The North East Contemporary Visual Arts Network has always placed artists’ front and centre of their focus and investment in the North East.
From an open call, Chance Finds Us were the recipients of one of three Critical Dialogue Bursaries awarded to artist collectives in the North East. CFU were selected from a considerable long list of applications by a panel of notable curators and writers who were charged with finding fresh, energetic and critical practice where discourse played a key role in uniting artists and their work. The belief has always been that seed investment into artistic practice, combined with trust and belief in the artists we support, will reap rewards not only for those artists but for the artistic community as a whole.
Chance Finds Us has far exceeded those expectations. The commitment of all eight artists to realising their proposals, in particular Anne Vibeke Mou and Nick Kennedy who took a key role in enabling the collective to realise their ambitions, has been incredible, whether it was by taking their project further beyond bursary investment, securing funding or most importantly retaining the very essence of what the project was about. The project remains as pure today in concept as it did at the start.
Matt Hearn, Writer and Contemporary Art Society Head of Collector Development North East has interviewed Anne, Nick and Curator Alix Collingwood about the genesis of the project and its recent exhibition at Mima.
- Julia Bell, North East CVAN Coordinator.
Matthew Hearn (MH): As something that began through snippets of conversation and a perceived sense of shared sensibility, Chance Finds Us has evolved into a longer, multi-dimensional dialogue and has created a legacy – in terms of an exhibition and substantial publication – that is, relatively speaking, permanent. If I can ask you to think back to 2009, what was that initial hook that planted the seed of this conversation, and what was the form of idea that first emerged?
Nick Kennedy (NK): Yes, we were keen to in some way generate written responses or reactions from others as a means of examining a shared sensibility that we had recognised in a number of artists we knew well in the North East. The intention was to look critically at the confluence of ideas we saw in our own work and the wider group and to use that as a starting point to develop a conversation. This was already happening but I suppose we wanted to formalise the dialogue, by commissioning critical writing about the group of artists we had identified.
Anne Vibeke Mou (AVM): I think what planted the seed, as you say, was the sense of rigour in methods of production, and their particular pace. What initially drew our attention to interesting connections and parallels between ourselves and the other artists in the group was an extraordinary attention to detail, an investment in materials, and the pursuit of something beautiful that was more than the sum of its parts.
MH: As much as Chance Finds Us is a conversation built around intersecting aesthetic, philosophical and conceptual positions, there is another element of being in the right place at the right time. Geography and shared interpersonal and professional space is clearly important; how has that affected how the wider conversation has evolved?
AVM: Yes. Many of the artists in the group have worked side by side in studios and through shared projects. Naturally, there was a measuring of ideas taking place. When we first decided to embark on this project, Nick had recently curated an exhibition as part of a residency at Allenheads Contemporary Arts involving some of the artists, and I was working on a project with James Hugonin, making companion works for a church in Northumberland (St John’s Church, Healey). Consequently we were all becoming increasingly familiar with the intricacies of each other’s working methods and friendships were developing. I think it was the regularity of conversations and the natural exchange of ideas taking place that started to form into something, which felt like it should be investigated more formally.
NK: Since the first discussion began between Anne and I and throughout the development of the project, we have been very aware of the proximity of the group: philosophically, practically and personally. The personal relationships that exist, the friendships and the long-standing professional connections have undoubtedly played a big role in shaping the project. All of these have provided a natural and intimate place for exchange that has been reciprocally between us as artist-curators and others within the group – I think allowing us to individually draw out and emphasise connections to others as new works were developed for the mima exhibition.
MH: I think it is fair to say that from the beginning this has been your project. Day to day it has been the both of you imagining and shaping it, yet despite this lead, Chance Finds Us seems to be both yours and everyone’s at the same time. This way of inviting the other artists to be involved on their terms seems to be key to how the project has gelled.
AVM: Nick and I have taken a leading role in curating and driving the project forward, but we also didn’t want to force connections or be prescriptive or restrictive about the idea of ‘the group’. The artists each have their own way into the project; what constitutes Chance Finds Us is largely determined by conversations around specific works and methodologies which have taken place over a few years now. Each artist has taken an active role in defining what should be presented from his or her own practice and new works have also been made in response. These individual considerations bleed into relationships with the works of the other artists involved, so quite naturally everyone has had input into how things might come together.
NK: Yes, we have always imagined that this was an open conversation between a group of artists who we felt were making interesting work. We saw an arrestingly strong series of connections to elements of our own work, but through informal conversations we were having, we just felt there was an appetite to explore this in a little more depth. As artist-curators we have tried to frame the discussion through the choices we have made – to produce an exhibition and publication – but we have tried to allow each of the artists to involve themselves in a natural way.
MH: In 2011 you invited Iris Priest to join the conversation. How did this come about and what did you hope to get from this at the time? Was this the first moment a conversation that evolved into an authored project, i.e. one with a title: Chance Finds Us?
NK: In 2010 what was then Turning Point (and has since become CVAN) advertised a number of bursaries aimed at encouraging critical dialogue. We had at this point already formed a fairly firm idea of the other six artists that we wanted to work with and how we might formalise a dialogue that already existed between us. The bursary provided the opportunity to focus further and led us to choose to work with an experienced writer, based outside of the region and a younger, more emerging writer who was based near us and able to spend more time with the group. Over the period of a year we were able to commission Iris to make studio visits with all eight artists and create written responses to each. It was through this relatively slow and measured process that the over-arching conversation evolved into Chance Finds Us.
