 90s music videos or as I mature, its gardening

What recurring questions do you return to in your work?

I'm really interested in histories and narratives and who shapes the structures of history. I'm interested in the body as a primary tool of investigation and discovery!

Industry is a Drag, 2017 Middlesbrough Art Weekender, Middlesbrough, UK

What do you care about?

Education!

Copyright Christmas, 2011, Barbican Theatre, London, UK

What risks have you taken in your work that paid off?

Performing naked, it was a risk because it's such a cliché in performance art.

Covers, 2008-2020

What risks have you taken that perhaps did not go so well but you learnt the most from?

I've made a lot of mistakes with installing work. Often, when I'm consciously trying to do something different or trying to stick to some rules of displaying. I've learnt to be less worried about it, those mistakes have helped me develop a greater sense of what is my practice.

Selfie Choreography, 2020, Workshop and performance presented for Eastside Projects, Birmingham, UK, Photo Ashley Carr

What is your favourite exhibition, event, or performance you have participated in and why?

I was in The Shadows Took Shape a group show at the Studio Museum in Harlem looking at the Afrofuturist legacy of Sun Ra. It was amazing to be in the company of Sun Ra and so many other amazing artists and at a museum I love and respect.

Covers. After Funkadelic. Maggot brain. 1971 (V2), 2013

What would you hope that people experience from encountering your work?

It depends on the work, but generally I hope they experience curiosity. But I’ll take anything, even indifference

Could you tell us a bit more about at a time when you felt stuck and what you did to help yourself out of it?

Apart from listening to music, when I’m stuck, I find it helps to just talk through the issues. It's particularly helpful if it's an issue of conceptualizing or researching a project. There are few people who I can always bounce ideas off. Being forced to explain a problem to someone else allows you to process the issue and get some perspective on it.

What kind of studio visits, conversations or meetings with curators, producers, writers, press, gallerists, or collectors do you enjoy or get the most out of?

The best studio visits and conversations with arts professionals have been when there is a genuine shared interest and open dialogue. As much as I like talking about the work itself, I really enjoy the conversation that happens around the work. Thinking about histories and contexts. I hate studio visits that are like interviews.

Selfie Choreography, 2020, Workshop and performance presented for Eastside Projects, Birmingham, UK, Photo, Ashley Carr

Do you have a trusted muse, mentor, network, or circle of friends you consult for critical feedback?

I have some go to people. Often, it's the curators I'm working with at the time. George Vasey, Melanie Keen, Zoe Whitley, Adelaide Bannerman, John Kiet Eng Bloomfield, always have amazing insights. On a day to day level, my studio assistant and artist in his own right Jack Scott is amazing.

Which artists or creatives do you feel your work is in conversation with?

This could be a very long list. This summer it has been Michelle Williams Gamaker, Zadie Xa, Tanoa Sasraku. Oreet Ashery, Tai Shani, Anne Duffau (aka A--Z) but I could go on and on

Mindfully Dizzy, 2019 Science Gallery, London, UK

How do you make money to support your practice?

I teach and love doing it. Currently, I teach Fine art undergraduates at Leeds Beckett University and Postgraduates in Contemporary art Practice at the RCA.

What compromises have you made to sustain your practice?

Over the years, relationships. Art practice is very all consuming and demanding. Not everyone wants to be with that. I've never been into dating other artists, but I see the appeal.

What advice would you give your past self?

Be honest about what you really want and keep going.

 Pinatopia Mountfolly, 2013 Pavilion, Leeds, UK

Can you recommend a book film or podcast that you have been inspired by that transformed your thinking?

Book: Radical Happiness by Lynne Segal
Film: Bataaxalu Ndakaaru (Letter from Dakar, 2019, by Morgan Quaintance
Music: Kokoroko's Carry Me Home
Podcast: Kalki Presents: My Indian Life

Follow Harold on Instagram @harold_offeh Twitter @haroldoffeh and visit his website http://haroldoffeh.com

Please share this interview

 

 

And do subscribe to our newsletter for a monthly round-up of some useful creative hacks, insights, opportunities, and introductions. At the end of each month we host a free special 30 minute online subscriber event on Zoom, providing subscribers with the opportunity to meet and ask Ceri Hand questions about creative careers or in relation to mentoring.

The next informal Q&A session will be Wednesday 30 September 6pm-7pm  and newsletter subscribers will be sent an invitation a little closer to the time.

Feel free to email or contact us via socials @cerihand

Coming Next...

An interview with Sarah Cook, curator, writer and researcher based in Scotland. She is Professor of Museum Studies in Information Studies at the University of Glasgow.

She is editor of 24/7: A Wake-up Call For Our Non-stop World (Somerset House, 2019) and INFORMATION (Documents of Contemporary Art, Whitechapel and MIT Press, 2016) and co-author (with Beryl Graham) of Rethinking Curating: Art After New Media (MIT Press, 2010; Chinese edition 2016).

darryl-de-prez-blog

Interview: DARRYL DE PREZ

I was first introduced to Darryl de Prez by the wonderful Curator and Collector Marcelle Joseph. We are Trustees of Matts Gallery, London and have been working together supporting Robin Klassnik, Tim Dixon, and the team on the strategy for the new Matts Gallery home, in Nine Elms, London.

Darryl has had an amazing career in the arts to date and has worked with and supported some of the most vital and inspiring artists and arts organisations. He is genuinely passionate about supporting artists and loves meeting and getting to know them and following their careers.

He is a joy to work with as his incredible in-depth knowledge and experience always shine something new on a challenge or opportunity. He appears to have a photographic memory for detail, particularly when it comes to artists’ work. He travels, reads, and researches voraciously and connects people, place, and possibilities.

He is modest and generous, and despite working incredibly hard, always finds time for people and new experiences. With his collecting partner Victoria Thomas, he has amassed a remarkable collection of wonderful work, that they live with and enjoy sharing with others. He is enormous fun and would be my party guest of choice any time.

Darryl de Prez with two works by Jack Burton, Photo Kathë Kroma

Darryl de Prez is Head of Development at Brixton House, London and has collected work by early career artists for nearly fifteen years. along with his collecting partner Victoria Thomas. He is a Patron and supporter of several arts organisations - including the Whitechapel Gallery, New Contemporaries, Matt’s Gallery, Wysing Arts Centre and Artangel – and is a Trustee of Matt’s Gallery and sits on the Development Committee of Artangel.

Darryl studied History of Art and Architecture at the Courtauld Institute of Art and has worked as a fundraiser in the charity and arts sectors for nearly thirty years, including the Royal Academy of Arts, the Whitechapel Gallery, the Serpentine Galleries, English National Opera and the London Symphony Orchestra.  He has lectured and led workshops on development in the arts at the Courtauld Institute, Christie’s Education, the Whitechapel Gallery and London Metropolitan University.  He is also an Alumni Ambassador for the Courtauld Institute of Art.

Larry Achiampong, Glyth (family & van), Glyth (girls on step), 2018, Courtesy of Copperfield

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now that is helping you to stay positive?

I recently read and highly recommend Tell Them I Said No by Martin Herbert, a small collection of essays about artists who stepped away from - or were never part of - the art world. Many of these are among my favourite artists - Agnes Martin, Cady Noland, Charlotte Posenanske, David Hammons, Trisha Donnelly - but until reading this book I’d never really thought about the thread of absence which connects their practices.

I read a lot of poetry - from recent work like Surge by the brilliant young poet Jay Bernard to older generations of writers such as W. B. Yeats, Caroline Knox, Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes, John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara.

A lot of what I read, watch or listen at the moment seems foreshadow the current situation with COVID-19 in my mind, from Laurie Anderson’s O Superman to Gregory Corso’s America Politica Historia, In Spontaneity, but it’s probably unavoidable to make such connections at the moment.

What are your core values and drivers that you bring to collecting artists work? What do you care about?

I don’t think I’ve ever thought about this question before! I would say that I aim to bring honesty, transparency, sincerity, and intellectual rigour to my collecting - attributes which can often be missing from the art world at large. But always with a sense of adventure and fun.

Rachel Maclean, Over the Rainbow (still), 2013, Courtesy of the artist

What do you enjoy the most about collecting?

It’s a pleasure and a privilege to live surrounded by art, which can in turns be stimulating, reassuring, challenging, but always rewarding. I grew up in a family that collected - or amassed may be a better word - antiques and art from antiquity to the 19th Century. Growing up was a voyage of discovery, foraging through paintings, ceramics, silver, and furniture for hours at home.

I enjoy every aspect of collecting, including the cataloguing, hanging, archiving, etc. It is also hugely rewarding to contribute in some way to the development of artists’ practices by supporting them at early stages of their careers.

How do you discover artists and what factors contribute to your decision to collect an artist’s work?

I discover artists from looking constantly - BA and MA degree shows; exhibitions at commercial galleries and non-profit project spaces; art fairs; online platforms; magazines and publications. I never tire of looking and learning more.

I am also interested to hear what work artists, curators and other collectors are looking at. I’ve discovered several interesting artists through other artists’ recommendations, and I trust their judgement. I’m always interested to hear what other collectors are buying, but generally I would rather go against the herd and tread my own path.

When choosing to collect a certain artist, the decision is based on several factors. Often, Victoria and I will have a visceral reaction to a work, and we will know then and there that we need to own it. There is still a process, however, of learning about the artist, their ideas and vision, their wider body of work and their practice. All these things need to stack up in a way that resonates with us as collectors before we can take a leap. There is also a level of practicality - can we afford it?

I feel that having too much money to spend can lead to ill-conceived or scattergun collections. Having a strict budget entails a lot of careful thought, research, and soul-searching before committing to an acquisition, as we cannot buy everything we see and like, and this is a strength rather than a weakness.


Jesse Darling, Cavalry (Sugar n Stone), 2016, Courtesy of Arcadia Missa

Do you have a focus in your collection?

The focus of the collection is probably that it represents the viewpoints, lives, ideas, and tastes of the two collectors, Victoria and I. Beyond that, we didn’t set out with any preconceived focus or curatorial concept.

Recently we held a Zoom-based online collection visit for the Whitechapel Gallery Patrons. We had recently rehung and I spent quite some time reading up on the various works currently on display. I soon realised that most artists were concerned with an exploration of personal histories, family histories, childhood, and home, and how these histories can reflect or be reflected in wider social histories and global politics. I’d never made these connections before and it was an interesting moment of revelation.

 Jesse Darling, Wounded Door II, 2014, Courtesy of Arcadia Missa; In background, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Fortune Cookie Corner, 2010
and Richard Woods, Leaning Light and Wood Sculpture, 2011, Courtesy of the artists

Can you describe the kinds of work that lights your fuse?

The collection covers pretty much every medium aside from performance and sound (these aren’t deliberate omissions - the opportunity to acquire them just hasn’t arisen yet). We also have works of widely differing scales, some of which are too big to show in the house.

We tend to focus on artists at earlier stages of their careers, partly from a practical budgetary consideration but also because I think that the work can be more exciting and challenging at that stage of an artist’s career. Some artists continue breaking boundaries and pushing their practice throughout their lives. On the other hand, over the years the market can flatten an artist’s work into something safe and expected.

What kinds of information & materials do you request to help you make the decision?

If I become interested in an artist, then I want to know as much as possible about their practice. I try to see as much of their work as I can and read as much as possible about their practice and ideas. I become quite voracious for images and information.

As an example, I first came across Buck Ellison’s work online and quickly became fascinated with the images and his ideas. I read every piece of print I could find about him - interviews, reviews, catalogue essays, exhibition press releases. I finally saw his work at Liste one year and the physical objects lived up to the concepts I had read so much about. When The Sunday Painter announced his first London show later that year, we bought something immediately.

Buck Ellison, Husbands, 2014, Courtesy of The Sunday Painter

Do you have a maximum budget (monthly? annually?) Do you stick to it? If not, what kind of work has made you stretch?

Each month we transfer a fixed amount into an ‘art account’ which we then use for acquisitions. We often end up paying in instalments over a few months and we have a list of artists and works we want to acquire over the year ahead.

Occasionally we will see something and immediately know that we must have it, so it either jumps to the top of the list or we dip into other funds to pay for it immediately. It’s hard to define what kind of works can make this leap - it’s more of a visceral reaction and one which we both must experience.

The works we buy have certainly become more expensive over the years and so we end up acquiring fewer works each year, as our total budget has not expanded in the same way.

Is it important to you to meet the artists you collect? If so, can you describe one of your most rewarding relationships with an artist - what factors made it enjoyable?

It isn’t essential but it is certainly beneficial and usually very enjoyable. We know most of the artists we collect. Sometimes we know the artists before we acquire their work and sometimes, we meet them after we have bought something. We have become friends with many of them and it is always a pleasure to have artists come over and see their work installed.

When we get together with artist friends we talk about art, of course, but we also talk about literature, history, philosophy, physics, music, theatre, film, mythology, and so on. Our discussions range over so many issues and topics of shared interest and which inform their practices. These conversations are always stimulating and hugely rewarding.

Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings, Something for the Boys (still), 2018, Courtesy of Arcadia Missa

What risks have you taken along the way? Any that you would not take again?

I guess collecting art is generally a risky business, in that we are always taking leaps of faith on artists and their works. These are risks we are willing to take, however.

I don’t consider there to be any financial risks to our type of collecting. I never think in terms of investment and I only spend money that I know I can afford to live without, with no expectation of making it back or making a profit. I would think differently if we were investing millions in a tenth- part ownership of a Rudolf Stingel, perhaps, but then if we did that sort of thing, we would be very different collectors and people.

Do you have a preferred range of galleries you buy from? 

Our closest gallery relationship is probably with Arcadia Missa. We bought a Jesse Darling sculpture from them shortly after they made the move from a non-profit project space into a commercial gallery, and since then we have continued to buy works by most of the artists they represent. Other London galleries with whom we have a close affinity include Copperfield, Emalin, Southard Reid and The Sunday Painter, as well as several galleries in other countries. Vitrine is also a very interesting model for a gallery.

What is it about their way or working or roster of artists that you connect with?

I think it boils down to sharing a sensibility, mindset, vision - whatever you want to call it - with certain gallerists. You come to realise that if they find something interesting in an artist, you probably will too. The galleries named above are, on the surface, quite different from one another, but I enjoy or appreciate most of the artists they show and respect the opinions and ideas of the gallerists.

Athena Papadopoulos, Sandstorm at Habromania Hotel, 2014/15, Courtesy of Emalin

Where do you show and store your collection? What environmental factors do you take into consideration and have you had to make any changes to accommodate these considerations?

Everything is in the house - we live with our collection every day. We rehang regularly, which involves a lot of filling, painting, drilling, and fixing. We have turned one of our rooms into a storage room for anything not currently on display, because proper art storage is far too expensive for us. I would love to somehow double the size of the house so we could show more.

We do consider environmental conditions when we hang, including light levels for photography and works on paper, heating, etc., and we frame everything to museum quality. Luckily, our Victorian house has a lot of dark spaces!

Do you loan from your collection? If so, can you give an example of the kinds of requests you receive? What factors help you decide whether to loan or not?

We will always loan from the collection and will also make works accessible if anyone wants to come and see them. When approached for a loan, we will consider the nature and themes of the exhibition, the venue, insurance, and travel arrangements, etc. before committing, just to make sure everything is above board. We don’t get asked very often - I think the last work we loaned was a painting called Adapter by Luke Jackson, which featured in Reality: Modern and Contemporary British Painting at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts and then the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.

Do you have any advice for artists who engage with collectors IRL and online?

If artists do not have representation then it pays for them to have worked out their pricing, editioning, discounts and all those boring business- related issues that collectors need to know. It they are represented, then the gallerists should always be involved and take the lead on those discussions.

Artists should just be themselves when dealing with collectors. It can be a complex relationship, as it can encompass social elements and elements of exchange. Collectors should always remember that they are dealing with human beings who put a lot of themselves into their work and should not treat artists like insurance salespeople.

Sometimes collectors can feel exploitative of artists’ time or emotional labour, which should be recognised and respected. If I were an artist, I think I would also be quite picky about whom I sold to, based on my feelings about certain collectors and the way they collect. I think this brings me back to Cady Noland and Tell Them I Said No!

What helpful resources would you recommend to artists?

Although I’ve never bought anything from seeing it on Instagram, I have met several artists whose work I like because they have direct messaged me and invited me to their studios. I think Instagram is a great resource to get a sense of a collector’s taste and then be able to reach out to them directly.

Follow Darryl on Instagram @darryl_de_prez

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gillian-jackson-blog

Interview: GILLIAN JACKSON

I met Gillian Jackson at Somerset House a few years ago, but knew of her work at Livity well in advance and have followed her career ever since. I was bowled over by her sunshine energy, enthusiasm, determination and truly impressed by the scale of ambition of her public projects, especially with young people.

She has an extraordinary skill at getting to the heart of the matter with individuals and collectives, creating exciting contemporary creative programmes, enabling skills development and establishing creative careers. She is brilliant at blending grassroots activism, analogue and digital processes and content to address the issues of our time, and generating public and private income to make it happen. Her knowledge and experience inspire me and continue to confirm the furlongs we still need to travel in arts organisations, to connect more deeply with our audiences, produce content with them that is more in tune with their daily lives.

Gillian works seamlessly with audiences, organisations, funders, and brands, to create a deeper engagement with the pressing issues of our time and encourage responsibility in us all. I am positive we will work together at some point, hopefully in the not too distant future.

Gillian Jackson is Director of Engagement at the House of St Barnabas, where she leads the brand, engagement, and cultural experience of its supporters. Previously, Gillian was Head of Engagement at social enterprise Livity, focused on aligning profit and purpose whilst building and strengthening relationships across Livity’s network. She has worked in music, culture programming and events for the last 15 years, leading long-term projects to develop new thinking via the cross-pollination of arts, culture, and technology. She is a Trustee of Culture24, a charity supporting arts and heritage organisations to connect meaningfully with audiences.

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now, that is helping you to stay positive?

The last few months have been incredibly hard, and I found the need to retreat and get off social media to stay positive. I have been reading a lot and have mixed my reading to find escape alongside educating myself further on some of big issues the world is facing right now.

I’ve just finished Educated by Tara Westover, which explores her spiritual and often physical upbringing alongside her drastic journey into education as someone who was entirely self-taught.

I’ve been enjoying Renegade: The Life and Times of Darcus Howe which explores his role in the defining struggles in Britain against institutional racism in the police, the courts and the media whilst providing a localised view of Black British History in London. As a Brixton girl, I grew up knowing about Howe as a friend of my dad’s, so his history feels incredibly poignant to me.

I also really enjoyed Slumming: Sexual and Racial Encounters in American Nightlife, by Chad Heap, which is a colourful account of a history that I didn’t know much about. It illustrates the racial history of gay rent parties in the prohibition era in Harlem, and how it helped to reshape the understanding of class and race amongst the cabaret community in New York.

Emerge Festival, London, 2019

How have recent world events affected your ideas, processes, habits, ambition, or methodologies?

I have reflected a lot on what is within my power to change and have been focusing a lot around two things - diversity in the arts more broadly, and around belonging and inclusion for all. The murder of George Floyd has created seismic waves in all aspects of my life, both personal and professional, and it has made me even more driven as an activist and creative to use my platform for good.

We are also in a digital renaissance and the World will never look the same again as a result. Lots of my practice lives in the physical world, although I have always been driven by how we bring the real world into the digital, so I am finding it a really challenging yet exciting time for change.

During lockdown I started at House of St Barnabas as Director of Engagement and have set out a strategy to reshape their approach to diversity across the board. I have also joined the Board of Trustees of Culture 24 and have also joined their board of diversity.

I also developed a programme of work for Livity called 'Livity In Future', where we got together 100 amazing young activists, creators, social entrepreneurs from all corners of the UK to come together and create change in response to Covid. We have developed an events and mentoring programme and will be working on a digital project together which is exciting.

Lovebox Festival, 2019, Photo @franxisaugusto

What will you do more of?

I will do more digitally, but also, I will consider my digital practice in a new way. Technology was built by a white man, and is one of the most non inclusive forms of creativity, and we all need to ensure we consider how we can use tech meaningfully to drive inclusivity and conversation.

As a Black woman, I have campaigned to open more doors for people of colour in the arts, but this is something I want to do more of and go further doing. I think there is a huge risk that we move to a place of racial capitalism following this movement, where organisations appear to reflect diversity without changing their practices or internal strategies.

What will you do less of?

I am doing so much more now that it is hard to consider what I will do less!

What recurring questions do you return to in your work?

The biggest question I have been asking recently is one around race and what my role is as a Black woman in a senior position within the arts. I still cannot see the perfect arts organisation, or brand that I believe in and I think that most organisations have a long long way to go to change their internal structures and strategies.

Livity Open House Festival, 2020

What risks have you taken in your work that paid off?

My practice involves taking risks and trusting collaborators to realise projects, and often the biggest successes have come with the biggest unknowns. At the end of last year, I worked on a project with Culture 24 called Emerge Festival, which was a museum lates festival that took over several different museums and cultural spaces around London. We programmed a headline venue at Banqueting House in partnership with artist Flohio and had an incredible line up of artists including Gaika, Green Tea Peng, Elheist and Glor1a to name a few. We brought together over 80 young people to deliver the project and trusting the skills of everyone involved resulted in something special.

What risks have you taken that perhaps did not go so well but you learnt the most from?

Sometimes the biggest successes come from the failures that you learn from. Working with young people for the last 7 years at Livity has helped me to grow in my own practice and understand my craft as a cultural programmer and the risks I have taken have taught me the most!

How would you like your work to lift others up?

I have built a creative practice based on providing a platform for others. At Livity, I am currently working on a project to help to connect 100 changemakers from around the UK to build projects, businesses and events that change the world. At House of St Barnabas, I have access to a space that will provide access to creatives and thought leaders to share their views. Every corner of my work is based on ensuring that I change systems and processes to make the world a more inclusive space for all.

Brixton Design Trail, Photo @marianap.res

Could you tell us about at a time when you felt stuck and what you did to help yourself out of it?

Whenever I get stuck in my creative process, I go for a run, or I sleep on a problem with a notepad by my bed. I find that the best ideas I have come when I am dreaming or running!

What compromises have you made in your work?

If I had all the money in the world, I would set up my own cultural institution. This is a long-term goal of mine. Cultural Institutions do not reflect the culture of their times and do not create spaces for young people from diverse backgrounds to belong in. It is a compromise not being able to make this dream into a reality! This is a five-year goal of mine.

What advice would you give your past self?

Believe in yourself, do not be afraid to be creative and speak out about what you believe in.

London Design Festival, 2019, Photo @sleame69mage 

What career hacks or useful nuggets would you give to aspiring creatives?

Go out there and start creating. If you don’t know how then find an organisation that can help you start your dreams. Check out Livity, Create Jobs, Social Fixt, GUAP, Spiral Skills to name a few.

Can you recommend a book film or podcast that you have been inspired by that transformed your thinking?

Be More Pirate by Sam Conniff Allende is a brilliant book about creating Good Trouble and looks at how 16th Century Pirates were the first social entrepreneurs that broke the system to create the change that they wanted to see. I could not recommend this book more.

Follow Gillian on Twitter @gilliantalking @HoStBarnabas @Culture24 @LivityUK and visit https://hosb.org.uk/

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This month’s event will take place on Friday 28 August at 6pm-7pm. Subscribe and send your question in advance to ensure it gets answered!

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andy-holden-blog-1

Interview: ANDY HOLDEN

I can’t actually recall the first time I met Andy Holden, because I feel like I’ve been in his orbit and a fan of his work for such a long time. I do recall a drunken male art collector declaring their love for Andy’s interdisciplinary genius in Rotterdam in 2011, after we attended a VIP tour to his show, I Promise To Love You, at Kunsthalle Rotterdam. Years later a young colleague declared her crush on Andy during a  packed Grubby Mitts performance, celebrating his remarkable solo show Towards a Unified Theory of M!MS at Zabludowicz Collection, 2013.

No doubt these facts will surprise, unnerve and delight Andy in equal measure, as that’s how he rolls.

I was warmed to see Andy geeking out with artist Jim Shaw, after an ‘In Conversation’ I staged with Jim and Laurence Sillars, (Chief Curator, BALTIC at the time) at Simon Lee Gallery, 2016. It made total sense that he would connect with Jim’s eclectic practice, fused with a heartfelt love of popular culture, bent through a politically astute lens.

We included Andy in the Good Grief Charlie Brown! exhibition in 2018 at Somerset House, London and he is currently working on a new exhibition drawing on the Beano comic archive that we initiated whilst I was still in post.

He’s a delightfully intense, meandering cultural weaver, in love with the lush gift of material culture and a unique ability to tap into the whimsy of our perverse behaviours and inability to do what’s good for us. His work is sincere, authentic, meaningful and a feast for the senses.

Andy Holden, born and still living in Bedford, U.K, is an artist whose work spans sculpture, large installations, painting, pop music, performance, and multi-screen-videos. Often starting with an examination of an anecdote or a personal encounter, these moments are then unpacked and expanded in an attempt to make sense of a larger philosophical idea.

More recently, through Laws of Motion in a Cartoon Landscape (2011-2017), Holden has been using the allegory of the cartoon as a way to comprehend our fragmented and illogical contemporary landscape. Specifically, how self-awareness, a vital ingredient of the cartoon law, ‘Anybody suspended in space will remain in space until made aware of its situation’, helps us understand the world we inhabit.

Previous works have included collaborations with his father, ornithologist Peter Holden, examining our relationship with the natural world (Natural Selection, Artangel, 2017), a large knitted replica of a chunk of pyramid and a video of returning this piece of rock to the pyramid from which it was taken (Pyramid Piece, Tate, 2010), a seven-screen video installation which recreated his teenage manifesto which called for ‘Maximum Irony! Maximum Sincerity’ (Towards a Unified Theory of M!MS, Spike Island, 2013), and a library of books and sculptures dedicated to the notion of ‘Thingly Time’ (Kettles Yard 2011). Holden performs regularly and releases records with his band The Grubby Mitts and runs the project space Ex-Baldessarre in Bedford. His work is included in the collection of Tate and Arts Council England.

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now that is helping you to stay positive?

I am, and this will sound, well, it will sound as it sounds, slightly annoying, doing two of the Yale open courses on Political Philosophy and Moral Philosophy. I used to do quite a few of these courses, whenever I needed a way into a subject, or whenever I had long repetitive studio tasks, like knitting 50sq meters for the Pyramid Piece, streaming lectures for company. Stumbling across the Yale course on literary theory was totally transformative for me, so many ways to interpret the same book, who knew! Big part of my education.

In the evenings I have been reading Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham which had been on my reading list since I was 20, although I wish I'd read it then as I think it would have had more impact. Also, recently I started staying up in the studio till around 4am and then took my daily exercise to coincide with the dawn chorus. Birds seem to live without illusions without becoming disillusioned, they have a cosmic confidence which now is a kind of regular tune that can pull me out of my own thoughts, and it helps to know which bird is singing which melody-line in the chorus, as then you can really lose yourself. I've been practicing that, thanks to my dad.

I have not been consuming my regular diet of music, except a strange Japanese experimental but curiously smooth Jazz album from 1988 by Killing Time (not chosen for the band name, though apt, but found through a great blog of new age and experimental music called Listen To This! Run by Jen Monroe, which I use to find a lot of obscure records). I have been gradually chipping away at a new Grubby Mitts album where possible, although have not been as productive as I had hoped. It's 90% there, followed by endless tinkering and procrastination. On Saturday nights I tune in for Jarvis Cocker's Domestic Disco on his Instagram live, in which he turns his room into a disco and it sort of feels like pirate radio from the days when I lived in South London, cutting out, shout outs, glitching, vanishing and reappearing. Been also keeping an eye on all the inventive ways musicians and artists are coping with the loss of shared physical space such a getting a virtual ticket for Daniel Kitson's show.

Andy Holden, Natural Selection, 2017, Installation view, Newington Library, with Artangel, Photo: Marcus Leith

What are you working on and how have recent events affected your ideas, processes and chosen medium?

