I’m a big fan of Eve Ackroyd’s paintings that conjure the everyday magical and mysterious inner worlds of women. Her paintings are simultaneously witty and haunting; Ackroyd’s women appear dreamy, defiant, aloof, brooding and beguiling. Long and languid women meld their exaggerated limbs with the domestic contexts they appear in. They wait, patiently wondering in the half-light, seeming to exist in between, they neither need nor depend upon us. Her moody mix of ice-cream and midnight colour palette summons evocative atmospheres, glowering exchanges and furtive glances, captured with a delicate lick of the brush.

Read on to discover what she’s grappling with in the studio and what fuels her engine…


Artist Eve Ackroyd, Photo by Rod Stanley

Eve Ackroyd (born 1984, UK) studied painting at Chelsea College of Art & Weissensee School of Art in Berlin. Recent shows include Fifth Floor Apartment, Turn Gallery, New York; La Banda, TV Projects, New York; Within Without, Project Art Space, New York; Interior Landscapes, Assembly Room, New York; Living and Real, Kapp Kapp, Philadelphia; Sweet Cheeks, Big Pictures, LA and Subject III, Cob Gallery, London. Her work has been written about for FT, Times, Brooklyn Rail, I-D, AnOther, Dazed & Confused, Artsy and Hyperallergic.

Little-song-(large)-copyLittle song, 2020, Oil on linen, 36 x 42 inches/ 91.4 x 106.6 cm

My mother and her sisters appear in my paintings, specifically my memory of them when I was a child. I saw my mother transform in their presence, to someone separate from me. In bedrooms clothes were exchanged and in kitchens the day-to-day of the domestic world were shared with an ease which made our home seem lighter and unburdened. Their chat sometimes turned to laughing whispers, a language that I couldn't decode. Their bodies intrigued me, they were as familiar as my mothers, but when together an intimacy weaved between their bodies which intimidated me in its voluptuousness and confidence. I now understand the beauty and pleasure I felt was in witnessing them together in this way, separate from any male presence. My childhood memories of womanhood are contrasted with my now adult self, and this continues to interest and drive all my work. Much of my personal iconography is formed from these memories, 80s hairstyles, costume jewellery, triangular bushes, and painted fingernails.

In literature and film, I seek stories of female friendships - which I find the most compelling and complex of all relationships. I observe women in film, such as Vera Chytilov’s boldly coloured, visually distorted anarchic tales and Chantal Akerman’s real-time observations of women’s inner lives. I have also taken idealised forms from a 1970s Allen Jones calendar that hung in my home as a child, which both disturbed and fascinated me. I draw upon these worlds to create expansive imaginary places, contrasting potent images of my childhood imagination against my adult self, with its conflicting notions of femininity, motherhood and sexual expression. My women are flawed and bright, full of dissatisfactions, depressed but funny, sensual, and single minded. I always want them to be precise, funny and candid.

window-figureWindow figure, 2021, Oil on linen, 11.8 x 13.8 inches/ 30 x 35cm

What are you currently grappling with in the studio? 

Planning work - I’m impatient and when I get an idea I want to get going straight away, though I should plan more beforehand. I have quite a high ‘scrap’ rate and I think I could reduce this with a little more strategic thinking. It makes me a little sad to see a once beautifully primed canvas be unstretched and restretched. Having said that, I am getting better at accepting that the weeks of frustration in the studio often lead to magical, effortless periods of painting. I’m trying to reframe how I’ve previously felt about failure (for my sanity). Also not overworking things - leaving space in a painting and a balance, which I usually know straight away if it is there or not. Leaving the studio and readjusting to the rest of the day - not brooding on successes or lack of them that day. Going to bed and knowing that tomorrow is a new day in the studio.

What rituals do you have in the studio?

I get in around mid-morning after dropping my kids at school and walking my dog. I’m often greeted by a mess having left in a rush the day before, so I’ll clean my brushes, clear some space on my desk, make a coffee and often eat all my packed lunch by 11am.

I faff around a bit more, email, look through some images, make some quick sketches and when I can’t procrastinate any more, I get changed into old clothes and start painting. From then on, I’m engrossed in only that, I don’t stop to take phone calls. School pick-up time comes around fast, and I normally leave in a massive rush, but I always wipe the paint off my brushes and pour a little oil on the tips - I’ve ruined so many in the past and I really try to look after them now. I used to take a quick photo of whatever I’d made that day, and if I thought it was good, I would keep looking at it on my phone when I got home, but often I’d find I’d left the studio feeling happy but would then agonise over the images of the paintings- picking apart all the things that were wrong with it. It would often drive me to get in my car at about 10pm and go back to the studio to continue painting late into the night. Then I’d be too wired to sleep and looking back over the photos on my phone the morning after, I’d normally wish I’d just left the painting be, which would make me feel bad for days! So, I try not to photograph work in progress now, I shut the door and leave the work be, until I’m next in - hopefully in the cold light of day.

still-eveningStill evening, 2022, Oil on board, 8 x 10 inches/ 20.3 x 25.4 cm

What’s your preferred medium?

Oil! I painted in acrylic for a couple of years when I had a home studio in Brooklyn, and it felt like I was in a bad relationship. I know loads of great painters who make beautiful work in acrylic but I’m in love with oil paint. It smells great, is endlessly adaptable and I feel constantly challenged and amazed by what it can do.

Which artists’ work do you think about most often?

Now I’m looking at a lot of colourists - Craigie Aitchison, Milton Avery, Winnifred Nicholson. Favourite artists I return to look at again and again - Goya, Rene Daniel’s, Alice Neele, Philip Guston. Some of my favourite contemporary artists whose work just blows my mind are Salman Toor, Xinyi Cheng, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Tala Madani, Reggie Burrows Hodges, Lois Dodd, Christina Quarles, Sanya Kantarovsky, Jill Mulleady.

What new skill/s would you like to learn?

