Curatorial development in Scotland

Blogging about Britishness?

I’m not sure entirely how I feel about this workshop. While on the one hand it was interesting to hear about how such large scale arts events like BAS 7 are developed conceptually and then organised practically, I do tend to agree with Amy’s blog below: the part that was missing from the day was perhaps the part I consider to be the most important aspect – how they dealt with curating a show with such a history of being associated with representations of national or even cultural identity.

The feeling in the room was definitely at times tense and I think this was due to the double-act nature of Lisa and Tom’s discussion. Perhaps if they’d asked more questions, or perhaps if we’d interrupted, more questions about developing BAS 7 would have been answered in more depth. This was certainly a contrast to Jan Verwoert’s workshop where participants were questioned about their own practice or asked to think about it in a different way. Probing and intrusive, yes, however this was a wonderful opportunity for a more established curator to mentor participants- not in a horribly patrionising way – but by guiding positive self-criticism and introducing new ways of thinking.

We all knew both Tom and Lisa had just come out of afternoon talks prior to our workshop and it was a rather hot and lazy Saturday afternoon – but did this stop participants from being more inquisitive? Stop them from probing Tom and Lisa as Jan had probed us the week before? Or perhaps it was the fact that there were two of them that put us off somewhat….however, after summing up the courage to ask a few questions I was more than a little disappointed. I began by sharing an experience of taking in a group of mostly 60+ workshop participants to visit the BAS7 exhibition at GOMA and the feedback the participants gave me – which was mostly negative regarding the accompanying literature and signage. I must admit, I was relieved to learn that this was something outwith the control of both curators due to the PR control of Hayward (something that I thought tied in rather nicely to Jan’s talk the week before).

Too scared to tell them that my students had also told me “Well after seeing the whole exhibition and reading all the literature and talking to the gallery staff, I still don’t see what’s British about it” I held my breath until the conversation turned to the murky subject of “cities need big art events like BAS 7 and biennials and art festivals”. I felt I couldn’t hold back any longer and I had questioned why somewhere like Nottingham needed BAS7. Unfortunately, I was met with a rather vague response…to be honest, I can’t actually remember exactly what was said about why these kinds of events are important, however I remember the conversation ending with an answer along the lines of events like BAS7 are important for inspiring lazy art students who no longer have an interest in seeing exhibitions….but what about the rest of Nottingham?

What concerns me most of all – and yes, perhaps I’m still a bit revved up after attending Rocca Gutteridge’s Artachat talk in the Borders ( about immigration policy affecting cultural exchange between the UK and non-EU countries – is that in an age when the UK government is a little too preoccupied with defining cultural borders, two leading curators could be so irresponsible as to not openly discuss what makes a British Art Show a British art show to a group of emerging curators.

Kate Martin is a freelance curator and arts educator based in Edinburgh and a participant of Framework.