British Art News: Newsletter of the British Art Network, December 2023

Page 1

BRITISH ART NEWS THE NEWSLETTER OF THE BRITISH ART NETWORK December 2023 Emerging Curators Group Alumni Takeover

1


The British Art Network (BAN) promotes curatorial research, practice and theory in the field of British art. Our members include curators, academics, artist-researchers, conservators, producers and programmers at all stages of their professional lives. All are actively engaged in caring for, developing and presenting British art, whether in museums, galleries, heritage settings or art spaces, in published form, online or in educational settings, across the UK and beyond. CONTENTS Convenor’s Introduction..................................................................................................3 ECG 2024 Announcement................................................................................................7 ECG Newsletter Takeover Introduction......................................................................................................................8 Worlds within Worlds: Basil Olton...................................................................................11

☄ ✴ sky-watching with RA Walden’s access points: Eloise Bennett..............................12 The labyrinthine works of Ann Churchill: Jacqui McIntosh..............................................16 The Birmingham Art Scene: Yasmyn Nettle.....................................................................19 Eyes in the dark, One moon circles: Laura McSorley........................................................21 Visual Descriptions: Juliana Capes...................................................................................24 Spoken Worlds Introduction: Language Matters are Political and Social Matters ..................................29 Spoken Worlds Diaspora Manifesto.................................................................................30 Film: Practising Bilingualism in Diaspora …......................................................................31 Spoken Worlds Dictionary/Lexicon …...............................................................................32

The British Art Network is supported by Tate and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art with additional public funding provided by the National Lottery through Arts Council England. 2


CONVENOR’S INTRODUCTION While at the Paul Mellon Centre at the start of the recent BAN Curatorial Forum, which brought together 12 curators based around the world for a 10-day programme of visits and discussion in London, Manchester and Eastbourne, we went into the archive display focussed on the art historian, collector, curatorial advisor and sometime museums administrator Paul Oppé (1878-1957). Oppé specialised in British art, publishing work which some would regard as exemplary art history. But what we reflected upon during the visit were those questions which recur across BAN’s activities – and which are to the fore in this edition of our Newsletter organised by alumni members of the Emerging Curators Group: Who gets to be a curator? How do you survive? Oppé’s life was not one of precarity: he had an elite education, came from an affluent background, had a well-paid job in the civil service that funded his collecting and research, and lived most of his adult life in a handsome early Georgian house on Cheyne Walk, Chelsea.

Photo of Paul Oppé at home, c.1955 (PMC Archive, APO 10/3/1)

Looking over the display, we spent the most time with a sequence of letters from 1955 between Oppé and a younger American-based art historian, David Loshak (1919-1996). After co-authoring a major book on the artist Thomas Girtin (1954) and curating a show of the Victorian artist G.F. Watts at the Tate Gallery (1954-5), Loshak was looking to Oppé for 3


a reference to support his application for a fellowship to allow him to study in England. He was to be disappointed. Oppé refused, dismissing the younger scholar’s work outright. In defending himself, the shocked Loshak frankly outlined his material circumstances:

Excerpt of an air mail letter from David Loshak to Paul Oppé, 17 August 1955 (PMC archive, APO 1/11/3)

Loshak didn’t get his fellowship. He went on to teach at various US universities before settling in Denmark, but never became securely established in the field of British art.

Thomas Girtin, ‘Warkworth Castle, Northumberland’, ca. 1798, Watercolour. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, B1977.14.362. 4


There was a lot in common between the two: they were both straight men from middleclass backgrounds; they shared an interest in Girtin, who embodies classic “British art” in its narrowest definition; both had Jewish diasporic heritage. In fact, in their correspondence Loshak tried hard to fit in with Oppé’s expectations about connoisseurship and art historical value. But there were tremendous differences as well. Oppé’s father was a successful silk trader, his mother from a family of wealthy textile merchants. The family’s Jewish roots were generally disavowed: originally Oppenheimers, they adopted the Frenchified surname in the 19th century. Loshak’s father, Meyer, was in the fur trade, starting humbly in London’s East End. He was a Russian Jew, exiled in 1906 for his involvement in the Communistaligned Bund (Jewish labour movement). The barest statement of the family’s movements – from Gritsev to Whitechapel, to Stoke Newington and Pinner (where David Loshak was born in 1919) suggests an ‘immigrant success story’. Critically, the older man presented as English gentleman-scholar: considered, pedantic, connoisseurial. By contrast, the younger man had qualified academically as an art historian in the US and drew from Marxism and social history to contextualise Girtin. In Oppé’s view his scholarship was therefore ‘reckless … superficial … undisciplined … immature’, his language and judgement distorted by a training and identity remote from ‘English common sense’. In its specifics, the Loshak-Oppé exchange exposes a compounding of anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism and anti-intellectualism within the English art establishment (a mix exposed by another product of the GI Bill in the 1950s with Russian-Jewish heritage, the artist R.B. Kitaj). More generally, the exchange discloses the fiction that art-workers’ time is neutral or outside social experience and suggests the degree to which status in the field of culture is a matter of behaviours and position as much as actual content. While Oppé was part of the social elite and youthfully gained academic appointments before being given a senior civil service appointment, Loshak’s earlier career was quite different. Originally sent to the US in connection with the family business, he wrote art criticism sporadically, worked as the secretary of the Clay Club (now the Sculpture Center) in New York, and helped organise exhibitions. This was a largely ‘unsubsidised’, precarious existence, familiar to many today. The opportunity to consider these issues in the company of the BAN Forum, a group of global curators whose wide-ranging engagements with British art were in many cases shaped by the legacies of colonialism, was enlightening. These reflections on Loshak and Oppé may also offer a historical perspective on the content offered below. 5