I’d like to have a deeper knowledge of colour and how different pigments are made alongside more technical understanding of paints, and how to mix beautiful blues that only shine when I want them to (blue is the colour I most often get into trouble with)! Other skills I desire - better bookkeeping, to be able to speak Spanish and not so much a skill but making more time to go out dancing.

couple-in-next-apartmentCouple in next apartment, 2021, Oil on canvas, 34 x 26 inches/ 86.4 x 66 cm

What are you reading, watching, or listening to, to fuel the creative engine?

I’ve just started Everybody by Olivia Lang, in which she writes about the quest for bodily freedom. I recently finished her book Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency - which is a collection of essays about the necessity for art. She writes with real curiosity and a lot of intimacy - blending many brilliant thinkers' biographies alongside her own experiences. I just finished Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder in which a mother with a young child turns into a dog. I thought it was very clever, but I didn’t love it, though I do like metamorphic tales, especially with women. A couple of the best books I’ve read over the last few years and still think about are - Lustre by Raven Leilani and My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh - in them they’ve both created extremely compelling, complicated women. I think about the women in my paintings like characters in novels and I get a lot of pleasure and ideas in great fiction. I love reading the New Yorker and The Atlantic for politics, art and book reviews and brilliant long-form writing about things like ‘hot streaks’ in creativity and how big decisions are made. I get a lot of ideas for my work from films and often make quick sketches from memories of them which are often the starting points for the compositions in my paintings.

I used to go to the cinema a lot when I lived in NY - but since the pandemic I mostly watch them at home and intermittently subscribe to Criterion (with the help of a VPN). But I have much stronger visual memories of films that I’ve seen in the cinema. BAM and Metrograph both have excellent film series - and I got to see many of my favourite directors work there – Vera Chytilova, Agnès Varda, Claire Denis, George Romero, Chantal Akerman. Music keeps me happy in the studio - Mary-Anne Hobbs on BBC each morning, techno Tuesdays are the best. My sister and our shared Spotify playlist - though my kids share my account so there’s often some very strange Russian meme music that comes on and lots of Rihanna and Dua Lipa from my daughter (which I am more than fine with).

walkWalk, 2020, Oil on canvas, 12 x 14 inches/ 30.5 x 35.5cm

What helpful resources would you recommend to artists?

The excellent Artist Mentor Newsletter and Ceri’s great words of wisdom posts on Instagram. I love Heather Havrilesky’s newsletter - both her Ask Polly agony aunt one and her evil alter ego Ask Molly. A lot of tormented artists write to her, and she always has good (if very lengthy) advice on how to remain sane and keep on doing whatever it is you’re doing. 5 x 15 has some great free online discussions with authors, journalists and cultural icons and the podcast Talk Art - I find Rob Diament and Russell Tovey’s enthusiasm very infectious and they talk to loads of amazing artists.

Which guests would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?

Lucia Berlin, Missy Elliot, Anjelica Huston, Grace Jones, Leonard Cohen, Little Richard and Kurt Vonnegut. I’d keep the drinks flowing and watch everyone get rude

Follow @eveackroyd on Instagram or visit

All artwork photos c/o Andy Keate



I admired Luke Jerram’s spectacular public realm work way before ever meeting him. Indeed, he often jokes that Bloomberg Television described him as “probably the most famous artist you’ve never heard of”.

Luke has an incredibly diverse, seemingly boundary free creative practice. I'm amazed by the range and scope of his ideas, the scale of ambition, impact and reach of his works, but also his dedication to connecting and engaging a broad audience. He is an expansive creative, who sees opportunities in every potential challenge or roadblock.

His creative entrepreneurialism enables him to partner with global organisations and collaborators, continuously innovating whilst supporting others, particularly young creatives.

Luke took time out of his busy schedule to answer answers my questions candidly in the first video below, reflecting on some of the habits that contribute to his committed studio practice, his creative process, how he earns income from his practice and makes the most of 'failures'.

His responses reveal an approach, attitude and work ethic that facilitates creative problem solving and the capacity to manage multiple productions simultaneously. His personal system and studio set up enables him to be resilient and respond quickly and effectively to challenging briefs, budgets, contexts and environments.

Scroll down for the second video, which demonstrates Luke's creative process in action, for a new project in development: Helios.

Luke Jerram is renowned globally for his multidisciplinary creative practice, which includes sculptures, installations, live arts and public realm projects. Living in the UK, but working internationally since 1997, he’s devised and staged an extraordinary range of art works that have engaged and inspired people around the world.

His artworks are in permanent collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Wellcome Collection in London, and he tours his installations to art festivals and museums. Working with some of the most established cultural organisations to create his artworks, in 2019 alone, he had 117 exhibitions in 22 different countries around the world.

In 2020 was given an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Bristol, made an Honorary Academician of the RWA and Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.

In 2019 he set up and funded both the Dreamtime Fellowship to support recent graduates in his home city of Bristol and the Bristol Schools Arts Fund to support secondary schools in Bristol impacted by austerity.

Luke Jerram, Museum of the Moon, Photo by Robert Sils

His artwork Museum of the Moon is one of Luke’s most successful arts projects that has caught the public’s imagination, presented in more than 150 times in 30 different countries. Experienced by more than 10 million people worldwide, the artwork has recently toured India with the British Council, been presented at the Commonwealth Games in Australia, Art Basel in Miami 2020 and exhibited in Aarhus, Denmark for the European Capital of Culture. In 2019 it was presented at Glastonbury Festival and even on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing in Blackpool. With universal appeal, the exhibit has been breaking audience records in venues around the globe. 2.1 million people visited the artwork when it was presented at the National History Museum, making it one of the most popular exhibits in the institutions history. Published in 2020 his new book Luke Jerram: Art, Science & Play provides a fascinating insight into his evolving practice.


Luke Jerram, Park and Slide, Bristol, May 4, 2014

On the 4th May 2014 this giant 95m (300ft) water slide was installed on Park Street in Bristol as part of Make Sunday Special and the Bristol Art Weekender. Running for one day only, 96,573 people signed up for their chance to get a ‘ticket to slide’ and through a ballot, only 360 lucky people were issued with tickets. Security clocked in 65,000 people who came to Park Street to watch the one-day event.

