new studio artists, who will be
taking part in the john street programme, have been engaged in critical
dialogues with Lisa Le Feuvre, an independent curator and
Lisa Le Feuvre talked about experiences from these dialogues with Kate
Dent from SVA on May 11th 2007. This is an excerpt from the interview.
The full interview will be available in written and audio format as
part of the john street programme.
Lisa Le Feuvre is a curator and writer
based in London. She is Curator of
Contemporary Art at the National
Maritime Museum and teaches on the
Curatorial Programme at Goldsmiths,
University of London.
Her recent curatorial projects include
Avalanche 1970–1976 (Chelsea Space,
London, 2005); Dennis Oppenheim: Recall (MOT, London, 2006); Simon
Faithfull: Ice Blink (Stills, Edinburgh; Cell Project Space, London
and Parkers Box New York, 2006); Dan Holdsworth: At the Edge of Space,
Parts 1-3 (National Maritime Museum, London
and Stills, 2006/7); and Lawrence Weiner:Inherent in the Rhumb Line
(National Maritime Museum, 2006).
Her recent writing projects include publication essays on Yto Barrada,
Burden, Esther Shalev-Gerz, Wolfgang
Weileder and Cerith Wyn Evans (all 2006).
I just wanted to start with how you came to know about SVA and then
you came to the point that you’re at now, in terms of your relationship
L.F: I first came to know about SVA - in a way which is, in fact, kind
of appropriate for the whole project – almost through rumour, through
people talking about it, as this place where really interesting things
happened. One of the reasons why I’m so interested in SVA is that
it star ted off with an agenda that is ar tist-focused, so by being studios,
but not just studios, being a place where people were really serious
about their art and people explored ideas and where it really was this
site for production. Then, when I first heard about the new building
I got really excited, because it’s designed by Tony Fretton, I
think he’s an amazing
architect, but what I was even more excited about was that it was keeping
so it’s still about artists leading things. It’s not about
having a really formal closed space whereartists show their work. It’s
about people coming in and asking questions really. I think what’s
so great is it’s not about the launch of the
building but the start of the new building. Even before it’s finished,
people are coming in and artists are taking it over.
K.D: What about your experience of mentoring SVA artists? Tell me more
L.F: This idea of mentoring... I wish I could think of another word for
it... it’s not the right word at all but it’s the only one
we could think of. When you go to art schoolyou have your crits and your
tutorials and it’s just the most amazing
time. But when you've left there’s nothing like that, suddenly
on your own and that experience of having a stranger come in and talk
to you about your work just isn’t there. So it’s more on
that kind of a model. And what I always find is that, whatever you do – whether
you’re an ar tist,
writer, whatever – the
moment that you tell someone else what you’re doing is the moment
that you realise what it is that you’re doing. You have to ar ticulate
it. It’s not that there’s
any power and it’s not that I know more at all, it’s just
that I’m different and
I haven’t met most of the artists before so I’ll come along
with my references, which will either be really
obvious, or useful, or not useful.
K.D: One of the intentions is that SVA’s newly refurbished building
will, amongst other things, provide an opportunity for re-interpretation
of open studios. What’s your take on this, given
the context of the new studio letting policy?
L.F: I think that’s exactly what’s happening. The tradition
of open studios is that, one day or one weekend a year, artists open up
their studios and other artists, as well as other people wander round,
something a bit weird about that. It's that weird separation between ar
tists and the people looking around, and also there’s
that strange mix of, for ar tists, what do you do? Do you show finished
work, do you show work in progress, what are you hoping to get out of the
open studios? And also I think open studios can be quite an uncomfor table
thing. Sometimes I go round and I think I’d like to talk to an artist
but I feel too shy.
K.D: So uncomfortable for both visitor and artist?
L.F: I think so. But what is happening at SVA is there’s open studios
but it’s emphasising SVA as a site of production. And because there’s
events happening, it’s a much more welcoming place.
There’s also this idea that, as a visitor to an artists studio,
you’re expected to pass comment. But you can’t pass comment
because when you see artwork you’ve got to think about it. And I
think that at SVA, they’re tr ying to set up an atmosphere of thinking,
and that’s got to be good for ever yone. For ar tists, they’ll
get proper feedback. For visitors, they’ll actually think about ar
t and engage with it...so, yes, I do think that SVA is rethinking the sense
of open studios.
K.D: The new studio letting policy offers increased oppor tunities for
ar tists to engage with – and in fact be the creators of – an
even more dynamic network, via increased involvement and a greater level
of collective responsibility (along with the support of SVA’s administration).
We’ve kind of touched on this but have
you seen any other examples of this?
L.F: Just to get back to the letting policy briefly, I think it was a brave
thing to shift the letting policy, it’s ver y much about artists
being selected to have the studios, which I think is a really good thing.
Not in terms of some kind of quality control, more about the idea that
the people who are there in the studios really know that they’re
there for a reason. So there’s this sense that ever
yone’s there for a reason and
one of the reasons why it’s good to have this (not inter view but..)
conversation before people come in, is that it’s getting the right
mix of ar tists so there can be a real community of ar tists there. Also
there’s this sense that – I don’t know, there’s
something almost more democratic, oddly, about an inter view process, because
not about whoever hears about it first or who can get their chequebook
K.D: So the selection process was more about the principles associated
with ar tists’ working processes, broadly speaking, perhaps more
so than the work itself?
L.F: I guess so... What you want is people from different perspectives
and then it becomes much more dynamic and there’s a sharing atmosphere.
K.D: Do you think it’s possible to avoid the dichotomy of the
artist and institution?
L.F: I don’t think it is possible actually. The reality of it
is that it’s not because you’re always going to have the
ar tist and institution and artists aren’t separate from the
institution. They are absolutely par t of it and I think the institution
of ar t is a really complicated thing. It’s ver y easy to think
on the outside of the institution of art but, just by being an artist,
you’re part of it. SVA is an institution but the artist
and institution don’t have to be at polar opposites. I think
the artist can embrace the institution and make it different. I think
to have an institution without it falling into all the clichés,
where it gets deadened in some way. And the only way that can happen
is where it’s
dynamic and exciting and where it’s not too big too. But I do
think it’s impossible to avoid this idea of the institution.
Where this becomes a problem is where the institution becomes the most
impor tant thing and the ar tist comes second. You can see this in
really big museums, where following procedures becomes more important
than the content – it’s such a classic
thing – it happens in museums, in the civil service, in hospitals
K.D: It’s insidious..
L.F: ...completely. So I think the only way that an institution can
be positive is by making sure that the content leads and the procedures
follow, which is why with SVA it’s so important that
ar t begins the process. It means that sometimes things are a bit woolly
and maybe not efficient and streamlined but, you want that from a bank,
you don’t want it from an artists’ space.
K.D: What about the visitor and the broader community outside of SVA’s
immediate artist-led group – how do you see them benefiting?
L.F: I see them benefiting by just getting to look at art. This gets
back to the idea of the open studio because SVA very particularly doesn’t
have a gallery – it has events and
open studios but it also has this open access ethos and I think the
reason why art is so important - and this is why all art has got
such a political currency – is that art engages with peoples’ perceptions
and, if you’re shown another perspective on the world, you can
think slightly differently. I think this is exactly what SVA is doing.
almost infecting the area, the area being John Street, Stroud, Gloucestershire,
England, the UK, stretching out and out and out.
Like any art organisation, it infects a par ticular place with ideas,
and I think that’s what people will get out of it. So it’s
not just the tangible experience of looking at art, it’s the
intangible ideas that come out of that place.