I had a show poised to open, all set up, installed and then we decided not to open it. It remains sealed shut like a cartoon tomb. It haunts me a bit as I have this feeling that when it is one day prized open it won't make any sense at all, the world and its context will have changed so dramatically. Art in the Coronacene should I hope look quite different, and this show is a relic from a past era. That plays on my mind. It has been very hard, for similar reasons to start anything new, so mostly tinkering with finishing things and gently opening daunting books to edge into new topics, new research.

Andy Holden, The Opposite of Time, part of Natural Selection, Artangel, 2017

What do you usually have or need in your studio to inspire and motivate you?

Semi-legible tumbledown chaos: a lot of empty cups from a multitude of beverages, an elaborate array of vapes have replaced the ashtrays, piles of books which are gradually finding their way to new shelves, and more than enough trivial knick-knacks of various origin. Copious remnants of past projects: ceramic cats, Peanuts figurines, always a lot of Sharpies... I'm just listing things that I can see from where I'm sitting.

What systems, rituals and processes do you use to help you get into the creative zone?

The clues are in the previous answers. Coupled with elaborate mind-games to overcome self-doubt.

What recurring questions do you return to in your work?

It's a curious thing to me that although when asked about my work I feel I can now identify the common threads, the recurring questions, the dominant themes: it never occurs to me to think about them when I start a new work, and then I'm constantly surprised when I find them there again at the end. The question that is most general that I seem to return to like a refrain is: why do we come to see the world in the way that we do? I still use that as a way of saying everything and explaining nothing. Or re-formulated more recently as: an attempt to see the world as it is, through trying to discover how I see the world in the way that I do.

Andy Holden, Laws of Motion in a Cartoon Landscape, Future Generation Art Prize, Installation Detail, Venice Biennale, 2017

What do you care about?

Oh, that’s very direct. Maybe the only real question that matters. Thank you for asking. That's the first time I've been asked that in a public forum, and I didn't see it coming and it makes me feel rather vulnerable. I wish I could give a straight answer, but I feel like a snail that when prodded just withdraws into its shell, or a hedgehog curling into a ball. I don't know. I think of saying something like 'the environment' but my actions don't justify it, and I'm too fond of progress, I think of saying humans, but as a species not really, although as individuals, certainly, good specimens in particular. One at a time preferably and usually not when viewed through media. Friends, yes, I've thought about that a lot. Ah, anyone around me knows me well would just be yelling in my ear, be honest, Andy, just say, only art, mostly. Life for me is just a constant struggle for that to be less obviously the case.

Andy Holden, Character Study for Laws of Motion, 2016

What risks have you taken in your work that paid off?

Quite a lot of the risks have come through not doing things. You never get to find out if that paid off as such, but at the time saying no to something seemed like a bigger risk than saying yes. It's not always nothing ventured nothing gained, I've risked a lot through not venturing far and I'm not sure what paid off is or means but every year that I am still going seems more than I expected. I suppose I risked working independently and not joining a gallery roster. That always felt like a risk and still feels like a risk, I feel like a tightrope walker with no safety net, and there are times I wish I hadn't been so cocky as to climb the ladder up to the wire and shout look at me!, but ultimately it has opened up other opportunities while I was trying out a lot of different formats, adding juggling balls or a unicycle here and there, and when it's good you can really enjoy the breeze.

Andy Holden, Polytheistic Pareidolia, 2016, Eyes on inkjet print, 90 x 120 cm

What risks have you taken that perhaps did not go so well but you learnt the most from?

I once did a whole artist’s talk about things that I did that did not go well and things I didn't do that I should have done, objectively speaking. That talk takes about an hour. Highlights included terrible proposals for Frieze projects for which they decided they would rather pay me not to do it than go through with, deciding to pull out of building a large sculpture on the roof of the Hayward as too many people would have seen it and attempting to play ten gigs at artist-run spaces from Plymouth to Edinburgh in ten days whilst dragging a full stage show with us in a Transit van. Special mentions also go to building a large sculpture on a hill in Bedford for one day for an audience of about ten dog walkers, booking a bus tour from London to Bedford as a day-long performance, and deciding to take my dad to do Performa festival in New York to talk about British birds. Counter intuitive decisions are always good for the further evolution of the self.

Natural Selection, 2017, Andy and Peter Holden, Installation view, Newington Library, with Artangel, Photo: Marcus Leith 

What is your favourite exhibition, event, or performance you have participated in and why?

It will forever be hard to compete with my opening of Pyramid Piece and Return of the Pyramid Piece for Art Now at Tate Britain as it was also one of my first serious solo shows in England. For the opening we hired a coach from Bedford for family and friends and had Richard Wentworth as the tour guide. We missed most of the private view as we were weaving through north London listening to Richard free associate on the Death of Princess Diana. However, through that I felt a little legitimacy. Getting away with building M!MS at the Zabludowicz Collection was also like having someone help realise a dream as much as it was building an artwork. If a show goes well something always changes, the works, with the performative aspect, seem to transform bits of my life around it. Natural Selection, as it was affected some parts of life for the better, but also came with a personal cost. There seems to always be a cost to personal ambition, and you are not in control with how that cost will be paid for. Hello, well well, what's this? If it isn't the consequence of my own actions, come to visit me.

Pyramid Piece; Art Now: Andy Holden, Installation view, Tate Britain, 2010

What would you hope that people experience from encountering your work?

I'd be fooling myself if I said I didn't think about such things, but I do. Maybe too much. I try to hold the show in my head as a virtual structure and think about how much info the viewer might need in advance and then try to limit it to very little and attempt for the work itself to tell you all you need to know: there should be nothing outside of the work. Then I spin the structure around and think about what the first image is and how it sets the tone, how it will unfold in time, how long each section should be, what can be unpicked, what might be a red herring, what is a digression and how can I make the meaning as such arrived at rather than given. That is the formal answer. For a while I'd have probably pinched the Walter Pater, 'All art aspires to the condition of music', quote by way of answer. I'm particularly happy when someone comes out of one of my hour-long films having sat on a bench in a darkened gallery and says, 'that felt like less than an hour'.

Andy Holden, Maximum Irony! Maximum Sincerity,1999-2003: Towards a Unified Theory of M!MS, Installation view Zabludowicz Collection, London, 2013

Could you tell us a bit more about at a time when you felt stuck and what you did to help yourself out of it?

My analogy for being an artist in the Cartoon Landscape is that one has to walk out over the cliff edge, knowing enough to not look down. If you look down, and become aware there is nothing beneath you, then down you fall down. Be like Bugs Bunny; aware of the laws of gravity, but never study law. Those who can walk out furthest for the longest are the best artists. Like everyone, I have from time to time looked down, and had to climb back up to the top of the cliff and start again. Climbing up does require fashioning your own ladder out of whatever is to hand.

What kind of studio visits, conversations or meetings with curators, producers, writers, press, gallerists, or collectors do you enjoy or get the most out of?

Cold-calling studio visits have often produced blissful afternoons. Visits from interested parties have gradually tapered off, but there was a time they were my main source of company. When I was working out of the remote Rectory Farm in Bedfordshire there were weeks, I would only see Colin the sandwich-man and renegade Kerry the farm owner dropping past to say hello with his shot gun under his arm. So, if a curator, or student, or artist came by it would be a chance to unleash my pent-up verbal deluge and find out if any of my thoughts made sense when said out loud. Now I have set up my gallery project, Ex-Baldessarre, at my studio in Bedford, as, in part, a way of providing an excuse for more people to drop by. Once this lock-down passes I'll be there every Saturday as normal and awaiting your company.

Andy Holden, IF YOU INSTAGRAM MY DEAD BODY USE WALDEN AND TAG IT #NOFILTER, Rowing Projects, London, 2016

If you work with a commercial gallery how does this relationship affect or inform your work and life? 

I don't, so it doesn't. I'd be interested to know how it would. I was too contrary.

Do you have a trusted muse, mentor, network, or circle of friends you consult for critical feedback?

I made a film about the relationship between friendship and creativity called Oh! My Friend's a couple of years ago to explore the way certain friendships were intrinsic to creative development. It was also a sub-plot of M!MS. For me friendship as a place to experiment and challenge oneself has always been crucial, a good friendship is how you grow, through getting to know another. Much of artmaking is very solitary, which makes the blossoming of friendship and dialogue more precious. And now, yes, the friendship of certain artists means the world to me and I could not overstate the importance of those friendships in making me a better artist and a better person.

Andy Holden, Unquiet Grave, Temporary Public Sculpture, Latitude Festival, 2014

How do you make money to support your practice?

I've always juggled a few things, combined a few streams, some dry up, then try and get another one to flow a little, dig a new tributary here and there, build the occasionally damn, regularly forget to tend to the banks. Teaching gives a little, music loosens about the same amount of money, grants and commissions makes new major works appear, but I always seem to go over budget so that’s normally just the material, so then the cost of life comes from the occasional sale, selling small editions, performances, talks, loans, bailouts, windfalls, miracles like the Hamlyn Award or getting the Artangel show to tour. This year I was saved by the Tate acquiring some works. Every year has been different. I should say that for the first six years of getting started, even when I had shows at Tate and Kettles Yard, I didn't make enough to move out of home, I stayed in my childhood bedroom and used my friend's mums warehouse as a studio, without those support structures I'd have been sunk. I would advocate grooming unlikely patrons and the system of support-in-kind. Favours from friends and exchanges of labour were a huge part of my economic life early on. I have a both a large unpaid student loan and a shit ton of psychic debt.

Andy Holden, Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will, Paint and collage on melted gramophone records, 2008-11

What compromises have you made to sustain your practice?

Living with my mum and dad until the age of 30, spending most of my twenties on my own on a farm in Arlesey, and ruining a relationship. See also the psychic debt mentioned above.

What advice would you give your past self?

Take piano lessons. Draw more. Be less self-absorbed. Listen to your mother when she says maybe you should think about a career in IT as it’s an up-and-coming field.

Andy Holden, The Third Attempt, Temporary Public Sculpture, Netherlands, 2008

Can you recommend a book film or podcast that you have been inspired by that transformed your thinking?

To answer this would be the history of my internal life.

 

Follow Andy on Instagram @andyholdenphotos and Twitter @andyholden_GM and visit his website https://andyholdenartist.com/

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The next informal Q&A session will be Friday 28 August 6pm-7pm and newsletter subscribers will be sent an invitation a little closer to the time.

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Coming Next...

An interview with

am-blog-richard-parry

Interview: RICHARD PARRY

I have known Richard Parry and followed his career for over 15 years. We have connected in our different roles and organisations over this time due to a joint enthusiasm for a vast swathe of artists.

We share a love of performance, the absurd and working with interdisciplinary artists who collaborate and continually push the edges of their practice. Artists I have worked with that Richard has included in his curatorial projects have included Bedwyr Williams, Mai-Thu Perret and Paulina Olowska.

I have visited many of his exhibitions in different organisations and locations over the years and know that I will continue to be curious about his curatorial and directorial endeavours. I am a fan of the lush weird environments he supports artists conjuring.

His gentle demeanour belies a dogged determination to get the job done and he goes to extraordinary lengths to make strange things happen in unusual ways. He keeps taking himself out of his comfort zone to learn, to develop and create new opportunities for artists.

Richard Parry, Photograph Jonathan Lynch

Richard Parry is Director of Glasgow International, Scotland’s biennial festival of contemporary art. Prior to this he was Curator-Director of the Grundy Art Gallery Blackpool where he curated and organised upwards of 30 exhibitions, including solo exhibitions by Mark Leckey, Heather Phillipson, Matt Stokes and Jennet Thomas, as well as the group exhibitions Sensory Systems and Neon: The Charged Line.

Previously to joining the Grundy, Parry was Assistant Curator at the Hayward Gallery, where he organised exhibitions including Psycho Buildings, The New Décor, Walking in my Mind and the ambitious project Wide Open School, where the gallery was turned into a giant ‘school’ involving 100 artists from around the world. Prior to the Hayward he worked as Exhibitions and Collections Assistant at the Visual Arts Department of the British Council.

Parry is also a critic and writer and has written for art magazines including Frieze, Art Review and Modern Painters, amongst others.

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now, that is helping you to stay positive?

I’ve been staying in a new flat since just before lockdown. It’s a tenement in Glasgow and at the start of this the garden was completely overgrown, with sprawling weeds and the like. An elderly neighbour moved in around the same time as me (with a cat called Prozac) and started to do a bit of clearing. It wasn’t long before I was joining in – such as social distancing would allow – and then another neighbour as well. It’s really encouraged a sense of community in the building. I’ve also been listening to podcasts including one that a couple of colleagues/friends (Jenn Ellis and Cliff Lauson) started called Between Two Curators. Mubi has been important. I miss the cinema and this has been something of a lifeline on that front. I’ve been a subscriber for years but it’s never been as important. For much of lockdown I have been tuning into a radio station called ‘Radio Caroline’ that the writer and critic Jonathan P. Watts ran daily during lockdown via the digital platform Twitch, broadcast from a front room in Norwich.

Mark Leckey, This Kolossal Kat, That Massive MOG, 2016, Installation view: Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool, Courtesy the artist and Cabinet, London

What are your core values and drivers that you bring to your curatorial work? What do you care about?

I hope that I bring an approachability to my curating. I think that the way I work tends to be quite collaborative and undertaken through partnership. I want to create a space in which an artist can develop new work and in that way is an empowering process, but also one in which the context and audience are there in the picture.  For me one of the wonderful things about working with artists is that you have an opportunity to really engage with different voices and approaches, and to be able to share this with others. When I was in Blackpool I thought a lot about the civic role of art galleries and art in general and I’m very tied to the – probably quite unfashionable – notion of undertaking a public service. I think that if anyone had any doubts about just what an essential public role art and art galleries, museums, festivals etc. play then the advent of Covid-19 and lockdown have really cast these aside.

At the Grundy I also became really aware of, and passionate about, a broader ecology – which might be quite a small ecology - and how artist-run spaces, perhaps especially in less ‘prominent’ towns and cities or can be doing things that are really vital. Being out of the spotlight, but in a supportive environment in that way can encourage genuine risks to be taken. I think back to the incredible programme that Supercollider was doing in Blackpool, with early solo shows for artists like Mathew Parkin (2012), Ima-Abasi Okon (2014), as well as exhibiting the likes of Jamie Crewe and Sean Edwards in group shows around that time. It’s clear the work that such a space can do – often largely unnoticed – in both seeking out and providing artists with shows at key points in their careers. A space like Supercollider would not have existed without the Grundy, as much as anything because the town’s gallery provided a job to the curator who ran it, Tom Ireland. It’s a reminder that at the end of the day, everything is connected, and that every show is important.

Bertrand Lavier, Telluride II, 2005, Neon: The Charged Line, Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool, 2016, Installation view, Courtesy the artist and Kewenig  

How do you develop your curatorial ideas? How do you test or scope your ideas?

Fundamentally, my approach is multi-disciplinary. I did a Masters at the London Consortium, which no longer exists now but at the time was an incredible initiative involving a collaboration between the Tate, the Architectural Association, the ICA and Birkbeck College. The approach of this combined Masters and PhD programme was to bring together students from difference disciplines (I had studied history as an undergraduate) and explore topics from a myriad of different perspectives. If we look at the Glasgow International festival that was supposed to happen this year, and which is now postponed until next year, the theme for this was ‘attention’. I would say the genesis of how I would be working with a theme such as that – both open and complex but also offering a frame - started at the Consortium. Other important markers in the development of this theme were working with Brian Dillon, Lauren Wright and Roger Malbert on the exhibition ‘Curiosity’ for Hayward Touring at Turner Contemporary in 2013. Brian would often talk about attention. The point at which this theme crystallised was through a conversation with the writer and critic Orit Gat back in summer 2018, in which for me this sense that it could be a method, or approach, as much as a theme, became clear. Attention is in some respects a challenge – a daunting theme as a curator. I get the sense that many of us who practice art or curating are in some measure perfectionists, and so paying attention to things is at the heart of it, but inevitably there will always be blind spots. It is perhaps a paradox and double bind that runs through everything.

Tomás Saraceno, Observatory, Air-Port-City, 2008, Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, London, Installation view,Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

How do you discover artists and what makes you finally decide you want to work with an artist?

Something that I’ve been thinking about recently, which is very connected to attention, is the importance of looking – of going and seeing shows and then really looking at the work. Also of visiting and meeting artists, which I always feel I could do more of, but is vital. There are always exhibitions you will inevitably miss of course for a whole host of reasons, but I’ve become more and more aware recently about how shows I’ve seen – in some cases many years ago – have stayed with me on many occasions. Specific works that bury away in your memory or unconscious even and then it’s only later their importance becomes apparent.

So much does happen now online, in particular through Instagram so that is also another important way of finding out about exhibitions and seeing a representation of an artist’s work. The decision is not necessarily whether to work with an artist (although that’s clearly important) but can often be more about what feels like the right moment and context. Some of the artists I find most connection with and have known the longest I have not yet worked with in an exhibition, because the right opportunity hasn’t seemed to present itself or it hasn’t worked out for one reason or another. At other times you discover an artist’s work and then an opportunity comes that feels absolutely right to work with them on something right away. That could be to do with, for instance, the exhibition space itself, it could be about how it resonates with key debates, concerns or questions at a certain moment, how the work exists in relation to other work or in relation to an entire programme, or where an exhibition is taking place geographically.

How do you gauge which artists and artworks will be interesting to audiences?

I think this very much links with the previous question as I’m always trying to think about audiences when I am programming work. In Blackpool, we were committed to generating a programme which we hoped would resonate with the context of the town and that audiences would hopefully be able to connect with. In many respects the audience there was very a-typical to what you might imagine a contemporary art audience to be. Blackpool is one of, if not the most, deprived town in England and Wales and where the gallery is situation is right in the middle of the most deprived ward. Around a third of our audience lived within a mile radius and were unlikely to have, for instance, have had much in the way of formal art training and in many cases were probably living in fairly desperate circumstances. You were aware that for some people, the gallery was quite simply a helpful place to get warm, or somewhere you could go and chat with the person at the front desk, or somewhere that quite simply wasn’t home or school, both of which might be sites of pain or trauma. That social function is often completely unrecognised. One of the ways that we looked to find ‘ways in’ was to work with artists whose practice somehow resonated with popular culture – something that the town is famous for. So, in this respect, we might work with Simeon Barclay or Mark Leckey, but equally we might look at other elements of Blackpool’s past such as its history of staging party political conferences, in the case of Jennet Thomas.  The gallery office was right next to the welcome desk and so you basically got a sense of nearly everyone who came into the gallery and their responses to the shows. I remember an elderly couple watching the entirety of an hour long Mark Leckey performance lecture video – they were totally absorbed. It’s hard to predict or second-guess what’s going to connect, in many respects at the end of the day you simply have to go with what feels right, but it takes a lot of work, and a lot of listening, to get to that point.

Curating for a festival is totally different to curating for a venue and the audiences can be very different. You aren’t getting to know audiences  throughout the seasonal ebb and flow of the year, you are a moment of crescendo and congregation, of stimulus and a site of dialogue, exchanging of ideas and intermingling of circles and networks, as well as a site of showcase. It is far more focussed, far more visible and as a result there is also far more attention on all aspects – everything has to be on point.   So as a curator you are doing a lot of listening and looking, at once to artists, cultural commentators, critics and other curators.  In the case of GI, it is also very dispersed, with a huge number of voices, curators and artists involved, so it’s never just one person or set of eyes. The programme needs to speak to and nourish those who live and breathe contemporary art, but you also hope that what you’re doing resonates far wider than a smaller group of highly engaged specialists. My experience is that if the art really has something to say then audiences will pick up on that.

Ima-Abasi Okon, The Fountains Are Decorative and Are Not Water Play Areas, 2014, Installation view, Supercollider Contemporary Arts Project, Blackpool, UK
Courtesy the artist. Exhibition curated by Tom Ireland

What do you offer or provide artists in the curatorial relationship?

As a curator you always hope that you are giving something more than simply an opportunity – although clearly that is central. I find it important to remember that you are in an amazing and fortunate position to be able to give someone a platform and that’s a very serious responsibility. I like to work with artists when I feel that the opportunity might enable a way for them to push their practice, or fulfil something that they might have not been able to realise yet. I hope that I can provide a chance to bounce off ideas and to assist in helping to shape the show if that’s wanted or necessary. It can really vary massively and this can be linked to the point at which an artist is at in their career, but it could also be about simply how they work. Some artists are really keen to have your input, and for others they have a very definite sense of what they want to do and the role becomes more facilitating. I guess it’s part of the role of curating to judge when and how suggestions at certain moments might open up new territory or assist the artist in enabling new ways of approaching a certain space or the narrative thread of a show. I think that what one can offer is also sometimes totally unrelated to an exhibition, for instance there might be people, texts or other materials that you can help with or suggest.

Can you describe what you ideally want to achieve when curating an exhibition?

Fundamentally as a curator I would see myself as someone who connects artists with audiences and so it is my goal to facilitate this in such a way that it is enriching and resonant for both. The magical moments are when you feel that you have been involved in something that has really gone beyond the parameters of expectations, such as when we did the neon exhibition in Blackpool, which was the first time that contemporary art had garnered substantial national media attention in a positive way in the town, and not simply written off as some kind of opaque elitist joke, which is how a lot of people seemed to characterise it. I got the genuine sense that it was a turning point for how decision makers in the town (e.g. funders, politicians) and many members of public saw how contemporary art could be not just relevant but also something they could connect with and be proud of in relation to the place they lived.

Another way I always thought about this was that the power or importance of an exhibition would not necessarily be felt for years to come – the ultimate goal would have been for someone who was growing up in Blackpool to have come to gallery, without knowing what to expect, and for them to have connected in some way with the work on show and to have discovered something in them that they had not felt before. It would be quite an achievement if this experience would then have led them to have pursued art or some other creative path, which they might not previously have even imagined let alone felt was something for them, and that this experience had been something of a turning point in their life. I hope that this might have happened although I’ll probably never know.

On the flipside of this, sometimes the most rewarding projects are when you see the impact that it has had for an artist. Perhaps Tai Shani in the 2018 Glasgow International is a good, or at least well known, example here. This is a project that was originally set for Blackpool in a joint commission with the Tetley in Leeds, but taking this to Glasgow and having the opportunity to develop it in an incredible theatre space like Tramway, with the amazing technical team there alongside the team at GI, the performers etc., really gave it something beyond. Tai is an artist who has been making incredible work for years – perhaps a little more under the radar until that point – and this opportunity I think really showed to a much wider audience what she is capable of and it was very energising to see that.

Tai Shani, DC: Semiramis, Installation view, Tramway, Glasgow International 2018. © Keith Hunter. Courtesy the artist

Can you describe one of your most rewarding relationships with an artist - what factors made it enjoyable?

I would say that perhaps the most rewarding relationships with artists are those that last and where there is a genuine sense of exchange, dialogue and in many respects mutual learning – one where the conversation keeps going. It’s also very rewarding when an exhibition has a big impact for an artist, or has perhaps opened up some new questions or opportunities. Whilst Tai is one example, there are other less appreciated examples that were very rewarding for me. In Blackpool one of the final shows I worked on was with Rob Crosse, now living in Berlin. Whilst the centrepiece of the show was a film commission undertaken with Film and Video Umbrella, we also invited Rob to take on the entire galleries in a solo show. The galleries are specious - around the same size as the Hayward’s upstairs spaces when added together. This encouraged the artist to show photography work, create a towel sculpture/partition, and really take on the space as a whole. Although seen by far fewer people I would also regard that as enormously rewarding experience.

What risks have you taken in curating that perhaps did not go so well but you learnt the most from?

I would say that risk is at the heart of producing both artwork and exhibitions. If you’re not taking a risk then honestly, what’s the point? I don’t want to go into an exhibition ‘knowing the answer’. In some respects there was a point at which I realised that a lot of what I was doing e.g. in Blackpool was an accumulation of trial and error. How else do you learn? You try something out, it might work, it might fail and in many respects the times when it fails are the times when you’re really learning. Sometimes this risk can be difficult for other reasons, as in the case of Jennet Thomas’s exhibition at the Grundy, which was effectively postponed (at the time it was described as censorship) due to complaints from politicians that its content was propaganda and not artwork. This took over a year of hard work, conversations and struggle to enable the show to proceed, helped by figures such as Guardian cartoonist Martin Rowson (upon whose work the show was a point of inspiration) coming to the town in support of it. It also helped to have had an artist in Jennet who was so committed to the project and whom had the reserves of patience to work with us towards a new date.

Another example that I think is important here is the online programme in lieu of GI this year. This is something that came about after the big shock and disappointment of the festival not going ahead. Myself and the curatorial team (Poi Marr and Nora Almes) had absolutely no time to think about it and so it was very intuitive, although of course we had been thinking about and working on the programme for many months so it would be wrong to say it came out of nowhere. We were lucky to have a wonderful digital consultant (Leah Silverlock) who helped us to come up with the format of taking over the website homepage, amongst other things. The artists all responded in an extraordinary way and I still can’t quite believe what they were able to pull off at such short notice and with so much going on in everyone’s lives, it really was incredible.

Jennet Thomas,The Unspeakable Freedom Device, 2014, Installation view: Grundy Art Gallery, Courtesy the artist

What is one of your personal favourite exhibitions or events you have curated and why?

Usually, I would have to say that the exhibition you are working on currently is always the favourite – or most important – at any given moment.  At the moment, with the postponement, it’s easy to feel in a kind of strange limbo. That said, I’ve been doing a fair amount of reflection and looking back recently and there are certain shows that stand out for different reasons. These are not always shows I’ve curated – such as Psycho Buildings (2008) at the Hayward, curated by Ralph Rugoff. I came on board as Assistant Curator with only a few months to go and with HUGE amounts still to do. It was conceived in a pre-financial crash environment and feels like a kind of end-of-an-era show now, in terms of the budgets and the scale of the works. The ambition was phenomenal and it was exhilarating. Whilst working on large shows in the main Hayward Gallery I also curated smaller more under-the-radar shows around the Southbank, which allowed much more scope for personal development as a curator. Favourites here were Olivier Castel who has a truly expansive imagination and also Sara MacKillop in the Saison Poetry Library. In Blackpool I felt phenomenally invested in every show, but looking back now I have a particular fondness for the first one I did, simply called ‘Collections Show’ in which we invited members of the public to show their collections of things. It ended up being a kind of portrait of a collective unconscious of a place, in a fascinating and quite touching way. Heather Phillipson was another highlight – a show which came to us from Baltic and was technically very complex, including craning a car inside the building on its side. Some of Heather’s work is now in the Grundy Collection and what was amazing was coming back recently having artists living in the area talking to me about that show and how important it was for them.

Heather Phillipson, A Is to D What E Is to H, 2011–13, Installation view, yes, surprising is existence in the post-vegetal cosmorama -, 2013, Grundy Art Gallery, Courtesy the artist

What would you hope that people experience and learn from seeing one of your exhibitions or events?

For me, one of the things that art does, is that it has the power to show you something – communicated in a way that is beyond and outside of text – to show you something important that you didn’t realise that you needed to know. Or perhaps that you always knew but had never had brought to the surface. I hope I’ve been involved in exhibitions where this has happened.

Do you help fundraise for the show you curate & if so how?

I would say 80%+ of what I spend my time doing is fundraising – it’s goes without saying that it’s in way the main part of what I do. I’ve never worked in a team where there is a development role so I’ve always needed to do all or a significant proportion of the fundraising or managing relationships with funders. This is a mixture of working with state funders such as local authorities, government departments, Arts Council England or Creative Scotland, or trusts and foundations, or sometimes with private donors. A new thing for me coming to Glasgow was the editions, which have the potentially to be hugely important for fundraising. We have been trying to find ways of bringing in income through taking part in art fairs – all of which feels like a distant memory right now!

What emerging artists are you excited by right now and why?

I’m never very comfortable with this term emerging – like someone’s coming out of a flowerpot or something.  But thinking about early career artists I would say that Glasgow is an incredibly exciting place in this regard. This year’s programme would have seen (and will see next year) exhibitions that I was really looking forward to by the likes of Sekai Machache, Andrew Sim, Liv Fontaine, Andrew Black and Aman Sandhu to name a handful. Someone was describing to me that they felt the GI programme carried a sense of urgency and I think this is latent in these artists’ work, albeit in very different ways. I think that another artist at a very interesting point in their career is Urara Tsuchiya. Urara has been working away in Glasgow for years and is fairly established here but is only just now coming to the consciousness of a wider public outside of the city.