Luke Jerram, Play Me, I'm Yours, 2010, NYC

Touring internationally since 2008, Play Me, I’m Yours has reached millions of people worldwide, with more than 2000 street pianos installed by Luke and his team in over 65 cities across the globe, from  Tokyo to New York, bearing the simple instruction to ‘Play Me, I’m Yours’. Located on streets, in public parks, markets and train stations the pianos are available for everyone to play and enjoy. Play Me, I’m Yours invites the public to engage with, activate and take ownership of their urban environment, and to share their love of music and the visual arts. Decorated by local artists and community groups, the street pianos create a place for exchange and an opportunity for people to connect. The project was recently presented in Brisbane, Australia and Augsburg, Germany.

Luke Jerram, Sky Orchestra over London, 2011

Sky Orchestra is an experimental artwork bringing together performance and music to create visual audio installations within the air and within the mind. Developing music specifically for sleeping people which is delivered at dawn from out of the sky the artwork is created by artist Luke Jerram in collaboration with composer Dan Jones. Taking off at dawn with speakers attached, the artwork creates a massive audio landscape which plays directly into people's homes below.

The Sky Orchestra last performed in Bristol 2020, with a new composition commissioned by Bristol Old Vic; the music is available from Bandcamp, raising money to support young musicians in Bristol.

The Sky Orchestra has also performed in Derry, for the UK City of Culture 2013 and in London to herald a year to go to the 2012 Olympic Games. They launched the 2007 Sydney Festival and in 2006 in Stratford-upon- Avon for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Luke Jerram, Journey to the Sun: the development of Helios, 2021, London

This film reveals the process of developing Luke Jerrams' public art commission Helios, for London.

In Greek mythology Helios was the god and personification of the Sun. This new artwork was conceived in the UK’s third national lockdown, in the middle of winter, when we all needed a little warmth and sunshine in our lives.

Based on complex geometry Luke is working with engineers and fabricators to design and create this floating sculpture of the Sun; 10m in diameter and 5m high, the giant floating Sun artwork will be made of steel and moored to the walls of the docks in London. Created as a hemisphere, the lower half of the Sun will be created from the reflection in the water. Glowing gold in the daytime, the artwork will change in the day, as the sun illuminates it, creating reflections. At night the artwork will slowly begin to come alive.

Internally illuminated and emitting mist, the artwork will bathe the docks with warm golden light. It might look like a fireball at night or as though a meteorite has crash landed. A surround sound composition about the Sun will be created which will available as a free download to be listen to through the public’s headphones. Information about the artwork and the music will be available on the dockside. The music will blend NASA sunlight recordings, sun mythologies, sound of fire and heat. Artistic development, CAD designs, structural analysis, costing, prototyping and testing have all been carried out for this new and complex work. Luke is consulting with naval architects, structural engineers, CAD designers, arts fabricators and even sub aqua divers about the creation and installation of the artwork. Phase 1 has been completed and they are now awaiting funding for the fabrication.

Bridges not Walls, Eisteddfod, Llangollen, 2021; Artist Luke Jerram stands in front of Llangollen Bridge, Photo c/o Shropshire Star

This new temporary installation artwork has been commissioned by the Eisteddfod in Llangollen, for presentation 9th July- 4th August 2021. With support from the Welsh Government, this will be Luke’s first major commission for the country.

The Eisteddfod has a long and rich history of working with different communities and nations across the world to bring people together to share their creativity and a message of peace.

“When I first saw Llangollen Bridge I fell in love with it. It’s so iconic and at the heart of the town. Across the world, bridges have always been used as both a physical and symbolic way to connect people – which fits perfectly with the aims and ambitions of the Eisteddfod. I can’t wait to see the patchworks the creative people from the local community send in, in order to turn the bridge into a work of art.”

The 60m long bridge will be wrapped both sides in giant patchwork to reflect the crafts and cultures of Wales, but also the participating nations of the Eisteddfod. Transforming the bridge into a work of art, the colours are inspired by the incredible fabrics worn by the festival performers. The artwork brings the Eisteddfod’s creativity out from the festival field, into the town, transforming and animating Llangollen for the whole world to see. From every angle the bridge will be an incredible sight to see, changing with the light and weather conditions. Even the water will be transformed with its reflections of colour from the bridge.

Follow Luke on Instagram @lukejerramartist and visit


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Artist-Curator Interview: GAVIN WADE

I first met Gavin Wade in 2002, when I was working at Grizedale Arts and toured the artist-extravaganza Roadshow to Lickey Hills and the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham. I have been consistently bowled over by his ideas, commitment, entrepreneurialism, energy and determination ever since.

He has devised and delivered some incredibly exciting and ambitious projects over the years, and Eastside Projects artist led gallery and incubator space is in itself a remarkable achievement.

Gavin and co-Director (and fellow artist) Ruth Claxton kindly invited me to join the Advisory Board of Eastside Projects around 2008. Over a couple of years, I gained first -hand experience of their inspiring, innovative and strategic leadership and ability to galvanise and instill confidence in artists and stakeholders alike.

Gavin is a creative pioneer - first and foremost an artist-curator but also exceptionally good at translating complex ideas to non arts audiences and enthusing others to support artists and their ideas. He makes space for dialogue and creates lush, inviting environments with artists that you want to dwell in and explore.

Gavin Wade and Sonia Boyce, 2020, photo by Vanley Burke

Gavin Wade is an 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. Earlier exhibitions include Strategic Questions Venice, 52nd Venice Biennale (2007); Public Structures, Guangzhou Triennial, China (2005); ArtSheffield05: Spectator T (2005).

