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Transcript Adjustments Interview with Niru Ratman - Store Gallery on Friday 31 September 2006 by

Full Circle Arts

The following is a transcript of an interview we did at the early stage of the project with Niru Ratman from Store Gallery who was curating the off site art work of Ryan Gander at Whitechapel gallery. Interviewer: Chris Hammond - Full Circle Arts

Project funded by Arts Council England

The Interview Store Transcript from Chris hammond interviewing Niru Ratman CHRIS: Niru could you tell me about both your history of working with Ryan as an artist and the background to your involvement in this project. NIRU: Ryan’s first show for us was actually in this space at Store and for that show we got a Grant for the Arts bid. So there’s been a link with Ryan for years now. We did a second show as well, which also got a grant, so this time as a matter of courtesy we told Michelle that we were planning this big off site piece and she was the one who told us about the managed fund project and the timing seemed to dovetail really well. So that’s why we were not part of the initial phase, so we have come on board really through my connections at the Arts Council and that’s really how it all came to fit together. It’s not one of the 3 original managed arts fund pieces it’s been funded through a Grant for the Arts bid. It’s usual if an artist is working with a gallery for the gallery to put in the funding bid. It’s a good thing to be working alongside other exhibitions, we’ve benefited from Arts Council support in the past, and we know how difficult it is to market outside your own niche or beyond your own mailing list. When we had the first show of Ryan here for an example, we are a small commercial space, we have a mailing list of about 800 people and that list doesn’t change very much. We don’t have the resources to ramp up the mailing list to say 2,000 people. If you are honest about wanting to reach new audiences this way of working makes perfect sense. It’s very difficult to do so on your own, part of the difficulty is as a small organisation it’s difficult to know what to do, we have taken advice, but so far we have not really attracted anyone out of the ordinary. So it’s important to get someone in who knows what they are doing, who has got the contacts and can do some cross marketing. It’s even more important to us since this is an off site piece, so there’s no history of place or audiences. We’ll get people in because we are very good at getting the art world in because after all we’re a commercial space we have very strong links with the London art world even the international art world, but not very good links with people not directly involved in the contemporary art world. It’s almost a circuit but it’s also a perception people, I think wrongly, err, still think that the commercial art galleries are not for them or that galleries are somehow exclusive, when of course really in London it’s a huge free resource that people can use, but its very difficult to change peoples perception around that. You

tend to get two different worlds of the non-commercial art sector and the commercial art sector. This is why we get excited about Cubit, we’ve been talking to Tom Wharton and there is a problem that certain people go to Cubit and certain people come to Store and there’s not enough cross over between them. It does make sense for there to be more of a conversation between the commercial and non-commercial sector and this [project] is a perfect example of that happening. The Arts Council does its best but because of its charter it isn’t allowed to directly help commercial projects. So then there are not many commercial galleries who do non-commercial things, like we are one of the few. Some do one off non-commercial things but we do quite a few of them. For example I like to sell a lot but there’s never much opportunity to get together on anything. This is a really good opportunity to do just that. Store sells a lot but there’s not much opportunity to cross work. Store is quite unusual different we do have quite a big curatorial input. It’s not just about artists like Ryan but someone like Chris Evans who does quite a lot of more ethereal type stuff, there’s no kind of product or end result to them really. In fact we’re opening a new strand of notfor-profit in September based here. We’re moving down the road. The problem with most commercial galleries is that it’s very difficult for them to do non-commercial stuff and actually vice versa say for Cubit or Space to do something that will generate them some cash, which they need to do as well because they’re really struggling with, err the amount of money they get from Government. So you need to address this problem by coming at it with these one off projects like this. If this works then we could say look there a collaborative process between perhaps Cubit and a commercial space and it works. CHRIS: Do you envisage any issues for Ryan in the link between his exhibition and the three others that are taking part in this project? The disability aspect is a bit of a red herring because people say oh look it’s all united through disability, but actually it’s united in a number of ways in some ways it’s as fruitful to say look there are four different spaces that are working together. There might be this uniting theme of disability within cultural diversity but you can look at it in many different ways I think. It’s a difficult question because yes on one hand it is about disability, but you don’t want to over play that. Artists are afraid that disability aspect is overplayed. Its one of those things you just have to do and see what happens and try and negotiate.

Not a massive problem, if someone says its 4 artists who are disabled then I say so what. I keep thinking of ethnicity, this has direct links to ethnicity the debates are very similar to the debates in ethnicity, which is the area I have been working in. People say why are we exhibiting together? Is it because we are all artists of colour? Well that might be the funding reason at the route of the project, but then the potential is to create cultural object, which isn’t about that at all, or sometimes is about that. I think the challenge for you [Full Circle Arts| in particular is how to deal with those questions and say yeah well its there, its just there, but its an everyday fact it’s not a special thing. Its just an every day thing and so what. CHRIS: I think I was expecting people, well certainly artists to have these concerns and it’s part of the process really that they raise these concerns with us, and that we can note them as part of the project. NIRU: Some artists have had misgivings because they just want people to look at the work and that’s fair enough. Artists want people to look at the work primarily, it is a difficult issue, an issue that artists from a number of groups over the years have had to deal with and one that artists have to work through whether it was the seventies and feminist artists or the eighties and Black British artists. There’s no easy answer it’s something that has to be endlessly renegotiated. The only way to renegotiate it is to give it a go and see what works and what doesn’t work. There’s no simple answer to it. CHRIS: It goes beyond diversity or inclusion, it’s such a solitary and personal dialogue with your own work as a visual artist, so that suddenly when you are grouped as part of a collaborative project say rather than just artists from the same studio showing, you then question the connections being made. NIRU: I don’t envy your task in many ways it’s a contradiction it is something that’s there and its something that isn’t simultaneously. It is the same with ethnicity, people say what do you mean it is and it isn’t there well what you mean is yes it’s something that is there but not something that’s special. There’s an essay that Kwabena Mercer wrote about 3 years ago about artists of colour and it seemed to be an endless debate. There had been twenty years of debate around artists of colour. Should they exhibit together, should they not, did it matter if they didn’t exhibit together, and after twenty years of debate suddenly it didn’t seem to matter anymore, and whatever the victories were whatever the losses were whatever position you had taken multi culturalism had become the norm. Multi-culturalism is an