What helpful resources would you recommend to artists?

I hope I have a few suggestions that I can offer but in all honesty it is usually artists who are telling me about amazing things they’ve come across. I like to be responsive to each artist that I’m working with - what can be enjoyable is when you establish a connection with an artist’s practice, and then can tune suggestions to that specifically. Going back to the first question I’ve personally been really enjoying the daily updates from the ICA as nourishment through lockdown.

Do you have any advice for artists working with curators?

Please be patient with us! Following on from the point about fundraising, the tricky thing is that there is often far less time than you would like for the actual job of curating, e.g. for researching and then working with an artist and giving them your attention. This is particularly so when (as in my past two roles) I have both curated exhibitions and been responsible for the organisation as a whole. This can lead to a relative paucity of both time and also mental space, as you’re juggling and working through so many decisions at any given time. It’s a tricky thing as institutions can seem big and grand, with snazzy graphics and the like, but the reality often is that it’s a handful of people there holding the whole thing together and juggling a million things, most of which are unseen. I think that it’s important that for both sides undertaking a show is a big deal – nothing is going to be entered into lightly without a lot of forethought. I would also say that it means a lot to a curator when the dialogue and exchange doesn’t finish when the exhibition does.

Follow Richard on Instagram and Twitter @rhmparry @Gifestival https://glasgowinternational.org/

 

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And do subscribe to our newsletter for a monthly round-up of some useful creative hacks, insights, opportunities, and introductions. At the end of each month we host a free special 30 minute online subscriber event on Zoom, providing subscribers with the opportunity to meet and ask Ceri Hand questions about creative careers or in relation to mentoring.

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beth-bate

Interview: BETH BATE

I first knew of Beth Bate when she was Director of Great North Run Culture (2004-2015), running an annual series of contemporary arts projects, events and exhibitions, celebrating sport and art. Beth had a great reputation for commissioning and supporting brilliant artists, including Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, featured in my first blog post. I knew that she was responsible for creating a positive experience for artists, establishing collaborative partnerships, and raising money to enable them to make ambitious work for new contexts in the North.

I vividly recall meeting Beth in 2013, at Bedwyr Williams' exhibition The Starry Messenger, at the 55th Venice Biennale. I was representing Bedwyr at the time and was thrilled to have supported him and the Wales in Venice team in delivering such a fantastic exhibition. Beth brought a group with her to see the show and it was such a pleasure to be greeted by her with such warmth, enthusiasm for Bedwyr's work and recognition of the efforts that had gone into making the show and launch event. I have since learned that Beth is always a joy to both meet and work with.

She is passionate about helping artists realise their vision and is committed to the importance of art and creativity for all. She is kind and generous with all she meets, putting people at ease with a great sense of humour and can-do approach to getting things done.

I had the pleasure of working with Beth when I was at Simon Lee Gallery, supporting artist Clare Woods on her solo exhibition at DCA. I also loved visiting Beth's fantastic two-site exhibition with Mark Wallinger at DCA, Dundee and Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh. She is a tour-de-force and her responses below reflect that she is up for making change happen, fast.


Beth Bate, Photo Caroline-Briggs.

Beth is Director of Dundee Contemporary Arts, home to contemporary art galleries, a two-screen cinema, a print studio, learning and engagement programme, shop, and café bar. Beth was a member of the British Pavilion selection panel for the Venice Biennale, now postponed to 2022, and is a Trustee of Edinburgh Art Festival and a member of the Scotland Advisory Committee for the British Council. She was a Fellow of the Clore Leadership Programme in 2014-15.

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now, that is helping you to stay positive?

My concentration has been fairly shot over the last few months and the large novels in my reading pile remain unfinished. Instead I’ve found short stories and poems more accessible and rewarding. I’ve enjoyed Miranda July’s No one Belongs Here More Than You and Olivia Laing’s Art In An Emergency. DCA’s Head of Exhibitions Eoin Dara gave me a book of Leonora Carrington’s short stories for my birthday which lifted my mind into other imaginative spaces, and it was a joy to reread Edwin Morgan’s work in what would have been his centenary year.

Since lockdown, I realised how much of the film, TV, and music I usually consume is done whilst travelling. Being at home with my partner and children over these months means this changed. When Disney+ launched, we started to watch all The Simpsons from the start, which is the best family-unifying TV, and heavens knows we’ve all needed a good laugh now and then. DCA’s Head of Cinema Alice Black recommended Babylon Berlin to me which I’m a little obsessed with. It’s a fantastically well written, grimy detective thriller set in the Weimar Republic, with music by Bryan Ferry.

I have been shielding for quite a while now, so my connection with the outside world has been quite problematic. As soon as guidance allowed, I started cycling again. I was training for some events this summer which aren’t happening now but being able to get out and exhaust myself again has been hugely important. I’m currently back at my parents in the Black Mountains in Wales and rediscovering the landscape here, on two wheels, has been special. I’ll be taking part in the Rapha Women’s 100 in September – focusing on a challenge keeps me positive.

Beth Bate, Photo Alberto Bernasconi

How have recent world events affected your ideas, processes, habits, ambition, or methodologies?

My brain doesn’t really work in terms of formal methodologies, but ideas come thick and fast. I’ve been reflecting on resilience – on what it takes to make it through extremely difficult circumstances, how we remain strong whilst both accepting and showing vulnerability. I’ve also been considering care – how we act on what others need and, importantly, how we listen to our own needs. The only way to make it through these extraordinary circumstances has been to listen and communicate carefully and to be accepting of where people find themselves. I’ll hold onto these reflections long after we reach the next normal. I’ve thought a lot about why we need arts institutions and what we have lacked throughout lockdown. We have long been able to use technology to facilitate elements of cultural engagement and I have sometimes enjoyed being able to stay in touch with what’s happening in this way. But it is the proximity to art and other audiences that many of us have missed. I’ve particularly been thinking about how important it is that we ensure that this physical experience is accessible to as many people as possible, and how we continue to embrace digital solutions to ensure that those who can’t visit venues can still have meaningful engagement with art.

What will you do more of?

I will really, truly appreciate what it means to have a shared, collective experience with other people. I find the thought of sitting in a cinema, or being in a gallery, with others, albeit at a distance, is hugely moving. I will love the lines in faces, the folds in clothes, the tones in voices around me – all the things I have missed so much over this period.

What will you do less of?

I will be less likely to think that change isn’t possible – that significant shifts must take time. They can do of course but we’ve also seen over the last few months that huge, vital, cultural change can start very quickly, and that those of us who can be part of effecting change, who have power and privilege, have a responsibility to keep making that happen.

What are your core values and drivers that you bring to your work? What do you care about?

I believe that art and culture can change people’s lives for the better – as artists and as audiences. I had first-hand experience of this as a teenager where cultural engagement, particularly through youth theatre and a couple of key gallery visits, totally changed my life and what I thought was possible. Everyone should have that opportunity. I care about working with committed people to make things happen, whether supporting artists to make projects, building relationships to keep growing and connecting, bringing work to audiences, amplifying voices that are often overlooked, fundraising to develop what we do, because I believe in it – it’s all part of it.

Lorna Macintyre, Pieces of You Are Here, 2018, DCA, Photo Ruth Clark

What would you like to be remembered for?

For getting things done, for having clear ideas, for listening to others, and for making a top notch negroni.

What do you think that art institutions should provide artists and the public?

Our responsibilities lie squarely with artists and the public: our role is to support artists to make their ideas manifest, and to provide safe, welcoming spaces, open to everyone to encounter art. Through this, people can engage with ideas, challenges, connections, new ways of thinking and being, reflections on how we move through the world, and perhaps also the pleasure of responding and making their own art. And yes, art institutions should provide… but we also need to listen and act on what we hear. These relationships with people are what keep us vibrant and relevant.

What would you hope that people experience and learn from visiting your organisation, or one of your exhibitions or events?

First and foremost, I would hope that they enjoyed their time, that they found it interesting. I would want them to feel looked after, and that they’d have encountered something that they might not have otherwise – a view, an idea, a glimpse of the world, whether it’s on a quick ten minute walk around the gallery on a lunch break, or a longer experience, an event or screening.

MARK WALLINGER MARK, 2017, Installation view, DCA, Photo Ruth Clark


What kind of change would you like to be responsible for now?

I want to work harder to address people’s access needs. There are some individuals and organisations who do this brilliantly. But for every one that does, there are so many more that don’t. We are now all adapting our buildings and programmes to make them safely accessible for as many people as possible, in a way that was hitherto unimaginable. If an institution now said, “Don’t visit us if you are in a vulnerable health group, we can’t afford to keep our building as clean as you need”, there would be understandable uproar. Yet the costs and effort involved in making some public places fully accessible have been used as reasons – as excuses – not to do so for years. Disability and access campaigners have long been making the case for change and, as a sector, we have, frankly, not been very good at listening. Now we all have shared access needs and we all want to know what organisations are doing to keep us safe when we visit: let’s take that listening and learning, and make sure we are welcoming to everyone.

Shonky: The Aesthetics of Awkwardness, 2018, Guest curated by John Walter, Installation view, DCA

What methods do you use to develop, test, or scope your ideas?

After reading Susan Cain’s book Quiet a few years ago, I realised I am a classic extrovert who needs time and solitude to recharge and recoup. My quiet time, alone, particularly when swimming or cycling, is when my thoughts settle and start to form into ideas and plans. It’s then important that I’m able to discuss these with people I trust and who understand how I work. Having a brilliant team at DCA is central to this, and there are others in my wider network who I can take ideas to for development and feedback – or immediate consignment to the bin.

How do you discover artists and what makes you finally decide you want to work with an artist?

It’s a combination of reading and online research, of visiting exhibitions, biennales and degree shows, of word of mouth… it’s rare that I would visit somewhere in any capacity and not seek out an exhibition or do a studio visit. And as for what finally makes me want to work with someone, there is no set formula. The quality of the work is foremost. But the relationship with an artist is key. Sometimes this will develop over months and years until we find the right project to make together. There are artists I wanted to work with when I first arrived at DCA in 2016 whose shows will be realised this year, and next. Other times it’s instantaneous and we can make something together very quickly, which is exciting. It comes down to the connection and relationship, to how the work will connect with our audiences, and to a balance within our overall programme.

Clare Woods, Victim of Geography, 2017, DCA, Photo by Erika Stevenson

What is one of your personal favourite exhibitions or events you have curated and why?

This is incredibly hard to choose because I am immensely proud of the programme that we have delivered at DCA. Clare Wood’s solo show Victim of Geography in 2017 was very important to me – it was the first time DCA had presented a major painting show and a solo show by a woman for some time, and it saw the start of a significant balancing of the programme in a number of important ways. The publication we made with poetry by RW Paterson and a text by Anouchka Grose also marked a shift in how we work with writers and has developed into an important strand of commissioning experimental writing. Another important favourite was Alberta Whittle’s show How flexible can we make the mouth in 2019, for which Alberta was awarded a Turner Bursary by Tate just a few weeks ago. Alberta spent time in DCA Print Studio, developing work for the exhibition with our Head of Print Studio, Annis Fitzhugh, and talks wonderfully about how that specific, supportive environment played an important role in the development of her practice and the show. It’s a brilliant example of how we can support artists and the impact their work goes on to have.

Alberta Whitle, How Flexible Can We Make the Mouth, 2019, DCA, Photo Ruth Clark

Which organisations, institutions, or leaders (from arts or business) do you draw strength and inspiration from?

I draw strength and inspiration from all sorts of places and people. I was a Fellow of the Clore Leadership Programme and my cohort are a huge source of support – leaders in their fields, who know me far too well, who I can always turn to. My best friend Abigail Priddle, who I met on our first day at university, is a Commissioning Editor at the BBC, and is a rock and a sounding board. Within Scotland, Tessa Giblin from Talbot Rice Gallery, Sam Woods and Fiona Bradley from Fruitmarket Gallery, and Katrina Brown from The Common Guild, have all given me strength and inspiration- our various negroni and martini fuelled Zoom sessions have energised me and, importantly, made me smile. Mark Ball, Creative Director at Manchester International Festival, and Maria Balshaw, Director at Tate, are old friends and have been on the end of the phone to help with dilemmas, which I’m always grateful for. Artists Alberta Whittle and Clare Woods are huge sources of inspiration – their determination and resilience, their care and openness, and their intelligence and wit.

What would you hope that people experience and learn from seeing one of your exhibitions or events?

First and foremost, I would hope that they enjoyed their time, that they found it interesting. I would want them to feel looked after, and that they’d have encountered something that they might not have otherwise – a view, an idea, a glimpse of the world, whether it’s on a quick ten minute walk around the gallery on a lunch break, or a longer experience, an event or screening.

Do you have any advice for artists working with curators?

Be clear about what you want; ask for advice and support when you need it; work with organisations that will support you and reflect your values, who are proud to work with you and champion your work.

Follow Beth on Instagram @bethbate @DCAdundee and on Twitter @beth_bate @DCAdundee and visit www.dca.org.uk

 

 

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This month’s event will take place on Friday 31 July at 11am.

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am-blog-tabish-khan

Interview: TABISH KHAN

I got to know art critic & editor Tabish Khan when I was working at Somerset House. I really appreciated his support, as he visited most of our exhibitions, and our conversations were warm and engaging.

I am always impressed by his incredible commitment to seeing as many shows across London as possible. He has a genuine enthusiasm for seeing art, getting to know the artists, and sharing his joy and passion with as many people as possible.

He deliberately writes in an accessible way for a broad and diverse public, in the hope he tempts non-arts audiences to visit the wealth of culture on offer in the city. He is unafraid of holding unfashionable or controversial opinions but is very open to having his perception shifted.

Tabish Khan is an art critic specialising in London's art scene. He visits and writes about hundreds of exhibitions a year covering everything from the major blockbusters to the emerging art scene.

Tabish has been visual arts editor for Londonist since 2013, a website about London and everything that happens in it. He is also a regular contributor for FAD with weekly top exhibitions to see in London and a column called 'What's wrong with art'.

Tabish is a trustee of ArtCan, a non-profit arts organisation that supports artists through profile raising activities and exhibitions.

Jose Sanchez Peinado, 2020, Watercolour of Tabish Khan and friends on a Skype call

What are you doing, reading, watching, or listening to now, that is helping you to stay positive?

The vital activity for me is staying in touch with people. During full lock down this was via video calls, more recently by outdoor meetups. Staying in touch with friends and family has been the single most important activity for my mental wellbeing.

It’s also made me recognise the friendships I had neglected with those who had moved away. Distance is no barrier when we live in such a connected world. It’s been great to reconnect with old friends and I’m hoping to keep those friendships active once the world returns to a new normal.

The reduction in work has also been an opportunity to catch up on all those items I had ignored as I was too busy before. My list of books I’ve bought and haven’t read is over 200 books long and I’m now slowly chipping away at it. I love reading and it’s a shame I didn’t carve out more time for it before.

I’ve also enjoyed watching the wider arts such as theatre, opera, ballet and dance now that they have all been streaming online. Also, there’s nothing wrong with a good Netflix binge and I loved watching all of Breaking Bad and the prequel Better Call Saul. It’s a thrilling watch, even if I am very late to the party.

Recycle Group: Nature of non-existence, 2018, Gazelli Art House, Image courtesy of Gazelli Art House

How have recent world events affected your ideas, processes, habits, ambition, or methodologies?

Recent events place a lot of things in perspective. It’s forced me to slow down and think deeply about what I want to do in the future. When life is busy it’s easy to get caught up in the rush and to not stop to think about what I should or could be doing.

I fell into both my corporate job and being an art critic, without intending to. While I love writing about art, I've never given much thought to other forms of writing and presenting.

It’s also forced me to slow down my thought process, which is usually all over the place, with the experience of dozens of exhibitions bouncing around in my head. With this chance to slow down it’s been nice to chew ideas over for a few weeks with no deadline to work to.

Chiharu Shiota: Inner Universe, 2020, Galerie Templon, Paris, Included in Tabish Khan Top Picks for FAD

What will you do more of?

My daily walk when I was only allowed one piece of exercise was a highlight of the day. I’ve got lovely parks on my doorstep and I don’t make enough of them. I’m hoping to keep that up as well as doing a better job of staying in touch with close friends.

As I’m driven by deadlines, I never actually stop to ask myself what I want to write about. Instead I write about what needs to be written about, i.e. reviewing the latest exhibition. Over the last few months, I’ve discovered the joy of writing blog posts on topics of my own choosing, something I haven’t done for over five years. I’m hoping to keep publishing these once the exhibition openings pick up again.

Ragnar Kjartansson exhibition installation view, 2016, Barbican Art Gallery, London, England
Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine New York and i8 gallery Reykjavik. Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery


What will you do less of?

As I came to art very late in life, in my late 20s, I feel like I must work harder to keep up with everyone else. This is a pressure I’ve placed upon myself and I realise I need to give myself more of a break. In 2019, I visited over 1,100 exhibitions and while that’s quite a feat, it made me realise I can’t really give all those shows the attention they deserve.

So, I plan to visit fewer exhibitions once lock-down is lifted and focus on those that are more likely to resonate with me. I need to focus on quality over quantity.

What do you care about?

Everything I do in the arts is centred around the idea of making art accessible. I stumbled across art with very little knowledge of art, and I want to help others do the same.

Art is inspiring and it should be for everyone. Yet despite many galleries and exhibitions being free to visit there is still a racial and socio-economic class divide in the demographics of those who visit exhibitions.

Now that’s not something I can solve alone but I want to ensure that everything I write doesn’t pre-suppose existing knowledge of art and that it can be read and understood by anyone. Too much of art is surrounded by artspeak and is impenetrable, thus making it feel like it’s for a privileged elite when it isn't.

Filming at the Titian press view at The National Gallery, May 2020

What recurring questions do you return to in your work?

It’s always important to ground yourself by remembering why you do what you do. For me, it’s writing in a way that makes art accessible to everyone and to introduce people to art and artists they wouldn’t have come across otherwise.

I started off with no knowledge of art and took a chance of visiting exhibitions prompted by advertisements I used to see on the London Underground. Now my star ratings are regularly on those very same posters. My path may seem extraordinary, but I want to make it ordinary.

There must be hundreds of potential Tabish Khans in-waiting and I want to reach out to them by encouraging them to take a chance and go to an exhibition they wouldn’t ordinarily visit.

Winter Commission by Monster Chetwynd, Tate Britain, Image copyright Tabish Khan, Londonist

What risks have you taken in your work that paid off?

The biggest risk was asking Londonist to take a chance on someone who had so little writing experience. Even now I look back and wonder how I had the courage to do that. If I had been knocked back, I’m not sure I’d have had the courage to pitch to anyone else and my fledgling art critic career would have ended there.

I always wonder what my life would look like if I had been rebuffed. My life would be so different - my successes, friendships and experiences would be completely changed. I don’t think it’s too much to say I would be a different person. To use a cheesy pop culture reference, it was my Sliding Doors moment.

What risks have you taken that perhaps did not go so well but you learnt the most from?

I’m naturally risk averse, so I tend not to take many risks at all. One chance I took was to write the longer form wordy reviews you often find in art magazines. It just felt so unnatural and I didn’t enjoy the process.

Short and punchy is my style and it’s what resonates with the audience I’m trying to reach. It’s why you’re unlikely to find me writing for any of the art magazines that are tailored to an art specific audience. In truth I don’t think they’d have me anyhow, I’m far too irreverent for their tastes.

Anni Albers in her weaving studio at Black Mountain College, 1937, Image included in Tabish Khan’s Review: Anni Albers, Tate Modern, for Culture Whisper, 2018

How would you like your work to lift others up?

I want people to read my writing and visit exhibitions they hadn’t intended to. To then be inspired by what they see. One of the nicest parts of my job is when people tell me how much they enjoyed an exhibition they heard of from me.

It’s also brilliant when artists get sales, press attention and commissions based in some part on what I’ve published or posted on social media. Often, I’ve been told an article of mine was the first piece of press an artist received, which is a great feeling. Years down the line it’s great to see these same artists doing so well in their careers.

Patrick Tuttofuoco, The Source, 2017, Leadenhall Market, EC3V 1LT, Featured as part of Sculpture in the City

Could you tell us about at a time when you felt stuck and what you did to help yourself out of it?

I have a full time ‘day job’ in energy policy. After I started out as an art critic I was pushing hard in both careers - working seven days a week, long hours and not getting enough sleep.

Something had to give, and it was my immune system. Over the course of six months I had both shingles and impetigo, two illnesses that a healthy young immune system should not be suffering. After this I decided I had to change something to protect my health.

I made the hard decision to slow down in my energy role, no longer looking for a promotion, and focus on growing the art career. It was difficult as I’m ambitious and having to cool off is something that doesn’t come naturally. Yet it was the right call and thankfully there’s been no drastic health concerns since then.

Tabish Khan reflected in a Hans Kotter work at JD Malat Gallery in Mayfair

Which creatives do you feel your work is in conversation with?

All of them, I hope. I know a lot of creatives have specialist areas that they focus on and that’s great, but it’s not for me. I’m a generalist and proud of it. I want everyone in any field to be able to connect with anything I write.

Sure, art is my specialism, but I feel just as comfortable writing about theatre, food, and my experiences in London. It’s great that both artists and those new to art can get something out of one of my reviews - whether that be of an exhibition or a restaurant.

How do you make money?

Not from art that’s for sure. I have a full-time job in energy policy and that pays my mortgage and all my bills. My writing earns about a tenth of that salary, and that’s in a good year - i.e. not this one.

It’s why I can often be seen visiting galleries on a weekend, or at evening private views, as that’s when I can break free of my desk.

It’s a compromise but it does place me in a financially sound place, and I don’t have to worry about chasing after the writing that pays - I can focus on what I want to write.

When I speak to my fellow writers who struggle to pay the bills, are constantly chasing unpaid invoices and always on the hunt for the next paid gig I don’t envy them. Writing about art is a difficult profession and I’m grateful for my primary income.

Jitish Kallat, Circadian Rhyme 1, 2011, Photograph: Anil Rane/Thelma Garcia/Galerie Daniel Templon, featured in the exhibition Age of Terror: Art since 9/11, 2017/18, Imperial War Museum
Reviewed by Tabish Khan for Londonist

What compromises have you made to sustain your practice?

The ‘day job’ is a big one as it means I can’t see as many exhibitions as I want and missing press views means I often have to visit on opening weekends of exhibitions, which can be very busy and therefore difficult to get in the right headspace to review an exhibition.

It also means I work most weekends and that affects my personal life and the time I can spend with friends and family. In the early days I was terrible at this, but now I aim to put them first, as an article can wait if it means spending time with those that are most important to me.

What advice would you give your past self?

I remember reading an article that stated the number one regret from those on their deathbed was ‘I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me’.

That’s the advice I’d give my younger self, as I’ve lived most of my life living up to the expectations of others and never really thought about what I want out of life. I’m simply lucky I stumbled across my dream job, as an art critic, more by chance than any particular drive on my part.

However, it’s important to note that if my younger self had followed his dreams, I would be a completely different person and that’s not something I wish were true. All the mistakes I’ve made, and there have been many, have gone towards making me who I am today. So, I feel it’s important to own your mistakes, and learn from them.

What career hacks or useful nuggets would you give to aspiring creatives?

Try your hand at things you don’t think you’re capable of doing. I knew nothing about art and I’m now an art critic - that wouldn’t have happened without me taking a massive leap into the unknown.

I’d also say be nice to people and help out those when and where you can. It’s important to support others as we’re all struggling and we remember those who helped lift us up, particularly those who helped us in our early career. Plus, you never know if in the future they’ll be in a position to help you out and repay the favour.

Can you recommend a book film or podcast that you have been inspired by that transformed your thinking?

In line with my above point Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People is a classic for a reason. If we all went about work in the way he suggested the world would be a much nicer place. We don’t need to step on each other to succeed, we should all think win-win.

Deep Work by Cal Newport is another important one when it comes to getting work done in an age where digital distractions are everywhere.

I grew up in a conservative Muslim household and Elif Shafik’s 40 Rules of Love showed me a spiritual side to religion that I didn’t know existed and changed my perspective when it comes to my faith.

Follow Tabish Khan on Twitter and Instagram @LondonArtCritic and visit his website www.tabish-khan.com

https://londonist.com/contributors/tabish-khan

Weekly Top exhibition picks and What's Wrong with Art column on FAD: http://fadmagazine.com/author/tabish/

Trustee of ArtCan: http://artcan.org.uk/

 

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And do subscribe to our newsletter for a monthly round-up of some useful creative hacks, insights, opportunities, and introductions. On Friday 31 July 11am we will host a free special 30 minute online subscriber event on Zoom, providing up to 100 subscribers with the opportunity to meet and ask Ceri Hand questions in advance about creative careers or in relation to mentoring.

Feel free to email or contact us via socials @cerihand

 

lou-mensah

Interview: LOU MENSAH

I have listened to Shade Podcast religiously since writer and photographer Lou Mensah launched it in the summer of 2019.

I find Lou’s transparent, no nonsense attitude and genuine curiosity in learning and engaging with her guests refreshing. The range of pro-active, inspiring guests combined with a familial generosity, clarity of ambition and desire to pass the baton and tool-up the next generation makes it a compelling listen.

I love that Lou’s own creative career and experience feeds into her way of seeing, hearing, and feeling her way through conversations. She is authentic and passionate about creating intimate conversations on challenging and crucial issues.

She launched the show at the same time I was knee deep in the delivery of the exhibition Get Up Stand Up Now: Generations of Black Creative Pioneers (12 Jun – 15 Sep 2019) that I programmed and worked on with Zak Ové at Somerset House. Lou interviewed participating artist Richard Rawlins in Shade Podcast episode S3 E7 (18 June 2020), who participated in Get Up Stand Up Now with the powerful work The True Crown from the series I AM SUGAR, 2018.

I am excited to see Lou and Shade go from strength to strength and look forward to seeing the continued impact of these conversations informing all our work and positive change.

Lou Mensah founded Shade Podcast to create a safe space for anti-racism conversations through the lens of creativity & activism.

Lou started out studying PR at The University of The Arts in London. She began her career at Lynne Franks PR, before going onto work under the leadership of Anita Roddick in The Body Shop International Press Office. Having worked in fashion and beauty PR for 10 years, Lou became interested in visual communications. She went on to work on various jobs as a photographer - stills for Directors Antony Minghella, Sundance winner Marc Silver and Mike Figgis, gaining awards for her work from Nick Knight, Alexander McQueen.

What are you doing, reading, watching, or listening to now, that is helping you to stay positive?

The simple things, being grateful for home, for being healthy and safe; retreating inwards, whilst working on plans. Listening to podcasts have become more thrilling, the intimacy of listening to other people’s experiences right now. I share my favourite cultural insights regularly on Shade’s Instagram.


How have recent world events affected your ideas, processes, habits, ambition, or methodologies?

I’ve felt more comfortable retreating. As an introvert, isolation has been a treat away from the unnecessary noise that I find draining and distracting. Leaning into a smaller group of people. I’ve acknowledged what matters in terms of connections, and the stories I am telling. Saying no to opportunities which I may have previously jumped at, has been vital for focus. The biggest takeaway has been taking time for myself, so that I can continue the work for our community, now and for the coming generation. I’m engaging with how my work encompasses the stories and experiences of my ancestors

What will you do more of?

Collaborate.

What will you do less of?

Be distracted by what I ‘should’ do and do more of what I know is right for the work.

What do you care about?

Artists and activists getting their voices heard.

Richard Rawlins, The True Crown, from the series I AM SUGAR 2018, Copyright-of-the-artist

What recurring questions do you return to in your work?

How will these stories I’m helping to tell affect others positively, how I can enrich the conversations around the intersection of anti-racism work and creativity. What do I bring to the table? How will I share stories in the most respectful way? How will I enrich the conversations, rather than add to the noise, the clickbait culture that can often drive digital interviews.