This issue of BAN’s Newsletter has come about through the Collaborative Projects funding opportunity offered annually to members of the Emerging Curators Group, and brings together content and reflections resulting from two of the projects undertaken by the 2022 group. These Emerging Curators Group members have had a free hand to develop the form and structure of the Newsletter, and the pieces that follow take a variety of styles and positions, from the reflective to the polemical. Apparent across these pieces is the deeply felt experience of precarity, and ‘the socio-spatial impact of racialised and gendered bodies in occupational spaces for which they are not the normative figures’ (Puwar). There are, too, various calls for solidarity and resilience. The curatorial or discursive juxtaposition of ‘past and present’ performed above is often aimed at preserving, and reserving, heritage, or ‘working through the past’, leading to exclusionary exhortations: “the past looks different but hey, really it’s the same” therefore your present experience can be dismissed, or “stop complaining; it’s all happened before; your methods and insights are not new, or not yours” therefore stop thinking … While BAN knowingly brings together those engaged curatorially with the historic, the modern and the contemporary, the aim is perhaps, different. We could instead start imagining fourdimensional curatorial communities in this context, communities stretching back into history as well as into the future, and characterised not by enduring mindsets or methodologies but by a critical engagement with the dynamics of inclusion/exclusion, a wish for a more inclusive and engaged curatorial future. Martin Myrone BAN Convenor Notes “History is an Art”: Selections from the Paul Oppé Archive, display at the Paul Mellon Centre, Bedford Square, London: display booklet available here Theodore W. Adorno, ‘The Meaning of Working Through the Past’, available in various editions, and online here Sara Ahmed, On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life, Duke University Press 2012 Pierre Bourdieu, Pascalian Meditations, trans. Richard Nice, Cambridge University Press 2000 Hans C. Hönes, "The Rise and Fall of the “Clerks”: British Art History, 1950–1970", British Art Studies, Issue 24 Nirmal Puwar, Space Invaders: Race, Gender and Bodies Out of Place, Berg 2004 6


EMERGING CURATORS GROUP 2024 We are delighted to share with the Network that the members of sixth Emerging Curators Group will be:

Alex Day Amy Cameron Bella Okuya Calum Bayne Cecelia Graham Ese Onojeruo Gill Crawshaw Hadeel Eltayeb Hannah Willetts Jessica Wan Kelly Rappleye Krupa Desai Rebecca Livesey-Wright Wanja Kimani Yang Li The fifteen members will be meeting online and in person over a nine-month period from January to September 2024, and receiving bursary support and advice towards their research and curatorial professional development. For more information on the initiative, see the Emerging Curators Group section of the BAN website, where profiles on each of the new members for 2024 will soon be published. 7


ECG Newsletter Takeover Introduction

ECG 2022 at Manchester Art Gallery, June 2022. Photo: Andrew Brooks

The British Art Network Emerging Curators Group is a series of workshops and events, a source of funding for curatorial and research projects, and somewhere to think through urgencies in curating ‘British’ art. Operating since 2015, the peer support group establishes space and time to gather, both online and in person. It is a forum for constructive critique, unlearning, listening, sharing knowledge and ideas. For many of us, it is a programme filled with conversation, friendship, exchange and collaboration. Reflecting on our year together in 2022, the word on our mind is support. Artist and writer Céline Condorelli defines this as that which ‘bears, sustains, props, and holds up’, ‘those things that encourage, give comfort, approval, and solace’. 1 She describes the proximity necessary to support: the negotiations and alliances towards ‘being-incommon’. 2 We understand this proximity not as geographic or physical closeness necessarily, but as a quality of relation, an intimacy and involvement. We feel that so much of being an ‘emerging curator’ in the UK at this time involves not being supported – & the attendant struggles and sadness that this entails. We regularly encounter problems where support structures disintegrate, are pushed to their limits, or were never there at all. Our group stands in contrast to this: it is a supportive endeavour that centres reciprocity, 0F

1F

1 2

Céline Condorelli, Support Structures (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2009), 0.1. Condorelli, Support Structures, 191.

8


friendship and community. To mark our year of support, group member Eloise Bennett shares her weather reports from each time we met. It is within these meteorological conditions, beneath these skies, that our conversations unfolded – ☀ March Sun, passing clouds, glimpses of blue. A few of us sitting by the river together before we begin. Spring flowers in abundance. We’ve spoken before but this really feels like a beginning. Bright light inward through the windows. Standing with a new friend beside the low blue fountain, taking a breath of air. ☂ June Rain and grey skies. Some are very prepared for this (they have carefully read the email, checked the forecast). The dark and clouded night wraps us up, but we sit in an indoor garden under threads of clear white light. In the morning grey clouds turn to brightness – reflecting from green leaves through tall white windows, a closing dusk. ☁ November A yellow glow on the horizon line as we arrive. Short days, marked by the darkening evenings and mornings as we talk over breakfast. Grey clouds gathering over the water, reflected in the surface: layers upon layers. The following morning: blue to the edge, where white wisps crowd the horizon. Brightest of skies marking our last time in person together. Although each ECG meets for just a year, the turning wheel of our seasons has been extended and stretched out: it is ongoing through our continued collaborations. To celebrate both this passing and continuation, this newsletter takeover brings together contributions from six of us. Compiling this visual and textual work has taken on a slow rhythm, one in which we get to know one another’s work all the better. Laura McSorley shares her insights on the realities and precarity of being a cultural worker. Laura’s writing candidly shares experiences many of us have in common. This account relates closely to her critical work around and within artist-led and DIY art ecologies, alternative models and the politics of labour. In their contribution, Yasmyn Nettle visualises the dominance of white curators and directors within Birmingham’s arts scene, unfolding the repercussions of this. Yasmyn highlights the vulnerability and exploitation faced by Black and Global Majority practitioners and calls for sincere and sustained change. Yasmyn and Laura’s texts reflect the ECG as a forum to critique existing structures in the art world. They bring frequently unspoken and overlooked experiences to the surface, and start to 9


