The following conversation is between Mark Jackson (Curator, IMT Gallery), Stacey Davidson (Director/Curator, GOLDTAPPED) and Juliet Fleming (Director/Curator, GOLDTAPPED), which took place at The Journey café, Newcastle, over some breakfast and tea.
Both GOLDTAPPED and IMT Gallery were selected to participate in The Manchester Contemporary 2017, and were invited by Corridor8 to discuss their organisations and participation in the fair as a whole.
[GT]: Can you tell us a little about IMT Gallery and what draws you to The Manchester Contemporary every year?
[IMT]: IMT (Image-Music-Text) is a contemporary art gallery, set up in 2005 in Bethnal Green in London. It’s directed by Lindsay Friend and curated by [Mark Jackson]. We’re a non-profit space and work on projects that we feel couldn’t happen elsewhere; often site-specific installations, sound art or performance exhibitions that frequently have a strong intermedia approach. We also represent artists; David Burrows, Lotte Rose Kjær Skau, Plastique Fantastique and Gordon Shrigley.
In the case of The Manchester Contemporary we are obviously aware of an artist’s need for retail, to promote and sell their work, but equally we want to support good work not just work that is easily commodifiable. We curate a space at Manchester as we see the fair as a brilliant example of contemporary engagement with culture, new media and installation. It’s also interesting to see what everyone else is doing- London can be very insular, where as in the North there seems a wider response to what’s going on in the whole country. As a rule we don’t do fairs that often as we like work that often resists commodification, but The Manchester Contemporary gives the opportunity to produce something really appropriate and challenging.
[GT]: Yeah, we totally understand.
[IMT]: So I suppose the same question to you, tell me a little about GOLDTAPPED and what drew you to Manchester. You didn’t put on a conventional retail stand, what was your intention?
[GT]: No we certainly didn’t! Well GT is an artist-run gallery space, housed in The NewBridge Project, Newcastle – set up this year. It’s run by Juliet Fleming and Stacey Davidson and we share directorship and curation. Our exhibitions are on a 6 week cycle and we alternate leadership each time so we can work on our own solo projects too. We select artists who challenge ideas of gender and identity and we hope to redress the balance of female-male artists exhibiting in the North. We have a strong lean on site-specific work also, our gallery has unique characteristics which means work that responds to that is always dynamic and interesting.
We approached the booth as a gallery space, including works that we would exhibit in GT and said something about who we are. I mean it was varied, we had prints, paintings, ceramics and installation, but it was still very fem. It primarily introduced ourselves to the wider Northern base, giving us an opportunity to make links and market ourselves.
[GT]: Thinking about the specific works, can you tell us a little bit about some of the pieces you included and why?
[IMT]: Even if this was purely a commercial endeavour we would be keen to include work that, for us, adds layers and depth to the other works around it. This year I think the work that really exemplified that approach was ‘Crystal Storm Thundercat Hoodie’ (2016) by Maggie Roberts. She makes these really complex objects which I do think adds a lot to more art-fair-friendly 2D works. So when you look at her work in the space it stands out, it’s awkward in an art fair context and as a strategy that is crucial. We do generally also include video or performance work, this year it was ‘BI-SON-OIL-MEN’ (2017) by Plastique Fantastique, a live performance with video projection which again is about destabilising the context to some degree, particularly in an environment shared with the more commercially driven Buy Art Fair. It’s important for us to say we have the space for something different; to say that this work holds up and says something important both within and, perhaps more importantly, about this commercial environment. Lotte Rose Kjær Skau again is another example, a lot of her work is intermedia and is about how the internet transforms how we engage with contemporary culture, as artists/visitors/curators. We don’t want to ever put together a stand that somehow denies its relevance to such conversations. But it appears that so do the artists you selected, they all seem critically engaged in contemporary making in some way.
