The following conversation took place between Kim McAleese (Programme Director) of Grand Union, and Tom Ireland (Director/Curator) of Supercollider in the week leading up to the opening of the Manchester Contemporary 2015. The pair were given access to an editable Google doc to enable a conversation on the festival, and their two organisations as a whole, with the conversation copied in its entirety below.
[GU] Question 1.
From your online presence, I get the impression that you are trying to platform Blackpool and the rich offer of artistic practice in the North West, much like what we are trying to do with the Midlands. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
[SC] I am trying to foreground Blackpool as space where positive cultural activity can and does happen. Blackpool is a fascinating place but is buried beneath a mythos. It has a rich and unique cultural heritage and is socially and culturally complex. There is much to interrogate here, which is enticing for artists. Supercollider’s programme looks to artists who are able to respond to Blackpool, whilst also opening up issues beyond it. I always try to encourage a dialogue between what the place has to offer, or its position culturally and/or socially, and an artist’s work. The work need not be a literal rendering of the place but it has to resonate with its surroundings.
The North-West definitely plays a part, but I am not partisan. My interest lies more in seeking out the right kind of dialogue. I am looking for a shared sensibility and an understanding about Blackpool. Often being from the North West can be a hindrance because of familiarity.
[GU] Question 2
Is this your first time showing work and representing artists in a more commercial setting, and how do you see that as fitting with the vision and ethos of the organisation (one that is artist-led)?
[SC] This is my first time presenting at the Manchester Contemporary with Supercollider. I have shown work as an artist at the fair – through Object A (formally Untitled Gallery) who represent me – but this is the first time I have been involved in an organisational or curatorial capacity. I’m slowly getting to see the fair from all angles.
I’m quite suspicious of the fair and I am interested in its mechanics. I’m not sure how it sits alongside the vision and ethos of the organisation. This is part of the reason for showing this year: to see how/if we fit. I have made a number of decisions about the presentation which satisfies the organisation rather than the fair. I have taken the offer of a ‘project’ booth very literally and I am treating the fair as an off-site project.
[GU] Question 3
Do you have future plans to work in this sort of context again, with a representation of artists?
[SC] It depends on the fair and also having the the right artist(s). There is a reality about the fair which is difficult to ignore: money…
I have some questions for GU….
GU has studios attached, occupied by artists living and working in the city – how does this play into the programming decisions in the gallery?
[GU] Grand Union was initiated in 2009 by a group of artists and curators in Birmingham who wanted to create an environment where production of new work was possible; whether that be through studio provision at a time when high quality working space was desperately needed in the city, or through the gallery programme to commission new work from artists working outside of the city. Also, it was initiated to create a space where dialogue can take place, through conversations about work and new ideas, to shape a community of sorts.
The first show we had in March 2010 -Gongoozler- was programmed by the studio artists, and since then they have always fed into the gallery programme in more informal ways. The relationship that the gallery space has with the studio artists is a unique one, with a dialogue that is reciprocal and fluid. Also, beyond the studios in the building we have many other organisations that feed into Grand Union and have a vital role to play, who are situated literally next door to us: An Endless Supply graphic designers, Plane Materials fabricators…
This environment breeds knowledge production and exchange, and creates a hub for ideas to flourish in an organic way.
Uniquely, we have an Associate Curator programme at Grand Union, giving a platform for emerging curatorial talent to put together exhibitions and events with the support of the Director, a budget and a network. The studio artists can of course feed into this programming, but for us this is another way of making production possible, in a more immaterial way.
[SC] How important are events like TMC to GU and by extension the artist community you represent in the Midlands?
[GU] This is our second year participating in Manchester Contemporary, and at the moment we are developing new ways of working to platform Birmingham-based practitioners and the artists who we work with in our public programme, this being our way of testing out more commercial routes to do that.We are not experts, and our role in the city is not to be representative at every commercial art fair in the UK, but rather we see this as an experiment to try and showcase Grand Union, both the studio holders and the artists from our public programme in a different context.
Within the ecology of the UK, the Midlands (and Birmingham more specifically) has a reputation for being the ‘forgotten’ second city. Similarly to Blackpool, there is a perception of what you can expect in the place. Historically we had such a strong relationship with industry and therefore the decline of said industry, leaving a city that in some people’s minds is not an attractive one to visit. There is such a rich collection of creative practitioners in the city, so in a way events like TMC are important to make that more known to wider audiences.
I am intrigued by the approach you take, viewing this as something in the offsite programme for Supercollider, and I suppose I would view this in a similar way.
[SC] What impact do you feel events like TMC have on an wider audience’s perception of contemporary visual arts in the UK?
[GU] It’s hard to know if they do – I would question who the audience is at an art fair, and their reasons for being there, and I am fairly certain that they would not be the regular visitors we have at Grand Union.
A lot of the work that we are showing at at TMR is heavily layered with conceptual reasoning, but I am also mindful of the fact that it needs to be something that is reasonably easy packaged and transported to be hung straight on to someone’s wall. Therefore, we have chosen work that you could appreciate aesthetically but that in actual fact it has many complexities to be digested.
I also share your suspicions about the format and the mechanics of how it works, but see this as a challenge and something that we could potentially subvert. However, I am confident with the artists’ work we are showing, and if anything it is a platform for our unique model of an organisation.
Images courtesy of Grand Union and Supercollider Art Projects.
The Manchester Contemporary, Old Granada Studios, Manchester.
24 – 27 September 2015.