Submission deadline 29 April 2013
Artangel Open Air
A series of daily audio interventions on BBC Radio 4
with Christian Marclay, Ruth Ewan, Peter Strickland, Susan Hiller and Mark Wallinger
25 - 29 March 2013, from 9.02am
George Vasey in conversation with Michael Morris
Let’s start at the beginning; who are Artangel’
We commission, produce and present ambitious works by artists from all disciplines in relation to a site or situation. We put on events outside of the gallery, in places where you wouldn’t normally expect to see a cultural event happen. We’ve been going since 1991, when James Lingwood and I first began our programme of commissions for Artangel.
On the one side you invite particular artists to work with; you’ve also developed the ‘Open Call’ where you invite people to come to you with their ideas…
Yes, the Open is something that we’ve tended to do every seven years. It wasn’t really our intention - it just sort of happened like that. The first one was in 1999 which generated two landmark projects - Jeremy Deller’s ‘Battle of Orgreave’ and Michael Landy’s ‘Breakdown’. It’s important to open up to what might be out there and invite artists across the country to share some of their most ambitious dreams. Jeremy often says that he never thought we would actually do the ‘Battle of Orgreave’, that we’d actually make it happen!
I heard that the proposal was scribbled on one side of an A4 piece of paper…
It was less than that, half a page if I remember correctly. So, in 2006 we chose four projects; Roger Hiorns, Ruth Ewan, Alan Kane, and Clio Barnard - a quartet of very different projects. This time around we’ve launched the Open in collaboration with Radio 4, which doesn’t mean that the work needs to be on the radio.
It’s the first time you’ve made explicit you’re inviting work for digital platforms…
It’s the first time we’re really emphasizing that - in 1999 it didn’t really exist. We seem to be getting many more projects that exist in a number of different ways. Artangel has done so much exploration of the physical environment over the last ten years; we would welcome the opportunity to think about what it means to create a work that might exist online or a work that migrates from a physical to online space in some way.
Does the Open create a kind of portrait, taking the temperature of the art world every seven years’
We weren’t really conscious of the seven year itch at all. We don’t really get that many proposals, people often wrongly assume that we’re already fixed on who we want. This openness is a very important thing for Artangel to do. People forget that Jeremy Deller wasn’t that famous, we were aware of his Acid Brass project, but didn’t know his work that well. This is really important for Artangel, to work with artists on something that really becomes formative - that marks a turning point in their own practice.
Since you’ve taken over Artangel, there have been massive shifts in the art world - in terms of funding, audiences etc.
And massive shifts in the city we work in too.
How do you see Artangel’s place within this shifting ecology’
London feels unrecognizable in many ways from when James and I were at the ICA in the ‘80s. London has really opened up to visual culture. There used to be a fear of arts within Britain and I think and that has changed totally, in part, due to the success of Tate Modern and London becoming an international city with the art market following.
In terms of the Open, is there a particular thing that you’re looking to achieve’ What do you hope the legacy might be’
Certain projects have a long tail, they cast a big shadow. ‘House’ by Rachel Whiteread still feels current, even though it was exactly 20 years ago that the work was made. The ‘Battle of Orgreave’ is constantly being shown and referred to. We’d love it if this Open threw up a project as surprising and influential; you can’t contrive that. We had no idea that some of these previous projects were going to become so significant. You don’t have that in your mind when you’re at the coal face of production. You’re solving all the practical problems, you don’t have an opportunity to step back and see what the resonance may be.
You refer to yourself as a producer, the last 20 years has certainly seen a rise in the notion of ‘curating’.
Yeah, we’ve always referred to ourselves as producers rather than curators.
It’s a nice term.
In essence, Artangel is a production company and we work like a film production company. The work that we do with artists is similar to the way that the film industry functions.
Do you like the challenge’ Trying to work with artists and their ideas, actually trying to make it all happen…
We like things to feel like they’ve got a sense of impossibility about them and we take it to prove that it is possible. It feels necessary to go through long extended periods of doubt that it is possible.
And of course, there are those projects that remain on paper…
There are, but not many in our history. There have probably been only a couple of projects where we’ve put significant energy and resources into that for various reasons didn’t flourish. Time is not really an issue for us; we have that agility, to give a project more time if it needs it.
Someone could come forward with an idea for the Open and it could take five years to realize’
Certainly, we give the project the time it needs. Some projects don’t need that. Ruth Ewan’s work, ‘Did You Kiss the Foot That Kicked You’’ we did in 9 months.
How did the Radio 4 partnership come about’ Maybe we could talk a little about the ‘Open Air’ aspect of the project’
We thought it would make a good partnership. In conversation with them, it felt that they spoke the same language. They were confident that Radio 4 progamming could reflect on the chosen projects no matter what was chosen. In terms of commissioning Christian Marclay, Ruth Ewan, Susan Hiller, Peter Strickland, and Mark Wallinger - this was about putting art on at prime time. The projects are not about art, they are primary forms of expression.
So the projects are completely uncontextualized for the listeners’ It reminds me of Channel 4 activities 25 years ago - putting artists’ work on between more conventional broadcasting.
Yes, although we will bring the artists together at the end of the week for a fairly conventional documentary. We were very keen that the artists shouldn’t be interviewed before. One of the most important aspects about it is that element of surprise for the audience. I mean to an extent we’ve done that with almost every project we’ve made, we never really told anyone what Rachel Whiteread was up to until it was unveiled.
Most people encounter Artangel projects through their documentation. I never saw ‘House’ but I’ve seen plenty of iconic images of it.
Of course, that is a form of experience.
So it just appeared one day’
It did, because that’s the best way - allowing people to discover something for themselves. What remains significant about Artangel is our ability to work with artists and the fluidity and open ended quality of our commissioning process. Our aim is really to support artists in a sustained and long term way.
This is the legacy to an extent, the impact on an artist’s practice.
I think so, most of the artists that we’ve worked with tend to see their Artangel work as quite a turning point for them. That’s what we hope for - to create an opportunity that will propel an artist in a particular way. We hope that happens with the Open. One of the things we did this time was travel around, preaching the gospel as part of the Platforms. James and I split up and went around 12 locations and talked to artists living and working in particular places.
What kind of questions were you getting back from people’
Most people wanted to be re-assured that it was really open and it wasn’t a stitch up. We managed, I think, to dispel a lot of that cynicism. A lot of artists were like, it really is open’
The art world operates more through forms of advocacy, you don’t normally find that openness…
We realize there are limits to our own networks and we do need to go out and be open, not just be swayed by a name that the art world has alighted on. In a way though we’re not really making these projects for the art world, we’re making them for the wider public. Although the art world is part of our audience it’s only a small part of who comes to our projects.
Well now you’ve got two and half million listeners on Radio 4!
Exactly, it will be interesting to see how that plays out. Hopefully the audience will find the commissions playful and unexpected.