[GT]: 100%. Of the six artists we brought to the stand, all respond to 2017. Joe Daniels screen prints warning signs altered by generic ‘lad culture’ and images from nights out, they are real critiques of the male persona in the North, for example. Paolo Ciarska, who we both exhibited, paints minutely detailed scenes of females in their personal spaces. Sarah Joy Ford responds to what I would consider childhood nostalgia and queer/lesbian dynamics. Then you have Lindsey Mendick- I mean what is there to say about those monumental ceramics? They are her take on some classic Matisse scenes, a dead goldfish floating in a bowl, birds and Rosé. All are so fit for the GOLDTAPPED gallery, we just wanted to drop into Manchester and make the booth very much ours.
[GT]: I don’t know about yourselves, but we particularly picked up on not only how inclusive the fair felt, but how much people really engaged with it and it led to some really interesting conversations.
[IMT]: Yeah, The Manchester Contemporary and the Buy Art Fair are really about speaking to a broader crowd, particularly that variety in who attends.
[GT]: We were really surprised by the diversity in attendees, particularly that there were so many families and ‘normal’ people- it wasn’t just collectors and artists.
[IMT]: It’s pretty incredible, it provides an opportunity for someone who’s just in to buy a print with the chance to see some performance art and for contemporary artists, galleries and audiences to get a closer look at the environment in which the more commercial art galleries exist, which is often strange to us. There is a soft if uneasy balance, a way for each side to be a path into trying to comprehend the other. I think there is often an attempt for each side to ignore the other out of existence, yet I think it’s important to engage even if the answers are shocking.
[GT]: I think the lack of separate venues really contributed to this as well.
[IMT]: It almost makes The Manchester Contemporary fair want to continue to be more radical and distinctive, to be more confident in standing aside from the Buy Art Fair.
[GT]: I think visitors responded to that though, I felt that particularly from the people I spoke to, they wanted to talk about that.
[IMT]: Do you think that visitors are asking questions because they are coming with the expectation of the art being commodified? The kind of questions they ask are more about things they would consider if they were going to live with an artwork for the rest of their lives.
[GT]: I think they definitely ask more personable, intimate details, than just wanting to know the academic context. They don’t want to be immersed in an artwork so much as to ‘get it’.
[IMT]: Well here’s a question, considering all that, would you go back?
[GT]: We think we would! We’ve gained A LOT of experience from The Manchester Contemporary, even if it’s just strengthened our resolve and motivation. So many people were positive and excited about GOLDTAPPED and what it means for Newcastle.
I mean if you were to give GOLDTAPPED any advice moving forward, what would it be?
[IMT]: Ultimately IMT is a project, as is GOLDTAPPED, we aren’t business people, if we viewed it in that way it wouldn’t work. Always have a purpose and a narrative; having consistency in your concept and sticking to it. Respond to your surroundings and always react to your area, your network and your community. Why is your voice important to your core audience in the North East? Also ensure that the most important thing is the relationship you have with the artists you’ve worked with; they support your gallery by making incredible shows and in turn you can continue to support them after these collaborations have ended. They are your ambassadors, they should always be important to you, that’s key.
[GT]: Have we spoken about what each of our upcoming programmes are?
[IMT]: Not yet! We are in a run of exhibitions, at the minute we are showing Suzanne Treister, works for SURVIVOR(F) till 26 November, next up is a solo exhibition of new work by Paola Ciarska which opens in January and then we are working on a project with Maggie Roberts for later next year. What about yourselves?
[GT]: We are actually forward planned for a few months! Up next and opening on 22 November is Kate Liston’s exhibition Ushering in, which is open until December. We have a Christmas hanging party with members of the Newbridge Collective Studio, then Pippa Eason and Zoe Molloy with a collaborative presentation in January. Finally Joy Labinjo in February. It’s an incredibly busy period of time and we are lucky that so many artists want to work with us!
Recorded, transcribed and edited by Stacey Davidson.
The Manchester Contemporary 2017, Manchester Central, Manchester.
27 – 29 October 2017.
More information about GOLDTAPPED can be found here.
More information about IMT Gallery can be found here.