Text by Anna Canby Monk
To Frame: to conceive or imagine, as an idea.
FRAME_ is a project that travels without leaving home, that inserts art by international and local artists into the familiar environs of everyday life. From its beginnings in the Berlin apartment of artist and founder, Elly Clarke, Clarke Gallery has made location and mobility its raison d’être. The Boît-envalise-style WUNDERKAMMER project, for example, took a suitcase-sized exhibition from Berlin to Newfoundland, New York and finally to Birmingham. The UK’s ‘second city’ is perceived as a centre of cultural diversity but even enormous spreadsheets gathered from censuses past don’t illustrate this hub of so-called hyphenated identities. The categories seem divisive, arbitrary and assume a temporariness for the city’s populace - ‘People in ethnic groups other than ‘White’ who moved out of/into/within the area’. They do nothing to reveal a diverse city best discovered on foot and in conversation. It seems like fertile ground for something new to happen - removed as it is from London’s cultural establishment. Little wonder then, that Birmingham is itself a frame into which Clarke unpacks her suitcase.
: to contrive, devise, or compose, as a plan, law, or poem: to frame a new constitution.
Every year, whole conferences, countless articles, and huge amounts of money, time and analysis are dedicated to finding ways of making museums and galleries more accessible and inclusive to a more diverse audience. Clarke is amongst a vanguard of curators and artists who have decided to take matters into their own hands: FRAME_ is designed to transform latent interest in art into active engagement by placing art into everyday spaces and instigating new conversations. Of course, art has been in public spaces for centuries, but it’s probably never been in a nail salon, or a gentleman’s outfitters. And while art has been in cathedrals from the outset (some would say cathedrals are themselves examples of Gesamtkunstwerke - total works of art), this is probably the first exhibition to straddle a cathedral and a COS clothing store simultaneously. FRAME_ is placing artworks into ‘places you already go to’, so people can encounter artworks as they move through their daily lives. Simply framed, small format 2D artworks by artists from Birmingham, Berlin and beyond will gradually begin to appear across the city in the weeks before the launch.
: to provide with or put into a frame, as a picture.
42 artists’ works will grace the walls of 30 venues. FRAME_’s route is a winding walking tour, which leads to encounters with a city on the brink: in places it’s grubby and rundown, in others corporate. Oases of culture old and new are surprising. On a map, the locations of the venues form an elongated oval, stretched diagonally across the city, which recalls the Milky Way or some other celestial body. As works are sold and make their way to buyers’ walls, they will be replaced. Images move out of and into frames in changing constellations. Just as the initial hang is meticulously curated by Clarke, as works are sold and at any given point during the period of display, the hang will be a series of responses to the unpredictable sequence of sales. The curating of this exhibition is active, reactive. It won’t involve an elaborate series of esoteric connections between works arranged around white walls, rather meaning is found in the ephemeral, albeit physical, walk between works, and by the experience of standing in a familiar place made strange through art. Lest anyone believe contemporary art is too delicate to live outside the slick cube of the modern gallery, FRAME_ will create encounters with artworks in venues already visually and aurally cluttered, or in spaces that already have their own ocular logic. FRAME_ says: contemporary art is strong, it can compete and withstand.
: to line up visually in a viewfinder or sight.
Equally, contemporary art - whether photographic, video or installation - often embraces visual clutter. Scratches, light leaks and flare are reproduced in Instagram; the visual static of graffiti is emulated in galleries. Whereas editorial photography clears-out the visual clutter of everyday life, much of the artwork in this exhibition drags the aesthetic messiness of daily life back into the frame. Carly Fisher recreates trash as a statement on globalisation while Karen McLean’s Habitacion Denso makes beautiful the colourful haphazard structures of an urban space; Antonio Roberts reproduces a kind of visual noise that seems to predate the digital era, but actually (re-) presents it; there are an intriguing number of collaged or mixed-media works, by artists such as Liz Rosenfeld & NowMomentNow, Cathy Wade and Linda Franke, while Kim Donaldson draws a cluttered room from a birds-eye perspective. Private revelations are set alongside the theme of universal mobility. FRAME_ displays a photographic sensibility - the kind that understands even snapshots can be revelations - , though the artworks themselves are as diverse as the locations which frame them.
Several of the artworks engage with certain economic realities of art. Dan Auluk’s Why mention money when we’re looking at art’ and Caitlin Griffiths’ Cheque are more or less unequivocal, but it’s Clarke’s own work, Economics (Birmingham Central Library, March 2012), that illustrates one of this project’s most uncontrived tenets:FRAME_ acknowledges the need for the art market to change in order to make art - and artists’ existences - sustainable. ‘No romance without finance’ holds true for art, too. FRAME_ takes a forthright stand against the overinflated art market by capping the maximum price of each work. Similarly, by giving the venues a cut of the profit, FRAME_ aims to outsource the sale of art and to bring the venues’ employees on side; after all, the best way to sell, is to Believe in Your Product.
: to prepare, attempt, give promise, or manage to do something.
When we first start communicating about a written piece, Clarke sends me two lists, which form a sort of dual manifesto; her motivations for the project as a curator & as an artist. What emerges from both lists is an emphasis on conversation. FRAME_ encompasses different types of communication: conversations between visitors and venues’ employees get people talking about and engaging with art, and visual discourse within and between the works themselves. Each work carries with it a narrative, which opens out new worlds, both discrete from and integral to the project as a whole.
Clarke wants to ‘equip’ venues and their patrons with knowledge in order to instigate discussion. The intention is that the project will kick-start a process, rather than impose a way of thinking. That the structure of FRAME_ should be sustainable is part of the concept. This project may have started here, but it could take seed anywhere, because as much as it wants you to get to know the artworks and artists involved, FRAME_ also wants you to get to know place and people.
Anna Canby Monk is a freelance writer, editor and translator, currently based in the UK.
FRAME_birmingham is funded by Arts Council and supported by mac Birmingham continues until 17th February 2013 in 31 venues across the city. All work is also for sale, up to maximum £750. Visit projectframe.net for more information.