unfortunate term but he used phrase multi-culturalism normalisation to suggest it was just there it was just a fact of life. The debates were really important but I think that this will happen around this aspect [disability] of multi-culturalism but that it takes quite a time to work through things. CHRIS: I can understand the artists who do not want others to pre judge or contextualise their work for them. NIRU: That’s understandable but look back, think back Anish Kapoor who went to India and whose work was heavily influenced by Indian mythology, his pigments were even the ones used in Hindu work. His work couldn’t have been more about Hinduism, yet simultaneously he was very keen, aggressively keen, not to be categorized by his ethnicity. So there’s a similarity to the artists you are talking about in that his work specifically referenced ethnicity but he wanted nothing to do with the black art movement or to be seen as a British Asian artist, which caused quite a stir people thought he was a traitor to the cause in some ways. There are a number of parallels. Inevitably his work is informed by ethnicity but that is not necessarily the most informing factor and there are many levels on which to see his work, that this is just sometimes one of them. NIRU on RYAN: I think a number of artists working with disability, when they are just emerging; they are very keen for the work just to speak for itself. The same was the case for Ryan about 4 years ago, but now he’s a very established artist. So it doesn’t seem to matter anymore, in the way that it may matter to an emerging artist. Now Ryan’s secure in his position and that his work won’t necessarily be seen as coming from one position. The same could be said about Chris Ofili or Steve McQueen they didn’t want their work to be seen as necessarily about ethnicity but they are confident enough now to shrug their shoulders and say well if people want to see it that way or the other way that’s OK. It’s to do with confidence. If you work in the arts world and you are disabled or from an ethnic minority you are going to get noticed because you are different and when you are young this can be very freaky but not so much as you get older or more established. CHRIS: Any thoughts on how you would wish to market Ryan’s show. It’s not so much the content as who it gets out to. We’re keen to break out of the commercial non-commercial deadlock. To blur the boundaries. One of the ways you

could help is to say offer an umbrella around everyone’s own marketing. It’s additional, something on top of their own identity and marketing. There's no doubt that there is this notion of cultural diversity, and as a funding term its definitely there, but people simply always equate it with ethnicity and one of the key things from the Arts Council’s point of view is that it’s a much wider group. So one of the ways is to say look we are just exploring what this all means, does it make sense does it not make sense. It’s important to tell the artists that there is no crazy curatorial idea behind this. The people who ought to be up there talking about this are the Arts Council because no one really knows what they have done if anything in this field. Asking the Arts Council Ok what have you done? What have you done that works, that doesn’t work? What does this mean for artists of colour, artists with disability? And just draw the whole thing together. One thing that I’m working on at Arts Council is trying to encourage young curators of colour to come forward and to open debate about what it means to be a curator of colour, it’s all in there, in some ways its all open, lets look at all these labels and say how can they be enabling rather than restrictive. Arts Council have influence it would be good to use the Auditorium at the Tate and have a seminar. Artists and young curators could have space to explore this massive area called cultural diversity, debate about why it can be a good term rather than something that’s clunky. What always amuses me is that I work in the commercial art world and I have a connection to the funded arts world through the Arts Council. In the commercial art world these things matter far less, for example in the commercial art world Ryan is not seen as an artist with disability, he is seen as a hot young artist who people want to buy, frankly. People are much more basic they just see the work, it’s in the noncommercial sector where there’s a lot of mentally falling over these terms and everything. There are some things that some people could learn from the commercial world. OK it’s a position the artists are coming from and to some extent it will feed into their creative output but it’s not something that needs to be necessarily appended onto their work all the time. So that’s something that the commercial world does very well that the non-commercial work struggles with. Also the Arts Council and DCMS are the main drivers around this and its good to use the opportunity to interrogate them so that people can see how these things are being thought through, that its not something being handed down from above. It’s as important to get ACE there as well as artists there.

This report is supplemented by: A project report The full filmed debate at Tate Modern on DVD A transcript from the debate at the Tate

Websites for organisations and galleries involved are: Arts Council England Full Circle Arts Cell Store Gasworks Space

Full Circle Arts 7 Schoolhouse Second Avenue Trafford Park Village Manchester M17 1DZ Telephone: 0161 872 0326 Website: Email:

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Adjustments interview with Niru Ratman  

Adjustments interview with Niru Ratman