What risks have you taken in your work that paid off?

Reaching out to complete strangers who are more experienced, for advice. Saying no to opportunities that others have said would benefit the development of my work - but to me they didn’t feel right. Better opportunities always come along. Ignoring my total lack of technical experience, learning on the job, keeping all the mistakes in my work, and keeping on going. Seeing the wealth of talent out there, the huge network backed shows, the shows hosted by digital heavyweights, but carrying on anyway when I had zero experience in broadcasting.

What risks have you taken that perhaps did not go so well but you learnt the most from?

Nothing major but loads of technical risks with my recording and editing. I’ve never spent the time getting to know how to get the best sound, because my other responsibilities mean that I do not have the time. I’ve literally pulled out wires during a recording as I couldn’t hear my guests. I’m working with a producer moving forward and will spin less plates myself.

How would you like your work to lift others up?

By telling the story of other creatives and activists, we learn that we’re not alone. I want my work to comfort when spirits are low, inspire when you’re ready to focus.

Lou Mensah, Untitled I, from The Blonde series, 2005, Copyright of the artist 

Could you tell us about at a time when you felt stuck and what you did to help yourself out of it?

Throughout my 20’s and early 30’s I was managing a chronic physical illness, which rendered me unable to function on a basic level. I had to leave my full-time job, which of course affected practical things like my housing and basic needs. I was on benefits and had years of medical appointments, which left little or no energy for anything else. My social life vanished overnight. But this is when I was first given a camera, to inspire me to get out when I had the energy to do so. I used a 35mm SLR and had no idea how to work it. I brought those old photographic manuals from the charity shop and taught myself. And asked for help. I asked for discounts at the photo processing labs and spent my energy on pouring over others work in bookshops. Claire de Rouen and the Soho Bookshop was my social life. Just me and the books. There were very basic internet platforms, so nothing useful in terms of resources. After a short time, I approached agencies and asked to shoot model headshots, which then led to doing the fine artwork that defined that time for me. I was picked as a winner by Nick Knight and Lee McQueen in a photo competition. After that, being ill, poor and with nothing to lose, I spent my time shooting friends, some book covers, some commercial work. But no one knew that in-between meetings and shoots, that I was bed bound. And although I was in physical pain, it didn’t matter because my creativity felt freeing. I was stuck in the physical sense, I couldn’t take the opportunities offered to me, the agents asking to work with me, the big jobs as I was too ill. Being stuck taught me so much about my strengths, and resilience, and those lessons have served me well to this day.

Which creatives do you feel your work is in conversation with?

Creative change-makers whose focus is on building community through art activism. Those committed to learning about how they can contribute to moving conversations and work practices forward.

How do you make money?

Still working on it. Anyone that wants to sponsor the podcast please holla!

What compromises have you made to sustain your practice?

Free time. Accepting that the quality of my work isn’t where I’d like it to be because of financial and time restrictions.

What advice would you give your past self?

Value the moments of recognition, whether that be self-recognition or from others. Forget what’s acceptable to others, do what is right for yourself. Other’s don’t know shit in terms of what’s right for you unless they understand who you are. So, tell them.

What career hacks or useful nuggets would you give to aspiring creatives?

Reach higher than you think you’re capable of. You’ll be surprised at how so many people are willing to support your journey. Listen to your gut, if someone or something doesn’t feel right, move away sooner rather than later. But check if that is your ego or heart talking. Value doing nothing, as much as doing something. Nothing always amounts to something, you just don’t know it yet.

Can you recommend a book film or podcast that you have been inspired by that transformed your thinking?

Each Shade Podcast guest has inspired me immensely. The trust and openness in which they share their beliefs, experiences and research has been personally enriching. Photography is my biggest source of inspo, so head over to Shade where I highlight the work of those I admire. In terms of film or literature, there are too many to mention. But Ava DuVernay’s 13th should be watched by everyone, Zadie Smith - but really only Changing My Mind resonated, Shaka dub, for that spiritual high - always, Kwame Nkrumah, Maya Angelou’s Letter to My Daughter; How I Became a Woman by Marzieh Meshkini, the list goes on…

Follow Lou Mensah and Shade across multiple platforms https://linktr.ee/shadepodcast

Please share this interview

 

 

And do subscribe to our newsletter for a monthly round-up of some useful creative hacks, insights, opportunities, and introductions. On Friday 31 July 11am we will host a free special 30 minute online subscriber event on Zoom, providing up to 100 subscribers with the opportunity to meet and ask Ceri Hand questions in advance about creative careers or in relation to mentoring.

Feel free to email or contact us via socials @cerihand

 

Interview: CHRISTIAN VIVEROS-FAUNÉ

I first met Christian Viveros-Fauné in 2004, when I was Director of Exhibitions at FACT in Liverpool and we were launching Bjørn Melhus’ first UK solo show. Christian represented Bjørn at the time through his gallery, Roebling Hall, (based in Brooklyn, New York).

At dinner together, with Bjørn’s German Gallerist, Anita Beckers, I was struck by Christian’s mischievous playfulness, his passion for art and social justice, his distrust of the mainstream and delight in discussing political issues intertwined with pop-nonsense over a glass of wine or two.

We share an allergy to artworld baloney, enabling as many people as possible to experience culture and for having fun along the way. Christian has donned many arty hats and remains consistently curious, committed to artists and is a fervent believer in the power of the arts.

I kept in touch with Christian, visiting his gallery in NYC, participating in international art fairs together, (including one he was running, VOLTA). In 2010 I invited him to curate an exhibition at my gallery in Liverpool, which he playfully titled Spasticus Artisticus. Christian and Jota Castro produced an accompanying catalogue (thanks to Jota’s generosity) and an after-show performance by French all-girl punk band, Furious Golden Shower, at my friend Natalie Haywood’s café-bar LEAF. The brilliantly shambolic gig included several annihilated, nearly naked male curators. They strutted in heels, feather boas and manky pants, provoking and titillating the crowd, reeling, and writhing as go-go dancers gone wrong. The peculiar punk cocktail was exhilarating yet revealed a distant, prudish art crowd, who seemed to find it rubber-neckingly torturous. I think the wicked joy Christian and I derive from flouting the rules that bind us may cement our friendship.

Christian Viveros-Fauné (Santiago, 1965) has worked as a gallerist, art fair director, art critic and curator since 1994. He was awarded Kennedy Family Visiting Fellowship in 2018, a Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation Grant for short-form arts writing in 2009, named Art Critic in Residence at the Bronx Museum in 2011, and has lectured at Yale University, Pratt Institute, and Amsterdam’s Gerrit Rietveld Academie. Viveros-Fauné is Chief Critic for Artland and writes regularly for ArtReview; Sotheby’s/Art Agency Partners’s in other words and The Art Newspaper. He presently serves as Curator-at-Large at the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum and Visiting Critic at the NYU Steinhardt Department of Art and Education. He has curated numerous museum exhibitions around the world and is the author of several books. His most recent, Social Forms: A Short History of Political Art, was published by David Zwirner Books in 2018.

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now that is helping you to stay positive?

Not sure I’m doing anything with a view to staying positive, since I’m finding “positivity” a bit elusive these days, but I am doing a fair bit of reading on what I think are genuinely pressing concerns. Among the books I’m head-down into are David Wallace-Wells’ The Uninhabitable Earth, a recent bestseller about global warming; Sarah M. Broom’s The Yellow House, a memoir of growing up Black in New Orleans; Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, a history of America’s Great Migration (the movement of six million African-Americans from the rural South to the industrialized North); José Luis Alonso Marchante’s Menéndez: King of Patagonia, a history of conquest and genocide in Chile and Argentina; and Francisco de Goya’s collected Letters to Martín Zapater. The worse things get, the more I turn to Goya, whom I consider to be an amazingly astute philosopher of the visual, as deep or deeper than anything the French and German Enlightenment produced. One historian wrote that, had Goya been born in Germany, he would have given Hegel a run for his money as a man of letters. The fact that he was born in Southern Europe kept him away from the habits but also the pitfalls of systematizing rationality. Another silver lining: Goya arrived at a critique of instrumental reason predating the Frankfurt School’s Dialectic of Enlightenment by 150 years. What is Goya’s The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters if not that? I derive genuine optimism from the idea that thinking generously, like Goya did, produces salutary patterns of critical thinking that we can all fall back on at perilous times like these.

William Villalongo, We Can't Breathe, 2015. Silkscreen on velour paper mounted on coloring book pages with acrylic wash. 12 x 9 in. each / 60 x 27 in. overall (30.48 x 22.86 cm each / 152.4 x 68.58 cm overall). Courtesy of ©Villalongo Studio LLC and Susan Inglett Gallery, NYC. Photo by Argenis Apolinario, NYC. Featured in Life During Wartime: Art in the Age of Coronavirus, University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum lifeduringwartimeexhibition.org

What are your core values and drivers that you bring to your curatorial work? What do you care about?

I care about beauty, expansively understood. Rather than being the last refuge of conservative aesthetics, the beautiful promotes thoughtful attention to the particular, to difference, as well as to comparisons that, in their fullness, require both contextual and historical study. To quote Elaine Scarry quoting Iris Murdoch “beauty prepares us for justice.” Since social justice and the expansion of civic engagement through the arts is something I am passionate about, I find myself, year in and year out, pushing for formally resolved art that engages the world—“eye candy with content” or “brain-candy with content,” in the case of conceptual art. Beauty, generously considered, doesn’t just embrace every possible art form and medium—from painting to comics to performance and social practice—it also encourages a radically egalitarian ideal, much as math and astrophysics do. Though the humanities have stupidly shelved discussions of “the beautiful” and “simplicity,” these are categories that are still discussed in leading laboratories to important scientific and egalitarian effect.

Cristina Lucas, La Anarquista (The Anarchist), from the series The Old Order, 2004. Courtesy of the artist.
Featured in Life During Wartime: Art in the Age of Coronavirus, University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum lifeduringwartimeexhibition.org

How do you develop your curatorial ideas? How do you test or scope your ideas?

I have a few basic ideas I go to the well for again and again. They include, as mentioned, curatorial takes on art and politics, but also discussions of the beautiful, though for me these notions remain indissolubly linked. Both ideas cohere for me in the concept of “social forms,” which, not so accidentally, is the title of my last book (Social Forms: A Short History of Art and Politics, David Zwirner Books, 2018). The best way I find to develop specific curatorial ideas from these concerns is to write them out. My training as a writer basically forces me to do that, so no surprise there. I workshop my ideas by putting them down on paper; that’s how I make connections, contemporaneously, art historically, socially, politically, but also with an eye to the culture at large. I am nothing if not a big believer in making exhibitions that widen access to visual art.

Gran Sur: Chilean Contemporary Art from the Engel Collection, Installation view, Alcalá 31, Madrid, Spain, 2020

How do you discover artists and what makes you finally decide you want to work with an artist?

Sometimes I find artists; other times they find me. Our meetings are always a melding of the minds, even when I’m helping put together historical shows or a biennial. For the latter, I insist of having enough work—at least three or four examples from an artist’s production—to get as complete a sense as possible of the artist’s oeuvre. As much as I value my job, I reject the idea of the curator’s authorial voice. Exhibitions, perforce, are collaborations, even when someone is appointed chef d’oeuvre. I’ve been lucky enough to work with a number of artists repeatedly. Together we arrive at ways of materializing mutual concerns, so that artworks, though properly thematized, are never reducible to my ideas. What I’m saying here seems obvious enough, but in practice I find that both experts and laypeople often get it wrong.

How do you gauge which artists and artworks will be interesting to audiences?

Curators have a responsibility to read their audiences. They do this not just to give the public what they want, but hopefully to expand and even test their audiences. Pushing the limits on what an art public wants, or says they want, is akin to what artists do for curators and critics. Surprise—an experience I’ve found to be in increasingly short supply—is as fundamental to art audiences as it is for experts in the field. Art should aspire to the condition of eternal surprise. To quote one mid-20th century proto-curator, art is news that stays news.

Ellen Harvey, The Disappointed Tourist: Black Wall Street, 2020. Oil and acrylic on Gessoboard, 18 x 24 in (45.7 x 61 cm). Courtesy of the artist. Photo by Ellen Harvey
Featured in Life During Wartime: Art in the Age of Coronavirus, University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum lifeduringwartimeexhibition.org

What do you offer or provide artists in the curatorial relationship?

The best artist-curator relationships are ones that develop over time. They are friendships forged through the joint public performance of shared ideas. I say performance because the making of artworks and their attendant concepts, planning, texts, supports, logistics, installations, educational missions, etc., are just some of the things that go into making successful exhibitions. The nature of an art exhibition is highly performative. Curators, in that sense, function as the producers for the artist’s solo (or group) act, setting the stage for the best live performance ever. Often, those same producers, read curators, have also had a hand in shaping the artist’s songbook.

Can you describe what you ideally want to achieve when curating an exhibition?

The best exhibitions I’ve been involved in push the envelope on the envelope; by which I mean that they reinterpret the brief of the exhibition and the physical contours of the space it occupies. Sometimes that involves getting a genuinely novel read on a set of given artworks or a historical period; at others it involves expanding the physical possibilities of a gallery, a building or public space. At the best of times you get to—or are forced by circumstances—to do both. In my experience, those situations are in equal measure hair-raising and exhilarating.

Pasted photograph by Fabio Bucciarelli for the New York Times and illustration by Jeremyville on Allen St, Manhattan, © Benjamin Petit. Courtesy of Dysturb
Featured in Life During Wartime: Art in the Age of Coronavirus, University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum lifeduringwartimeexhibition.org

Can you describe one of your most rewarding relationships with an artist - what factors made it enjoyable?

I don’t kiss and tell, so no names, but I love, LOVE, many of the artists I have professional relationships with. I believe in them and I am lucky enough to think that they believe in me. My working assumption is that they find me to be a good conversationalist and a decent interlocutor; someone they can bounce ideas off of who is responsible enough to trust with their projects. Amazingly, those artists and I have found that we have gotten to make shows and books together more than once, which is a truly rewarding thing. I’m pretty sure I learn much more from them than they do from me.

Jake and Dinos Chapman, The Disasters of Yoga II, 2019. Francisco de Goya Disasters of War. Selections from portfolio of eighty etchings reworked and improved with collage. Courtesy of Jake and Dinos Chapman, photographed by Ken Copsey. Featured in Life During Wartime: Art in the Age of Coronavirus, University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum lifeduringwartimeexhibition.org

What risks have you taken in curating that perhaps did not go so well but you learnt the most from?

I once tried to curate an art fair by picking artists from galleries and having the galleries foot the bill. It was the early 2000s, so the galleries let me, to mixed results. I’ve put that one on the good try shelf.

Gran Sur: Chilean Contemporary Art from the Engel Collection, Installation view, Alcalá 31, Madrid, Spain, 2020

What is one of your personal favourite exhibitions or events you have curated and why?

Unsurprisingly, the bigger projects I’ve done have been the most challenging. I curated a short lived but gargantuan biennial in Dublin (Dublin Contemporary 2011), and recently put together the largest ever exhibition of contemporary art from Chile (Gran Sur: Chilean Contemporary Art From the Engel Collection, at Alcalá 31 in Madrid through July 26). They both involved scores of artists and artworks and, generally speaking, a lot of moving parts. To that I can now add Life During Wartime: Art in the Age of Coronavirus, a 50+ artist virtual show hosted by the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum, where I serve as Curator-at-Large (available at lifeduringwartimeexhibition.org through December 12). All of these shows have stretched my capacities as a thinker and an intellectual in the public sphere.

Narsiso Martinez, Good Farms, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Charlie James Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo by Joshua Schaedel, Michael Underwood.
Featured in Life During Wartime: Art in the Age of Coronavirus, University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum lifeduringwartimeexhibition.org

What would you hope that people experience and learn from seeing one of your exhibitions or events?

I hope that they make direct connections from the art they encounter to the wider world. Whether we are talking about painting, sculpture, dance, installation, video, or any other medium, art should push people to think beyond the confines of the gallery or museum. My job, as I see it, is not unlike that of a fiction editor: to promote art as an exploration of human experience as revealed through formal values.

Do you help fundraise for the show you curate & if so how?

Rarely. But, for what it’s worth, a number of the recent shows I’ve organized and am organizing at USFCAM have received important grants funding.

What emerging artists are you excited by right now and why?

I will name names here, at the risk of forgetting folks, which I invariably will. There’s the London-based painter Francisco Rodriguez Pino, the Paris-based video artist Enrique Ramirez, the Cuban artivist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, the California painter and installation artist Narsiso Rodriguez, the Chilean multimedia artist Pilar Quinteros, the Miami-based video artist Edison Peñafiel, the Nicaraguan conceptualist Marcos Agudelo, the New York-based sculptor Kennedy Yanko, the Philadelphia-based painter and cartoonist Mark Thomas Gibson, the photographers Curran Hatleberg, Zora J. Murff and Anastasia Samoylova—who live and work, respectively, in Baltimore, Fayetteville, Arkansas, and Miami. I’ve had the good fortune to work with all of them and others during the last six months, and they’ve each reminded me of two things that should be head-slappingly obvious: one, there’s always something new under the sun; and, two, Ecclesiastes is overrated.

What helpful resources would you recommend to artists?

Look. Look a lot. Visit as many gallery and museum exhibitions as you can. Not only are they free resources (let’s leave U.S. museums out of the discussion for now), they are the best places to have visual encounters that will, artistically speaking, flip your lid. These spaces serve as literal libraries of the visual and should be understood as such. One of the few silver linings of the global COVID-19 quarantine is that many of these museums and galleries have established a parallel online presence. That means that, while this miserable lockdown continues, folks can explore these same libraries all over the world from the safety of their homes.

Do you have any advice for artists working with curators?

If possible, establish a partnership, and work with folks you trust and get on with. Life’s too damn short for networking.

Follow Christian on Instagram @cviverosfaune and visit his website https://www.cviverosfaune.com/

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And do subscribe to our newsletter for a monthly round-up of some useful creative hacks, insights, opportunities, and introductions. At the end of each month we host a free special 30 minute online subscriber event on Zoom, providing subscribers with the opportunity to meet and ask Ceri Hand questions about creative careers or in relation to mentoring.

Feel free to email or contact us via socials @cerihand

 

Alkistis

Interview: ALKISTIS TSAMPOURAKI

I first met Alkistis Tsampouraki in 2015, when we both worked at Simon Lee Gallery in London.

We shared a passion for learning, of facing fears, of not taking ourselves too seriously and to having fun, whilst making weird(er) things happen in the world. Alkistis is kind, considerate, loyal, and often hilariously honest. She has a great eye and is committed to supporting artists reaching new audiences internationally.

 

Alkistis Tsampouraki (left) with Anouchka Grose at the opening reception of Enrique Martinez Celaya’s exhibition The Mariner’s Meadow at Blain | Southern, London, May 2019

Alkistis Tsampouraki was born in Athens, Greece and has lived in London for the past 7 years. She completed her MA in History of Art at University College London, specialising in Expressionism, New Objectivity and Dada in Weimar Germany. She is a Video Programme Consultant for OUTERNET London, an arts and culture venue which will be launched in September 2020. From 2018-2019 she was working as an Artist & Museum Liaison at Blain Southern Gallery London/Berlin/New York and from 2015-2018 she was an Artist Liaison at Simon Lee Gallery London/Hong Kong/New York supporting artists internationally in strategising and building their careers. She has worked closely with emerging and established artists, prioritising commissioning and exhibiting new work, including off-site projects and installations, touring exhibitions and publishing catalogues, and editions. From September 2020 she will be Associate Director of Exhibitions & Special Projects at the Breeder Gallery, Athens.

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now, that is helping you to stay positive?

I am based in Athens, Greece and although the Covid crisis was more manageable here than in the UK we still had to spend more than two months in quarantine. I did a lot of reading during this time and the things I enjoyed the most was reading about Leonora Carrington’s life and more specifically The Seventh Horse which is a collection of her amazing short stories as well as Alejandro Jodorowsky’s account of Leonora's vital spiritual guidance for his life and work in The Spiritual Journey of Alejandro Jodorowsky. I also watched the documentary series Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth which are six one-hour conversations between Joseph Campbell and journalist Bill Moyers. I love Campbell’s work and it fascinates me how in both ancient and contemporary religions and mythologies we still seek answers to the same set of questions.

Toby Ziegler, The Genesis Speech, 2017, Installation view, Freud Museum, London. Courtesy of the artist and Freud Museum, Photo Peter Mallet

What are your core values and drivers that you bring to the gallery? What do you care about?

My role is usually to keep a balance between the artists’ and the gallery’s needs and maintain a trustworthy relationship. Because an artist-gallery relationship is somewhat like a marriage that requires commitment even when things might get dysfunctional, I think what artists appreciate even more than bringing results is honesty, consistency with what you promise and integrity. So these are the most important values I bring to my work.

What do you enjoy the most about working with commercial galleries?

I like being part of a diverse team with a combination of people who are coming from different backgrounds and channels and who when putting their efforts together can achieve a certain goal. A commercial gallery can often also offer the resources needed to materialize projects and ideas. Personally, I have worked on a couple of institutional and public projects that wouldn’t be realised without the support of a commercial gallery. Still, this sometimes might lead to other imbalances but that’s another discussion…

Clare Woods, Rehumanised, 2018, Simon Lee Gallery, Hong Kong, Courtesy of the artist and Simon Lee Gallery, Photo Kitmin Lee

How do you gauge which artists and artworks will be interesting to audiences?

I think that there is no fixed recipe for success here. What makes me take real interest in someones’ work is that one of the ideas behind it is 'zeitgeisty' so to speak and that it somehow captures the present moment.

What kind of support or expertise do you offer or provide artists?

My role is to support an artist in building their career and profile not only through the gallery’s exhibitions and activities but internationally. So depending on each artist’s ambitions, I support them with day to day studio communication, production of artworks, catalogue production and distribution, research, development and implementation of public art projects, with establishing strategic partnerships with national and international institutions, with securing residency programmes, as well as with introducing curators, journalists and collectors to their work. Working closely with artists and having a more personal relationship also means that you often have to navigate through difficulties and challenges with them and offer emotional support.

Ali Banisadr, Foreign Lands, 2019, Installation view, Het Noordbrabants Museum, Den Bosch, The Netherlands,  Courtesy of the artist and Het Noordbrabants Museum, Photo Joep Jacobs

What sales channels do you find work best for your artists?

A lot of galleries are focusing lately on digital platforms for reaching out to new audiences and widening their collectors base and it is true that some of these channels are successful. Especially now with the Covid situation these practices are becoming even more popular. Then art fairs are a major international hub for promoting someone’s work. But from my experience, the most successful route for nurturing lasting relationships with collectors is to cultivate their understanding and engagement with an artist’s practice by building his/her profile steadily and slowly through exhibitions, in conversation events, publications etc.

Can you describe one of your most rewarding relationships with an artist - what factors made it enjoyable?

I feel lucky in that sense, because I had the opportunity to work with amazing artists that were also incredible humans. With some of them I developed a more personal bond where there was a lot of trust and respect. When you really know someone and know their work and you manage to deliver something important to them, it is much more rewarding than just doing your job well. It’s like helping a dear friend and I find this very fulfilling.

What risks have you taken that perhaps did not go so well but you learnt the most from?

A few months ago I decided to leave a promising career in London and move back to Athens. It’s certainly difficult adapting to a new reality, but it’s important to do what feels right for you even when the world disagrees. I wouldn’t say however that this hasn’t gone well so far, but it was definitely a big risk for me and the outcome still remains to be seen.

What would you hope that people experience and learn from seeing one of your exhibitions or events?

The last months I have been developing and researching an exhibition concept. More than the curatorial idea, I am focused on how I want people to engage with what they see. I think that today we are more than ever detached from our intuition when perceiving things around us. When looking at a work of art, in many cases our first reaction is an attempt to analyze or de-contextualise what we see, stripping away its magical power. When this exhibition materialises, I really hope that it will give people permission to have a relationship with art that is of the spirit and not just of the mind, where feeling is privileged over knowing.

Do you have any advice for artists?

To stay real, focused and committed to their practice.

What helpful resources would you recommend to artists?

The answer can vary depending on the stage of someone’ s career. For an artist that is at the beginning of his/her career path, I think it’s helpful to follow the work of writers, curators etc. whose activity is close to their own quest; to be part of group shows with other artists with whom they share the same curiosity; to have a good online presence and in general to be active and out there. Residencies are also always a great way of building a network and opening up to new markets and territories. Although it can be challenging, when someone puts effort and good energy out there, their work will be noticed and gallerists will come after the artist rather than the other way around.

Follow Alkistis @alkistis_tsab @the_breeder_gallery

Please share this interview

 

 

And do subscribe to our newsletter for a monthly round-up of some useful creative hacks, insights, opportunities, and introductions. At the end of each month we host a free special 30 minute online subscriber event on Zoom, providing subscribers with the opportunity to meet and ask Ceri Hand any questions about creative careers or questions you might have in relation to mentoring.

Feel free to email or contact us via socials @cerihand

Coming Next...

An interview with Christian Viveros-Fauné (Santiago, 1965), gallerist, art fair director, art critic and curator.

AARON-CEZAR

Interview: AARON CEZAR

I met Aaron Cezar in 2007 when we were both working at Metal with Jude Kelly.

As well as being in awe of his incredible creative career as a dancer, I was blown away by his input, support, patience, and incredible ability to stay calm during what some people might call creative chaos. He is the man you want by your side, period. As well as making space, time and amazing things happen for artists, whatever the context, he has a steely determination behind a relaxed, winning smile, securing results every time. He is kind, welcoming to all and always makes me laugh.

Aaron Cezar, Photo Tim Bowditch

Aaron is the founding Director of Delfina Foundation, where he develops, curates, and oversees its interrelated programme of residencies, exhibitions, and public platforms.

Aaron has also curated offsite exhibitions, performances, and programmes for example at Hayward Gallery Project Space, SongEun Artspace, ArtBo, and Art Dubai. As part of the official public programme of the 58th Venice Art Biennale, he conceived the opening week and final weekend performances with Ralph Rugoff.

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now that is helping you to stay positive?

It’s easy to become consumed by the news, social media, and one’s own personal outrage fuelled by the state of the world right now. I find solace in music and movement. I studied dance. Singing has always been part of my family. My mother had most of my siblings and me in the church choir. Mass started at 7am!

It’s been cathartic for me to get back in touch with my body and voice – and in fun ways, from taking online dance classes to learning choreography from 1990s music videos to singing karaoke.

In terms of music playlists, I have been listening to those coming out of recent music battles organised by Swizz Beatz and Timbaland via @verzuztv’s Instagram. My favs have been Babyface versus Teddy Riley; Erykah Badu versus Jill Scott; and Kirk Franklin versus Fred Hammond – this last one bringing me back to my gospel roots (though, we wished our choir sounded as good).

What are your core values and drivers that you bring to your curatorial work? What do you care about?

Much of my work hinges on storytelling often through or around social issues. One of the drivers of my work is creating new narratives or bringing to light old ones that have been forgotten or are worth being re-examined. All of this involves some level of performativity and performance has featured heavily in my curatorial projects. Performance is more than a medium, it is a process through which we navigate, interpret, accept, or resist the world around us. I think of performance in the widest sense, from daily routines to religious rituals to protest to live art itself.

If I had to name a few projects where these interests have come together, it would be Staging Histories which has so far produced two projects looking at the history of performance in relation to major events in the Arab region, one was presented at Delfina Foundation and the other at Hayward Gallery’s Project Space. I would also cite my most recent project at the 58th Venice Biennale – a performance art series as part of the official public programme that looked at identity politics through the concepts of nationality, gender, and intersectionality. The performances considered the architecture of representation and how language, as articulated through the body and the voice, can reaffirm, or refuse conventions.

Florence Peake and Eve Stainton, Apparition Apparition, 2019.  Performance, Meetings on Art, 58th Venice Biennale, 2019,
Credit Riccardo Banfi. Courtesy Delfina Foundation and Arts Council England

How do you develop your curatorial ideas? How do you test or scope your ideas?