Gavin’s diverse sites for making and curating art include a Naval Frigate, Portsmouth Cathedral, Greenham Common, Clumber Park, The Piccadilly Line: London Underground, Dudley Zoo and the new Smithfield Market in the centre of Birmingham (2020–2025). His books include Upcycle This Book (2017); Has Man A Function In Universe (2008); and Curating In The 21st Century, (2000). Ongoing projects also include A-Z Display Units (After Kiesler & Krischanitz) (2015–) and Strategic Questions publishing project (2002–).

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

(14 May 2020) I just am positive! I watch a lot of TV. Quite a bit of Twitter and Instagram. I read comics. I watch plants grow. Exciting plants. Tilandsia. Cycads. Cyathias. Cacti. Diascoria. Pachipodiums. Good TV at the moment is DEVS. So good. Or an episode of Midnight Gospel. Lady Skollie recommended it to me. Before I realised it’s by Pendleton Ward who made Adventure Time. I love Adventure Time. Great art. One episode is enough at a time. Every day. Proper eye-opening family viewing (if your kids are late teens!). I’ve just finished the 3rd series of Ozark. Totally captivating and stressful but makes you so glad you didn’t get into money laundering or drugs! Brooklyn 99 I can watch over and over. Just started watching The Last Dance after reading Sean Edwards tweet about it being the thing he is looking forward to each week. It’s so good. I’m not even into basketball and was never the slightest bit interested in Michael Jordan but it’s captivating, compelling watching about the obsessive creative will to become, to win, to make a difference, to overcome.

I haven’t been reading so much because I totally splurged out on comics earlier this year. If I’d known I would have waited!  Just before lockdown I finished this mega boxset graphic novel of Buddha by Osamu Tezuka. At 8 volumes and 3000 pages it’s a joy to become immersed in this master of comic book making. He worked on it from 1972 to 1983 and it feels like an irreverent labour of love. It’s really really good. I might go and read Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga from start to halfway again. I just got into Jonathan Luna’s comics too. Waiting for Issue 4 of 20XX to come out. The ultimate pandemic comic. Only a very few survive but if you do, you gain telekinetic powers! Ironically Issue 4 has been delayed by lockdown in the States. Due out on 17 May, I think. How I will get a copy, I don’t know. But I will.

The keyworkers that affect me the most are these artists. I keep thinking about all the artfulness keeping people going in their heads as much as the practicalities and administration of our bodies, deliveries, power supplies, policing. TV, comics, music, stories, film, the art on our walls, our clothes, our mugs, everywhere.

Sonia Boyce, In the Castle of My Skin, 2020, Eastside Projects, curated by Sonia Boyce and Gavin Wade
Co-commissioned by Eastside Projects and MIMA. Photo by Stuart Whipps

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

Creativity. My own and others. Birmingham. Utopia. Freedom without fear. Visions. Magic. Points where systems intersect. Creating life. Dancing. Escaping. Committing. Supporting and feeling supported. Collaborating. Improving. Patterns. Love.

Monster Chetwynd, Hell Mouth 3, 2019 (with Guttersnipe performing at Supersonic Festival) Curated by Gavin Wade, co-commissioned by Eastside Projects and Capsule/Home of Metal

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

Make exhibitions. Write exhibitions. Draw exhibitions. Teach exhibitions. Speak exhibitions. Dream exhibitions. Argue exhibitions. Be exhibitions.

(17 September 2020) Four months has passed since I sent you those answers back in early May. Feels like the whole world has changed and looped back on itself in that time. Looking back at my previous answers it puts into focus how much interviews and answering questions is so dependent on what is happening around you on that day, week. How you’re feeling at the time. How much time you really have to think about these things. When self reflection is useful or not. I’m still positive but definitely feel more measured about just leaping into the void than perhaps some of those previous answers. I might continue the answer to that last question:

Save exhibitions. Resuscitate exhibitions. Free exhibitions. Reimagine exhibitions. Let exhibitions go. If you can. If you have the time and the space and the support and the freedom to.

In truth, exhibitions are testing and scoping. It is the form of doing exactly that. I don’t think you need other ways of measuring the form of exhibition. It’s enough in itself. Exhibition is life lived successfully. That’s what I mean. I’m not into the bureaucratising of exhibition. I’ve been into the exhibiting of bureaucratic systems sometimes. Putting them to better use. Bureaucracy is pointless in and of itself. Exhibition always has a point.

This is the Gallery and the Gallery is Many Things X, 2018, (Truemendous performing with Libita Clayton, Etel Adnan tapestry behind) photo by Zunaira Muzaffar

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

One of the joys of running Eastside Projects is that insight and chance to experience so many other artists works. We made the Extra Ordinary People (EOP) open call for a show in our second gallery earlier this year and had probably the strongest set of applications we have ever had. It was following on the heels of Lindsey Mendick’s powerful EOP exhibition, The Yellow Wallpaper, which had inspired many emerging artists to go for it, I think, and make an ambitious proposal to us. We interviewed eight artists as there were so many strong applications. It was a joy to meet them all on zoom and talk about what could be. The downside to having so many artists apply is the sadness of not being able to offer them all projects. But, Lindsey had applied a number of times in the past for shows and projects and not quite made it but we were really excited by her work, and it paid off in the end, for us, and for her. And the same this time. We have ended up offering to work with three of the artists we interviewed instead of just one. For the first time we just felt one of the applications was too big for the second gallery and so we have invited Emii Alrai to develop a show for our main gallery in Autumn 2021. I was so excited by Emii’s work, and the images we saw of the show she has made at Tetley in Leeds, and how she spoke about the work. Honest, direct, confident in her skills and sources and intentions. Emii spoke of medieval hunting, woven mazes, animal traps, all through the lense of colonialism and Iraqi heritage, a display that she loved in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and making, making, making. Ruth Claxton, Associate Director here at EP and artist of course, and I both felt so energised by meeting her and seeing the work. A similar feeling as when we went to visit Samara Scott years ago in her studio and offered her the main gallery show in 2015. It can be so significant to work with an artist in their emerging years, in this case Emii is in her late 20s, to develop a big show together. If the time is right, it’s right.

