Interview with Grizedale Arts

The following interview took place prior to undertaking a residency invitation with Grizedale Arts to China in 2008 in a project called Happy Stacking.
Stuck in

Stuck in

On our way

On our way

# A large, usually conical pile of straw or fodder arranged for outdoor storage.
# An orderly pile, especially one arranged in layers. See Synonyms at heap.
# Computer Science A section of memory and its associated registers used for temporary storage of information in which the item most recently stored is the first to be retrieved.

I am currently sat in a cafe in Liverpool called FACT eating up the wi-fi and there is a large amount of stacking going on. A plate on which my shared carrot cake sat has just been whisked away and piled on top of ten others, plus I’ve just filed away a word doc into a bulging folder detailing arrangements for a project out to California in June before leaving for China tomorrow.

All this data entry will hopefully be retained but moreover sifted through the fresh air I can’t wait to breath out in the national reserve of Nanling… actually the book I was looking at last night (Co-evolution) seems to suggest that the air in China might not be so fresh… and perhaps also I should not have watched that Panorama program and its focus on the danger of jet fuel fumes escaping into passenger carriageways.

It’s ok, I will purchase some anti-varicose tights to wrap around my head and I am sure that the stomach churning brew cholera vaccination I glugged back does more than what it says on the bottle.

I wonder how Nanling will reflect aspects of those sweeping stats of Co-evolution’s pages into real experience on government policies about sanitation to transport..(e.g China’s urban population growth by 2030 estimated at 70%)… anyhow, what is this co-evolution?

It’s good to start stacking and arranging layers.

Here I will begin with an interview I have just conducted with Grizedale towards an article I am writing for A-N magazine ( on a Scottish artist and project in Sri Lanka. This I intend to destack whilst I am out in Hong Kong but sharing of all this is hopefully useful to all.

Laptop world means you could be everywhere or nowhere…


Grizedale Pre-Nanling Questions
About Grizedale
JY : Grizedale describes itself as an international research and development agency, how does the organisation structure itself differently from a traditional organisation in providing opportunities for artists?

Grizedale: On several levels
Residencies are more like long term relationships and are more akin to commercial sector artists – gallery relationships, ie there is a stable of artists that is drawn from for different projects
Most projects are group or communal activities a sum of their parts rather than offering stand alone presentations. Artists within projects are often there to represent a position within the overall message
The programme is directed, the organisation has an agenda into which artists projects fit. There is considerable freedom for the artist but if the work doesn’t function within the programme and the artist doesn’t respond and work with the ambitions it is likely the period of residency will be short
65% of the turnover of the organisation goes into artists commissions, fees and production costs – in comparison to 5% or less for most gallery orientated organisations
The organisation works across a wide spectrum of activity from Agriculture to the web, on a very micro small community level to international projects and world themes
The organisation is dependent on networks for the dissemination of the programme, there is no gallery, the only public access space is the website. The website offers more access than most organisations give with public space ie blog, documentary and general openness of thinking and discussion
The organisations approach to the artist is in many ways a challenge, to work in this context, to engage with a diverse range of cultures, many outside of the confines of contemporary art style, to contribute usefully to the organisation, the communities engaged by the organisation

JY : Due to the democratic, process led nature of your projects that merges boundaries of customarily defined roles, to what extent does the term curator or director become defunct or take on a different meaning?
Grizedale: I think there is a challenge again to the artist to be relevant, to be creative, the organisation takes an active role in projects, often producing components of the programme, usually minor in terms of art product but often significant in terms or how the programme is articulated, the blogs and web material is subjective, critical, the organisation will often provoke artists by developing and delivering ideas, certainly contributing to the end product in significant ways.
I have never really understood a definition between curator, director or artist. All these roles are engaged with the organisation of material, and the presentation of it to generate some meaning/message/idea. There are often variable craft skills across these titles, and differences in terms of scale and types of material used – from people to ideas to paint
These terms are often misunderstood, in cliché terms the curator is someone that chooses material, the director someone that manages, the artist someone that creates, in reality we all do all these things probably for different reasons and maybe in different percentages. The curator director in the UK has traditionally had quite a passive role, I think drawing a blueprint from the commercial sector and the museum sector. Public sector curation should be a far more directed, political and cultural in its ambitions, a contributor to how society understand and develops. This is much more the model in Europe.