Delfina Foundation is my largest and longest curatorial project. It is quite consuming, even after 13 years and with an amazing team. My ideas are sparked through conversations with colleagues, artists, and peers. Most of these ideas become embedded into the organisation’s work. The others I save for myself and independent projects, though these often overlap.

Through Delfina’s residencies, we experiment with different ideas. We have several curatorial themes that have defined our work over the last few years, such as The Politics of Food, which explores the production, consumption and distribution of food as well as food as a medium and metaphor to expose wider social and cultural concerns; Performance as Process which looks at performance as a way of processing the world around us; science_technology_society, which considers the intersection between art, science and technology and new solutions through interdisciplinary collaborations; Collecting as Practice which explores the politics, psychology and philosophy of collecting and the role of collectors and artists in relation collections and archives; and lastly, The Public Domain which interrogates the notion of public space, both in the physical and digital sense.

All these themes have been inspired by artistic practices that we have encountered and contemporary concerns that we share. Some have been initiated by me and others have been developed through teamwork.  All of them are collaborative in spirit, and we often work with external curators and specialists.

How do you discover artists and what makes you finally decide you want to work with an artist?

Pre-coronavirus, I had the privilege to travel extensively for research and to attend various biennales and fairs via my work at Delfina Foundation. I often discover artists this way and through a network of peers and other artists, particularly those who have had an association with Delfina Foundation. Our alumni network includes 350 artists and curators around the world.

Still, I get the most exposure to new and diverse artists via our open call for applications at Delfina Foundation.

It’s sometimes hard to put a finger on what makes me decide to work with an artist. For Delfina’s residency programme, its more clear-cut because we have criteria that underlines our selection process and we consider the opportunity that the residency will open up for the artist, personally and professionally. For independent projects, I also get excited when an exhibition or public programme becomes a career-defining opportunity for an artist. Beyond that, I must be drawn to an artist’s way of thinking and their approach in translating research into outcomes. I like to be included in and help shape this process, so I prefer artists who are open to this kind of engagement. Because I tend to have this close relationship to artists, personality matters a lot to me. I want to know who they are – its then easier to help them progress further as well as deal with challenges that might arise.

Power play, 2019, Exhibition installation view. Photo credit Tim Bowditch, Courtesy Delfina Foundation, Korean Cultural Centre UK, and SongEun ArtSpace

How do you gauge which artists and artworks will be interesting to audiences?

I am firm believer that there is an audience for any artist or artwork. I think my responsibility as a curator is to provide context for the work within a certain narrative or argument.

I always consider how the audience will experience the show. If relevant to the concept, I tend to include different types of media to alter the flow of the show, and I consider exhibition design has a central role in how audiences will perceive the show.

What do you offer or provide artists in the curatorial relationship?

As I mentioned before, I often prefer to work closely with artists and provide support and guidance where necessary. Sometimes this involves helping to sketch out the initial framework of an idea or facilitating access to material or archives. Later, my role might include providing references to move the idea along to the next stage or suggesting technical support around production and installation. Working closely with artists can also mean providing some level of emotional support – the process of making work does not always go smoothly. When the work is deeply personal to the artist, there is no separation between ‘work’ and ‘life’.


A Prologue to the Past and Present State of Things, 2015, Installation shot, Delfina Foundation, Credit: Tim Bowditch

Can you describe what you ideally want to achieve when curating an exhibition?

I am always hoping to do two simple things: (1) contribute to or provoke new discourse / cultural knowledge, and (2) provide a valuable opportunity for the artist(s).

Can you describe one of your most rewarding relationships with an artist - what factors made it enjoyable?

Ah – I get asked this question a lot about my favourite artist. I can’t choose!  But the factors that makes a rewarding relationship is having a clear line of communication, a sense of humour, flexibility, trust, and an ability to be objective.

What risks have you taken in curating that perhaps did not go so well but you learnt the most from?

Let me start this answer by stating that this example is not of a risk that did not go well but one that I should have taken further! I curated a group show at SongEun Artspace in South Korea almost exactly two years ago entitled Power play, which took its cue from Derrida’s book Politics of Friendship. SongEun has been a partner on a majority of Delfina Foundation’s Korean artist residencies, so when they invited me to curate a show in their space, I naturally wanted to involve a number of these artists, alongside other alumni. In conversation with some of the artists, I realised that some had spent time at Delfina together and continued their friendship beyond the residencies. This sparked an idea to ask three pairs to collaborate and consider the relationship between their practices and the contexts in which they work. Each of these six also presented a solo work alongside four other solo presentations by non-collaborating artists.

For the collaborations, the international artists travelled to Korea for a short residency, hosted by the Korean artists in their homes, and then continued to work virtually, across many different times zones. Everyone reconvened to complete and install the works prior to the show. The process was loaded with risk, but I think it could have been pushed even further and expanded across the whole show with every work coming out of this process (rather than presenting solo works by non-collaborating artists). I have been thinking about reviving this format.

Power play, 2019, Exhibition installation view. Photo credit Tim Bowditch, Courtesy Delfina Foundation, Korean Cultural Centre UK, and SongEun ArtSpace

What is one of your personal favourite exhibitions or events you have curated and why?

I would single out the performance programme that I co-curated with Ralph Rugoff as part of the official public programme of the 58th Venice Biennale.

This was the first time that Biennale’s public programme incorporated performance art in such a major way, and it was ground-breaking to situate performance among the gardens and in-between spaces of the Arsenale and Giardini. There were many challenges but each reaped rewards.

Ralph gave me a lot of autonomy with the programme, and I was able to work with many artists whose work I had been following for some time like Paul Maheke, boychild, Bo Zheng and Solange. I was also able to draw on works from Delfina’s network of alumni such as Alex Baczynski-Jenkins, Vivian Caccuri, Cooking Sections and Vivien Sansour, as well as our experienced team to help produce the works with the Biennale’s staff.

Do you help fundraise for the show you curate & if so how?

I think that one of the secret skills of a good curator is being resourceful and being well-networked enough to raise funds through co-commissions, tours, individuals, or public bodies. This need not be difficult work.

My ideas are always bigger than the allocated budgets, and so I take it upon myself to work with my team or external organisations to bring more resources to the table.  Power play would not have happened without SongEun’s budget and additional support of Mondriaan Fonds, Goethe Institut, and others. Venice Biennale would not have happened without core support from Arts Council England, alongside countless funders, and the artists’ galleries.

Aaron Cezar in Venice, 2019, Credit Leanne Elliott Young

What emerging artists are you excited by right now and why?

Again, I hate to pick favourites! But, without naming names, I am excited by artists who are collapsing boundaries between art and non-art disciplines, as well as the borders in-between the physical and digital world.

What helpful resources would you recommend to artists?

Residencies!  Transartist, ResArtis and Rivet are good places to start.

Do you have any advice for artists working with curators?

Firstly, l would advise that artists carefully consider how the curator is going to contextualise their work in the exhibition/programme.  Request some of the material the curators has been reading to conceptualise the show. If you feel uncomfortable, query their approach while being open to a new interpretation or way of presenting your work.

Be understanding of limitations (e. g. space, budget) and support the curator in their efforts to be resourceful and accommodate everyone. Sometimes in group exhibitions, compromises must be made. Make your own limits clear.

Also be open about your way of working and any potential issues. If you are rubbish at responding to emails or meeting timelines, let the curator know so that he/she/they can plan accordingly, like WhatApping instead of emailing or setting early deadlines. Ask the curator about their flaws too!

Politely voice concerns immediately. Do not let anything fester.

Follow Aaron Cezar on Instagram @theaaroncezar @delfinafdn and Twitter @aaroncezar @delfinafdn

Visit Delfina Foundation website 

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Coming Next...

An interview with...

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Interview: CONNAL ORTON

I was introduced to Connal Orton around 2008/2009 by Mark Doyle, who was running the North West Collector Development scheme for Contemporary Art Society. Connal was very supportive of my gallery programme, attended shows, visited artists studios and bought work, including by Matthew Houlding (see below). Connal is an award-winning creative, most recently at the BBC he has produced series 1 and 2 of All At Sea, (twice nominated Best Children's Comedy, BAFTA); Worst Year of My Life, Again and series 1-9 of 4 O'Clock Club (Best Drama, Kidscreen Awards; Best Children's Programme, RTS North; nominated Best Children's Drama, BAFTA).

Connal is an enquiring, creative, funny, and sincere art enthusiast, committed to engaging with artists, and delights in challenging, philosophical, political, and existential conversations. He has an infectious thirst for adventure.

Connal Orton, Photo Lizzie Bayliss

Connal Orton lives in Manchester where he works as an Executive Producer in television, making comedy and drama programmes for children. Prior to this he worked as a theatre director, specialising in first productions of new plays, and has always made his living from being around and working with creative people. He started collecting ten years ago when joined the (sadly defunct) Regional Collector Development Scheme run by The Contemporary Arts Society, which introduced art enthusiasts to curator-guided tours of exhibitions, visiting interesting commercial galleries and studio visits with emerging artists.

Nicky Hirst, Social Distancing 3, 2020, Rubber stamp ink on printed page, 250 x 180 mm, Image c/o the artist, Purchased as part of the Artists Support Pledge initiative

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now that is helping you to stay positive?

I’m lucky enough that a large chunk of my work is with script writers locked away at home, so that can carry on remotely. Having a structure helps enormously. Because my work is always so text-based, reading for pleasure can feel like a bit of a bus-man’s holiday; but as work has gone a bit quieter, I’m attacking novels with gusto. I’m also watching loads of films. I seem to have a collecting bug in several areas, which includes a collection of about 3000 Blu-rays and DVDs. I buy far more than I usually have time to look at, so I’m doing some catching up on those. A group of us also choose a film to watch each week and have a Zoom chat about it. That with a few beers is the closest I’ve come to being down the pub – the thing I think I’m missing most (with family a close second). I’m listening to lots of music too as I work – mainly minimal dance music. ‘Still’ by Night Sea is an excellent discovery.


Eva Koťátková, Untitled, 2012, from the series Educational Model, Mixed media collage, 42x29.5cm, Image c/o the artist and Galerie Hunt Kastner

What are your core values and drivers that you bring to collecting artists work? What do you care about?

The most important thing is that I live with the work I collect, in my house, on my walls; so, I want work I’m going to have a long and interesting relationship with. I’m not driven by investment as such; but of course, the price of art is influenced by so many factors that it’s important one pays for a work an amount that feels right for all parties. I value pieces I’ve acquired at student auctions for £100 as much as something I might have paid significantly more for. I do think the notion of a fair exchange is important to me and I often think about the precarious balance between affordability for modest collectors like myself and the sustainability of a business for the galleries and artists. With emerging artists I’ve always been a bit wary of ‘patronage’ as such. I think there’s something wonderfully uncomplicated about paying an artist for something they have made. During lockdown it has been interesting to see how the Artists Support Pledge initiative has inspired a lot of artists to engage in the democratic dignity of this very simple transaction.

Matthew Houlding, Hotel Oceanic, 2011, mixed media, 62 x 41 x 5.5cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ceri Hand Gallery

What do you enjoy the most about collecting?

The conversations and relationships with artists and gallerists. I’ve been surprised and delighted by the social aspect that sits around an interest in contemporary art. My other passion is live music, but those communal experiences don’t involve direct interaction with anyone else. In contrast, I’ve met loads of artists and gallerists I have quite regular contact with and see the work I’ve collected as a bit of a record of those interactions.

How do you discover artists and what factors contribute to your decision to collect an artist’s work?

Discovering new work is usually the domino effect of some kind of link from someone I already know – an artist or gallery I know then shows someone else, or goes to an art fair and I go there to see them, then trip over other work I didn’t know. I started quite local and regional, exploring across Manchester, Liverpool, and Leeds, and was lucky that this opened up to a more national and then international interest. Instagram is also great for encountering new artists. My budget and the increasing lack of space on my walls are the two biggest factors on what I continue to collect.

I try to avoid buying on impulse. I really mull things over. With time, some interests fade but others keep nagging away at me and grow stronger and stronger. That’s tended to be the pattern particularly with the more expensive work I’ve bought, because I know that it’s really got under my skin and I get to a point where I can’t imagine living without it. On a couple of occasions, it’s been two or three years building up to buying someone’s work because the impulse to do so grows stronger and stronger until I can’t ignore it.


Rhys Coren, Cupid Cars, 2017, Spray paint, acrylic, and pencil on board, 22” x 16", Image c/o the artist and Seventeen Gallery, Photo Damian Griffiths

Do you have a focus in your collection?

I didn’t set out with a strategy, but I can see certain themes running through it. I don’t have any rules though. I think limits can help – a strictly limited budget really focuses the mind for example. I think my collection reflects a set of common themes, with some pieces that don’t really fit in, but which caught my interest for some reason. But what I have has emerged organically rather than through sticking to collecting rigidly in set areas.

Laura Lancaster, Untitled, 2018, Acrylic on linen, 50 x 70 cm /19 3/4 x 27 1/2 in., Image c/o the artist and Workplace gallery

Can you describe the kinds of work that lights your fuse?

There are exceptions to all of this…but I have a lot of work with a conceptual element; interest in language, text, or information systems; abstraction, reduction, simplification. That makes it sound much more coherent than it really is!

What kinds of information & materials do you request to help you make the decision?

I do a certain amount of research, but overall, I’m collecting at a price point where engagement with the work is far more important than any kind of investment considerations. I’m ultimately driven by my own personal interest in and engagement with a work, so nothing else is as important as how I respond to the work itself.

Neil Gall, Complex Negotiation, 2017, Pencil, gouache and collage, 24.8 x 19.2 cm, Images c/o the artist and Domobaal Gallery

Do you have a maximum budget (monthly? annually?)

Yes.

Do you stick to it?

No!

Edwin Burdis, 100, 2017, 100 digital Instagram drawings and collages, printed as 100 postcards, box, shelf, Image c/o the artist and Vitrine Gallery

If not, what kind of work has made you stretch?

As with all drugs and addictions, you build up a tolerance as time goes by. You push limits. I pay more now for a single work than I would have done five years ago.

Is it important to you to meet the artists you collect?

It’s not vital, but I’ve met a lot of artists and overall, I really like it. I think a lot of the work I have represents the way the artist sees and engages with the world. I suspect I like the work because I recognise something they have seen and share elements of that world view too. It’s like thinking you’re more likely to be friends with a comedian you find funny than one you don’t, because you come at things from the same perspective. It’s finding people who can surprise you whilst also saying things you recognise and agree with. It’s great when you get that with the artist as well as with their work.

Leo Fitzmaurice,You Don't Say, OO, 2018, Folded plastic bag, 58 × 37 cm, Image c/o the artist and The Sunday Painter

If so, can you describe one of your most rewarding relationships with an artist - what factors made it enjoyable?

As one example, I really like the work of Leo Fitzmaurice – and I really like Leo too. I’d bought a small work of his in a charity auction before I ever met him. Then I saw his show that he won the Northern Art Prize with. I thought it was brilliant. I just emailed him direct and asked him some questions about it. The show had a series of projected photographs and I asked him if he’d ever considered printing them as limited editions. I think I touched a nerve on something he’d kind of been considering, exploring the photographs as objects, and my interest nudged him into doing it – and we agreed I’d fund the experiment and get some artist’s proofs at a really reduced price. It was a great win-win arrangement that benefited us both, but it also meant we discussed the work a lot and it became clear I liked a lot of his work and he liked that I liked it. That led to meetings and a discovery that we saw the world in a similar way. I love how Leo notices things that it would be easy to miss. His work is incredibly simple really, and often his best work is the work he’s done least too. I think he’s a genius. He also has a lot of humour in his work which I really respond to. So, I’ve ended up collecting quite a lot of Leo’s work over the years, and we cross over quite often for a pint and a chat, which encompasses his work, other artwork, and the world at large.

I know a few artists I met through their work initially whom I now think of absolutely as mates. That’s the exception of course – but it enhances how I feel about the work.

What risks have you taken along the way? Any that you would not take again?

There are a couple of works that I maybe bought too impulsively that I don’t love as much as others. I’ve learnt that I’m better when I take my time.

Where do you show and store your collection? What environmental factors do you take into consideration and have you had to make any changes to accommodate these considerations?

Everything I have is at home. Size is a factor. Also, I have two nosey and clumsy cats and so work hung on the wall is really the order of the day. The lack of wall space has influenced my collecting strategy a bit in the last couple of years – I buy less and so I approach my budget limits for individual works differently. I guess that make me think for even longer and more carefully about buying. It means I’m probably collecting artists at a slightly different stage of their career than I was a few years ago.

Follow Connal on Instagram @connalo

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Interview: GRANT FOSTER

I first encountered Grant Foster's work in 2008, in the John Moores 25 painting prize exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. I was happily haunted by the gnarly, tragi-comic, skeletal, uniformed, character depicted in his painting Hero Worship (2007). I was especially delighted that Grant looked and sounded exactly like the artist that was meant to paint it.

A couple of years later painter Eleanor Moreton recommended Grant for a group show I curated with artist Matthew Houlding Memory of a Hope, at my gallery in Liverpool. Grant rocked up with a couple of paintings under his arm, including Relic (2008), another spook with eyes made from found coils of braided hair, a gouged hollow for a nose and a Joker-esque red grin. The other comparatively delicate painting, carved out of mustard yellow beeswax, of a melancholic muse Beauty is Not Compassionate Towards You reflected his thirst for knowledge of what painting can do and his refusal to back himself into a corner.

Grant is an intensely bright, political, considerate, and playful artist, unrelenting in his determination to reveal the complex web of systems, images, language, and hypocrisy that shapes us and that rains down upon us daily. He makes viewers really work for it. Lurching from fine, barely-there delicate colourful wisps and washes, to chewy, densely whipped knots of oily bleakness, he pushes and pulls at memory, and the limitations of painting to test the blurring of coercion, power, impotency, and submission.

Grant Foster (b.1982, Worthing), is a London based artist who completed an MA in Painting at the Royal College of Art in 2012. Foster’s recent selected exhibitions include: I’m Not Being Funny, Lychee One, London, 2019; Trade Gallery, Nottingham, 2018; Ground, Figure, Sky, Tintype Gallery, London, 2017; Popular Insignia, Galleria Acappella, Naples, 2016, Salad Days, Ana Cristea Gallery, New York, 2015; Holy Island, Chandelier Projects, London (2014); Bloomberg New Contemporaries, Spike Island and ICA; (2013-14). In 2019 he was the Randall Chair at Alfred University New York, 2019; Fellow in Contemporary Art with The British School at Rome, 2019; and a Prize-winner in John Moores 25, 2008.

I'm Not Being Funny, installation view, Lychee One Gallery, London, 2019

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now that is helping you to stay positive?

My partner works as a doctor in a hospital, so our experience has been a little different perhaps. Between the reality of her experience and the situation as its unfolded publicly, the small things in my daily life took on new meanings. I would take extra care making breakfast and found new pleasure in mind-numbing chores. At the height of lock-down it started to feel as if we were communicating with our cats in new ways – which obviously sounds absolutely insane. Yet those small duties went some way to mitigate the white noise from outside.

What are you working on and how has the lockdown affected your ideas, processes and chosen medium?

I think artists are good at being able to adapt – it was clear that lockdown was coming in some form or other – so I made preparations to work temporarily from home. Once I was able to focus on making work, I got into a new rhythm of working, which ran alongside all the domestic stuff you have to do.

I’ve been making work on paper, which at the time is very automatic and when I look back at them, they have distinct themes. There’s a motif of a worker that has kept re-appearing over time and now this figure has become more disembodied perhaps. I’ve also been looking at the things that surround me more. We were given a wonderful model of a human-come-pig-head as a wedding present – so he’s been popping into my imagery! Once I was able to return back to the studio, I’ve been painting with what feels like a renewed rigor, perhaps as a consequence of this moment of reflection.

I’ve also started to collaborate with some old friends to make music – we started this before the lockdown but have been able to devote more time and energy to it. This is one the things that the last few months has shown – is that, once you take the vampiric shit out of everyday life, there’s still a decent amount of time in a day.

The Rat King 1576, 2020, Acrylic oil and oil stick on canvas, 182 x 147cm

What do you usually have or need in your studio to inspire and motivate you?

Normally a sense of calm – and a clear head, which is weird as my more recent paintings can appear quite frantic - I’ve got a postcard of Piero’s, Baptism of Christ which I’ve had for a long time now – it’s an astonishing image of stillness that I like to look at.

What systems, rituals and processes do you use to help you get into the creative zone?

I like sweeping my studio floor – I’m not really sure why but I find it terribly calming.

What recurring questions do you return to in your work?

We have a very binary attitude in the wider world, we think in terms of systems such as cause and effect – and I don’t think that offers us the full picture – art can exist in place between knowing and not knowing. I try to create processes within my work where I am forced to re-assemble my intentions – and I hope there can be opportunities for art to grow within those cracks. 

Youth Serum, 2018, Glue, oil stick and pigment on collaged canvas and Polyester, 95 x 177cm

What do you care about?

I’m not being flippant when I say the future. It’s obviously becoming clear how the shape of things to come is going to be defined by our collective actions over the coming years. We have the potential to travel along a number of wildly varying tangents, each of which are drastically different to where we are now. It’s impossible not to be concerned about this.

What risks have you taken in your work that paid off?

I’m an itchy type of artist – and have changed appearances over the years. For me painting is a balancing act between material exploration and subject – and I’ve allowed myself the opportunity to follow where the material leads the work, seeing how that corresponds with the subject. For me, art is a verb – it’s an act of doing, in this way the act is democratic – and the to do, implies freedom and there’s strength with that.

My last solo exhibition felt like a departure from what I had shown previously. I wanted to bring something raw and direct back into the work – and had become interested in the methodology of collage as a way into this. I’d been making a large number of paper-works at the time, with collage acting as a natural way for me to resolve an image on a smaller scale. I developed an interest in coloured fabrics and pre-staining canvases, thinking I would use these materials instead of mixing paint more conventionally on a palette or in a pot.

I wanted the work to communicate, through the anxiety and indecision of making it if you like, that there is a sense of empathy with that process. The way I was working at the time –with these collaged forms, felt very open ended as there were countless variations of an image to consider. It was this sense of open-endedness that offered me a new set of possibilities which I’m still processing.

Torments of The Worker, 2020, Acrylic, ballpoint pen, correction fluid, pencil, crayon, Letraset and marker-pen on Sotheby’s Merger Paper, 27 x 20cm 

What risks have you taken that perhaps did not go so well but you learnt the most from?

I think my biggest problem (there are many to choose from!!) is that I’m naturally inquisitive regarding materials – and as a consequence this may have seduced me into sacrificing the psychological depth that can come about through really pursuing a given material with singularity.

Everyone for Themselves and God Against All, 2016, Crayon, charcoal, pigment and glue on canvas,100 x 70cm

What is your favourite exhibition you have participated in and why?

It was one of the first shows I did in 2006. Some friends and I put on a painting exhibition in the warehouse unit I lived and worked in at the time – we painted the floor grey the night before, printed out fliers, bought the drink in – and invited everyone we knew. There was a real sense of innocence to it that I still value now.

What would you hope that people experience from encountering your work?

I am concerned by a tendency that considers ambiguity a weakness or as something that needs combating. I would suggest precisely the opposite, that it is because of this moment we’re in, where nuance has been continually derided by not only our political class but by the information and communication systems we have become accustomed to – that imagery, art, ideas and culture in its broadest sense – this is the realm where nuance and ambiguity must be allowed to endure, in order for us to learn how to move forwards.

I Work for You, You Work for Me, 2016, Glue, paper, pigment on canvas, 195cm x 185cm

Could you tell us a bit more about at a time when you felt stuck and what you did to help yourself out of it?

Writing has always helped me to find a way around problems which aren’t necessarily logical or with a fixed exit. My brain has a tendency to veer toward extremes – and I find writing a decent way to navigate between two poles.


Measure by Measure,
2017, Bleach, charcoal, glue, oil stick and pigment on collaged canvas, 150 x 115cm

What kind of studio visits, conversations or meetings with curators, producers, writers, press, gallerists, or collectors do you enjoy or get the most out of?

Generally speaking, I enjoy people coming to the studio – as that’s really where they can see the thinking – and doing, that goes into the work. And it’s where I can gauge how we might get on, by the way they look for a paint free spot to drop their belongings!

Do you have a trusted muse, mentor, network, or circle of friends you consult for critical feedback?

Naturally there are a few people I gravitate towards where we share a sense of trust.

Which artists or creatives do you feel your work is in conversation with?

There are lots to list! But more recently through the music I’ve been listening to I’ve become interested in the idea of layering images – and how associative flows can affect our perception of the world. The early albums of Cabaret Voltaire did something similar with the repetition of collaged tape-loops. To me, there’s a connection between those auditory analogue experiments and the associative, almost hallucinatory flow of Francis Picabia’s Transparencies paintings. I’m becoming more and more interested in how images layer upon one another and what this can offer – in a similar way perhaps, to how one may connect seemingly incongruous phenomena, such as the patterns on a wall or apparently random noises.

The Beast with Two Backs, 2020, Oil and pastel on panel, 80 x 60cm

How do you make money to support your practice?

Through a bizarre combination of tech-work and luck.

What compromises have you made to sustain your practice?

Money, health, self-worth – being an artist is a joyous game of masochism.

What advice would you give your past self?

Don’t try and please everyone, Grant.

Beauty Boys, 2019, Acrylic and charcoal on collaged paper, 57 x 76cm

Can you recommend a book, film, or podcast that you have been inspired by that transformed your thinking?

One of my closest friends put me onto The Weird Studies podcast, which is based around art and philosophy – and it’s the best one I’ve come across so far.

Follow Grant on Instagram @foster_grant or visit his website

Follow his gallery @tintypelondon on Instagram and website Tintype Gallery

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Coming Next...

An interview with Manchester based art collector Connal Orton, who works as an Executive Producer in television, making comedy and drama programmes for children. He previously worked as a theatre director, specialising in first productions of new plays.

KRISTIN-HJELLEGJERDE

Interview: KRISTIN HJELLEGJERDE

My clearest memory of meeting Kristin Hjellegjerde was in Manchester Art Gallery in 2012 at the launch of the Manchester Contemporary Art Fair. I can recall thinking how friendly she was and how her eyes seemed to truly represent her, that they reflected both they way she saw the world and you, and what a sincere, enthusiastic and trustworthy woman she was.

I have been delighted to see her programme and success unfold; her unwavering commitment to artists is reflected in the fact she now has four gallery spaces - two in London, one in Berlin and one in Norway.

 

Photo of Gallerist Kristin Hjellegjerde

Photo by Erica Bergsmeads, make-up Ninni Marklund

Established in 2012, Kristin Hjellegjerde quickly gained recognition as an international gallery dedicated to exhibiting a roster of innovative, international artists, both emerging and established, with strong theoretical and aesthetic bases.

Known for its multicultural curatorial approach, the gallery has, over the past years, fostered close and cooperative relationships with museums and curators worldwide, maintaining a deep devotion to the artists it represents.

Drawing on her own international background, Kristin Hjellegjerde seeks to discover new talents by creating a platform through which they can be exposed to local and international clients. In 2019 she curated Kubatana, a museum exhibition focused on African artists at Vestfossen Kunstlaboratorium, Norway. Her curatorial approach is collaborative, working closely with other curators and collectors, as well as with developers and architects.

In April 2018 the gallery opened its second space in Berlin and a second space was opened in London Bridge. In June 2020, Kristin Hjellegjerde is opening an annual Summer space in the coastal town of Nevlunghavn, Norway.

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now that is helping you to stay positive?

I feel so fortunate to have had so much time to read and usually I never watch TV but now we binge watched the whole Peaky Blinder series, which left me with many nights with nightmares… still watched to the end. I have been listening to Hazel English, Ren Harvieu, Nina Nielsen, Lenci and Kurt Elling.

And my favourite lockdown books have been: Bernadine Evaristo Girl, Woman, Other, Olivia Laing Funny Weather, Art in an Emergency; Women Artists, the Linda Nochlin Reader, Edited by Maura Reilly; Tara Westover Educated; Ann Patchett The Dutch House, Delia Owens Where the Crawdads Sing and Elizabeth Gilbert City of Girls.

