Common Practice, the advocacy group working for the recognition and fostering of the small-scale contemporary visual arts sector in London has relaunched, and its work is now more urgent than ever. We welcome Iniva (Institute of International Visual Arts) as our newest member and bid farewell to two our founder members Electra and Mute Publishing.
The paper builds on the conference Public Assets, which Common Practice organised with Andrea Phillips in February 2015. It expands on notions of meritocracy and solidarity that have been examined by Phillips and members of Common Practice and their associates in recent public discussions. The paper reviews the increasingly competitive nature of the arts sector, and questions the consequences of opting out. Finally it highlights the emergence of cooperation and solidarity as strategies to overcome the competitiveness, individualisation and the precarity of those who work in the arts. Download a copy of Practicing Solidarity.
Building on previous work on value and sustainability in the UK’s small scale arts sector, Common Practice organised a one-day conference to discuss the ways in which small-scale arts organisations produce artistic value beyond measurability and quantification, provide spaces for public experience extra to the market, and in so doing contribute importantly to cultural wealth. In this way, small-scale arts organisations provide ample evidence of the necessity to build rather than diminish state funding for the arts as a core public asset.
The conference took place on 15th February 2015 at the Platform Theatre, Central Saint Martins. Speakers included: Jesús Carrillo, Kodwo Eshun, Charlotte Higgins, Maria Lind, Andrea Phillips and Lise
The event was organised in collaboration with Andrea Phillips and supported by the Contemporary Visual Arts Network.
Video documentation of the conference
Andrea Phillips, Reader in Fine Art and Director of PhD programmes in Goldsmiths’ Art Department, introduces the conference – ‘Public Assets: small-scale arts organisations and the production of value’. In the context of widespread entrepreneurialism in the cultural environment today, Andrea introduces the incongruity of the operations of cultural organisations; as bodies that support radical thinking but operate wholly within the market it seeks to question.
Charlotte Higgins, chief culture writer of the Guardian, speaking about small scale cultural organisations as public spaces that are not dominated or driven by commercial interests.
Kodwo Eshun, co-member of The Otolith Group and lecturer at Visual Culture, Goldsmiths, talks about care for concepts and the nurture found in small scale arts organisations.
Andrea Phillips chairs a group discussion with attendees reflecting on the presentations of Charlotte Higgins and Kodwo Eshun earlier that morning at the conference.
Maria Lind, Director of the Tensta Konsthall, describes the wide range of activities undertaken by the organisation, showing how it is shaped by the artists and theorists who come to work there as well as the area of Tensta itself and its community.
Lise Soskolne, Core Organiser of W.A.G.E (Working Artists and the Greater Economy). Lise traces the role of the artist, non-profit, commercial gallery and foundation in the US art economy today; and advocates for a regulation of artists’ fees amongst the non-profits and institutions that subcontract artistic labour.
Jesús Carrillo talks about his experience as head of Cultural Programmes at Museo Reina Sofía, Madrid. In his presentation, Jesús traces the multiple ways in which the museum has recently undergone a period of introspection and experimentation during a period of wider local and global social crisis.
Andrea Phillips chairs a group discussion with attendees reflecting on the presentations of Lise Soskolne (W.A.G.E.), Maria Lind (Tensta Konsthall) and Jesús Carrillo (Reina Sofia) that afternoon at the conference.
Common Practice is very happy to congratulate this years Turner Prize nominees on their exhibition, which open next Monday at Tate Britain.
A number of the nominees have long-standing links with Common Practice organisations: Ciara Phillips was nominated for her Showroom exhibition Workshop (2010 ongoing) (2013); James Richards had his first major solo show with Chisenhale in 2014, and in 2007/8 took part in the LUX Associate Artists programme; and Duncan Campbell also had a major show with Chisenhale in 2009. You can also read more about some of the artists work in Afterall: Campbell and Stuart Comer were in conversation for Afterall Online in 2010 and Melissa Gronlund considers Richardss project Disambiguation in the forthcoming issue of Afterall journal. Tris Vonna-Michell had his first major exhibition at our peer institution Cubitt in 2007.
As organisations we are proud to have been able to support these artists at crucial times in their careers and to give them the opportunity to make new works, and we are pleased that they have gone on to achieve recognition on national and international platforms.
For more information on the upcoming programmes of Common Practice members please click on the individual links to the organisations on our home page. We are also organising an event in November to explore the notion of public value specifically, the value behind public funding for organisations and we invite you to check our website for further information as the event gets under way.
As members of Common Practice and of the London art world, we were saddened and disheartened to hear that Electra lost its NPO funding status in the latest round of Arts Council attributions. Electra plays a strong and unique role in the London landscape, occupying territory that is often overlooked or falls between other institutions, and the overlap of contemporary art with different art forms, such as sound, music or performance.
Their projects have often been long-term and had enduring legacies, such as Her Noise, a unique archive of materials investigating music and sound histories in relation to gender that brings together a wide network of women artists who use sound as a medium. It has been in regular demand since its foundation in 2001, major exhibition at South London Gallery in 2005, international conference at Tate Modern in 2012 and now has a permanent home in the UAL Archives and Special Collections at the London College of Communication, open to the general public and in regular use by students.
Electra have introduced serious international artists to the city and collaborated with a variety of institutions to do so as they did, for example, with Renate Lorenz and Pauline Boudry, whose acerbic, sensitive and critical work they showed at the South London Gallery in 201213. Connected to this was the conference Charming for the Revolution: A Congress for Gender Talents and Wildness, an experimental congress of artists, activists and thinkers in the field of contemporary sexual and gender politics, which was held in the new Tanks at Tate Modern in February 2013. The event created a significant moment for the communities invested in these specialised debates to gather together and exchange knowledge, with many people travelling from abroad to be there. It was heavily oversubscribed with audiences of well over two thousand over the two days.
The recent conference and screening event they staged with Queen Mary, University of London, Debout! Feminist Activism and the Moving Image in France and Beyond, provided a well-needed history and development of the contemporary relevance of feminist video collectives in France in the 1970s, whose substantial and highly creative activity has only recently come to light outside of French-language contexts. This project was intended to be the first in a series of public programming aimed at bringing more of these historical materials to UK audiences and beyond, and into dialogue with a range of contemporary practices.
Events and exhibitions like these serious in subject matter, quietly radical in politics and inclusive of all interested parties are what Electra has become known for, and we wish them all the best in finding ways to continue their current productions without guaranteed Arts Council support.