We also invited Leah Clements to make a new immersive show in the second gallery in May next year alongside the show we are developing and co-curating with Harold Offeh and Dance Xchange next year. Leah hypnotised us with incredible sounds and spoke of the sirens of the deep calling to deep sea divers. She proposed a new work that uses light and sound and form to control a sublime moment, an attempt to create a moment of bliss and weightlessness. Very excited to see how the show develops.

And we also loved Sarah Maple’s works and proposal to make a type of short TV series of short films around language. Learning Punjabi in the UK and the slips in languages between different generations that you just become more aware of as you work with more people from different cultures that make up what the UK is, sharing learnings and insights. I hope we can support Sarah’s sharp, funny work to get the attention it deserves. It should be prime time viewing. Lots to do.

There’s so many artists to talk about. I’ve just loved working with Luke Routledge who has made a super ambitious show alongside Emma Talbot’s show in the main gallery. It’s great to see the seeds of an idea in someone like Luke, a great maker here in Birmingham, and be able to offer support and advise over the last couple of years and watch as he turns his dream into a reality with a show like Strange Matter. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with Luc Pheles, now going by Mwana Nkisi, and see his initial drawings flourish and grow into the stunning detailed drawn objects he is making as part of Sonia Boyce’s In the Castle of My Skin. The chance to link up young artists with powerhouses like Sonia is so great, so much learning in both directions, and Mwana will make new works for MIMA next too, so a great chance for others across the UK to experience his work.

Luc Pheles (Mwani Nkisi) Ishango, 2020, Ink and acrylic paint on painted plywood, bone, motherboards
Part of Sonia Boyce: In the Castle of My Skin, 2020

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

I like stuff, and books, and images, and materials and all sorts of things, but I think it’s people more often than not that motivate me and inspire me. I’m really good at the ideas bit, often. Whether it’s generating ideas or just recognising and supporting others’ ideas. It’s the bit I crave, and get overexcited about, as much as the making and experiencing of the exhibition. I love to collaborate. So if I haven’t got anyone else there. I need to make something to bounce off, respond to. But looking around me, there are no constants. My work spaces tend to be a bit messy. I think they’re ordered messes. Things find their way to the surface when the moment is right.

I write lots of things down. Make notes of sounds, tunes, titles. If you want to make exhibitions it’s a good idea to have things ready for just such an occasion. Lists of artists I’d like to meet and work with. Lists of words and sentences if you need to make a song. Questions and structures that I might want to include in something one day. Stuff to do. It is sometimes just in my head also.

Gavin Wade, Songs of the Modern World, 2020, Album cover, designed by James Langdon, New Reality Records

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

Just talking. Bouncing ideas off people. Noticing things and asking questions. I like artist’s writings for that reason. Questioning themselves. Letting things flow out in different forms. I think the equivalent to processes and rituals is to come up with structures that will take time to unravel and work out what to do next. It’s what Eastside Projects is in some ways, or my Strategic Questions project of 40 questions as publications, or even Support Structure, my collaboration with Celine Condorelli. A big system into which I can operate, solve, propose, combine and learn as I go along. My ongoing A–Z Type Display Unit series (After Frederick Kiesler and Adolf Krishanitz) is another one I started in 2015 within Display Show. It gives me scope to include new ideas with existing ones, and to collaborate with other artists, living and dead.

My current collaborations with Paul Conneally are a different example. Mostly based around poetry forms of renga that we write on twitter as #twenga and #tantwenga we send each other a three or two line text and the other responds using the nonlinear system of shared writing based on Japanese renga. When we do the 100 verse Twengas they involve other people from one other to, I think, there was 18 people in the last one we wrote during lockdown, the 11th Twenga. But we just started a whole other project making music together. Paul started a record label called New Reality Records and was asking me to send him words, recordings, songs for him to produce. During lockdown I finally succumbed and it has been quite magical working with him. I always wanted to be a pop star of course, but along with my comic making career it never became my focus, but I’ve always written songs, had words ready for a song, found tunes. I started making a list of all the songs I could remember and had written down and so far I have about 30. Some had lyrics and melodies but not music. Some have music and sounds but not words, and some are quite complete. I’ve been recording them on my phone, sending them to Paul and he has been converting them into wonderful pop moments of sadness and electronics. We made a single and I’ve got an album completed and coming out for the start of October now. It’s called Songs of the Modern World: Volume 1. We’ve decided to make at least 3 volumes. I think we have more in us! I’d really like to make some songs with other people too, lots of great artists I’ve worked with recently who rap and make music, and would love to collaborate on other tracks. There’s an interesting freedom in making songs. It feels like making another artwork to me, but it is different too. In a good way.

What recurring questions do you return to in your work?

Oh, utopia, I suppose. How to get there, and rename it. What can you do in your life, given the opportunities that are available. How can you make life, shape something in the world, shape yourself. What happens when things collide? What’s at that point of intersection? What is our function? Was something that happened, meant to happen for a reason, and I just didn’t get it? I’ve made so many projects using questions. So the form of questions is a methodology to me. My Strategic Questions project has 40 questions of which I’ve answered/published 27 artworks with probably over 100 artists. Still 13 to go. There’s not meant to be a question that you could ask that isn’t contained within one of the 40! They were written by R. Buckminster Fuller back in the 1960s as the set of questions you need to answer if you want to solve all the worlds problems. Fuller was serious about it. He did think the world needed to change its geopolitical structure and think about how everyone could have equal access to the world’s resources. He tried really hard. He was an interesting man, and model for a type of artist in a way. He writes about being able to see the world with fresh eyes, from different perspectives and through others eyes. This was because he had the good fortune to not be diagnosed as being incredibly short sighted until he was older, and so the moment he was given glasses for the first time, he felt like he was completely seeing a new world. One he had never experienced. He was so conscious of that moment of discovery, that the world wasn’t a blur that he tried to approach everything else in his life with that same wonder of seeing something for the first time.