JY : What is the importance of fashioning a programme that actively engages with the complexities of the rural situation- what is this situation and how does the strategy tie into the local community? Please exemplify
Grizedale: Rural and local are merely a set of conditions like any other environment. I find them interesting, complex, rich and misunderstood. I think that in this micro format we have a valuable model for thinking and experimenting, understanding how culture works and evolves, how we find ways to work more usefully. There is in the rural a more direct relationship to the natural world and within small communities a different way of living as a community. Both these ‘differences’ could be considered as the building blocks of contemporary society and I believe give us clues into how we have changed and how we might more successfully live and work. However this is not to say that the rural offers a shinning example, far from it, possibly more of a dire warning.
In light of a general shift in the way we think about the world, the rural is coming in from the margins to the centre ground of contemporary debate, evident in new phenomena such as green thinking, slow food, environmentalism, technology opening up the remote etc.

About Happy Stacking
JY : Who are the different parties involved in setting up the project and in what way would you describe this as an artist-initiated project conducted in association with organizations?
Grizedale: The project was initiated by an invitation from Vitamin and Zhang Wei, from a link via Gavin Wade, then taken up and pushed forward by Grizedale and in particular Alistair Hudson. The potential for the project linked strongly with the Grizedale project 7 samurai and had many parallel themes and issues shared by the Lake district situation. I wouldn’t call the evolution of the programme particularly artist led, certainly the Grizedale working methodology is centred around discussion with artists but I think the programme is often pushed away from what many of the artist would actually like, i.e. gallery exhibitions, critical reviews, commercial product and connections to the market. The programme is a result of a number of forces, curator, artist, community, commissioner all working for slightly different goals but having enough in common for it to be a worthwhile endeavor
JY : Who are the artists and what skill sets or defining factors led to the selection of those specific artists?
Grizedale: On a very practical level artists that could communicate well, would be able to talk to people, listen, would get along as a group. In this project we did not look for particularly differing positions, more artists that we thought would link into aspect or possibilities we saw in the project. So architecture, community engagement, performance, political ideas, evolving identity, the web, constructed communities/utopias, cross cultural relationships. We were also interested in the group representing a vision of the diversity of contemporary UK, an idea about diversity and identity
JY : In what way do you intend Happy Stacking, a project in the rural setting of a remote eco tourist village in Nanling, to offer artists a real and meaningful context in which to place their practice? How does this draw a parallel with developments at Lawson Park and Parkamoor?
Grizedale: I think the context is real and meaningful whether it is a good place to place your practice is less certain. The previous project Vitamin evolved in Nanling and which they were unhappy with gave artists the run of the village culture and the opportunity to create work. What Vitamin were unhappy with was that the artists made work that though engaging with the village had at its core the ambition to be a product for the western commercial art world.
Grizedale is not really looking for artists to place their practice in these places but to react to and contribute to these places and communities. Most of the artists take something away that is transferable, does contribute to their practice and gives them a slightly different take than many of their peers. There is a certain tension in this approach and it doesn’t work for everyone however if you look at the Grizedale history the vast majority of the artists that have worked with us have continued to work and have in very many cases had a lot of success. There is a popular notion of artist development amongst arts organizations. I think Grizedale is one of the few that really has a record that proves that ambition. Big organizations like the Serpentine or Whitechapel do develop artists very successfully but inadvertently. Most of the prominent contemporary artists have worked as a technician in one of these institutions and have often made work as a reaction to them, they usually hate them.
JY : The seven will encounter new communities in a different global region. How do you intend this to promote connections between the artists and the contemporary realities in which they live if this is so far removed from their own culture?
Grizedale: At this stage this is a research led project. However from Grizedale point of view the divisions are not that great, a village is a village where ever it is, an agricultural lifestyle is pretty universal, the weather, the seasons, the rotation of crops informs how you live.