What are your core values and drivers that you bring to the gallery? What do you care about?

That everything we do today is for the future and for long term goals.

Ephrem Solomon, Earth Series (18), 2019, Woodcut and mixed media, 82 x 82 cm / 32 1/4 x 32 1/4 in

What do you enjoy the most about running a commercial gallery?

Being able to discover great talents and to help the artists reach their goals, to inform them about sales and knowing we made a collector happy on the other end.

How do you discover artists and what makes you finally decide you want to work with an artist?

Through various sources, through other artists, Instagram, articles etc. I usually add the artist to a group show, to first see if we can work well together and that we are going to enjoy each other’s company for the future. If I feel the friendship and can see that the artist is hardworking and continues coming up with great work I will for sure offer a place with us, especially if we also have the right collectors for the artist.

Dawit Abebe, Long Hands 3, 2019, Acrylic and collage on canvas, 70 x 60 cm / 27 1/2 x 23 5/8 in.

How do you gauge which artists and artworks will be interesting to audiences?

I follow my instincts and show only what I feel confident about.

What kind of support or expertise do you offer or provide artists?

I am doing my best at making the artist feel safe to focus solely on their work and remain true to themselves.

Sinta Tantra, Modern Times, 2020, Kristin Hjellegjerde, London Bridge Location, Installation view, Photo by Luca Pfifaretti

What sales channels do you find work best for your artists?

My team and I’s personal friendship with each collector.

Dawit Abebe, Mutual Identity 34, 2020, Mixed Media Drawing on Paper, 100 x 70 cm / 39 3/8 x 27 1/2 in.

Can you describe one of your most rewarding relationships with an artist - what factors made it enjoyable?

I can mention my friendship with Soheila Sokhanvari, I discovered her before I opened the gallery and she was the first I called when I was opening. We have had over eight years of creative friendship and now we will be traveling together to Australia for her inclusion in the Triennial at the National Museum of Victoria in Melbourne, and next year will have a solo show at a London museum, more information to follow. But it’s fantastic to be there for someone through the journey to success.

Soheila Sokhanvari, The Love Addict, 2019, Egg tempera on calf vellum, 27 x 40 cm / 10 5/8 x 15 3/4 in.

What risks have you taken in the gallery that perhaps did not go so well but you learnt the most from?

The first four years I was barely getting by, I started with no collectors and no experience completely naive…! It took me many years to be able to pay myself a salary. So, I worked out of passion, and I can finally see results, it takes an immense amount of determination.

Nengi Omuku, Funke I, 2019, Oil on Sanyan, 91.4 x 61 cm / 36 x 24 in

What new strategies are you trying or considering in the current climate? How will you measure success?

I am opening a gallery in Norway in June, by the sea, it will be with one solo show every year opening with a midsummer night party and last until August. In relation to the current climate we will do less art fairs and focus much more on in-house events, dinners, and stronger bonds with both our artists and collectors. We believe the gallery space will be important again and that it’s the personal friendships that counts.

What would you hope that people experience and learn from seeing one of your exhibitions or events?

By seeing the work in person again I hope people will have gained the patience to take in the artwork for a longer time and feel it. With the art more inspiration and a greater conversation and appreciation.

Gerald Chukwuma, AFTER, 2020, Mixed Media, 185.4 x 170.2 cm / 73 x 67 in.

Do you have any advice for artists? 

Dare to go to that place where you are completely you!

Ephrem Solomon, Earth Series (17 ), 2019, Woodcut and mixed media, 82 x 82 cm / 32 1/4 x 32 1/4 in.

What helpful resources would you recommend to artists?

I am trying to create a family of support and I think that by the friendships they are building between each other they will feel safe and comforted. I recommend the artist to surround themselves with people they can trust.

Follow @KHjellegjerde @kristinhjellegjerdegallery and visit kristinhjellegjerde.com

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Coming Next...

An interview with artist Grant Foster (b.1982, Worthing), a London based artist who completed an MA in Painting at the Royal College of Art in 2012. Foster’s recent selected exhibitions include: I’m Not Being Funny, Lychee One, London, 2019; Trade Gallery, Nottingham, 2018; Ground, Figure, Sky, Tintype Gallery, London, 2017; Popular Insignia, Galleria Acappella, Naples, 2016; Salad Days, Ana Cristea Gallery, New York, 2015; Holy Island, Chandelier Projects, London, 2014; Bloomberg New Contemporaries, Spike Island and ICA, 2013-14. In 2019 he was the Randall Chair at Alfred University New York, 2019; Fellow in Contemporary Art with The British School at Rome, 2019 and a Prize-winner in John Moores 25, 2008.

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Interview: HELEN NISBET

I first met Helen Nisbet in 2014, when we both worked at Contemporary Art Society in London.

I loved working with Helen and was struck by her knowledge, kindness, and her ability to put artists and clients at ease with her sincere interest, enthusiasm, quick wit, and generosity.

Helen is committed to working collaboratively and transparently. We share a love of working with interdisciplinary artists who dig deep, who challenge us and themselves.

Helen Nisbet is a curator from Shetland, now based in London. She is Artistic Director for Art Night and curates projects across the UK, including projects and exhibitions with artists Helen Cammock; Mark Leckey; Heather Phillipson; Christine Sun Kim; Keith Piper; Barbara Kruger; Flo Brooks and Zadie Xa. Helen sits on the Acquisitions Committee for the Arts Council Collection and the Advisory Board for Art Quest and a-n.

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now that is helping you to stay positive?

I found immersing myself in fiction helpful at the beginning of all this. I finished Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall trilogy with the excellent The Mirror and The Light. I haven't been able to engage with anything so large since so I've also been looking at shorter essays and stories by some of my favourite writers - Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Lydia Davis, and Doris Lessing. My friend Catriona sent me The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4 for my birthday - it’s such a good insight into Thatcher's Britain, written and set when I was a baby. I can't believe I haven't read it before.

I'm only now, almost 3 months deep, feeling like I'm in the right headspace for engaging with artwork online. I find the idea of a digital programme tricky, but Alberta Whittle's interim work for Glasgow International was full of rage and softness. I have no idea how she managed to make it, right now, in amongst all this shit, but that's why she's so great.

Helen Cammock, Shouting in Whispers, 2017, poster by Cecilia Serafini

What are your core values and drivers that you bring to your curatorial work? What do you care about?

First, is the work good? There is no better place to start.

More personally, it is always about people. Supporting artists, presenting their work well, thinking about what sort of programme am I putting together, who it is for, how people might experience it.

Christine Sun Kim, If Sign Language Was Considered Equal We'd Already Be Friends, Art Night, 2019, Image courtesy Matt-Rowe

How do you develop your curatorial ideas? How do you test or scope your ideas?

Sometimes things happen quickly - ideas that have been developing for years fall into place. Mostly it is about ensuring space and time for research (something curators rarely get enough of, and this shows). I couldn't do anything without friends and peers to test ideas with.

There's usually someone or many people who know a lot more about things than I do. It is very important for me to make sure other voices are part of my work and that those voices are acknowledged appropriately.

Joe Namy, Automobile, Art Night 2019

How do you discover artists and what makes you finally decide you want to work with an artist?

Talking to others, reading and of course social media. It is never good enough, but unless you have limitless funds, time, and support there will always be gaps in your knowledge.

Who I work with depends entirely on context, I might have a relationship with someone for years before it is the best opportunity to work together arises. It should feel organic and natural. It's also about thinking of the artist - making sure I'm bringing someone into something that is going to work for them too.

How do you gauge which artists and artworks will be interesting to audiences?

Again, it totally depends on the context. The most important thing is not to assume who an audience will be and to give a damn about not just attracting the same people. I also try to resist the pressure that something can only be deemed good or successful if it pulls in a large crowd, this is a really dangerous direction for presenting art, but one that, due to funding and other pressures, is becoming increasingly normal.

Julie Cunningham, Art Night 2019, Image courtesy Thierry Bal

What do you offer or provide artists in the curatorial relationship?

Again, that absolutely depends. If I invite an artist to be in a show or project it is my responsibility to make sure they have been communicated with clearly about what they're getting involved in - the fee, the expectation, the parameters.

The role of a curator can so often feel like project management, so it’s important to make sure I'm also talking to the artist about the work, the ideas and the development of those ideas rather than just hitting them with logistics and institutional heaviness.

Helen Cammock, Cubitt, 2017, Image courtesy Mark Blower

Can you describe what you ideally want to achieve when curating an exhibition?

It depends entirely on context. If it's a solo show I want the artist to make something they are happy with, that they want to realise. I will work with them to keep this on track with the environment of the space we are working with. If we're talking about a group project, it could be more about re-presenting an idea or history. It is important to me that my shows have an openness that allows people to have their own feelings without my hand looming heavily overhead.

Mark Leckey, Affect Bridge Age Regression, Cubitt, 2017

Can you describe one of your most rewarding relationships with an artist - what factors made it enjoyable?

I have too many to list, and a handful of artists I feel very smooshy about. Some projects become long-term things. Like anything in life - sometimes you meet people and they become very important. There are a few artists who I know I will work with repeatedly.

Mutual respect, mutual politics (possibly relating to class and the way I see people and treat others) and a bit of magic.

What risks have you taken in curating that perhaps did not go so well but you learnt the most from?

There have been times when I have gone against my instincts, perhaps the opposite situation to my previous answer. Artists who should absolutely have had shows, but maybe not with me.

Also, it is hard to get into the art world. Not only to know what you want to be doing but to be able to be able to do what you want to do. So, I've worked on things I wouldn't want to do again. But knowing what you don't want to do is even more powerful than knowing what you do want to do.

Houses are Really Bodies, Cubitt, 2017

What is one of your personal favourite exhibitions or events you have curated and why?

I look back on my whole Cubitt programme in a misty romantic haze. I absolutely loved being there. Because of that, my first exhibition Houses are Really Bodies, which looked at Leonora Carrington's writing, marked the beginning of a very important time in my life.

Do you help fundraise for the show you curate & if so how?

Usually. This involves exploring all possible and ethical options for public funding, Trusts and Foundations, sponsorship, or support from private individuals.

I'm not sure I know any curator who has not had to learn how to do this and make their own networks and connections to support this. Unless they work for well-funded organisations or the things, they do are self-financed...

Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings, Art Night 2019, Image courtesy Rachel Cherry

What would you hope that people experience and learn from seeing one of your exhibitions or events?

That changes with each project and who the people are. If it is my family, that they would feel comfortable enough to stay in the room for longer than 5 minutes.

Extending this principle, I want people to feel comfortable in a space - physically comfortable, cared for, welcomed. Considering disability and access are crucial here. If I can get this right, it is easier for people to have their own experience, to feel at liberty to take from the show what they want to or can.

Emma Talbot, Art Night 2019, Image courtesy Thierry Bal

What emerging artists are you excited by right now and why?

The definition of who is emerging, who is mid, who is late...I find all this precarious. Loads of artists who could be deemed 'emerging' are talking about quitting right now or finding another way to make money. But this is a whole other conversation.

I was on the jury for the Margaret Tait award recently, and it was won by Emilia Beatriz. They probably qualify as 'emerging' and I am extremely excited both by their proposal for the award and to see what they do over the next few years.

What helpful resources would you recommend to artists?

There are lots of great curators, educators, producers, and writers doing important work right now, so I would steer artists in their direction - depending on what they're interested in.

In terms of resources, I am on the board of Artquest and a-n and both do vital work in supporting artists throughout their career.

Artists who are wary of social media, I get it, but it really can be so useful and wide reaching. Just go light on the hashtags.

Do you have any advice for artists working with curators?

The curator is not the institution, even though some might feel hard to distinguish. Often our hands are tied, we can be badly paid, we do not have the power, or we are badly treated and so are unable to support you in the way you should be supported. This is not true of all curators, but something to note and be mindful of.

The other bit of advice is to be clear on what you want and any problems that arise. A good curator will navigate this with you.

Follow Helen Nisbet on socials @helennisbet @helen_nisbet @artquestlondon @artnightldn @anartistsinfo

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Coming Next...

An interview with

will-jarvis

Interview: WILL JARVIS

Will Jarvis studied painting at Camberwell College, London, graduating in 2009. He teamed up with fellow art student Harry Beer to establish The Sunday Painter, initially launching as a project space in The Marlborough pub, London in 2008. In 2014 the gallery became commercial and Tom Cole joined as a Director. In 2017 The Sunday Painter moved from its' base in Peckham to a larger permanent space in Vauxhall.

I first met Will around 2009, when I was running my own gallery (Ceri Hand Gallery, Liverpool) and I have been a huge fan of his and The Sunday Painter’s programme ever since.

Will and I manned a booth for our respective galleries at the Manchester Contemporary art fair in 2013. I really loved The Sunday Painter’s presentation (artists Piotr Lakomy, Guy Rusha and Samara Scott) and it was a joy to listen to Will talking with enthusiasm to clients and the public.

He cares deeply about art and the artists he represents. He is admirably, intensely articulate, playful, and sincere, which is an engaging combination and evident in his approach to selling, exhibiting and exchanges with people. This interview took place on 13 May 2020.

Will Jarvis, Photo Peter Lally

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now that is helping you to stay positive?

This is a very difficult time and my heart goes out to people affected by this awful disease. At the same time, I feel a sense of relief in relation to Global Warming. One billion animals died as a result of the forest fires in Australia, the direct result of Global Warming, collectively we have done very little to change our habits so in some sense I feel relieved we are now forced to and really hope this can exact some lasting change. So, reading about nature recovering and emerging myself in books about foraging and Taoism is my current vibe.

What are your core values and drivers that you bring to the gallery? What do you care about?

I think one’s values and drives (like most things in life) shift over time, working with artists who I love and respect as human beings not just as artists is very important. Searching for, and collaborating in, the creation of ambitious and imaginative experiences is a still a major drive.

Tyra Tingleff, Will always be the opposite, installation view, 2018, The Sunday Painter

What do you enjoy the most about running a commercial gallery?

I had to come to come to terms with the reality that I actually love the act of selling artwork, I really enjoy the adrenaline that comes with a sale, it’s taken me a long time to be comfortable with that as I’d never seen myself as being materialistic.

How do you discover artists and what makes you finally decide you want to work with an artist?

We look across different platforms, from MA’s and BA’s, various project spaces, other commercial or non-commercial galleries and social media. Ultimately we have to believe in the vision of an artist, our faith in them has to go beyond a singular successful body of work, we also have to like them and feel our efforts are appreciated, that they understand it’s a collaborative effort, that we put in a lot of energy and take a lot of risk in what we do.

How do you gauge which artists and artworks will be interesting to audiences?

I guess over the years we get a feel for who likes what, which tone or taste might work where, or for whom.

Leo Fitzmaurice, Autosuggestions, installation view, 2020, The Sunday Painter

What kind of support or expertise do you offer or provide artists?

Firstly, a beautiful gallery space with a solo show every two to three years, working on their behalf as essentially an agency to promote and help further their careers. Economic support in the form of sales and production money.

All kinds of practical help ranging from consignments for museum shows to feedback about a direction they might be moving their work in.

What sales channels do you find work best for your artists?

Up until very recently this has been an event-based industry, it is also one built on personal relationships, when it’s worked best it is the combination of both that create conditions most conducive to selling.

Nicholas Pope, Sins and Virtues, installation view, 2018, The Sunday Painter

What sales channels do you find work best for your artists?

Up until very recently this has been an event-based industry, it is also one built on personal relationships, when it’s worked best it is the combination of both that create conditions most conducive to selling.

Cynthia Daignault, Amazon.com, 2020, Oil on Linen, 30 × 45 inches

Can you describe one of your most rewarding relationships with an artist - what factors made it enjoyable?

Well all the relationships are rewarding, or we would not be able to maintain them, but it is greatly satisfying to work with an artist in placing work into a major institution. Cynthia Daignault and I worked together on placing her seminal (360 panel) painting Light Atlas into the Crystal Bridges Collection, and more recently with Nicholas Pope in getting a large ceramic font into the V&A collection.

What risks have you taken in the gallery that perhaps did not go so well but you learnt the most from?

Our second ever Frieze Art fair we showed a conceptual artwork that essentially disappeared, it was available to buy but really only as a temporary performance of the work and a certificate. It was an incredible work, but in hindsight not the most business savvy move for a young and impoverished commercial gallery. I certainly don’t regret doing it but have since realised that peoples receptivity to certain works or ideas is relative to an environment or context.

Rob Chavasse, Marsh Lane Diversion, 2016, Diverted shipment of plasterboard, Frieze London, 2016 

What new strategies are you trying or considering in the current climate? How will you measure success?

Ironically, the nature of a gallery with its poor cash flow, heavy expenses and tiny profit margin has meant this brave new world has not been as painful as expected. In terms of measuring success however that might be tough as our sense of satisfaction comes from a more holistic collection of metrics which include Gallery attendance so as, yet the jury is still out.

What would you hope that people experience and learn from seeing one of your exhibitions or events?

I just hope they feel something, even if it's just repulsed or confused.

Emma Hart, Commercial Breakz, 2017, Frieze London

Do you have any advice for artists? 

Get involved in your local art scene, realise the line between DIY and ‘professional’ is incredibly thin and at the end of the day it’s shared passion that holds this strange misshapen thing together, that even makes it a thing.

What helpful resources would you recommend to artists?

See Saw app is a great resource, use it to go to openings, drink, and chat to people, make friends.

Follow @TSPGALLERY and visit www.thesundaypainter.co.uk

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Coming Next...

An interview with curator Helen Nisbet, a curator from Shetland, now based in London. She is Artistic Director for Art Night and curates projects across the UK, including projects and exhibitions with artists Helen Cammock; Mark Leckey; Heather Phillipson; Christine Sun Kim; Keith Piper; Barbara Kruger; Flo Brooks and Zadie Xa. Helen sits on the Acquisitions Committee for the Arts Council Collection and the Advisory Board for Art Quest and a-n.

Blog-Francesca-Gavin

Interview: FRANCESCA GAVIN

I have long admired Francesca Gavin and her socially and politically engaged, cross platform work in the arts, but I recently had the pleasure of working with her in my capacity as Director of Programmes at Somerset House. I commissioned her to develop a project she had realised in Paris and curate the brilliant exhibition Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi supported by Somerset House’s team.

I am in awe of her fearless enthusiasm and zest for life, her breadth of knowledge and her can-do, collaborative, and considerate approach to working with artists, designers, and institutions and organisations. Her answers to this interview are reflective of her transparent, receptive and open way of thinking about the world and broad range of interests.


Francesca Gavin is a curator and writer based in London. She is the Art Editor of Twin, editor at large at Kaleidoscope and contributing editor at Good Trouble, Beauty Papers and Semaine. She was the co-curator of the Historical Exhibition of Manifesta11 and has curated exhibitions internationally including The Dark Cube (Palais de Tokyo), E-Vapor-8 (Site Sheffield), and The New Psychedelia (Mu).

She established the Soho House group collection for seven years, amassing over 3000 artworks. Gavin has written six books including Watch This Space, The Book of Hearts, 100 New Artists and Hell Bound: New Gothic Art, and contributed to numerous publications including The Financial Times, Dazed, wallpaper*, Mousse, AnOther and Newsweek. She has a monthly radio show Rough Version on NTS Radio on art and music.

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now that is helping you to stay positive?

Dancing. Doing online commercial and heels dance classes twice a day peppered with Instagram Live work outs, Pilates and stretch classes. Basically, putting my attention on the physical to switch my brain off. My attention span has gone out the window and I can barely watch a 30 min episode let alone a movie. I've managed one short book - which I think deserved an award.

What are your core values and drivers that you bring to your curatorial work? What do you care about?

Providing opportunity and attention for artists who are not necessarily part of the big financial market scene. I am a big fan of positive discrimination when putting together shows and am always conscious of the percentage of female, POC and queer artists in the shows I put together. I am driven by the desire to make art as interesting and accessible to as wide an audience as possible. Make people who would not necessarily feel comfortable with a white cube, inspired, and interested in contemporary art.

Carsten Holler, Pilzkoffer (Mushroom Suitcase), 2008, Featured in Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi, at Somerset House. Photo © Mark Blower

How do you develop your curatorial ideas? How you test or scope your ideas?

A lot of my shows have emerged out of my background, which I’m aware has influenced my taste. I come from a very left-wing family with a writer mother and actor/singer father. I lived in Los Angeles and Woodstock, upstate NY between the age of 3 and 11. My parents are both major bibliophiles and I grew up surrounded by books on esoteric, spirituality, aliens, plants, travel and was living in a town that still resonated with the aftermath of the Counter Culture. Most of my shows have touched on ideas that have emerged from ideas around psychedelic. I definitely am inspired by the innovation and politics that came out of the late 1960s and 1970s. I was also a computer game nerd and technology is another running theme of interest in my exhibitions, as well as the topic of my last book. I learnt to read music before I learnt to read, and that is another running interest. I DJed for a decade, still have a love of club culture and my radio show is a focus for that interest in art practices.

Ideas for shows come quite naturally. I buy magazines constantly and make scrapbooks out of things that excite me. When not in lockdown, I see shows every day. I travel a lot and look at things constantly. Ideas come out of the work that I'm seeing. I make connections between things in my head and it goes from there. I've always called myself a journalistic curator - as writing is 50% of what I do - and putting together a show is a very similar process as putting together a thematic article or book.

Francesca Gavin with Appau Junior Boakye-Yiadom for Rough Version on NTS radio

How do you discover artists and what makes you finally decide you want to work with an artist?

Everywhere. Project spaces, Instagram, online shows, art magazines, all art fairs, gallery weekends and obviously galleries. Socially I'll meet a lot, particularly when I travel and have more freedom to hang out.

It is always the work that makes me decided to work with someone. If what they are making resonates with a project in progress or sparks ideas in my head. I should do more studio visits, but I never want to waste an artist's time unless I'm working on something specific.

How do you gauge which artists and artworks will be interesting to audiences?

I'm looking for originality, beauty, and interesting take on existence. Thinking of the audience reaction is not necessarily affecting my decision to work with someone - but placing them in a context where their work makes interesting statements and juxtapositions is.

Graham Little, Untitled (Wood), 2019, Featured in Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi, at Somerset House. Courtesy of Alison Jacques Gallery, London

What do you offer or provide artists in the curatorial relationship?

A platform to show their work. I often work with artists more than once if that process has gone well and their work suits future projects.

Can you describe what you ideally want to achieve when curating an exhibition?

An exhibition that makes people think and inspires ideas around politics, meaning, beauty and how we experience the world. I want people to have fun as much as use their brains.

The New Psychedelica, MU, April 8 - June 5, 2011

Can you describe one of your most rewarding relationships with an artist - what factors made it enjoyable?

I love working with Ben Sainsbury. He is an incredible artist who does not show enough but I know I can trust implicitly to create fascinating work that response to a particular idea or context. He was in my first ever exhibition of reworked postcards Improved, the ultraviolet show The Dark Cube I put on at Palais de Tokyo, The New Psychedelica at MU, Eindhoven and most recently in a window show I did for Ballon Rouge in Brussels last summer Have A Butcher's. We come from similar backgrounds. He grew up down the road from me in North London. We overlapped on the skate scene. He is immensely hands-on when working on a show and I always know the results will pop. I only wish I had a gallery so I could coax him to show his work more!

What risks have you taken in curating that perhaps did not go so well but you learnt the most from?

Honestly? Co-curating the Historical Exhibition of Manifesta 11 in Zurich was a huge eye opener. I expected that getting 100 out of 130 artists for one of the biggest biennials in the world, with a show in four of the most respected institutions in Switzerland would lead to more career opportunities. While the process of creating the show with Christian Jankowski was enjoyable, I was quickly written out of the biennial's narrative and nothing direct came out of the show (partly because no one knew I did it). I’m still very proud of the artists I put in the show - people like Susan Hiller, James Son Ford Thomas, Adrien Piper, Rachel Harrison, Anne Collier, Thornton Dial. I learnt to be very careful about how I was credited and to make sure that I bring a lot of credit to whatever team I work with on shows. There is no such thing as a single curator. Exhibitions are very much collaborative efforts and show have cast list in the same way as films.

Alex Morrison, Mushroom Motif (Black and Ochre), 2017, Featured in Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi, at Somerset House. Courtesy of the artist, care of L’inconnue Gallery, Montreal

What is one of your personal favourite exhibitions or events you have curated and why?

So hard to choose. I'm very proud of Manifesta 11 for its scale and ambition but I would have to say Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi which I curated at Somerset House. It opened at the end of January and I was blown away by its success. I was working with an incredible team - notably Berta Zubrickaite and Claire Catterall in house, and Pentagram as designers for the show. We had up to 1800 people visiting per day and I think many people look at fungi in a whole new light.

Cochlea Brick Tuft, by Hamish Pearch. Featured in Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi, at Somerset House. Courtesy of the artist

What would you hope that people experience and learn from seeing one of your exhibitions or events?

That contemporary art is not as alienating, pretentious or irrelevant as they may think. That looking at art can make you think of the world in new ways.

Seana Gavin, collage installation view, Featured in Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi, at Somerset House. © Mark Blower

What emerging artists are you excited by right now and why?

Emerging art is one of my favourite things and I want to revive my regular Monday instagram post bringing attention to new talent #newmoononmonday. I'm very into the work of some young Black British artists Dominique White, Rhea Dillon, Appau Jr Boakye-Yiadom and Ashley Holmes for example, whose visual language and references I find very interesting and emotive.

What helpful resources would you recommend to artists?

Auto Italia South East does some amazing work curatorially and in other ways. Currently they are helping artists with applications for funding and residencies, an almost esoteric process to those outside of institutions.

Do you have any advice for artists working with curators?

Be collaborative. Understand they are trying to balance many factors to make a show work. If you have issues with things don't let it fester - be open, honest, and polite as quickly and early as possible.

For more info on Francesca visit her website or follow her on socials @roughversion

All feedback, recommendations, links, and ideas welcome!

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Coming Next...

An interview with the awesome Will Jarvis, Co-Founder, The Sunday Painter Gallery @TSPGALLERY

Blog-Eleanor

Interview: ELEANOR MORETON

I first met Eleanor Moreton in 2007, when she was Durham Cathedral Artist in Residence.

I knew before we met that I loved and connected with her paintings, but during that first meeting I was also struck by her curiosity, playful sense of humour, delight in the absurd, and her unwavering commitment to challenging the status quo.

I have been lucky enough to have many rewarding discussions since with Eleanor, during studio visits and in making exhibitions together. I relish our conversations, as she peppers them with references to music, philosophy, poetry, European history, and reveals brilliant insights into other artists work. She is one of the most interesting and interested artists I know.

Her work is informed by this wide-ranging research and a passion for developing new skills. When she's not painting, she’s reading, playing or performing on the violin, dancing, meditating, cooking or caring for friends.

Her rich, multifaceted paintings reflect her highly attuned ability to conjure yet simultaneously deconstruct the subject, the surface, the frame; seducing the viewer yet rejecting the possibility of allowing them to soak up the sun for too long. Eleanor reveals the power at play, the beauty and the horror of our questionable relations. She is always unflinchingly honest.

Eleanor Moreton is a painter who lives in London. She studied painting at Exeter College of Art (BA), Chelsea School of Art (MA), and Art History at the University of Central England (MA).

Her most recent solo show was Wodewose, at Arusha Gallery in Edinburgh, 2019. Previous  solo shows include A Cold Wind From The Mountains, Exeter Phoenix, Exeter, 2017; Monro Room, The House of St Barnabas, London, 2016; California Dreaming, Canal, London, 2015; Tales of Love and Darkness, Ceri Hand Gallery, London, 2014; I See the Bones in the River, Ceri Hand Gallery, London, 2012 (reviewed in Art Monthly by Peter Suchin); The Ladies of Shalott, Jack Hanley Gallery, New York, (reviewed in Art in America by Julian Kreimer), 2010; Im Wartezimmer, Ceri Hand Gallery, Liverpool, (reviewed by Jonathan Griffin, Interface, and Robert Clark, The Guardian, 2010) touring to The Terrace Gallery, Harewood House, Leeds, 2010; A Buried Life, Reg Vardy Gallery, Sunderland, (reviewed by Robert Rob Clark, The Guardian, 2008; Eleanor Moreton Paintings, DLI, Durham, 2008.