propose other possibilities. In dialogue with one another, they suggest that one of the responsibilities of curating, producing and organising is to articulate and realise alternative futures. Writings by Jacqui McIntosh and Eloise Bennett explore works by contemporary artists, thinking and writing with these pieces to unravel their meaning and significance. Jacqui examines the energetic flow of Ann Churchill’s drawings and paintings. Her writing dwells with the vibrant colours, esoteric visions and the interplay between hand and unconscious mind in these works. This text is one iteration of Jacqui’s important research on spiritual development and artistic output, including automatic drawing practices and the influence of occult theories in both historical and contemporary art. Eloise takes a spiralling journey through the sculptural, sonic, poetic and archival realms of RA Walden’s access points // or // alternative states of matter(ing) to explore elemental connections, vulnerabilities and sickness. The text is accompanied by endnotes including music, poetry and spacecraft that fed into her writing and thinking. Basil Olton shares a short poetic text, ‘Worlds within Worlds’ which reflects on the violence, entrapment and spectacle of still images of Black British communities. His writing explores the paired activities of rupture and suture – breakdown, breach, overspilling and stitching back together. As an artist, curator and researcher, Basil’s practice explores the effects of colonialism, the fragility of memory, commemoration and identity.

Basil Olton, Eloise Bennett, Jacqui McIntosh, Yasmyn Nettle, Laura McSorley Emerging Curators Group 2022

10


Worlds within Worlds: Basil Olton Black British community trapped in the stillness of repression, La Jetée, Black British community trapped in the stillness of repression, La Jetée, Museum effect. Windrush. Spectacle of the still image, Repetition, Violence of the still image, Black music the cut/ rupture/ rhythm, Repetition, The improvised passing of fragmented moments Rupture and suture Rupture and suture Heterotopias, Worlds within worlds, Mirroring yet upsetting what is outside, Outside/ Inside The rupture of the still image, The violence of the still image, The violence of Windrush.

Copyright Basil Olton 2023 11


☄ ✴ sky-watching with RA Walden’s access points: Eloise Bennett

RA Walden, access points // or // alternative states of matter(ing), 2023. Installation view of Outlooks: RA Walden at Storm King Art Center, Mountainville, NY, 2023. Courtesy the artist. Photo by Jeffrey Jenkins.

In recent weeks I’ve noticed marks in fields and wastelands: bent nodes, sections flattened by bodies passing through or resting, vehicles turning, or wind through the crops. I read, with horror at the timing, a live-feed from the congressional sessions featuring nonhuman biologics, reverse engineering vehicular debris, conspiracy, doubt and denial. Watching from train windows, down overgrown lanes and on walks at the edge of town, I wonder what these markings and movements might portend. When I visited RA Walden’s studio in February a drawing was taped to the wall. It shows the structure of the six most common elements on our planet: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulphur. Rovers and space probes are programmed to seek out these molecules on other planets, caching samples and searching for evidence of ancient life or future habitable environs. Each of Walden’s drawings might be a map or score, 12


composed of moments for movement and rest. Several months later, the drawings exist as large-scale, perforated aluminium structures evoking crop circles on a sloping bank in upstate New York. Hovering just above the surface of the earth, light shifts and reflects across them, and they are transfigured, too, by accompanying writings, sonic works and a research archive. RA Walden, Preparatory sketch for access points // alternative states of matter(ing) at Storm King Art Center. Photo by RA Walden.

Walden’s work brings together fragments of thinking and feeling across crip time, illegible states of the body and the entwined lives of these molecules. Their writings draw attention to the constant co-constitution of bodies and environments, re-grounding sickness as part of this, in soil, cloud, ash, a spiralling snail shell, the glow of sulphur burning. Sound pieces by Walden and artist-composer The Honourable Elizabeth A. Baker weave through unfamiliar terrains. I hear: breath, lamenting, metallic heaving, drones and birdsong, a whispered word caught in my throat. Sounds dissolve and echo, defying stillness and resonating between the six compositions. Evoking molecular intimacy, these works bring our landed bodies into direct connection with bodies of land, emphasising the vulnerabilities of both. In metal, words and sound, Walden conceives of sickness as a form of visitation: the arrival and presence of an (uninvited) other, dwelling with and hosting. Visitation can refer to the appearance of a divine or supernatural being – sometimes sacred, sometimes unwelcome. It can manifest as both divine punishment and blessèd encounter. Until recently, knowledge about extra-planetary visitation and crop circles has been treated with disdain and disbelief, categorised as falsehood or hoax. The visitation of sickness is one which similarly incites a demand for proof, validity and legitimacy. Walden’s work asks us to listen closely to the echo of disdain towards crop circles, as they appear in the field and by the roadside, connecting it to the disbelief directed towards the experiences and needs of disabled people. access points // or // alternative states of matter(ing) circles the aftermath 13


of visitation: the drawn-out moment of change in which what was familiar becomes unrecognisable.

RA Walden, Still from Oxygen. Sound & performance: The Honourable Elizabeth A. Baker. Mastering: Melissa Harris Chambers. Video: Judy Landkammer. Drone videography: Noisemaker Media & Noah Rosecrans. Courtesy the artist.