Inside Emma Talbot’s When Screens Break, 2020, Eastside Projects, Birmingham, Photo by Ashley Carr
L-R Zoe Sawyer, Amelia Hawk, Candice Nembhard, Yas Lime, Gavin Wade, Ruth Claxton

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

It’s all risks in life and the artworld in some ways. I know some things are not so much about survival and that I have always felt confident, secure and loved and that I could have a go at doing whatever I set out to achieve. But I never planned to run an art space. I had set my mind to being against the idea that an artist-curator should be hemmed in by running a building, or an organisation, or (the horror) an institution. So in some ways, opening up to the idea that I could create a new entity, an artwork, in collaboration with many others, is how I convinced myself to start up Eastside Projects. It took me a while to warm to the idea that it might be a type of institution. Another structure for achieving things and making things possible. It paid off completely. It has been an incredible 12 years of creativity and amazing people to work with. The structure of Eastside Projects allowed me to make jobs for other people, to bring art, money and ideas into Birmingham, to make connections and influence people and ways of doing things in this city, to be part of something much bigger than me. And it still does. It may not look like a very risky enterprise. But we have gone through a lot here, not least of all the right now. The pandemic has made many things impossible. We can still function, but not without extra support. We have to adapt. Quickly.

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

I really don’t know. It all gets merged into the ways forward. Bounce back. Try and survive. Try and do what you think best. Listen to those you trust. Listen to those you don’t! I actually feel like I’ve got to that age now where it gets harder to pin down moments, and risks. In fact, the thing I would say about ‘risk’ is that our society has become obsessed with it. Risk aversion. And that it is a problem. A way of controlling people and events, actions, dreams, freedom. It’s a big part of the professionalisation and regulation of our lives. And particularly of being an artist. I really prefer to make up my own rules. Which is why I have always loved manifestos, manuals, policies, artworks, but not to control other peoples’ lives, or manipulate other people. To create freedom. I acknowledge that one person’s freedom is another’s prison though. Nothing should be treated as neutral or natural or standard or normal when looking at rules, terms and conditions, codes of conduct. In many ways the biggest risk is when you don't write things with others!

Yelena Popova, The Collectors Case, 2015, Custom flight case, 7 aluminium frames,10 paintings, mixed medium on linen, each 75 x 55cm, from RCA Series 2011 and
Gavin Wade, Proposed Functional Configuration, 2015, 281.5x197.5cm,
1:1 cutting diagram (The size and position of Andrew Lacon’s A Display for Sculpture 07 is set by Gavin Wade as a proposal for the new size and position of the Gallery Entrance of Temple Bar Gallery + Studios), Display Show, 2015, Temple Bar Gallery, Dublin

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

I genuinely don’t have a favourite. It’s one of the weird things about doing an interview where you have a list of questions, rather than are asked in person. You can make something up on the spot if need be, and it will be the favourite thing that popped into your head in that moment, but it’s so reliant on context. I have had so many powerful significant moments in my life where I have made exhibitions and events. I have had opportunities to work with some incredible artists, some outstanding people. It’s more about how things come together over time, which is something you realise the longer you stick at it. There is this seemingly impossible practice now, that I used to have, where you go round the world doing stuff and hanging out with other people who have decided to be artists and curators. It was amazing. But it doesn’t feel like it should happen again. It doesn’t feel relevant any more even. I left London a long time ago now, in 2004. And it has been the true privilege to be able to work in Birmingham so intensively for such a sustained period. And to not travel so much. To not go out into the world to find new experiences. To realise they are all here. I don’t know if I would say that if I hadn’t had that previous experience though. Probably not.

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

Something new about themselves and their relationship to the universe.

What compromises have you made to sustain your practice?

(9 October 2020)


I’d love to leave it at that! You have to make choices. They always involve an element of compromise. You can be positive about it. You compromise something about yourself in a good way when you join with someone else. You gain so much more by not only going with your own impulses.

What advice would you give your past self?

Take better care of your lower back!

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

The comics of Alan Moore. From the age of about 13 up to his most recent Providence series about H.P. Lovecraft which I only read a couple of years ago, Moore’s comics have been a constant jolt to my system. The form, range and ambition of his works are astonishing. ‘Transformed your thinking’ is a big ask, and that is exactly what Alan Moore focuses on. How does art transform our reality? It’s at the heart of Moore’s project. Whenever I read another powerful comic, book, or film, it is partly through the filter of growing up reading Watchmen, Miracleman, Swamp Thing, the Ballad of Halo Jones or From Hell. It stays with you as you encounter other forms. I’d recommend Bucky Fuller’s Synergetics and Synergetics II also. Or most of Fuller’s writings as transformational, for me. Then I weigh them up with and combine them with ongoing recent transformational moments of learning from writings and lectures by Kehinde Andrews here in Birmingham. Kehinde has made me look at the world in a different way. To question an idea of white psychosis and to consider how the world needs to change. To shake off the systems of racism and control that surround us, and that we are part of. To have been able to attend some of his lectures at Birmingham City University and hear his Black Studies students speak about their positions and ideas in the world. To hear Kehinde talk about learning and understanding about black history through hip hop for example, it is so rich and honest and brave. Or have you read any of Adrian Piper’s writings? Everyone should read her words. I’ve been drawn to Piper’s works over the past few years, and she has given so much to art, and to the world. Try and get hold of a copy of Out of Order, Out of Sight, if you can. It includes writings on, alongside and beyond her artworks from the late 60s to the early 90s. Re-reading some of them again over the  past few months makes you realise again how much of a pioneer she is and how much the world still has to catch up with her. And the best sci-fi novels of course. I’m reading Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti series at the moment. The smallest details of cultural practices and moments rendered into reality by her words is real creative power. Real knowledge. Real art.


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Artist Interview: TROIKA

I was first introduced to super-group artist collective Troika around twelve or thirteen years ago, by Keri Elmsly (Senior Vice President, Immersive Development and Production, Madison Square Garden Company).