Key group exhibitions include The Classical, Transition Gallery, London; Sampler, Arcade Fine Arts, London, 2017; Liberties, The Exchange, Penzance, and Collyer Bristow, London, 2016, with Helen Chadwick, Rose English, Hayley Newman and Jo Spence.

Her work can be seen in The Anomie Review of Contemporary British Painting by Matt Price, (Anomie, 2018) and Picturing People by Charlotte Mullins, (Thames and Hudson
, 2015). She has participated in art fairs including Frieze Art Fair, London, Art Rotterdam, NADA Miami, The Armory Show, New York, VOLTA, Basel and Manchester Contemporary.

The Way (entering the meadow of certainty), 2019, Oil on canvas, 170 x 210 cms

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now that is helping you to stay positive?

I decided I would try and use the time as a sort of retreat, to pause and reflect on my life. Tending my garden, cycling around Wanstead Flats have kept me cheerful, and nice chats with friends and neighbours.

What are you working on and how has the lockdown affected your ideas, processes and chosen medium?

The real way that Covid19 and lockdown have affected my work is in a sense of compression and intensity. The lack of distraction has reminded me of long periods in my life when I buried myself in my work. Whilst I wouldn't choose to do that now, it does have a calming effect, because making art is one thing you can do, one place you can be, where you can affect change.

The frustrations and complexities of relationships are on hold, which, though sad, has been restful.

I don't know whether this is related to lockdown, but I've being trying out working on unprimed canvas. Perhaps lockdown gave me a container to do that. And maybe there's a sense of distance too, so it feels possible to stand back and assess where things are going in my work.

The Family Wood, 2018, Oil on canvas, 90 x 120 cms

What do you usually have or need in your studio to inspire and motivate you?

I need to be warm and I need a teapot (with tea in it); all my materials around me, a chair, a wall and writing paper.

What systems, rituals and processes do you use to help you get into the creative zone?

I have a mantra that anything goes in my studio. I can work, or I can not work. It is a space of possibility and not of obligation or duty. I do what I feel like doing. It must be pleasurable, if I want to spend time in it and freedom is what gives me pleasure.

What recurring questions do you return to in your work?

What a challenging question! My work is very closely connected to my inner life. So recurring questions are 'Why am I the way I am?', 'Why are they the way they are?', 'Why are things the way they are?'.

I recognise that I am fascinated by what in previous eras would have been called Evil and by those who get pulled into its orbit. Hence paintings about Charles Manson, murderers, Bluebeard, Josef Fritzl. I am interested in sexuality and repression, masculinity, and femininity. Whilst there is a strong psychological component in my work, I don't take one theoretical position. In fact, my work is an attempt to get away from theoretical positions. Painting for me has been about moving the activities of the mind into the body.

The Murderers, 2016, Oil on canvas, 76 x 81 cms

What do you care about?

I was brought up a vegetarian when nobody else was, which was awkward. Children's parties where I was afraid to eat in case I inadvertently ate meat. So I always had this horror of killing animals. I find I am getting more and more upset by the way we try to dominate the natural world.

I care about the position of girls and women in many parts of the world. I would like to see an end to FGM.

What risks have you taken in your work that paid off?

I can't think of any! Perhaps because I don't think there are any real risks in making artwork, unless you make something that falls on someone's head. That is one of the amazing things about art. You can do anything because no one's going to die (well there are a few instances where people have voluntarily made that their area of investigation). And I can't really think of anything I have done which I could say paid off either.

Hole, 2019, Oil on Canvas, 35 x 30 cms

What risks have you taken that perhaps did not go so well but you learnt the most from?

There are many times when I've tried to make paintings and they have gone under, swamped by over-working and, perhaps, under-preparation. But nothing is lost. Nearly every painting is a learning experience.

I think there is something about contemporary painting which is, and should be, quite humble. I don't think a painting has been made that is riskier than Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon, and that was made more than a century ago. That was an amazing era when painting was clearly taking the obvious risks and adventures. I think the risks we take now are subtle, psychological, philosophical. Painters know we're not considered at the cutting edge in the art world. Yet we still do it. In my view, the risk and the challenge are to go, possibly quietly, into the absurd and the incomprehensible.

Toad, 2019, Oil on canvas, 50 x 45 cms

What is your favourite exhibition you have participated in and why?

I mostly love being in group shows and the moment when you have finished hanging a solo show is fantastic. I have to say though that it's really all over then. I don't really enjoy Private Views.

But I do absolutely love performing on stage with John Hegley: a high point for me was a late spot at Latitude with a big audience, many of whom had flowers in their hair. Another was at the Udderbelly Festival on the Southbank, in a beautiful venue, rather like an old music hall, joined by Diego Brown and the Good Fairy. More recently in a cabaret at the Wanstead Tap, with the fantastic Frank Chickens topping the bill.

What would you hope that people experience from encountering your work?

What stage performing with John has shown me is how joy can be spread and how humour can bring brief respite to our lives. I think this is profound and humbling.

Of all the visual arts, I think painting has the most power to touch us in a deep, complex, non-literal way (of course I would think that!). I can think of a few painters who succeed in this, but it's rare. I would like to touch people in that way although I don't think I'm there yet. Writing this reminds me to focus on that aim.

Shopping, 2019, Oil on Canvas, 50 x 40 cms

Could you tell us a bit more about at a time when you felt stuck and what you did to help yourself out of it?

When I was at Chelsea doing my MA, my father died, and I found myself blank. On the advice of my tutor, I went out with a video camera with a very open mind, curiosity, no agenda.

When that sense of lack happens to me now I'm very gentle with myself, and gentle with my work.

When I'm stuck struggling with a particular painting, that's a different thing. I work on many paintings at the same time and when one is proving difficult, I just put it out of sight and work on another. At some point you'll take the original painting by surprise and know what needs to be done.

Walking, 2019, Oil on Canvas, 45 x 35 cms

What kind of studio visits, conversations or meetings with curators, producers, writers, press, gallerists, or collectors do you enjoy or get the most out of?

I don't get many conversations and I'm always curious about what people say. I like to hear the positive and the negative because it's all useful. It's always good to see Rosalind Davis from Collyer Bristow, Agnieszka Prendota from Arusha Gallery, yourself, and Monika Bobinska who ran Canal.

Do you have a trusted muse, mentor, network, or circle of friends you consult for critical feedback?

Yes, but very few! The relationship must be very trusting for me to know I'm hearing their truth and for them to feel safe to tell it.

Which artists or creatives do you feel your work is in conversation with?

That's very difficult. There are painters whom I admire and feel a connection to, like Mama Andersson, Jochim Nordstrom, Hernon Bas, Michael Armitage. There are photographers like Stan Douglas who resonate. They are all image makers and storytellers. However, these are only one-way conversations. Amongst my peers, I would say there are various low-key painterly (and personal) conversations going on, between me and Cathy Lomax, Jacqueline Utley, Jeff Dennis, Greg Rook, John Campbell, and Freya Douglas Morris - and others.

The Hunting of the Wodewose 3, 2020, Oil on canvas, 52 x 80 cms

How do you make money to support your practice?

I've done many things: lecturing, admin, cleaning. I was a PA in the House of Lords for a year, I worked at the Institute of Psychiatry, interviewing Alzheimer’s carers another year. Most recently I worked in the finance department for the studio providers, Acme. To be honest, I gave up lecturing because it was so hard to get. I needed to make money and took the path of least resistance.

What compromises have you made to sustain your practice?

I think the compromises early on were huge. I did meaningless, unsatisfying work, so I was very poor; I put my personal life second. I stayed in unhealthy relationships, I didn't even consider whether I could have a family. I didn't expect to have very much, and I think at times life was much bleaker than most people outside the art world would tolerate. For quite a long time I blamed my practice for this, but now I can see the bigger picture better.

What advice would you give your past self?

Believe in yourself. Be brave, be seen.

Gift 2, 2020, Oil on canvas, 52 x 80 cms

Can you recommend a book, film, or podcast that you have been inspired by that transformed you're thinking?

In painting, I think finding the work of Karen Kilimnik was transformative. I was brought up to over-invest in logical thinking and I tended to try and think my way through painting. In Karen's work I saw the kind of dreaming and fantasy which was natural to me, but which I hadn't realised was allowed. I was for a long time very hidebound by what I thought was allowed. After that, painting stopped being painful.

A book that was transformative would be Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche's 'Shambhala - The Sacred Path of The Warrior'. It was my introduction to the practice of Tibetan Buddhism.

Follow Eleanor @eleanor_moreton or visit www.eleanormoreton.co.uk

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Coming Next...

An interview with Francesca Gavin, curator and writer based in London. She is the Art Editor of Twin, editor at large at Kaleidoscope and contributing editor at Good Trouble, Beauty Papers and Semaine. She was the co-curator of the Historical Exhibition of Manifesta11 and has curated exhibitions internationally including Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi (Somerset House); The Dark Cube (Palais de Tokyo), E-Vapor-8 (Site Sheffield), and The New Psychedelia (Mu).

Blog-Gaika

Interview: GAIKA

GAIKA is an artist, musician and writer based at Somerset House Studios.

The first major work I encountered by him that lifted and moved me was SYSTEM, a pulsating, flickering, interactive shrine, a call and response and homage to the cultural impact of Notting Hill Carnival.

I love the intensity of his live performances and his attentive, brooding vocals and haunting soundscapes. GAIKA’s astute and unwavering commitment to addressing blackness, immigration and the brutal hypocrisy and constrictions of our political systems resulted in commissioning his work Heaters 4 the 2 Seaters for the 2019 exhibition Get Up, Stand Up Now: Generations of Black Creative Pioneers.

His uniquely dystopian, poetic vision and ability to shape-shift between art forms and contexts also made him the perfect fit for Somerset House’s annual outdoor commission 100 Names of God: Hymns from the Spectacular Empire - an audio-visual light-fest for the senses, ice-skaters and wider community.

GAIKA’s work punctures a membrane between spirituality, activism, and popular culture.

Photograph by Emanuel S

GAIKA, born Gaika Tavares, is a musician known for his futuristic beats and conceptual art. Born in London to parents from Grenada and Jamaica, he has forged a solo career as one of the leading voices in British rap. He previously described his interactive sculptural work Heaters for the 2 Seaters as a "technologically-advanced superior-premium-reaganomic-multisensory mixtape for air-borne professionals who like John Woo and promises every attendee will get a glass of Cristal."

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now that is helping you to stay positive?

I'm just making a lot of stuff, so I don't completely lose the plot - so I'm not really consuming much music outside my own.

I did listen to Mother by Goldie on repeat for a bit and S.O.S Band Sands of Time is on heavy rotation on my system.

I'm drawing odd organic things with no conscious purpose.

I'm watching a lot of very nerdy music gear videos fantasising about my post-Covid beachside studio situation.

What are you working on and how has the lockdown affected your ideas, processes and chosen medium?

I'm working on a number of different things; a big audio-visual broadcast installation work, a Zoom party series, an essay film, various remixes and a sound sculpture work.

I struggle to work at home, but I've managed to build a control centre in my living room and crack on.

Image courtesy of the artist

What do you usually have or need in your studio to inspire and motivate you?

I need peace and quiet, so I usually work in the dead of night like some sort of traphouse vampire.

What systems, rituals and processes do you use to help you get into the creative zone?

Something I call "two-wheel dérive" - I go for a random cycle in the day just orienteering around without the use of a map, taking it all in for a bit.

What recurring questions do you return to in your work?

Are we living in an elaborate simulation? Am I really sorry for breaking your heart? When does the rioting start?

What do you care about?

Everyone I have ever met.

What risks have you taken in your work that paid off?

I think not sitting in the comfort of expectation that comes with one form of success has been a risk worth taking.

I entered the music world with a background in visual art and regardless of the success of my records, I still felt compelled to continue that journey as an artist

Ploughing forward into new territory more based in structure and mixing that with video and music work could have failed spectacularly. At first, I battled with a certain amount of imposter syndrome.

Seguridad: Cash Fractals 01, 2020, Strange Edition, New York, Photograph: Guarionex Rodriguez Jr

What risks have you taken that perhaps did not go so well but you learnt the most from?

Honestly, I think my vocal political musings have a detrimental effect on my career. I think people often turn to music for comfortable, easy answers or diversions.

This is rarely something found in my work directly, as I aim more often to ask mortally difficult questions.

I won’t play the game, I won’t separate my art from myself for any reason and I think this is a risky strategy in the era of artistic commodification across disciplines.

I think I am, above all, an authentic person. In hindsight, I think there is, and was, a naiveté in thinking that I could engage with certain entities considering the politics of today, barefaced, without strife.

Seguridad: Cash Fractals 01, 2020, Strange Edition, New York, Photograph: Guarionex Rodriguez Jr

What is your favourite exhibition, event, or performance you have participated in and why?

My favourite thing is always the last thing I did. I recently debuted a show in NYC called Cash Fractals after a three-month residency. It was a mixture of processed video, generative sound, and performance. I hope we get to do it again somewhere.

What would you hope that people experience from encountering your work?

My works are largely considerations of psychogeography, morality, technology, memory, and emotion.

I want people to get truly lost in the worlds I build, and for that journeying to trigger internal investigations beyond the moment of encounter.

Seguridad: Cash Fractals 01, 2020, Strange Edition, New York, Photograph: Guarionex Rodriguez Jr

Could you tell us a bit more about at a time when you felt stuck and what you did to help yourself out of it?

I always juggle different projects at the same time, to avoid feeling creatively stuck in one place although I do tend to hyper-focus on work to the point I can't sleep.

Recently I just felt overwhelmed and despondent by everything that’s going on. I thought I’d do some aerobics and ended up in a hole of Billy Blanks Tae Bo® Fitness videos online.

I sampled the (fire) music and then and took up skipping on my porch for a bit instead. Seemed to do the trick.

Image courtesy of the artist

What kind of studio visits, conversations or meetings with curators, producers, writers, press, gallerists, or collectors do you enjoy or get the most out of?

For me studio visits from people who have been traditionally excluded from the art world by circumstance are the most rewarding.

Gallerists or curators that facilitate these sorts of experiences are worth their weight in gold.

If you work with a commercial gallery / agent / label how does this relationship affect or inform your work and life? hat emerging artists are you excited by right now and why?

I think this is a hugely important relationship, your representative can shape your career and therefore your life with the choices they make.

I've always tried to make sure that everyone I work with in terms of sales is aligned with my creative visions, or artistic ambitions

Otherwise, the relationship is totally pointless. I'm very hands-on with the commissioning process so there are no gaps in communication.

I always try and make sure my agent also knows the materiality of any planned works and the detailed technical capabilities of my studio.

Do you have a trusted muse, mentor, network, or circle of friends you consult for critical feedback?

Muse? As cliched as it is, I am very much inspired by relationships past and present. Romance is how and where I anchor memories and contextualise more intricate political philosophies.

In terms of criticism I've got some really good people I look to, in order to tell me the raw truth, as they see it. It's not always advice I follow though, but it does definitely help.

I'm blessed in never really feeling shy in sharing unfinished work or protective about it in in anyway, as I don't think anything I do really matters like that.

I'm always sending my people demos and sketches, I suppose its cathartic in a way.  They say it's difficult to keep up and weird especially as I rarely revisit my own work once it's finished and out.

My circle is super diverse but most of them aren't people the outside world would consider artistic peers. I think it’s difficult to get or give objective criticism if there’s any element of competition.

Also, a lot of my circle take it upon themselves to archive my work as they know I won’t, I’m glad about that. For me, it’s always what’s next....

Photograph by Emanuel S

Which artists or creatives do you feel you’re work is in conversation with?

Torkwase Dyson, San Yuan and Peng Yu, Hassan Rahim, Dean Blunt, RZA.

How do you make money to support your practice?

With great difficulty currently, I only make cash directly from my practice.

What compromises have you made to sustain your practice?

I've definitely made compromises in terms of my physical and mental wellbeing by constantly working.

What advice would you give your past self?

Respectability Is Immaterial.

Can you recommend a book, film, or podcast that you have been inspired by that transformed you're thinking?

I can recommend a few books:

Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files; The Designer and the Grid by Julia Thrift and Lucienne Roberts; The Bed and Bath book by Terence Conran and Journey to Nowhere: A New World Tragedy by Shiva Naipaul.

Follow GAIKA @gaikasees or visit www.gaika.co  @warprecords @somersethousestudios

 

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Coming Next...

Another refreshingly honest interview with Eleanor Moreton, a London-based, prolific painter, who has exhibited internationally in public and private galleries and at art fairs...

Blog-George-Vasey

Interview: GEORGE VASEY

I first met George Vasey in 2013 at my gallery in London and subsequently enjoyed the text he published in a newspaper, as part of his MFA curating course at Goldsmiths. I have enjoyed following his career and programming ever since. I admire his gentle, inquisitive, interrogative, considerate and generous approach.

I am also humbled by his voracious appetite for research and his extraordinary knowledge of so many different aspects of culture and society, evident in his responses below. His curatorial approach weaves art historical and contemporary references, artworks, images and objects together, so they resonate and riff off each other. His exhibitions are sensory and intellectually rich, playful, meaning-full and respectful to the artists vision. It’s clear in all manifestations of his ideas that he loves art and artists and is committed to bringing their work to a wider public.

Photograph by Thomas Farnetti. Source Wellcome Collection 

George Vasey is a curator at Wellcome Collection and writer. He has curated projects across the UK in commercial and public galleries. He has previously worked as Curator at Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art (NGCA), Sunderland and as a Curatorial Fellow at Newcastle University. In 2017 he co-curated the Turner Prize at Ferens Art Gallery, Hull. His writing has been published in Art Monthly, Burlington Contemporary, Frieze, and Mousse magazine. He is a trustee at New Contemporaries, an Artist Adviser for Jerwood Arts and on the executive committee for AICA UK. .

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now that is helping you to stay positive?

I listened to a podcast recently where the musician Laura Marling describes writing as “breathing out” and research as “breathing in” the world around her. This moment feels like a breathing in period where I’m processing what is happening. I’ve been reading a lot and recently enjoyed books from Rachel Cusk, Rebecca Solnit and Jia Tolentino. I’m currently reading Elton John’s Me which is very funny. I just finished Jerry Saltz’ How to be An Artist which is full of great advice.

I’ve been listening to lots of podcasts and watching online projects. I’ve particularly enjoyed Transmissions by Tai Shani, Anne Duffau and Hana Noorali. My partner Elinor Morgan and I listen into Jonathan P Watt’s Radio Caroline most nights. It’s great to feel part of an online community that these projects foster. Music is a huge part of what makes me happy and I’ve enjoyed new albums from Caribou, BC Camplight, Fiona Apple and Childish Gambino.

Shona Macnaughton performing at Blend the Acclaim of your Chant with the Timbrels, 2016, Jerwood Space London. Image copyright of Hydar Dewachi 

What are your core values and drivers that you bring to your curatorial work? What do you care about?

I’m just fairly obsessed by art. It hooked me as a teenager and in some ways, I wish I’d found a passion with a job that was more secure and paid more, but that’s life! I feel very fortunate that I get paid to work with artists and learn from them. I make sense of the world through art (and music, films and books) and care deeply about what artists can bring to the world. I want to make galleries and museums feel more accessible to audiences and ensure that more people from a diverse range of backgrounds have opportunities in the art world.

I remember training around 800 volunteers for Hull City of Culture when I co-curated the Turner Prize in 2017. It was such as transformative experience and it articulates what I care about — sharing an enthusiasm for culture with others. Many of the volunteers were so committed and energised and they wanted to learn about contemporary art. I once heard somebody say that a curator’s role is to turn confusion into curiosity, and I think that nails it.

The Everyday Political, 2018, (installation view). Photography by Damian Griffiths. Courtesy of Artists and Southwark Park Galleries

How do you develop your curatorial ideas? How you test or scope your ideas? 

When working up an idea for an exhibition I ask myself some simple questions; why should I do this now? What form should it take? Who is it for? Who should be part of the conversation? These questions are really crucial in developing an idea into a workable proposal. My ideas often come tangentially, and they can percolate for many years. They often emerge while I’m washing the dishes, having a conversation with someone or going for a run. Ideas are shaped in conversation with artists and peers, and each project is formed through these collaborations. What you often see in the gallery is a negotiation between lots of different factors. Ideas are the easy part and turning them into compelling projects takes lots of strategy, time, commitment and energy.

A good example of how an idea became an exhibition was These Rotten Words, an exhibition I curated at Chapter Arts Centre in 2017. The title came from a photograph of graffiti that Mark Leckey posted on Instagram that said, “words don’t mean anything anymore.” I just loved the poetry of the statement. It made me think about political disempowerment. I thought about the idea of disillusion being a fertile space for new forms and how punk music often played with the repetition of words to shift their meaning into melody. I liked the word rotten (after Johnny Rotten) and thought it framed the ways in which some artists I’d been in conversation with (Anna Barham, Anneke Kampman, and Marie-Michelle Deschamps) were playing with language. Hannah Firth invited me to do an exhibition alongside a festival they were doing around the spoken word and the show came together.

These Rotten Words, 2017, Chapter Art Centre, Cardiff. Image courtesy of Jamie Woodley. Work left to right: Anneke Kampman, Rebecca Ackroyd and Joanna Piotrowska 

How do you discover artists and what makes you finally decide you want to work with an artist?

I go to a lot of degree shows and see as many exhibitions as I can. A lot of artists get in contact with me and people recommend artists all the time. I try and do studio visits as much as possible. Over the years I’ve discovered many great artists through New Contemporaries and Jerwood Arts, two organisations who have both played a pivotal role in giving artists their first real exposure and I’m now involved with in different ways.

Working with artists is often about building relationships. I may put an artist in a group show and if the conversation is fruitful that may build into a commission or solo show. I often write about an artist’s work and develop a relationship that way. Of course, I work with someone because the work is good but it’s important that we both get something from the collaboration and that we can work well together. I want to feel like I’m useful for an artist and not every artist needs the kind of support I can offer.

Shona Macnaughton performing at Blend the Acclaim of your Chant with the Timbrels, 2016, Jerwood Space London. Image copyright of Hydar Dewachi


How do you gauge which artists and artworks will be interesting to audiences?

I trust my gut instinct and I try and listen to what audiences are saying. A trendy early career artist may get you lots of attention in the art world but have little traction with local audiences in Sunderland. With an exhibition programme you’re trying to take people on a journey that registers on a local as well as national level.

I think if the rationale of an exhibition or programme is embedded in a story people are interested in they will engage with it. You’re trying to figure what is important to people and then undermine or at least broaden their expectations. People want to understand the rationale for the work in front of them — it’s often not the work that’s boring or inaccessible, it’s the interpretation. People want something to hook onto. I don’t believe that the curator’s job is to tell people what value art has to their lives has, but empower people to contribute to, and contest, what is valuable to society. When people come into a gallery and tell me that they don’t understand the work, I often say; “good, neither do I.” Let’s learn together.

What do you offer or provide artists in the curatorial relationship?

I studied art originally and made work for years and came into curating through putting on shows in my front room. I know what it feels like to sit in a cold studio and be lost with your own work. I think artists typically need space, time, money and dialogue to make their work. In the first instance I offer recognition and discussion. I’m a fan and a critical friend. If the right opportunities come together, I can help with fundraising and create visibility for the work. Sometimes that can be as simple as a nomination for an award, a recommendation to another curator or an actual show.

When I work with an artist, I’m offering them my attention. I often say that I’m a curator not a magician. I have no magic wand and I make no promises, but I’ll work hard for the artist to help them in any feasible way I can.

Can you describe what you ideally want to achieve when curating an exhibition?

I’m aiming to achieve different things with specific projects. I’m trying to add something to the cultural landscape and to foreground the voices of artists I think are doing interesting things and perhaps I feel are being overlooked. At Wellcome Collection, where I currently work, we aim to challenge how people think and feel about health, so the projects are really attempting to bring art into conversation with cultural and scientific discourse — to critically examine assumptions, and to explore how knowledge is formed through particular ideological structures.

What I’m typically trying to achieve with an exhibition is the sense of something prescient that has a personality. A good show is the product of lots of listening and good conversation. Ultimately, I want to learn something through the process of curating. Each project takes something out of me and gives me something and I want to surprise people and surprise myself. I want to go on a journey with an artist. I’m like a companion on a walk — although I’m useless reading maps.

Can you describe one of your most rewarding relationships with an artist - what factors made it enjoyable?

There have been so many artists who have become friends so I wouldn’t want to single one out! A good relationship with an artist is super crucial. I’ve worked on exhibitions and commissions for two years where you’re speaking to the artist daily. I think transparency and honesty are really important. Problems arise when an artist feels like the institution isn’t listening or caring about their work. What I’ve learned is that it’s good to be really clear from the outset about roles and responsibilities and not to over promise and also for the artist to be clear about what they need.

Sometimes artists just want to be left alone, others want to talk about everything, and you become a sounding board. The relationships that have been most rewarding for me are when it’s a conversation and you feel that the artist respects your advice and you’re helping them to figure something out about their own work.

Potholes: Drawings of Eric Bainbridge, 1981-2016, 2016 at Workplace Gallery, London. Image courtesy of Workplace Gallery

What risks have you taken in curating that perhaps did not go so well but you learnt the most from?

I’ve curated projects that really haven’t worked that I’m proud of because I was trying something out. Through experience I’ve realised that it's best to start with something simple and build on that. Complex projects quickly unravel unless there is a strict framework.

The projects that I think haven’t worked so well are ones where I’ve tried to respond to a hot topic and not followed my own passion. I often say to students, what is the question your project is posing? If you can’t answer that, the project needs reassessing. I think it’s important to listen and be part of a community, but it takes time — for me at least — to figure out what is personally important.

I do think that bad curating tends to be a kind of visual mixtape, assimilating hot trends but bringing little to the party. So that’s what I think a lot about; what’s my take on this? Who can help me tell this story? I also think it’s crucial to know when to insert your voice and when to take a step back. It’s important to foreground other people’s voices that can tell stories you can’t and learn from these voices.

Turner, 2015, (installation view) at Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art. Photo courtesy of Cornelia Baltese

What is one of your personal favourite exhibitions or events you have curated and why?

A few projects stand out. The first exhibition I curated at Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art was a solo show by Joanna Piotrowska who has gone on to have exhibitions at Tate Britain and be included in the Berlin Biennale and in a show at MoMA. I did a show of paintings (displayed horizontally on wheels) with Cornelia Baltes with a budget of £500 that was bought by the Arts Council Collection. It’s great when you’ve committed to an artist and helped them in some small way on their onward success.

The Everyday Political at Southwark Park Galleries in 2018 was also an important show for me. The director Judith Carlton invited me to curate an exhibition of artists from the North-East to coincide with The Great Exhibition of the North. I still feel really proud of that show as it made me re-evaluate how to make group exhibitions. It felt like a time capsule and captured the conversations I was having with artists such as Joy Labinjo, Adam Phillips from Foundation Press, Emily Hesse and Holly Argent among others.

It was the product of so many studio visits and long discussions with people like Paul Moss at Workplace Gallery and Judith. I have a lot of fond memories of the project. I ended up co-editing an issue of Art Licks with Holly Willats off the back of that show exploring strategic regionalism — the idea of working into the centre rather than working from the centre outwards. It was about regionalism as an idea rather than a location.

The Everyday Political, 2018, Southwark Park Galleries, London, Image courtesy of Damian Griffiths
Work left to right: Joy Labinjo, Women Artists of the North East Library, Harriet Sutcliffe and Kuba Ryniewicz

What would you hope that people experience and learn from seeing one of your exhibitions or events?

I think that people should know themselves and the world slightly less when they encounter an artwork. I think good exhibitions can raise questions, create nuance, and undermine expectations. I also want people to be inspired.

Do you help fundraise for the show you curate & if so how?

