PVA - LabCulture

Ele Carpenter has been appointed by PVA MediaLab to develop exhibition and screening opportunities for work produced in the last three years. Here she gives us her thoughts on curating, Venice and Egypt. Ele's programme of work will be entitled 'Rethinking Time' which will be premiered at the forthcoming LabCulture Symposium in September 2003.

So, you're an independent curator. Exactly what does that involve and who are you working with at the moment?

Being an Independent Curator means that I represent the artists as well as the organisation I am working with. If you work for an institution it is your job to represent it first and foremost, and artists often lose out in the communications. I think it’s a very good model for everyone.

I have four main projects or ‘Associate Curatorships’ as they are grandly called. They are with PVA, CCA Glasgow, Self Portrait UK and the Side Cinema in Newcastle.

At the CCA (Centre for Contemporary Art) Glasgow I am one of four Associate Curators including Francis McKee, John Calcutt and Tim Nunn. We are just getting to know each other and map out a vision for the CCA programme. It’s so valuable to have a team of people with very different experiences who actually talk about art in a gallery. www.cca-glasgow.com

The Side Cinema is a fantastic grassroots project on Newcastle’s Quayside we are a collective of five people (Mat, Christo, Julie and Alan) and we each work with a wider group to programme our different strands. My focus is the A-Side programme of Artists Film and Video. I concentrate on showing contemporary artists work. Mat and Christo show a lot of avant garde and early experimental film in their cineside programme. www.sidecinema.com

Self Portrait UK is a massive media campaign to encourage people to make their self-portrait. The project is a partnership between Media 19, the National Portrait Gallery and Channel. My job was to set up the exhibition tour – and hang the exhibition as it travels. So far it’s been at the National Portrait Gallery and is now at the National Gallery and Museum of Wales, in the autumn it’s off to GOMA in Glasgow and Manchester Art Gallery before going to Ormeau Baths Gallery in Belfast next year. www.channel4.com/../../../selfportraituk

And how did you get into this line of work?

I studied fine art and was always more interested in what other people were doing. Also – there were lots of things I wanted to do but they seemed impossible. Ever since then I’ve been looking at a lot of art and trying to set up opportunities for art to happen that might not otherwise take place. I did a post grad at Manchester in Art Gallery and Museum Studies, then went to MoMA in Oxford as an Arts Council Trainee before coming up North to work as the Curator at NGCA – the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art in Sunderland. After 5 years at NGCA I left to work Independently.

You've just been to the Venice Biennale - did you see anything you like and was it any good?

I know everyone whinges about Venice – but it really was hot! A lot of time is spent trying not to faint in the mid-day sun as you trawl the exhibitions (imagine the Hayward x 10 in three days). In the haze I loved Emmanuelle Antille’s film in the Swiss pavilion, and I got a great Newspaper called the ‘Survival Guide for Demonstrators’ from a guy called Jota Castro who was exhibiting in the Arsenale. Venice is essentially a diplomatic exercise parading the culture of the ‘nation state’ so it was great to see the Scottish and Welsh pavilions alongside Manchester this year. Also it was really refreshing to find a map and information about free-communities in Denmark in the Utopia Station exhibition right at the end of the Arsenale.

You live in Newcastle, what's the art scene like up there and who's doing what?

There’s a lot going on. Lots of artists who got involved in VANE (Visual Arts North East) in the late 90’s are now getting established. Matt Stokes is researching rave culture in Cumbria with Grizedale Arts; Tanya Axford is going to do the Berwick Residency and Paul Moss will be this years Artist in Residence at Durham Cathedral.

Paul Moss, Richard Forster and Miles Thurlow have set up a project called ‘Workplace’ they’re very ambitious and wowed people with their show at the London Contemporary Art Fair - look out for them.

Waygood Gallery and Studios will be undergoing architectural renovation over the next couple of years to expand from one floor to the whole of their beautiful warehouse building.

It’s all change at the Balitc – Director Sune Nordgren is leaving for Oslo and Curator Vicky Lewis is also leaving. We will miss our Nordic exhibitions programme, and look forward to the new team. I’m hoping that they’ll have a team of curators all bringing different artists and ideas to the building. Sune has brought the Baltic into being with a very strong vision and identity that has put it firmly on the map. However, like all arts organisations it has to continually reinvent itself and adapt to the changing arts scene and the needs of younger artists. Looking through the LabCulture work must have been interesting. What are your favourite bits?

LabCulture is fab – at the beginning everyone kept reminding me that it’s all very experimental work and made in only one week. I knew from the work that I’d seen on the website that the standard was high – and I’d met Julie at a conference a couple of years back and was impressed by the ethos of PVA. Also I knew Simon from his previous work, so I trust them completely. Even so, I was really excited viewing the LabCulture works. I think there is a lot to be gained from making a work in a week – it’s fresh, un-laboured, spontaneous and clear. The strongest body of work is the short digital video pieces. You can make a good digital video in a week, web-based works all take longer to complete. All my favourite bits will be in the Rethinking Time Cinema programme that will be launched at the LabCulture Symposium in Bridport on September 12th and 13th.

And how as a curator do you make decisions about putting a show or programme together?

The work has to be good, it has to go somewhere – ask questions of itself, of you and the artist. The medium or technology needs to be understood in relation to the content. Art needs to be brought together in a way that opens up ways of engaging with it. Non – descriptive or prescriptive curating is a real challenge. A group show such as the LabCulture Rethinking Time DVD is like any programme. I often cite good comedy as a model – it’s all to do with timing, pauses, spaces to think, not giving everything away, knowing your audience, texture, rhythm, balance. In funding speak it’s about diversity of art form, mediums, and cultures.

Do you use technology yourself and if so what's your 'must have' device?

I use technology but only to half its capacity. I’d love to run everything on linux and not be tied into the Microsoft cycle. I hate the fact you have to upgrade everything every 18 months. I’ve just bought a DVD player and I can’t attach it to my TV because it’s too old and doesn’t have a scart socket. So now I have to buy a new TV… I keep meaning to call up James Wallbank at Redundant Technology in Sheffield, and get some advice and training. www.lowtech.org

My must have is broadband – it’s sad but true: I couldn’t live without it.

Do you like Egypt?

Is that an offer?

And your idea of a day off would be?

Pottering around the house, sitting in the sunshine in the yard reading the papers, doing the crossword, drinking coffee, re-potting plants, quiet chilled sorts of things.

Should men paint their toe-nails?

If inclined

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