With RA at the studio, I looked through a collection of publications arranged in small piles on the floor. This ephemera documents decades of attentive sky-watching and field observation, a developing lexicon, and instances of participation through the reporting of circles and sightings. Scans of these appear in Walden’s website for the project, a meticulous catalogue of captured images, video footage, samples and diagrams. The reports remind me of my own writings to record recurring pain, as though an archive of phone notes might constitute accepted evidence. Walden’s work acts to archive these publications, with their visions of interconnected organisms, receptive states, mysterious happenings and transfiguration. Self-published, carefully folded and stapled, they assemble a lore around extraterrestrial visitation, the body and the land. The notion of hoax through which crop circles are dismissed has links to phrases of faux Latin, magic and sonic hauntings. Hoaxing is usually negatively imbued, related to forms of deceit and conspiracy. But in Walden’s work, the hoaxed offers a place to glimpse the unseen, to deviate from accepted forms of knowledge and to assemble a research methodology that dwells in unknowing. To conspire is, here, to weave narrative, symbol and language around phenomena and experiences that are deemed inexplicable, intangible and/or non-existent. Through interwoven sculpture, poetry, audio and video Walden maps our elemental connections, parallels our bodily and planetary vulnerabilities, sickness and visitation, while reflecting on change, transformation, doubt, and new methods for survival. I wonder about how we might conspire as communities through these poetic modes: like the sky-watchers comparing notes, commoning evidence, building in contestation and reconciliation. 14


Screenshots from: RA Walden, Exhibition Website for access points // or // alternative states of matter(ing). Courtesy the artist.

☄ ✴ endnotes things I’ve been listening to & thinking about: Mica Levi’s Lipstick to the Void and Love from the Under The Skin soundtrack as well as their publication of scores STAR STAR STAR The Nasa Voyager mission status page. A friend coincidentally updated me on the whereabouts of Voyager 1: it has been in interstellar space for over a decade now, but will remain within our solar system for another 14,000 years, minimum Laurie Spiegel’s realisation of Johannes Kepler's Harmonices Mundi which features on the Voyager Golden Record CA Conrad’s guidance for creating your own (Soma)tic Poetry Rituals, Conrad’s poetry – and wider concrete poetic practices – resonate for me with Walden’s experimentation here This Karen Barad excerpt from Meeting the Universe Halfway: ‘Matter’s dynamism is generative not merely in the sense of bringing new things into the world but in the sense of bringing forth new worlds, of engaging in an ongoing reconfiguring of the world. Bodies do not simply take their places in the world. They are not simply situated in, or located in, particular environments. Rather, ‘environments’ and ‘bodies’ are intra-actively coconstituted. Bodies (‘human,’ ‘environmental,’ or otherwise) are integral ‘parts’ of, or dynamic reconfigurings of, what is.’ & mineral intimacy, a poem by Daisy Lafarge Walden’s poems can be read in this pdf, while the sound pieces can be listened to on the Storm King site. The exhibition website can be experienced here. Thank you RA for letting me take this small space to reflect on your work, and to Adela Goldsmith for support with images, permissions and captions. 15


The labyrinthine works of Ann Churchill: Jacqui McIntosh The creative output of Ann Churchill (b. 1944) spans over fifty years. This incredible, ongoing body of work, encompassing drawing, painting, beading, knitting and more has, until recently, been largely unseen beyond family and friends. Through her inclusion in shows such as the Hayward Gallery Touring exhibition Not Without My Ghosts: The Artist as Medium (2020–22) and her recent exhibition at Quench Gallery in Margate (2023), her extraordinary work is finally finding the audience it deserves. This newfound recognition comes at a time of increased interest in the work and lives of artists such as Hilma af Klint (1862–1944), Georgiana Houghton (1814–84), Madge Gill (1882–1961) and Ithell Colquhoun (1906–88) – artists whose output during their lifetime was either completely unknown or who sat at the fringes of an art historical canon not quite ready to embrace their esoteric and spiritual vision. Like Churchill, these were women who placed automatism at the centre of their practices and whose spiritual and artistic development was intertwined. For Churchill, life and making have always been interconnected. Her early black and white ‘daily drawings’, drawn using the finest-tipped Rotring ink pens, were made in the short hours whilst her youngest child napped. As her children absorbed more and more of her time, she worked on larger ink pieces that she could stop and start when she had moments to herself. Full of vibrant colour, these intensely worked pieces (made from the mid-1970s onwards) are endlessly fascinating Ann Churchill, Octagonal Drawing, 1976, Ink on paper, 55.6 x 56 cm

to view, filled with passage after passage of intricate, labyrinthine and abstracted patterns. Like the virtuosic whiplash line created by Aubrey Beardsley (1872–98), Churchill’s drawing weaves and coils, following an energetic flow which takes the eye from form to form. These incredible works on paper were made without planning or preparatory drawing, emerging instead from the subtle interplay between the hand and the unconscious mind. 16


Just over ten years ago, Churchill embarked on a new way of making and taught herself to paint with watercolour. These enormous works on paper (the largest of which is almost 4 metres wide) differ from her earlier abstract pieces. They display immense, invented landscapes with skies that merge into land and rivers, building layer upon layer of worldly realms, connected by energetic forces. Constructed from scores of smaller paintings and stitched together using linen thread, Churchill works without a plan, making automatically and following Ann Churchill, Large Scroll: Two Trees, 2015–2023

where her intuition takes her. Later, when her works are laid out and pieced together, she finds an energetic rhythm that connects them – an instinctive, synchronistic process that she’s described as akin to ‘creating order from chaos’ 3 2F

