Aspex Gallery, The Vulcan, PO1 3BF
Monday 01 October 2018 – Wednesday 31 July 2019
The idea for Regional Interference arose out of a number of factors. Very little has changed since I set up WORKS|PROJECTS in 2008 - the commercial art world in the UK is still centred on London; there is virtually no critically engaged commercial infrastructure in the regions of England or Wales - less than a handful of galleries at best.
This means it is simply more difficult for ambitious artists to base themselves outside of London. The programme grew out of the recognition that there have not been any initiatives or programmes to connect artists based in the South West with the market and a desire to contribute directly to helping to increase the infrastructure that might help such artists base themselves in the South West.
The programme aimed to support a number of ambitious artists who are committed to working in the region but do not currently have commercial representation. The gallery would then work with the artists to develop their practice but also to develop networks that might make their ambition more achievable. It is not just that artists committing to working from a regional base face some sort of disadvantage in terms of exposure or access to curators, collectors and influencers who might help their careers develop but that galleries can actively advocate for artists in a way that artists often cannot. We are accepted as intermediaries whose job it is to promote artists repeatedly and it is our job to build networks for our artists. The importance of this cumulative work into artist promotion by commercial galleries is frequently referred to as ‘subscription’ and has been recognised as a significant factor in artists’ securing access to critical and commercial endorsement, public sector exhibition opportunities and the market. Therefore for an ambitious artist based in the regions working with a gallery – whether that is in their region or in London or in Europe – should be a real advantage. The idea behind the programme was to actively highlight the professional development function of commercial galleries as well as to support the career development of the individual artists.
The Selection Process
The five artists that were selected for the programme were selected from an open submission by myself, Paul Hobson, then Director of the Contemporary Art Society and Ellen Mara de Watcher, then curator, Zabludowicz Collection, London. I thought it was important to invite people to select the artists with me who were leading figures in their own fields, who had a lot of experience with developing opportunities for artists but also, importantly, who were not from the South West.
The Contemporary Art Society is the leading agency developing collecting in the UK and The Zabludowicz Collection is one of the most active private collections of contemporary art in the UK. Ellen curated the Zabludowicz Collection Invites programme - a new initiative dedicated to providing young, non-represented UK-based artists with the opportunity to exhibit at the Collection in London, so both she and Paul have a great understanding of critical standards nationally.
The submission was substantial and drawn from across the South West and the selection process was really revealing. I had a strong idea of who I was interested in working with from going through the submissions but presented the work to Ellen and Paul without revealing this and let them make the selection. Ellen and Paul encountered documentation of the artists initially without any other framing and reacted strongly to quality, ambition and individuality. This produced really interesting results in that some very young artists were selected for the programme over more established artists due to the excitement the panel felt in response to their work. Sebastian Jefford for example only left his undergraduate course last summer yet made one of the strongest impressions on the selectors, which is a great testament to the originality of his practice.
The Regional Interference programme began in earnest in November and the programme has consisted of a number of different opportunities for the artists – some which are very publicly evident and some which are almost invisible to the general onlooker but are, perhaps, even more important in developing career opportunities for the artists.
Importantly, one of the first things we did was present the selected artists work at an art fair in London. We participated in Art Projects in the London Art Fair to very quickly give the artists the opportunity to be encountered by a metropolitan audience of collectors, curators and critics. One of the most important things that has been driven home over the almost 5 years of running a commercial gallery based outside of London is you can’t sit back and wait for the art world to come and find you in the regions. The power structures and influencers in the UK contemporary art world are not necessarily all based in London – there are amazing galleries, curators and writers based all over the UK – but importantly London still functions as the most convenient platform for these influencers to see a concentration of new work. Events like art fairs are a magnification of this – they are as much about professionals being introduced to new work as they are about work being sold to collectors. London Art Fair functioned as a convenient platform in the programme’s calendar to be able to present the Regional Interference artists’ work to our own networks of collectors, curators and writers and to create new connections and the initial introductions that we made at the art fair for the artists to different people have developed over the period of the programme into solid sales, critical profiles and exhibition opportunities for the artists.
Following the art fair each of the artists produced a solo exhibition of new work for the gallery in Bristol. The entirety of WORKS|PROJECTS’ programme from January to the end of May was given over to the selected artists and the gallery and they produced a series of beautiful, considered solo shows that responded to the space and also worked off each other in exciting ways. This might seem like the most obvious or most visible benefit to the artists but actually what is as significant as the visible face of the exhibition is the fact that as a commercial gallery what we then put in place for the artist around the exhibition is a structure of resources so that we can then effectively promote them - press archives, inventories of work, commissioned professional photographic documentation. This material is then actively used to target collectors, press and curators to try and persuade them to ‘subscribe’ to the artist.
The purpose of this ‘subscription’ is all about creating sustainable careers. To be able to build a meaningful career – and the definition of that is different for every artist – there may need to be a mixture of sales of work, commissions, exhibition opportunities, research opportunities, Etc Etc. Throughout the programme we have been working with the artists on developing how they can build networks, disseminate documentation, price and promote their work, and access and explore potential income streams from teaching to working in the public realm.
Finally we used our networks with writers and curators to secure some excellent people to meet the artists and write their first significant critical profile on their work. The writers range from Martin Herbert to Laura McLean Ferris and all of the writers contribute regularly to prominent periodicals like Frieze, Art Monthly and Art Review as well as being respected curators or artists as well. The profiles are being designed as e-booklets and will be released in the Autumn, forming another opportunity to stimulate interest in the artists.
What has been really rewarding is that Regional Interference has been very enthusiastically received and we have made sales of the artists’ work to both our existing collectors and new collectors in both London and the South West and have managed to set up some great opportunities for the artists. These include Sebastian Jefford securing a Go.West residency in September at the prestigious New Art Gallery Walsall and being included in a group exhibition in Los Angeles, Marie Toseland winning a Standpoint Futures professional development residency in London, Kit Poulson being offered a solo exhibition at Exeter Phoenix in November and there is a host of other irons in the fire for them too…
When we began the Regional Interference programme we set out to work with the artists for a defined 4 month period, but they have very quickly become part of the extended family of the gallery. One of the publicly invisible benefits of the programme is the peer support network formed between the artists on the programme itself and between them and some of the gallery’s other artists. This not only provides very natural opportunities for critical discussion and support but also means they have become firmly enmeshed in the gallery’s fabric. So the defined period of support has stretched from 4 months to 8 months.
A lot of professional discussion with our networks has circulated around whether the value in the programme is in selecting different people to offer the same type of support to, or in continuing to support the selected artists to develop their careers. Interestingly the majority opinion seems to be that continued professional support is essential for artists to make meaningful advances in their career and I feel strongly that the relationship between gallery promotion and realised opportunities is very clear and we want to continue to develop our relationship with the Regional Interference artists to further demonstrate this.
Working towards a South West where talented artists thrive, and a resilient and connected visual arts ecology that inspires more engaged and diverse audiences to value and advocate for its work.
Part of the Contemporary Visual Arts Network