Yes, more so in some contexts. When I worked as curator at NGCA I had to fundraise for every show and most independent projects need to be fundraised for. You’re normally modelling various outcomes for a project based on whether you’ll get money or not. Money has typically come from trusts and foundations, universities, Arts Council, many countries have some form of public funding that enable you to work with international artists. Occasionally commercial galleries and collectors have put money into projects, but my experience is that its typically about building value for projects by sourcing in-kind support and partnerships that can bring money into commissioning opportunities for artists.

Sick Ardour, 2018, Anna Barham at Newcastle University. Image courtesy of Anna Barham

What emerging artists are you excited by right now and why?

You’ve finally stumped me! Lots and I’ll probably forget loads of great people. So, I’ll just focus on artists I saw at last year’s degree shows. Sof’ya Shpurova makes enigmatic and surrealist figurative paintings that riff on Russian folklore and contemporary motifs. They felt very mature for such a young artist. Ayo Akingbade who is currently at the Royal Academy and is already doing incredibly well. Akingbade makes fantastic short-form lyrical documentary films that explore power, identity and community. I can’t wait to see more work by her. Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley’s VR work at the Slade BA show really stayed with me. The work “centres black Trans experience” and it was an intense and psychedelic experience that is really an assault on the senses and makes you feel intensely vulnerable. It’s one of the most interesting uses of VR I’ve experienced.

Misbehaving Bodies: Jo Spence & Oreet Ashery at Wellcome Collection, 2019. Co-curated with Bárbara Rodríguez Muñoz. Image courtesy of the Wellcome Collection, London

What helpful resources would you recommend to artists?

A-N (Artist’s Newsletter) is a great place for practical advice on fees and contracts etc. Artsquest is great also. It depends where you are based but a lot of organisations such as The Newbridge Project (Gateshead), SPACE (London) Eastside Projects (Birmingham), Spike Island (Bristol) have great schemes that provide support and networking opportunities for artists. I think the best resource is your peers really and building local and online communities. I tend to learn about things on Instagram and Twitter.

Do you have any advice for artists working with curators?

Curators are often incredibly busy and split between multiple projects and obligations, so professionalism is key. Keep to deadlines. Be ambitious but realistic. I think clarity is really important. Both parties should be clear about what they can commit to. Be upfront about the terms of the collaboration and don’t be afraid to question contracts and ask for further support. Every curator is different and bring different approaches to the relationship but as you learn about what you need apply it to the next project.

Also, I often say to artists that I like their work and they can keep me up to date with projects. Artists keep in touch with curators! Invite people to your studio. Encourage conversation. Remember that curators represent institutions, but they aren’t the institution.

Follow George on Twitter @georgevasey and Instagram: @georgevasey

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Coming Next...

An interview with GAIKA (aka Gaika Tavares), a British artist, musician and writer from South London. His debut album, Basic Volume, was released in 2018 by Warp Records, who describe the sound as "gothic dancehall and industrial electronics"

Blog-Iain-Jane

Interview: IAIN FORSYTH AND JANE POLLARD

I have known Iain and Jane and been a fan of their work for over 15 years. I am continually amazed by their endless curiosity, thirst for knowledge and ability to chart new waters.

They have an incredible ability to see opportunities where others see obstacles. Whether it’s performance, curating, producing films for the cinema or TV, they are meticulous in their planning and collaborative processes, in extending themselves and others to go beyond the imaginable. They are experts at spotting and mining the real potential, interrogating identity and getting to the heart of the matter. They think big and they always deliver. Their honest answers are reflective of their preferred way of working – straight talking, rising to the occasion, enabling others.

Iain and Jane

Photo: Paul Heartfield

Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard are artists and BAFTA-nominated directors working across film, installation, performance, sound, documentary, and TV drama. Working collaboratively since meeting at Goldsmiths in the mid-nineties, their work has been exhibited around the world and is collected by museums and institutions including Tate and the Government Art Collection.

Their debut feature film, 20,000 Days on Earth, won two awards at Sundance and nominations from BAFTA and the Independent Spirit Awards. In 2015 Iain & Jane received the Douglas Hickox Award for best debut director from the British Independent Film Awards.

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Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard with Nick Cave, on the set of 20,000 Days on Earth, 2013. Production Still Amelia Troubridge

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now that is helping you to stay positive?

We try our best to help each other to keep things in perspective. But with all the perspective in the world, it can still be tough to stay positive. We’ve been trying Transcendental Meditation, and that’s been helping. We’re finding that TM works for us better than mindfulness. The book ‘Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity’ by David Lynch is an inspirational read.

One thing that’s been amazing to see is so many friends creating these incredible communities online. There’s Carol Morley’s #FridayFilmClub, where people watch a film at the same time and then discuss it afterwards. Sue Tilley’s life drawing classes have kept going on Facebook and Noel Fielding’s #NoelsArtClub on Instagram every Saturday 3-5pm is giving kids and adults a creative outlet. Tim Burgess’ #TimsTwitterListeningParty have taken on a momentum all their own, and Jarvis Cocker is helping the nation drift off to sleep with his #BedtimeStories on Instagram.

We don’t avoid the news as much as we’d like to, but we try to balance it with equal amounts of comedy, satire and funny cat videos.

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The Dali & The Cooper, 2018, Episode in Sky’s series Urban Myths, first aired on 3rd May 2018. Directed by Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard, featuring Noel Fielding as Alice Cooper, David Suchet as Salvador Dali, Sheila Hancock as Gala Dali and Paul Kaye as Cooper’s manager, Shep Gordon. Original score composed by Richard Hawley and Jarvis Cocker

What are you working on and how has the lockdown affected your ideas, processes and chosen medium?

The hardest part is fighting the feeling of frustration. Almost all our work has fallen away, with little promise of any of it returning anytime soon, and that’s an enormous weight on the mind. We also feel the weight of knowing full well that this long period free from many of the usual daily distractions should be an ideal time to be creative. It’s especially frustrating, as an aspect of our practice involves scriptwriting, and on paper, isolation should be the ideal time to write. But so much energy is needed just trying to stay stable and sane, that the focus isn’t there. It’s especially tough working collaboratively, as our brief periods of productivity never seem to coincide. It’s a daily challenge, but we battle on!

There’s a couple of ’strategies’ we’ve tried to implement. We’re forever making lists of films we want to watch or see again because they relate to a particular project or idea. But it’s one of those things we've rarely found time for. So, at the start of the lockdown, we committed to watching one film every day. The discipline of it is useful, and the 55+ films we’ve watched so far has left us feeling enriched.

Another project we’ve undertaken is using the time to take stock. We’re going through more than ten years’ worth of hard drives, making sure our masters are properly archived. Along the way, we’ve unearthed some fantastic memories. We’ve shared some of them on social media.

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The World Won’t Listen, 1998, 60 minutes, Live performance featuring The Still Ills

What do you usually have or need in your studio to inspire and motivate you?

People! Our work relies on meeting, talking to and collaborating with others. If anything, people are the “stuff” of our practice. That’s what we’re missing the most right now. Sure, there are other ways to communicate. You name it, we’re using it; we’re Skyping, Zooming, hanging out in Google Hangouts, chatting on WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, getting annoyed with Teams and even Houseparty-ing. Of course, we’re lucky to have all these options, but none of them beat being in the same room. And while it’s possible to keep talking about our work, so far, we haven’t found any way to continue actually making it.

One of our biggest inspirations is books. Our studio (and home) are full of them. But our studio is also a very practical space, with whiteboards and everything on wheels so we can quickly reconfigure. Since we moved into our studio at Somerset House, we’ve discovered that the absence of things is as important. Home is full of distractions. Oh, and cats. Same thing, really.

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Poster for 20,000 Days on Earth, 2014, Feature film, 97 minutes, Director: Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard; Writer: Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard, Nick Cave; Producer: James Wilson and Dan Bowen; Composer: Nick Cave & Warren Ellis; Starring Nick Cave, Ray Winstone, Blixa Bargeld, Kylie Minogue, Susie Cave, Arthur Cave, Earl Cave; Cinematographer: Erik Wilson; Production Stills Amelia Troubridge

What systems, rituals and processes do you use to help you get into the creative zone?

In our quarter-century (bloody hell!) of working together, we’ve learnt quite a bit about the nature of creativity. We’ve been lucky enough to witness it in some remarkable people and talk to them about it.

Here’s something we know we know, something we learnt from Nick Cave. Creativity is not difficult. Anyone can do it. You can take the tiniest idea and, providing you stick with it — put the time and effort in — it will grow into something. You must do the work and trust the process.

And here’s something we know we don’t know, inspired by Gil Scott-Heron. Creativity is elusive; it comes from somewhere else. Gil would say it came from ’the spirits’. The name doesn’t matter, but you do have to understand that it comes from the side. Somewhere out of view, often from the darkest corners at the back of your mind. Sometimes in the shower. Sometimes only when the fuse is lit by the creativity of others. It's sparked by many things and will bounce hither and thither, as you try to catch it. It’s elastic, elusive and electric.

In our experience, creativity is also obstinate. It refuses to be tied to a specific ritual or circumstance. To us, creativity seems to be 90% effort, maybe 9% bloody-minded self-confidence and 1% pure magic.

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Who is Gil Scott-Heron?, 2015, 60-minute feature documentary

What recurring questions do you return to in your work?

There’s a line that pretty much sums it up for us. It's from an oft-quoted Albert Camus essay:

“When we are stripped down to a certain point, nothing leads anywhere anymore, hope and despair are equally groundless, and the whole of life can be summed up in an image. A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover through the detours of art those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened”.

In our film 20,000 Days on Earth, Nick Cave elegantly describes the process of song writing as chasing after “those moments when the gears of the heart really change”. And, while we’re throwing around the quotes like an art student on an essay deadline, we should also mention our fondness for these words from Rainer Maria Rilke’s ‘Letters to a Young Poet’: “Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart… you need to live in the question.”

That’s what we’re trying to do; live in the question.

What do you care about?

We care about the arts. This is the stuff that we build lives around. Many of us construct our very sense of self through our relationship to arts and culture. They are a powerful tool, able to effect great change. And when the going gets tough, the arts are a lifeline. Who isn’t feeling even a little bit less isolated right now by climbing inside a book, playing great music, watching movies or playing video games? Yet as a society we seem to be giving up. We’re literally letting go of the stuff that makes us who we are. It’s a catastrophe.

In 'Know Your Place', his essay on class in the art world, Dan Fox puts it perfectly succinctly: “Art is for everyone, but participation in its professional systems is not.” He goes on: “I find art profoundly interesting but, despite 18 years in the business, I feel alienated by the games of hierarchy that play out around me, because they involve forms of classism that few will admit to.” It’s well worth a read in full.

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DOUBLETHINK, 2018, Video installation, Sheffield Doc/Fest, Tudor Square. Photo Henry Rees

What risks have you taken in your work that paid off?

Risk is such a hard thing to talk about. There are artists who’ve taken a risk by introducing a new colour into their palette. And there’s artists who’ve taken a risk by getting themselves shot. There isn’t a ‘risk scale’ that makes any sense to draw comparisons.

Likewise, how do we quantify whether a risk has ‘paid off?’ In our minds, it only makes sense to talk about risk if there’s something genuinely at stake. Maybe if you’ve built a commercially successful practice by doing one particular thing, then anything that deviates from that is a risk to your steady source of income. But because we’ve never had that, we’ve never had to face those sorts of risks.

For sure we’ve taken chances. We’ve borrowed money to make up shortfalls in project budgets. We once completely changed a proposal that had been agreed by a museum, and somehow managed to convince them to come with us on a completely different creative journey. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes it backfires. But artmaking should be a process of constantly taking creative risks. Without that, what’s the point?

What risks have you taken that perhaps did not go so well but you learnt the most from?

When things haven’t gone well, it’s usually because we’ve pushed things too far. But we feel duty-bound to do this. Maybe if our practice had evolved with a specialisation, we’d feel different. But our interest is in what it’s possible to achieve as an artist. That means we’re always going to try to break things.

Probably the first time we understood the value of this was while we were making a series of live art projects in the nineties. With one project, we found the breaking point for that set of ideas. But by being pushed to confront failure we were able (eventually) to reformulate that strand of our work into what became our biggest and most successful live project. Perhaps it’s too much to say it would never have happened without the earlier mistakes, but it was absolutely better for what we’d learnt along the way.

Such a mixed practice has given us an amazing range of experiences, even if we’ve learnt it’s a hard way to make a living. We’ve worked with live performance, directing film and television, video editing, scriptwriting, curation, sound installations, collaborated with musicians, writers, actors, technologists, scientists, even magicians. And although what we choose to experiment with frequent changes, we enter each project with the same heads, minds, and hearts. For us, that’s what being an artist is all about.

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Silent Sound, Installation view and performance, St. George's Hall, Liverpool, 2006/7

What is your favourite exhibition, event, or performance you have participated in and why?

Like children (so we’re told) it’s hard to pick a favourite. But the projects we enjoy the most are invariably the ones that scare us the most. Fear is important, it’s the fuel in the tank.

Silent Sound, a live performance and installation we made in Liverpool in 2006. It was the first time those two sides of our practice came together, with the gallery component of the piece created, quite literally, overnight. This was also the first (and to date only) project which involved us personally performing. Aside from the huge adrenaline rush, the work also felt like it was entering new territory for us. A lot of subtle psychological trickery went into a piece that was ultimately rather honest and exposing.

It would be impossible not to also mention 20,000 Days on Earth. This film allowed us to work through so many experiments. It was making this that we met the cinematographer Erik Wilson, who we continue to work with. He’s truly inspirational. And of course, the film has opened doors to projects we would have previously never been able to realise. So, it’s very dear to us.

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20,000 Days on Earth, 2014, Feature film, 97 minutes, Production Still Amelia Troubridge

What would you hope that people experience from encountering your work?

Put simply, we want to make work that can make someone else feel the way we have felt in the presence of transformative objects and experiences. We want our work to have an immediate effect and leave a lasting impression.

Could you tell us a bit more about at a time when you felt stuck and what you did to help yourself out of it?

Whenever someone badly lets us down it throws us off our tracks. When you’ve put so much of yourself into a project, it can hit hard. We’ve been in some real ruts over the years. It’s rare, but when it happens, it’s the most anti-creative situation we’ve ever found ourselves in.

There’s something debilitating about feeling like you have no control over anything anymore. And that creates a completely different kind of crippling fear. It's tough to claw your way back from feeling so powerless.

Very early in our career, we did a project with an ‘artist-run’ space. We’d agreed to split the costs of making the work 50/50. But when the bills started coming in, the gallery always had a reason why they couldn’t pay their share. We scraped by and borrowed money to clear the debts, hoping their contribution would eventually come through. It never did. For a pair of baby artists, just finding their way in the world, that was so destructive. To this day, we find ourselves occasionally being unhelpfully distrustful in a way that we know traces straight back to that experience.

There’s no sure-fire fix that we’ve been able to find. In time, you dust yourself off and start to try things. Play. Fail. Daydream a little. Slowly you being to bounce ideas off other people. And bit by bit, you become unstuck.

DOUBLETHINK

Doublethink, 2018, Two screen video installation (15 mins, looped), Filmed at Somerset House Studios, London

What kind of studio visits, conversations or meetings with curators, producers, writers, press, gallerists, or collectors do you enjoy or get the most out of?

The best visitors are those that bring a cheque book! (Sorry, not sorry.)

Okay, flippant answers aside, the best meetings and studio visits are with those who can push you beyond the things you usually say. Those stock phrases you collect about your work that act as a crutch when you’re forced to talk about it. We’ve never believed that we’re the experts on the theory surrounding our work. We know what we’re trying to do or say, but that doesn’t mean we’re succeeding.

Listening to someone you trust completely tell you something you never realised about what you do is incredible because with this new insight we’re able to progress, refine or change what we’re doing.

If someone enters a dialogue with an open mind and an open heart, we will get along just fine. We give a lot of ourselves when we meet people, and it’s rewarding when that’s given back.

paul

Multigraph 013 (Paul Kaye), 2018, C Type Fuji Flex, 32.5 x 48 x 3.5cm (framed), Edition of 3

If you work with a commercial gallery how does this relationship affect or inform your work and life?

We are represented by a commercial gallery (Kate Macgarry), and we have a manager/agent who looks after our film and TV projects. Working with a gallery has helped get our work placed in museums and public collections, but we’ve never really found our feet with private collectors. We know we’re not an easy fit for the art market. But as much as we wish that wasn’t the case, making work that tries to chase the market just isn’t for us.

We’re never been an easy fit in any of the industries that we have worked in. We tend to operate in a way that never quite fits the models for success. Despite their often-modest budgets, we find institutions are a good setting for us because our ambitions tend to align. We are always interested in bringing new and diverse audiences in to experience our work.

With film and TV becoming part of what we do, we now have a manager. He is a brilliant sounding board. Someone who will always tell it to us straight, even when it is not easy to listen to. Maybe because film and TV are inherently collaborative mediums, we have found that world a little easier to navigate. So much of the art world seems to go on behind closed doors, or at least doors we have never learnt how to open. We haven’t made things easy for ourselves.

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Poster for File Under Sacred Music, 2003, single channel video, 22 mins 

Do you have a trusted muse, mentor, network, or circle of friends you consult for critical feedback?

In 1993 at 'A Fete Worse than Death' we met Joshua Compston. He became the closest thing to a mentor we’ve ever had. We would meet most Sunday mornings in Shoreditch and tape record our conversations. These blew our minds wide open. Joshua wanted us to document his ideas, but we became hooked on his self-belief and the scale of his ambition. His ventures were a heady mix of brilliance and bullshit, but he taught us more in the short time before his death than anyone else.

Since then, there’s not been a single figure, although certain individuals at different times have been important to us. For example, the body of live work we produced early in our career would have been impossible without Vivienne Gaskin, who at the time was Director of Live Arts at the ICA.

Being two people means we have an inbuilt, and constant, level of self-criticism. We know two sets of instincts are better than one. And when they naturally align, we know we’re onto something worthwhile. But for us that only works at a project level. Regrettably, we’ve never been able to apply those instincts to any sort of career strategy.

Things are a little different in film. The art world seems so firmly bought into the idea of the autonomy of the artist that it seems to be only after something has been completed that people step forward to tell you what they think of it. Producers and executive producers in film are always able to be consulted during the making process. Most of the time, that’s a good thing! Maybe commercial galleries can provide that for some artists, but we’ve never had those kinds of relationships in the art world.

Our friends are brilliant — always open to reading a script we’re developing or watching a rough cut of something. So, there’s a handful of people we return to when we need an outside voice.

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Bish Bosch: Ambisymphonic (with Scott Walker), 2013, 25 minutes, Ambisonic sound installation, Sydney Opera House for Vivid Festival

Which artists or creatives do you feel you are work is in conversation with?

To be honest, we have never thought of our work in that way. Even some of the pieces we have made that very directly riff on existing artwork, such as ‘Walking After Acconci’, were never about a conversation with the original artist. It’s the dialogue with an audience that’s important to us.

Of course, there’s a sense in which all our work is in conversation with fellow creatives. That might be the more subtle collaborations that take place between us and, say, a cinematographer. Or sometimes the collaboration is more overt, such as the project we made with Scott Walker for Sydney Opera House. These real and direct conversations are incredibly important to us and our work.

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Kiss My Nauman (still), 2007, 4 channel HDV projection, silent, duration: 47 mins

How do you make money to support your practice?

It’s rarely talked about, but one of the most difficult things is that the projects we’re best suited to are usually larger scale, working with public spaces. Even when the budget to realise the work is there, it rarely covers the true time, effort, and resources that the project requires. As the artist, you’re expected to be the most committed person in the room. We have no problem with that, we work stupidly long hours every single day. But when everyone around you is on a salary and your artist fee isn’t covering even close to minimum wage, it’s tough.

There’s such a strong sense in this country that the arts are a luxury, and that if you don’t have a private income to support yourself, then you should go and do something else. How do we even begin to fix that?

For almost twenty years, we supported our practice with part-time jobs. Initially in the book trade then, for 12 years in the record industry. We weren’t able to fully reshape our working life until after the success of our first feature film. Although it brought us little in the way of hard cash, the doors opened have been immense. We’ve been able to incorporate film and TV work into our practice. As glamorous as this perhaps sounds, we’re only able to take on a small amount. It’s gruelling work, and we’re not right for the sort of conventional projects that enable directors-for-hire to make a good living.

So, there’s still no single or solid source of income in our life. We try to keep enough plates spinning in the hope that some eventually pay off. We’ve never liked the lack of transparency in the art world, so let us put our money where our mouth is and give you an idea of how we’ve made money over the past year.

It’s been a real mix: Small development fees for scripted projects that may never move beyond development; some income for work on a Nick Cave exhibition which was due to open in Copenhagen but is now on hold; a percentage of the anticipated income for co-curating an exhibition that has now been postponed; tiny amounts from royalties and image licensing; an executive producer fee for mentoring a friend through the process of directing her first feature documentary.

Other than that, there may be an occasional modest fee for a mentoring day or something similar, but it’s shaky. And we’re now seriously concerned about making it through this year and the current pandemic, as we fall through the cracks of almost all Government support.

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David Suchet as Salvador Dali in The Dali & The Cooper, 2018

What compromises have you made to sustain your practice?

We haven’t pursued creating a family. it has never felt financially viable, and we don’t have the first clue how we would navigate that as well as working as a collaboration. Around us, we’ve built up the most wonderful community of friends and peers, who we value immensely. Perhaps this is our compensation for not having a larger family of our own.

We work incredibly long hours, typically 12 hours a day, and always 6 days a week. More when we need to. It’s the only way to fit everything in, especially when juggling part-time job commitments.

We’ve compromised ourselves financially in every way imaginable. Everything that comes in, goes back into the work. We’ve had one ‘holiday’ in the last 25 years. Don’t get us wrong, that isn’t meant as a sob story. We’re incredibly lucky to be able to travel often with our work, and we’ve often tagged days off onto the end of a work trip. But there’s no doubt we could’ve had a better standard of living with a more conventional choice of career.

What advice would you give your past self?

Oh, we’d have been far too stubborn to listen. Worry less, maybe.

Something we’d love to have understood sooner is this, a quote from Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli The best grammar for thinking about the world is that of change, not of permanence. Not of being, but of becoming.”

Sheila Hancock

Sheila Hancock as Gala Dali in The Dali & The Cooper, 2018

Can you recommend a book film or podcast that you have been inspired by that transformed your thinking?

It’s attitudes we fall for. Anyone who refuses to accept there’s a way things ought to be. But it’s a kind of alchemy, you have to be an active element in the inspiration equation.

Two books we’d heartily recommend are ‘Lanny’ by Max Porter and ‘Waiting for the Last Bus’ by the Right Rev. Richard Holloway. The Two Shot Podcast hosted by actor Craig Parkinson is a wonderful series of brutally honest conversations, mostly with actors, but they reveal so much about creativity.

The films we return to most often are ‘F for Fake’ by Orson Welles and ‘O Lucky Man!’ by Lindsay Anderson. Both have been transformational.

Visit Iain and Jane’s website and find them on socials @iainandjane and at Kate Macgarry.
All images c/o the artists and Kate Macgarry

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And do feel free to email or contact us via socials @cerihand

Coming Next...

An interview with George Vasey, a curator at Wellcome Collection and writer. In 2017 he co-curated the Turner Prize at Ferens Art Gallery, Hull. His writing has been published in Art Monthly, Burlington Contemporary, Frieze, and Mousse magazine. He is a trustee at New Contemporaries, an Artist Adviser for Jerwood Arts and on the executive committee for AICA UK.

Blog-Michelle-Hamer

Welcome

Welcome to my new blog, ELEVATION, which aims to share creative ideas, knowledge, skills, and insights from experienced arts insiders.

I have been lucky to have worked with all kinds of creative people over 30 years. Discover more about my winding career path here.

Working directly with artists has enriched my life, brought joy, laughter and occasionally tears. Artists have astonished me, thrilled me, tested me, been my guides and teachers and encouraged me to question myself, my ideas, and perspectives.

Artists help us all explore what it means to be truly alive. They help us to see the possibilities; to feel, to connect, to articulate the unspeakable and hidden and to help us understand our relation to ourselves and others.

I am still intrigued and occasionally baffled by what resonates, sells, sticks, and sucks.

Throughout my career and now as a creative coach artist mentor and consultant, I work closely with artists and creatives and have privileged access to what makes them tick, what their drivers and challenges are and what aspects of society and culture they are interrogating through their work.

MH_RELAXMichelle Hamer, Relax, We’re Doing Great, 2020, Mixed yarn on perforated plastic, 26 x 34cm

This blog is called ELEVATION because artists lift us up.

And that’s what I want to do for artists.

Artists and creatives have an incredible superpower of sifting out the wheat from the chaff, of shining a light on the important stuff, of being determined and curious. We can learn much from their way of assessing, reflecting, channelling, producing, and living.

Over coming weeks and months in this blog I will share illuminating interviews, advice, and tips from contemporary creative professionals, who question the status quo and are committed to exploring new ways to communicate, connect and challenge our perceptions.

I have invited a range of extraordinary creatives to shed some light on their ideas, processes, values, career highs and lows, motivations, risks, and key learnings. I have selected people that continue to inspire me, through their work, their ideas, their bravery, and consideration of others.

MH_MAINTAIN SOCIAL DISTANCEMichelle Hamer, Relax, We’re Doing Great, 2020, Mixed yarn on perforated plastic, 26 x 34cm

In this strange, brave new world, I am prioritising creative coaching through Artist Mentor which supports artists and creatives in developing their work, navigating and steering their creative journeys.

If you would like to find out more about creative coaching, click here and to book a session click here.

I am also starting a free monthly Newsletter that will be launched in June. If you subscribe you will get priority access to exclusive discounts on mentoring sessions, creative career advice, tools, tips, and resources, delivered to your Inbox directly from me.

MH_SHAKING HANDSMichelle Hamer, Relax, We’re Doing Great, 2020, Mixed yarn on perforated plastic, 26 x 34cm

This blog will explore the ideas, challenges and sources of inspiration and recommendations from contemporary creatives working in the arts.

In coming days and weeks I will be sharing interviews with inspiring creatives including
George Vasey, GAIKA, Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard, Eleanor Moreton, Gareth Pugh, Francesca Gavin, Helen Nisbitt, Gavin Wade, Aaron Cesar, Mel Brimfield, Christian Viveros-Fauné, Richard Parry; Will Jarvis, Stephanie Dieckvoss, Sarah Cook, Valeria Napoleone, Rebecca Lennon, Darryl de Prez, Kristin Hellejegarde, Sophie Jung and many more in text, audio and video format.

In time I hope this blog will be a vehicle for a creative community that values honesty, trust, difference and enables others.

All feedback, recommendations, links, and ideas welcome!

Please email me or find me on socials @cerihand on Instagram and Twitter, I’d love to hear from you.

If you are an established creative practitioner and would like to share your experience and reflections and participate in an interview to benefit others, please do reach out.

If you know somebody who would appreciate Artist Mentor creative coaching support or enjoy via this blog or the Newsletter, please do share.

MH_TOGETHER APARTMichelle Hamer, Relax, We’re Doing Great, 2020, Mixed yarn on perforated plastic, 26 x 34cm

Introducing

In each of my blog posts I will introduce an artist and examples of their new work.

Relax, We’re Doing Great is an ongoing series of hand-stitched works by Michelle Hamer, that explores public messaging by local and international leaders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Michelle Hamer is a Melbourne based artist who uses signage and language to reflect the social and political systems, structures, ideologies, and mixed messages we negotiate every day.

Since 2005 she has had twenty-one solo exhibitions and participated in numerous group shows. She has works in permanent collections of the National Gallery of Victoria, City of Melbourne; Artbank; Gippsland Art Gallery; Textile Art Museum Ararat and private collections in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, London, Copenhagen and Auckland.

Visit her website or follow her on socials @michelle_hamer
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Coming next..

An interview with Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard, artists and BAFTA-nominated directors working across film, installation, performance, sound, documentary, and TV drama. Their debut feature film, 20,000 Days on Earth, won two awards at Sundance and nominations from BAFTA and the Independent Spirit Awards. In 2015 Iain & Jane received the Douglas Hickox Award for best debut director from the British Independent Film Awards.

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