During the first national lockdown in 2020, circles began to appear more frequently within Churchill’s work. In one large-scale piece, circles, filled with abstract forms and patterns, cluster around seven standing stones or ‘rock goddesses’. 4 For Churchill, these circles represent the departing souls of those lost during the pandemic. Their outlined forms appear at times to merge into the background, her work suggesting that their life force is not lost but is instead transformed and returned to nature. 3F

Churchill’s focus on the feminine within the natural landscape links her to a lineage of women artists such as radical feminists Monica Sjöö (1938–2005) and Judy Chicago (b. 1939). Her works also resonate strongly with those of the British artist and occultist Ithell Colquhoun (1906–88), whose drawings and paintings often explored her animistic belief in an Earth that is alive - where all living things, including humans, are connected by a vital, energetic spirit and force. Churchill’s goal has always been to visualise the energy and unseen forces that exist between the mind, the body, and the world around us. As viewers,

3 4

Conversation between the author and Ann Churchill at her home in Bath, Monday 5 December 2022. Ibid

17


we are invited into her incredible invented worlds, to experience our own place within them.

Ann Churchill, Large Scroll: Two Ravens, 2010-2023. Mixed media on paper, 296 x 144 cm

Jacqui McIntosh, 2023 This is an abridged version of an essay written to accompany the exhibition GRATITUDENOUSLY: Ann Churchill & J.M. Churchill at Quench Gallery, 28 January – 5 March 2023 Click here to download and read the essay in full Link to Ann’s website - https://annchurchill.art 18


The Birmingham Art Scene: Yasmyn Nettle The Birmingham arts scene is run and controlled by white people in positions of power and has been for decades. This is what white supremacy and neo-colonialism looks like.

A random pixel was chosen from the cheek or forehead of publicly available photographs of the white directors, curators and assistant curators who make up the arts institutions in Birmingham. The pixels were then assigned Hex Codes and the resulting palette is collected here.

Why are Birmingham's arts institutions refusing to hire Black curators in long term positions of employment and very occasionally hiring non-white curators? The contemporary arts scene in Birmingham is not for Black and Global Majority curators. With opportunities few and far between, we are asked instead to contribute for free as trustees or board members — our networks and ideas extracted from us; our communities used as testing grounds for saviour projects. We are often the lowest paid and the most precariously employed, if hired at all. We are told we are ‘difficult to work with’ and regularly hear talk about Black/Global Majority artists in the same vein.

19


This is a call for the white directors, assistant curators and curators of Birmingham's arts organisations to work towards publicly acknowledging their privilege and step down from their roles. Instead, prioritise working with emerging and established Black curators, assistant curators and directors to take over decision making. White art workers across the West Midlands ought to use their influence and knowledge to teach, and hand over the reins in a sincere way for optimal and sustained change. White candidates should not always be considered the primary option for senior roles. If the person who best fits the job looks like you and your team every time it is not a coincidence. This is white supremacy in action. Alphabetical list of Birmingham-based institutions referenced in this project: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery Centrala Eastside Projects Friction Arts Grand Union Ikon Gallery Midlands Art Centre RBSA Gallery Recent Activity Stryx The Barber Institute

This short text was written by curator Yasmyn Nettle, who has lived and worked in Birmingham for six years. All opinions are their own. With thanks to those who read the work over, suggested edits and share a hope for a truly representative curatorial future for Birmingham. 20


Eyes in the dark, One moon circles: Laura McSorley

‘Data’, digital artwork, Laura McSorley, 2020

I wrote this article in 2020 – in the midst of the pandemic and at the outset of my career. At the time I was working in the evenings as a waitress, during the day as a gallery visitor assistant and in any spare time voluntarily running GENERATORprojects. I felt like resharing this article as I still feel its relevance today. Being part of the Emerging Curators Group has been an antidote to this way of being that is a reality for so many of us and our shared trajectories. This article takes its name from an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, ‘Night Terrors’ (season 4 episode 17). While on a mission to find a missing federation vessel, the crew of the Starship Enterprise becomes stuck in a spatial anomaly that causes strange dreams that stop them from getting any deep sleep. This sleeplessness leaves the crew ravaged; at each other’s throats and on the brink of death from exhaustion. An android called DATA can still function, as his synthetic body does not depend on rest or sleep, and he ends up saving the day with a dramatic explosion, one that blasts the Enterprise away from certain doom.

21


This reference may be worlds away, but elements of the story do not feel so far from my own. I would like to use it as a jumping-off point for some thinking out loud around creative labour, burnout, and rest as a remedy. I promise it is going somewhere. Where no one has gone before… Watching this episode (presumably trying to relax) all I could think of were the demands of early-career creative practice, and what keeping one up does to your body. Artists sleepwalk through an onslaught of admin and other work (applications! applications! applications!), with little room or energies left for the actual work: the focus, the joy, the creativity, and imagination. Synthetic beings we definitely are not. After a couple of recent unsuccessful job interviews, a friend and I laughed about illusions of success, at how having a successful creative practice fully depends on how burnt out you are willing to be. Resistance is futile. By this I mean – How hard are you willing to work in order to get some work? Is that work essential to the work you are trying to do? How much work can you do to support yourself while you work towards that other work? This burnout is a sickness that sneaks up on you slowly over time, or in trickles, in waves, in force fields or solar flares. It too often leads to the early resignation of creative people from their respective, and preferred fields. I asked Safya about burnout in the games industry during our interview – unsurprisingly it’s an ailment that seeps into all corners of the sector. Safya also pointed out the romanticisation of being a poor and overworked artist – an old trope that has proven seemingly indestructible. Sheilds up. Early career creatives are predominantly members of the precariat class, and the sector depends on that exhausted pool of workers in a way that is unsustainable, one-sided and unstable. We appear much like the extras in Star Trek – the nameless red-shirted crew members seen endlessly pacing the corridors, reliably the first (or only) ones to die when things get a little shaky onboard. I speak from personal experience when I say that this kind of ‘proximity to the action’ is not valuable. I ‘work in a gallery’, by which I mean, I sell postcards in the gift shop. This is also a red-shirted job, one that I found on the Creative Scotland visual arts opportunities page and one which will not get me any closer to a speaking role on the Bridge in this universe or the next. I also work at a pub, where I pull pints and serve burgers (no replicators here) and use my degree in Contemporary Art 22