I was excited to see their show Decode in 2009 at the V&A and have followed their work ever since, and most recently enjoyed seeing Borrowed Light at the Barbican in 2019.

Their keen understanding of people and place means I have proposed them for a number of major public realm commissions, art programmes and collections over the years. Troika are three lovely and very different individual characters, with unique skill sets, ways of seeing, interacting and communicating, and it's a real treat to spend time discussing and developing ideas with them.

Having worked together now for eighteen years, they have a remarkable process and approach to listening, sharing and making together. Their deep consideration of our relationship to nature and technology is engaging, inspirational and transformative. They make spectacular, playful, dynamic work.

          Eva Ruicki, Photo Elena Heatherwick

Troika is a collaborative contemporary art group formed by Eva Rucki (b. 1976, Germany), Conny Freyer (b. 1976, Germany) and Sebastien Noel (b. 1977, France) in 2003. They live and work in London.

With a particular interest in the subjective and objective readings of reality and the various relationships we form with technology, they investigate the ways in which the digital world informs and crosses over into the physical one and how technological advancement influences our relationship with the world and with each other.

Troika’s work is part of the permanent collections of M+, Hong Kong, the Victoria & Albert Museum London, The Art Institute of Chicago, MoMA New York, Jumex Collection Mexico, the Israel Museum and Centre Georges Pompidou.

In 2019 Troika started a research project together with biologists, neuroscientists, the British Antarctic Survey and physicists from Cambridge University which will culminate in a book and a permanent outdoor installation at Cambridge University in 2023. Troika is represented by OMR in Mexico City, and gallery Ron Mandos, Amsterdam.

Eva Rucki, Conny Freyer, Sebastien Noel

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

I am currently reading Underworld by Robert MacFarlane, whose writing I came across in connection with a three year project that we are currently undertaking with Cambridge University.

It is a fascinating excursion into deep time, the expanses of geological time, and explores the relationship between landscape and humans throughout history. The idea that 'Viewed from the perspective of a desert or an ocean human mortality looks absurd.' feels in equal measures nauseating and consoling.

What I haven’t read or watched has probably been as defining in the last months than what I have read. Forgoing social media and the never ending ‘news’ circuit in favour of extended walks and cycles have become a new ritual. The void created by flights-not-taken has made space for more immediate surroundings. It will be interesting to see how much of these new ways we will be carrying with us into our future normal or if we will we just be defaulting to old routines.

Terminal Beach, 2020, Computer animation, custom motion capture, 4:00 min. Sound in collaboration with Dr Nigel Meredith, British Antarctic Survey

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

We work collaboratively as a collective with a studio based practice. So our way of working naturally had to change in the last months. Then again, we have re-invented and adapted our practice on a continuous basis for the past 18 years; so apart from the obvious gravity of the situation, it has been interesting for us to see that we can run our practice in this completely different way yet again.

At the moment we are still predominately working from our respective homes, speaking to each other sometimes several times a day, sometimes every couple of days. That we haven’t returned to the studio yet for good is partly happens stance as we are with most projects in a research phase rather than a ‘making’ phase.

One of these projects is a large scale outdoor installation that we are working towards as part of a three year project with Cambridge University mentioned above. One of the reoccurring themes in our work is how the digital world crosses over into the physical world. In the context of this project we have focused our research on how computational science is employed to explain, model and simulate natural phenomena and life itself.

In addition, we have just completed a short film called Terminal Beach that will be shown at Haus für elektonische Kunst in Basel this August. For the soundtrack we collaborated with Dr Meredith Nigel, Space Weather Research Scientist at the British Antarctic Survey. It had been a while since we worked in this medium and in a strange way being in lock-down has worked well for this piece.

Bits & pieces, studio

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

I like being surrounded by the multitude of artefacts in the studio and equally in our home, ranging from sketches, photographs and collected objects and materials, to everything related to works that are in different stages of becoming, like half build works, sculpture moulds and tests, bits of wires eroded stones, etc.

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

Our projects develop through different stages, from research and conceptualisation to formulating its physical manifestation to the actual making of the works. There are different types of creativity associated to every stage of the process. Often the physical making of one project is a fruitful catalyst for a new work as it allows thoughts to surface unprovoked.

What recurring questions do you return to in your work?

Since we started working together we have been observing and reflecting on how technological advancement is influencing our life, peoples lives. This is broad but if one starts to look closer most of our everyday actions, interactions or decisions are in one way or other governed, filtered, streamlined, aided, assisted by some form of technology.

For something that prevalent, we wanted to understand better the role technology plays in society and how we got to where we are now, a situation where unreflected, disconnected technological development endangers our very existence, be it in the form of AI, overconsumption and production of goods or infringement on natural resources.

As different and new technologies come into the world, we have created a space for ourselves that allows us to tell a different narrative on how these new technologies shape the world and our perception of it.

Irma Watched Over by Machines, 2019, 16 shades of Red, Green and Blue acrylic paint on canvas.
161.5 x 133 x 3 cm and 85 x 63.5 x 4.5 cm, photographed at Troika’s studio

Compression Loss (Venus), 2017, Jesmonite, 165 x 50 x 50 cm, photographed at Troika’s studio

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

Working as a collective across a variety of media seems to be a surprisingly challenging concept for many in the arts. It is less easy to pigeon hole, doesn’t fit in with traditional expectations of the ‘genius’, the collective might break up etc. A well meaning individual has even advised us that we would be more ‘successful’, if we would pursue individual careers. I guess this largely depends on how you define success.

The Weather Yesterday, 2012, Aluminium, acrylic, LEDs, custom electronics, 200 (w) x 500 (h) x 10 (d) cm,
Installation View, Hoxton Square, 2012

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

About 10 years ago we had way too many projects. We were constantly travelling and had lots of people working with us. It can be pretty hard to turn exciting projects down, and it can just be too easy to grow quite quickly. It was getting harder and harder to get into ‘that zone’ that you describe above. So we decided to shrink the studio as much as possible and have no one in on Fridays to ‘reset’ ourselves.