The group will to some extent decide how they integrate, if they do. In Japan the group lived as the village lived, working alongside and in the same cycle. The village responded by working alongside the group for the presentations and performances
JY : What input do you intend the artists into the framework, subject or direction of Happy Stacking? What role do you play in the facilitation of the project?
Grizedale: In Japan the ambition of the project was established prior to going and the premise was to ‘solve’ a problem that the village had identified. In this project we are not at that stage, the issues are more complicated and the relationships equally more complex. In this instance Grizedale felt the project should spend more time in research. However I do have a few thoughts about how things might progress and I will be ‘trying them out’ /using them to provoke debate and ideas development
JY : How do you think the ‘community’ may respond to our presence? In what way do you hope they will benefit?
Grizedale: Well there are several communities; the company has a significant presence, about 30 people living in the old red army part of the village. The village is mainly made up of old people and young children. There is another community of people that work in the cities and return to see their families and children.
The issue for the village is that the company want to make them part of the attraction, they think this will be fun, I think we might be there to help them make it so or find another way to become part of modern China. These are issues that we all have to deal with
Many of the issues for these communities are analogous with our own situations. I expect there to be mutual benefit, exchange, from very simple things like food to bigger more complex issues like migration, the shift from 3rd to 1st world, in a way embodied in the village, generational relationships, etc. I imagine that there will be a follow through from the project and that might include return visits, and other opportunities to work together. In Japan the artists and the village ran a farmers market to promote the village rice. In that instance both parties got what they wanted from the same event.
There is also implicit in this question the supposition of viewer and viewed, or an element of intrusion which is central to older models of both tourism and art. It would be good to look at moving on to more complex and evolved ways of making relationships with people.
JY : Taking into account Seven Samurai, were there any learning points which you can bring to this project before our journey to China? What were those failings and what social condoms can we use this time round?
Grizedale: Being polite and considerate, respectful and interested. Living the same life as the village, ie getting up at 5.30 eating at the same time etc. Simple stuff same as you would do if you were staying with someone. Learning a few words of Chinese, smoking heavily and giving them gifts. Doing something useful that makes sense for the village community, not making the kind of art that works in Europe in a gallery, using your art skills in a relevant way.
JY : How is funding facilitated?
Grizedale: ACE and British Council, Support from the development company and Vitamin
JY : How is Grizedale hoping to develop and grow from this project?
Grizedale: Much of this is mentioned above. We are interested in the conditions and how they relate to us and how artists work in small communities how that can benefit them. The development of a web presence, making the project process accessible and interesting (ongoing issue)
JY : In the context of the global cultural change the villagers are undergoing, how can artist’s understanding of technology be useful in helping in this process of change? E.g. the blog/non-physical production/ a more dialogical approach
Grizedale: It is uncertain at the moment how teched-up up the village are. They might teach us a thing or two. There is a lot of work going on around the value of the anecdote and knowledge resources which this taps into. In another way there is quite a bit of work to be done in persuading some folk that the web is more than just an art gallery brochure and is in fact a very useful tool. For us here in traditionally remote corners of the world, it opens things up so we can take part in a general cultural dialogue which was previously impossible.
JY : What possible involvement could this residency have with the triennial and how does Grizedale view Happy Stacking as a project within the context of ‘Farewell to Post-Colonialism’?
Grizedale: It would certainly be good to do something in relation to the triennial given its themes and the dynamics within the curatorial steering group. One version of post-colonial is not necessarily the same as the next, but it is clear that the emerging voices from previously non-urbanised zones play a key role in the debate which we must elaborate on over the coming weeks over the project. Sarat Maharaj certainly has some interesting views on this and he asked me to speak at the last triennial symposium on this so maybe we can draw him in to the discussion. Similarly Nicholas Bourriaud is revving up his next book (which undoubtedly will be avidly read by every art student like Relational Aesthetics was) on the Altermodern which links in tidily or at least tengentially to what is going on here.
JY : What is your understanding of the term ‘social entrepreneur” and does this term apply to this Nanling?
Grizedale: Maybe.

Posted April 24, 2008 22:15 by Kai Oi Jay Yung