Practice to write the specials on a chalkboard in my very best handwriting. I volunteer at an artist-led gallery because there are no entry-level arts jobs in Dundee (or anywhere, for that matter), and – nearly two years on from graduating – writing this blog post is my first paid opportunity actually related to my chosen field. Live long and prosper. Dazed, we fall into orbit, temporarily sheltered by the stability of those bodies with greater gravity and mass. But what about our own trajectories? What is the strange dream that keeps us from sleeping? Eyes in the dark, one moon circles… This was the repeated refrain in the dreams that plagued the Starship Enterprise, and which ended up holding the key to its salvation (it was a clue all along – something about hydrogen?). In the arts we tend feel so strongly about the good the work can do, the value of the work, that we continue to exhaust ourselves with no security or support, settling with proximity, fighting over scraps. Some of us can and will keep working like this, blinkered in our red shirts, keeping ships afloat. A very serious blast is required to escape the pull of the system entirely. I do not have any radical or great solutions in me – only good intentions and a commitment to collaborative and caring practices, and the original dreams that led me to where I am now. Given some rest, I think I could remember them; I think I could use them to imagine a sector that reflects the ethics of its artists, its theories, its workers, the work. What would that look like? How could it be made a reality? Daydream a little with me, close your eyes, slow to impulse, visualise a strange new art world… how do we get there? Burn it down – eject the warp core – make it so. Δ I would like to make a special thank you to an extraordinary writer, friend, and coconspirator – Jamie Clare Doherty Donald, for always helping me find my words, arranging and rearranging my thoughts thoughtfully, and being a number one collaborator. Beam me up!

23


Visual Descriptions: Juliana Capes Through funding from British Art Network for our collaborative project, we were delighted to be able to commission four visual descriptions of artworks chosen by members of the Emerging Curators Group. We hope these detailed descriptions by artist and visual describer Juliana Capes will act as a lasting resource for sharing these artworks in a more accessible way. Juliana Capes is an artist and researcher based in Edinburgh -over the last 15 years, she has worked extensively with a Visually Impaired audience, notably as lead artist on the National Gallery of Scotland’s Visual Impairment programme. We were first introduced to Juliana's work through her Sunset Reports which we recommend listening to here: http://www.julianacapes.co.uk/artwork/sunset-reports/

This is a digital photograph taken from a film by the Scottish artist Saoirse Amira Anis. This color film was made in 2022 and is called was called “Symphony for a fraying body”. The film itself shows a costumed tasselled creature filmed performing in coastal settings. The image has wide rectangular, landscape format, the dimensions of a screen. The particular moment this film still captures is the creature standing on a beach looking out to sea. It is a silhouetted humanlike form with its back to us and its open arms to the ocean as a low sun sets or rises over the sand, rocks and waves. The rays of the starlike sun emerge around the side of the torso of the figure. 24


The figure is the most immediately striking part of the image and is positioned centrally in the composition. It has its back to us and we see most of its form from the ankles up, filling almost the entirety of the vertical central plane of the image. Its posture resembles that of a crucifix shape due its arms being outstretched. Although we can only see its silhouette we can see long tassels of rope drip from its outstretched arms, falling vertically in line with the sides of the thick torso. Soft tendrils of frayed material blur the edges of its form. On either side of its head we can see two curved forms protrude almost like curled horns. Looking closely at the tassels and tendrils we can see they are coloured in a strong saturated red and have the texture of twisted rope. The image is saturated by a hazy warm light contrasting with dark silhouetted shapes. We are looking out from land to sea, the creature stands between us and the shore. The horizon line where the calm sea meets the soft cloudy sky is roughly a third of the way up the image. In the bottom third behind the figure there are lines of dark silhouetted rocks coming in from the left-hand side of the image like a long knobbly finger of the land pointing into the ocean. The atmosphere is very warm and calm and could sound like a long mediative drone. The low sun is setting or rising over the sand, rocks and waves. The creature seems to extend a wide-armed embrace towards the sun and the sea. The sun is a bright circular point reflected in the sea. The rays from the sun and its reflection spill out like the points of a star and peek around the side of the figure’s torso. This image is an abstract brightly coloured ink drawing on paper that resembles a psychedelic mandala made from mystical symbols. It is surrounded by flamelike tendrils in myriad rainbow coloured patterns on a deep blue fluid background. It is called “Coloured drawing (IAMBLICUS)” and is from 1978 by the artist Ann Churchill (b. 1944). It has been painted and drawn on an A4 piece of paper of portrait dimensions. The style of this work is exacting line drawings in pen and black ink that have been painstakingly filled in in technicolour inks. It gives the impression of an obsessive and repetitive process such as crocheting or weaving. As a predominately abstract image there is no accurate objective way of describing the imagery, it is mainly repetitive patterns that inspire free association. 25