To a lot of people this didn’t make any sense. It doesn’t fit in with current ideas around progress, growth and success – and yet it was the best decision we could have made.

In general, our projects tend to be quite research intensive and we keep on pushing the boundaries of our practice to collaborate with specialists from different fields. The spectrum of our collaborators over the past years has ranged from a bryologists (moss specialist) and a space weather research scientist via mechanical and software engineers of different types to manufacturers of obsolete as well as state of the art technologies. Currently we are working with a scientist studying biomineral formation and ocean chemistry as well as an Arboriculturist.

To constantly engage with different fields of knowledge as well as production and fabrication methods is super exciting, but of course it comes with some risks and each project has a huge learning curve. There are always so many potential issues, that you hadn’t thought about just yet. One of the times where we definitely reached our limit was with the ‘Newton Virus’.

In around 2004 we made this little software, called the Newton Virus, that introduces the concept of gravity into the virtual world, more specifically laptops, and causes desktop icons to become susceptible to Newton’s invisible force so they fall and roll in accordance with any physical movements applied to the computer. The first version became part of the permanent collection of the MOMA and for some reason we felt the urge to make it available to the masses, so it would become part of the ‘real world’. We worked with a couple of different programmers and finally made it for a small cost available for download. We even set up a separate company ‘Troika Artificial Life Ltd’ in case Apple would sue us for IP infringement for a play on their logo and commercials. Although far fetched this was quite an interesting process and thought experiment and somehow part of the work.

What we had not accounted for, however, was that we became inundated with technical support questions. Quite a nightmare, especially as the programmers themselves had moved on to other projects. So the artificial life of the ‘Newton Virus’ as a commercially available entity was rather short lived. Maybe we don’t need to exist in all spaces.

Newton Virus, 2005, Custom designed USB key with virus, 2.5 cm x 4 cm

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

Limits of a Known Territory at NC-arte in Bogota has definitely been one of the exhibitions that was most rewarding. I think with this installation we managed to create an alternate reality that elicits a strong visceral reaction that lies beyond a rational kind of understanding. We had the chance to work with a great team at the foundation that did everything to make it happen.

Apart from that, of course always the one that we are working on at the moment. Untertage is an immersive installation that we are currently working on and that is set to open in February next year. A publication will be accompanying the exhibition that will chart a more encompassing narrative, beyond the works shown in the exhibition, based around the research and thinking that has driven our practice for the last couple of years. It will also include three essays from writers in response to the works which we are very excited about.

Limits of a Known Territory, 2015, site-specific installation, installation view at NC-Arte, Bogota

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

A slight disturbance – just enough to wonder how many different ways there are to experience this fuzzy thing called reality. It is important to me that our work has a kind of openness and generosity that leaves space for people to draw on their own experiences to complete the work. Whilst there is a a lot to discover, there is nothing to ‘get’.

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?

Setting an afternoon in the studio aside for a visit works best for us. In addition to the projects we think could be interesting to discuss we often end up delving into completely different subjects prompted by the artefacts and works that are around in the studio, depending on what the visitor feels naturally drawn to.

Unedited upfront feedback is something we get the most out of there and then, but to continue the dialogue beyond a one-off studio visit and to turn it into a longer term relationship is ultimately what is most valuable to us. Our work is quite demanding so it takes time.

Borrowed Light, 2018, Installation View, Barbican, Photographic film, aluminium, motor, 12m (H) x 1m (W) x 20cm (D)

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

We work with several different galleries, but have been working the longest with Mexico based gallery OMR. It’s a relationship that has evolved and is still evolving. Despite the distance this has worked well. It doesn’t really change our work so much, it’s just that some of our works are more suited to be acquired by collectors than others. Apart from the sale of our works, they have been very supportive in facilitating larger projects and immersive installations such as Limits of a known territory and Dark Matter.

Dark Matter, 2014, Wood, aluminium, black flock, 237.5 x 237.5 x 237.5 cm
Art Basel Unlimited, Installation View, 2014, Photo: Simon Zachary Chetrit

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

The ideas and themes we are interested in come to the fore in a lot of the discussions that we might have with a closer circle of friends of artists, writers, architects and designers. Discussions specific to the works largely take place between the three of us. We have been each others sounding boards for the past 18 years and this trialogue has been quite fruitful.

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

From a historical perspective Juan Downey stands out for us. He was as much of an explorer and amateur anthropologist as he was an artist, always interested in understanding and making visible the feedback loops and our hidden relationship with technology. The work and/or writing of Mark Leckey, Hito Steyerl and Pierre Huyghe has had a strong influence on our practice. Maybe not exactly in conversation with, but to name a few others Cécile B. Evans, Cao Fei, Julian Charriére, Tuur van Balen & Revital Cohen, all reflect in their work in one way or another on the impact that technological development has on our perception of self and our surroundings in interesting ways.

How do you make money to support your practice?

It’s a mix - we work with several galleries that sell our works; we work with curatorial organisations on larger site specific sculptures and installations; and we do a little bit of teaching.

What advice would you give your past self?

Don’t overthink it, just get on with it and work through it. We tend to be extremely critical of our own and each others ideas which can sometimes be stifling. A work develops further in the making process and it doesn’t need to be entirely thought out right from the beginning.

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

I have loved following film maker Mania Akbari’s ‘Conversation during coronavirus on IG live’. Some episodes are in depth conversations, in others she creates a space for someone’s meandering thoughts. I have enjoyed its unpretentious personal format that seems to be entirely unaware of an audience beyond the exchange.

Follow Troika @troika_london, visit their website

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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?


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

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).


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.


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

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 Friday 28 August 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


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?


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

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



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.



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

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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).


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  @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...



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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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"



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.


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.


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.

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.


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.


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.


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.

silent sound

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.


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, 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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


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
For exhibition or sales enquiries please quote code AM_B1

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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We've changed our name to CERI HAND and have a new website here