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Network Member Focus – HOUSE Biennial

18th Sep 2018

We spoke with Judy Stevens and Celia Davies, Co-Directors of HOUSE Biennial, about the benefits of being based in Brighton, how they support artists and some of their partnerships with CVAN South East network members Outside In, Lighthouse and Phoenix Brighton.

Celia Davies: “I devise the curatorial theme for each edition. It acts as a prompt for each artist to open it up, bring their own perspectives through their practice and research interests. The theme aims to be timely, pertinent and relevant for artists and audiences alike. We select the artist for the major commission, identifying an artist whose artistic enquiry we think will have a natural alignment with the thematic, but also, importantly, it will open up an opportunity for them to make a new distinctive work, something they really want to make, that they could not do otherwise, within a supportive development framework.”

Judy Stevens: “We support inclusivity in the arts, offering artists and audiences opportunities to co-explore mutual concerns and different ways of thinking.”

CD: “We do this through the subjects we explore, the diverse artists we discover and commission, where we situate our exhibitions and events, the communities we work with and through events that are interesting to wider interest groups.”

JS: “We have been developing inclusive professional development opportunities for artists over the years and are becoming more overt about our activity, which includes mentoring, studio visits, support sessions, commissions, exhibition and CPD opportunities. Activity is tailored to the needs and experience of each artist, be they marginalised, emerging or established. All are presented equally in a visible, high profile, and what may be described as a mainstream platform.

“We have cultivated a portfolio of partners with a focus on increasing inclusion and accessibility in the arts; in particular with partners such as Outside In who offer a platform to artists otherwise potentially excluded from the art world mainstream. HOUSE recently collaborated with Outside In to support their first artists’ commissions, with artists Anthony Stevens and Andrew Omoding (2017) and Thompson Hall (2016).

“For the HOUSE/Outside In co-commissions, an artist is selected from an open call sent to all artists registered with Outside In’s nationwide database, with the offer of application support sessions. Shortlisted artists meet with HOUSE/Outside In at a location where the artist feels comfortable e.g. home, studio, cafe.“

CD: “Such commissions require a carefully conceived mentoring programme from HOUSE and Outside In’s own teams, which supports the individual needs of each artist; this might be how they travel, provision of space to make their work, or liaison with other people closely involved in the artists day to day life, as much as specific professional development support regarding their practice. The new commissions and associated events and professional development programme are then premiered within the HOUSE Biennial.”

JS: “HOUSE has always offered a commissioning opportunity to an artist living and working in the South East area, since its inception in 2009.

“For our next edition, HOUSE is working in collaboration with Phoenix Brighton who provide affordable studio space, serving as a hub for visual arts production, discourse and learning. Together we’ll co-commission an early career artist, through a regional open call, selected by a joint panel including an artist based at Phoenix. We’ll also offer professional development events for artists and curators, supporting demand in the city and region.

“We also hope to offer our first curatorial internship in 2019 for an individual based in the region, expanding on our existing relationships with the Universities of Brighton & Sussex to deliver this.

“HOUSE is defined by its many partnerships and works in collaboration with both arts and non-arts partners to deliver mutual ambitions.

“We have collaborated with Carousel on the HOUSE film programme for several years. Carousel challenges expectations of what great art is and who can create it; it believes that learning disabled artists make a vital contribution to the world we live in and puts learning disabled people in control of their art – including through their film festival, Oska Bright. Accompanying the programme of feature films selected by the HOUSE Biennial artists, artists from Carousel select a series of short films made by Oska Bright artists that connect to the main features. The artists are also invited to give an introductory talk about their film selections.

“HOUSE is also developing new national relationships that open up exciting new prospects to co-produce and further extend the legacies of the work that begins in Brighton, allowing greater collective impacts with artists and audiences.”

CD: “We want to offer new experiences and understandings through our programme and partnerships, often through location as much as cultural contexts. 2019 will also mark our first European wide commission opportunity in partnership with Lighthouse. Our commissions have been situated in city centre churches and public realm locations, including shipping containers on the seafront and we’ll continue to find less expected locations. Through our community projects we have connected with isolated, elderly and refugee communities.

“In 2017 we partnered with Photoworks, Royal Pavilion and Museums and ONCA, inviting artist Becky Warnock – an artist passionate about the potential of community based art to empower social change – to lead a community project working with participants from diverse backgrounds, including asylum seekers, from Brighton Table Tennis Club which is the UK’s first Sports Club of Sanctuary.”

JS: “Starting from the stories found within the collections at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, participants explored their own experiences and memories in relation to the HOUSE Biennial theme of ‘Excess’, reflecting on the polarities of inequality.

“The resulting project, ‘Crossover Point’, culminated in a collaborative moving image work screened at Brighton Museum and an exhibition and related events at ONCA Gallery.”

CD: “HOUSE is based and begins in Brighton. Being outside London is a benefit in the sense that you are visible and can readily connect with one of the largest artists’ communities in the UK. There is a thriving arts partnership ecology in Brighton, agile and able to kick-start and support important new projects and ideas to send them out into the world.

“The biggest challenge being outside London, no surprise, is securing sustained and serious investment from corporate sponsors to support the positive impact that the arts have on society.

“The sector needs to continue to invest in and support artistic risk by artists at all career levels and from all backgrounds.

“Ideas are valuable, artists need time to develop them, access to people to collaborate with, resources to make, opportunities to test thinking within a supportive framework. It’s an important creative process that does not necessarily lead to a specific outcome.

“The sector is under pressure to be outcome led, to deliver greater impacts with reduced resources, so I think there is a need for a continued discourse and allocation of specific resources to genuinely support artists’ creative processes.

“At the same time, the sector needs to make every effort to discover more about who is an artist today, reflect on who is involved in defining that and who else should be. Where and how are they are making work and who gets to see it as art? HOUSE wants to make a positive contribution to that understanding.”

Image: The British Library, Yinka Shonibare MBE, HOUSE 2014, photo: Nigel Green.

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