It could be that in the centre of the drawing is a star-like mandala with a dark pupil-like nucleus full of thorny interlinking branches. This has been surrounded by a necklace of interlinking eye-like shapes. The edges of these eyes have been painted to resemble rainbow ribbon and float above a tie dye orb. At the top and bottom of this central mandala, are intricate patterns of interlinking monochromatic type patterns that resemble Celtic knotwork or intricate filigree. They extend the mandala upwards and downwards. Upwards they arch symmetrically with a central multicoloured patchwork flame into a concentric wishbone tip. Downwards they spill between the bottom two eyes of the necklace, resembling the snout or muzzle of an animal, with its cheeks and jowls made from patterns of clouds or waves. The muzzle/mandala/arch stack is at once intensely abstract and also suggestive of many things. In totality it forms a shape reminiscent of a flame that balances on a triangular form at the bottom of the image. This triangle is filled with patterns that resemble intricate crocheted rainbows. If we consider the triangle a candle and the stack a flame then we can consider this to be surrounded by a cloud of rising heat and smoke that is filled by hundreds of pointed tendrils, floating out like corals and coloured again in rainbow formations. They float in this white bubble that sits within a dark blue inky background. This image shows a ceramic sculpture by the artist Basil Olton (b.1966). It is the sole focus of the image and fills the majority of the portrait rectangular frame. The sculpture is called “Disturbers of Harmony” and it was made in 2019. In reality the sculpture is 45 x 34 x 30 cm, about the size of a table vase. The overall form of the artwork suggests an abstracted bottle or vase shape, that could be slumped or broken. It appears to have been made simply from a few slabs of thinly rolled paper clay. Its tapering neck remains open, two slabs leaning against each other to make a flamelike frame. The bottom vessel appears to be one slab rolled into a cup, but with edges that do not join together accurately and slightly slump and warp. The torn edges of the paper clay are obvious and overlapping joins are left exposed. The thin sheets of clay have been screen-printed 26


onto in bright warm colours such as fizzy yellow and a dense pink. The colour is textural and resembles messy sponge marks. Also printed on the bottom section is a body of black text that is mostly illegible and looks like archive sections of old newspapers. It gives the impression of a form made from folded painted newspapers, like a ceramic poke of chips covered in melting ice cream.

This photograph shows a view onto a gallery space at The Turner House Gallery, Penarth, south Wales during the exhibition “On Loss and Damage”. This exhibition was on from 14 April – 4 June 2023 and was curated by Bob Gelsthorpe (ECG 2022). It is a traditional white cube style gallery space with three artworks within it. The gallery walls are white and the floor is wooden. The artworks are a mixture of modern and traditional art. Directly in front of us is an installation by the artist Rebecca Wyn Kelly called “Cuckoo Land”. The installation is made from detritus found on Aberarth Beach, 2023. A wooden ladder is hung from the ceiling and strung with several old and faded buoys and thick frayed green blue rope. In this photo we can only see the bottom of the installation. Looking through this installation we can see two walls of the gallery space. On the left-hand wall there is a wall-based digital collage. It is by the artist Terry Setch and called “Internettide”. It consists of digitally manipulated images of the artist and of the textures of 27


flotsam and jetsam that one might find washed in on the tide on the beach. These digital images have been blown up to large-scale poster size and installed on the wall in a huge floor to ceiling ‘s bend. In this photo we are seeing the artwork from a distance and are missing much of the details of the image. On the right-hand wall there is a small framed painting by the Impressionist artist Alfred Sisley. It is called “The Cliff at Penarth, Evening, Low Tide”. It is oil on canvas and was painted in 1897. In this photo we are seeing the image from across the gallery so we cannot see any detail, but it is possible to see that there is a diagonal division across the painting, with the bottom right triangular section being a dark cliff and the top left being a lighter toned sky and sea background.

28


Spoken Worlds Introduction: Language Matters are Political and Social Matters

Cropped section of mindmap by Spoken Worlds co-curators

The Spoken Worlds project was co-curated by Moritz Cheung, Roxana Gibescu, Basil Olton, June Yuen Ting (all ECG 2022) and Marta Marsicka (ECG 2021), and funded through BAN’s Collaborative Project opportunity for Emerging Curators Group members. As a group of curators with lived experience of migration and diaspora, we are interested in the relationship between bilingualism, translation, communication, and artistic practice. The research enabled us to understand what is lost and gained when switching between languages in the creative process. In the last decades, the number of diaspora artists and curators settling in Britain has risen, confirming migration as one of the most important contemporary phenomena of our times. With the Spoken Worlds film and manifesto, we wanted to establish an understanding of working with diasporic identities, languages, politics and ideas, which can inspire and benefit the sector by raising awareness on the significance and accuracy of foreign language use in curating British art. The manifesto outlines our ambitions and goals towards the inclusion of immigrant artists. We see this project as setting an ethical framework for collecting and showing diaspora and immigrant art on an institutional level. It also includes a helpful dictionary that explains the meaning of immigration-related terms, such as micro-history, microaggression, and xenoracism. 29


Spoken Worlds Diaspora Manifesto To live every day in-between languages is to confront one's history and vulnerable present continuously. We want to raise awareness of the conditions and effects of the diaspora and migrant experience and highlight the significance of bilingualism in communication and artistic practice. We believe in the need to transform the way diaspora and immigrant art is collected, exhibited, and interpreted, paving the way for a more inclusive and culturally rich society. To effect change, we advocate for: ● Decentring the methodology of collecting, exhibiting and interpreting diaspora and immigrant art in museums and galleries. This decentring entails more in-depth research of the context of the artwork or the artist; examining relevant sources, even the ones written in the artists' native languages; and initiating 'national museum acquiring programmes' which ensure the relevance of British collections and allow for micronarratives to emerge. ● Co-production, commissioning and collaboration with diaspora and immigrant artists on comprehensive exhibitions which aim to break stereotypes and empower diasporic communities. Adequate funding and training for cultural professionals from diasporas in Britain must accompany these initiatives. ● Allowing the English language used by artists and creatives to be porous and still be treated as relevant and important. ● Make use of this little dictionary with terms of academic/social sciences provenance to ensure accessibility: xeno-racism, microaggression, micronarratives. ● Recognising the value of a ‘left-behind memory’, we propose the establishment of a dynamic online infrastructure that invites contributions from individuals, ranging from personal memorabilia to interviews like those found in Spoken Worlds. ● Facilitation of regular debates, informed by the newest and relevant academic research and the reality of migration numbers in the UK. The creation of this manifesto stems from our shared belief, as the five co-curators, that language encompasses political and social dimensions. We strive to inspire a shift in the methodology of collecting, exhibiting and interpreting diaspora and immigrant art in the UK. 30


Film: Practising Bilingualism in Diaspora

Screenshot from ‘Spoken Worlds – Practising Bilingualism in Diaspora’, 2023. Artists: Małgorzata Dawidek, Basil Olton, Simona Nastac, Denise Kwan. Co-curators: Moritz Cheung, Roxana Gibescu, Marta Marsicka, Basil Olton, June Yuen Ting. Film editor: Sophia Luk

The Spoken Worlds film is a collection of interviews and reflections on the multiple challenges of being an immigrant or a diaspora professional in the UK We invited the following art practitioners from various diasporas in the UK: visual artist Małgorzata Dawidek, poet and curator Simona Nastac and research curator and artist Denise Kwan, alongside ECG member and project participant Basil Olton. The film takes a deep dive into their art practices and sheds light on their experiences of being bilingual and how this affects their creative practice. The starting point for these interviews was a set of questions we, as a curatorial group, came up with about the language(s) used in the diaspora.

Watch the film on BAN’s YouTube channel The film and manifesto expose one of the key reasons for the underrepresentation of diaspora artists: the lack of a clear framework when approaching their art. Also, language and historical context barriers could be overcome with a revised approach and by viewing diasporas in the UK within the broader, international context. Some of the reasons for the problems are the historical, national and socio-economic privilege of the English language, lack of acknowledgement and understanding of diasporic art practices, and marginalisation of artists, curators, scholars and creative practitioners from diasporic communities. 31


Spoken Worlds Dictionary/Lexicon Micronarrative is a story, opinion, or narrative told from the perspective of an individual or a group, often marginalised. Micronarratives take into account subjective emotions, points of view, or personal history. In social studies, micronarratives are often used to present and illustrate multiple perspectives, shedding different lights on the same problem. Oftentimes, micronarratives are opposed to macro-narratives, which aim to describe the history of a problem from an objective point of view, often from a broader historical perspective. Microaggression is a subtle behaviour that, at first glance, seems unimportant or harmless but conveys negativity, judgement or superiority towards the recipient of the message. Microaggressions are often used in conversations with marginalised people, creating hostile environments and feelings of exclusion. An example is asking an Asian person where they are really from. These situations can imply that immigrants and diasporas don't belong in the country. Another typical example is the over-enthusiastic complementing of immigrants' English language usage. This reaction can mean that it's uncommon, rare and surprising that an immigrant can use grammatically correct English. Language Porosity. When a language is porous, it's open to change, transformation and evolution. It is a category often explored by immigrant artists, who can create new linguistic connections, contradictions, or structures by navigating between two or more languages. Xenoracism is a form of prejudice performed by members of a particular racial group towards other members of it. This term is often used to describe prejudice against white Eastern European immigrants, often considered culturally inferior by white Britons. Decentring means moving away from the dominant (Western) position in favour of including perspectives and points of view that were previously not considered (micronarratives). It can mean that when an English curator organises the exhibition of an Indian artist, they invite an Indian co-curator or researcher to provide their own point of view on the artist's practice. An Indian curator can offer an in-depth insight into understanding the artist's practice by providing information not easily accessible to the English curator. Working together, they can achieve a well-rounded understanding of the artwork. Liminality. To be in a liminal position means to be in-between. Immigrant and bilingual artists often find themselves in a liminal position because they can't fully associate themselves with their new home or their original home country. The position of liminality can cause positive feelings, such as freedom, but also negative or ambiguous ones, such as the feeling of displacement. 32


COVER IMAGES Front Cover: Mona Hatoum, Remains of the Day, Fondazione Prada, Milan, 2019 (detail). Image courtesy of Misha Gordon / Alamy Stock Photo Back Cover: Yasmyn Nettle, Digital Collage. Fragments of textiles. Unknown date. Yale University Art Gallery.O. Necropol.: Tomb 11; Gold leaves, Necropolis.1934-1935. Yale University Art Gallery. Portrait of a Gentleman. Attributed to William Russell Birch. 1755-1834. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

CONTACTING BAN For comments, suggestions and proposals for the British Art Network Newsletter, and for events or news for our News page, you can email BritishArtNews@paul-mellon-centre.ac.uk. If you would like to become a BAN Member, please complete our Membership form. For general enquiries, you can email BritishArtNetwork@tate.org.uk. You can also contact the British Art Network team directly: for contact details, see here. For more information on the British Art Network and all the Research Groups, including their contact details, visit the BAN website.

The British Art Network is supported by Tate and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, with additional public funding provided by the National Lottery through Arts Council England. 33


34


Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.