MH: Having personally been involved with another project supported by a TP Critical Dialogue bursary, the open-endedness of the funding, the willingness to help nurture conversation without specifying or demanding an end product gave a great deal of freedom to the imagination of what that dialogue was and where it could go. Were your experiences similar?
AVM: We found that open-endedness to be very useful in developing the project at a pace that suited us. We didn't want to rush towards any final product as such, and the nature of the funding has allowed things to develop slowly and for us to form the necessary partnerships and carry out additional fundraising when the time was right. We have also been able to make the products of the bursary public in different forms at different points throughout its growth – much of Iris' writing has previously been published online, in advance of its newly edited form being included in the Chance Finds Us publication. This has allowed the work to reach a very broad audience.
MH: Looking at the evolution of the project, the proposition of an exhibition has been mooted for a long time and it has taken a great deal of commitment from you both to drive the project forward. When and how did the seed of the idea grow into this more expanded and public exposition of the dialogue you had been nurturing?
NK: The project has taken time and commitment to drive forward and bring to the kind of resolution we both felt it deserved. We have had to remain patient as opportunities for the project to develop have come and gone, but our partnership with mima has been long-term and has acted as a solid foundation for the evolution of the show and the publication we have produced. It has perhaps been a little unusual, the amount of time that has elapsed since initial conversations between us and mima and the opening of the exhibition, but we see this as something which adds strength and has opened up other opportunities along the way.
AVM: Developing the project over a few years has actually allowed us to follow the making of works from initial seeds of ideas to resolution. For example, when we first spoke to Alex Charrington about this project, he was making his initial experiments with colour. In the Chance Finds Us exhibition we were able to show the results in a new painting. Many of the processes the CFU artists employ are laborious, and slow, for this reason it has been great to live with the project for so long and have time on our side.
Alix Collingwood (AC): For mima the extended investment in the project has been a fascinating process, seeing how the project has both evolved and grown but also how new work has developed. The exhibition seems successful in representing both the more historical context of the group but also remains pertinent to their current practices. For most of the artists in Chance Finds Us, drawing (in the expanded sense) is a means of expression, an element of visual language in their work which appears in the formative stages of the work if not in the finality. It was this way of working – alongside their own individual 'rules' or 'code' for making work that encouraged or harnessed ‘chance’ as a way to determine their next move – that became the most evocative element for mima.
MH: Conversation and ‘critical dialogue’ has been central to the project from the beginning. If we think of conversation as dynamic, mutable and open-ended the exhibition is in comparison static, fixed and records something in-perpetuity. How have you found this challenge of keeping things fresh and interesting but also trying to translate an on-going and relatively private conversation into a public arena?
NK: No, it hasn't felt like an enormous challenge. We have been quite deliberate in utilising the slow build up to the exhibition to shape and direct new works that many of us within the group have recently made. The luxury of time to build towards the point of shifting into the public arena has been advantageous in many ways because it has allowed the subtle influences this long period of exchange has had on the work to make themselves manifest. Both Anne and I have also been able to develop new works, which have in part been framed by Chance Finds Us – personally, the exhibition has provided a real context for me to respond to as an artist over the last couple of years.
AVM: There are themes, which are recurring in our conversations: order, the systematic process and the intuitive human quality of making – coincidence, chance. This is fixed in the Chance Finds Us exhibition, but there are also undercurrents present, such as a relationship with landscape and the element of time. In that way I think the exhibition is malleable and continues to unfold, as you go back to it, in the same way a conversation might.
AC: From the outset Chance Finds Us has had close affinities to what mima holds dear; to support great art and artists and to inspire connections regionally, nationally and internationally. These mentioned ‘conversations’ are something our audiences have really identified and engaged with. I think as Anne has mentioned they represent an intuitive human quality – exploring the very fabric of human nature.
MH: Alongside the exhibition, the publication offers even more of a fixed and permanent legacy to the project, and this is something that you have pushed very strongly for. What does the publication represent to you?
AVM: It was very important for us to establish a permanent legacy for our creative position. We wanted to compile a record of ideas, as the project evolved, to give an accurate picture of a moment in time, which has been formative for us.
NK: We were keen to reflect upon the slow pace of the project within the publication and to make deliberate reference to the fact the conversation has been ongoing for a number of years in the build up to the exhibition. The inclusion of Iris' eight essays does reveal something of the depth of the dialogue present in CFU. Hopefully it also helps to give a sense of the thorough process of critical dialogue we have been able to initiate on the back of the CVAN bursary.
AC: As soon as I was involved in the project with Anne and Nick (for mima) it was very important to realise the publication – and that this should be a publication rather than an exhibition catalogue. We didn’t want to lose any of the legacy of the project prior to the mima show, nor limit it to only an exhibition based project, but to represent the evolving relationships and practice of the group.
MH: In your Introduction to the Chance Finds Us publication you describe the exhibition as a ‘critical waypoint’ in a ‘perhaps momentary, confluence of shared ideas’ which you are attempting to navigate. Having built the project around existing relationships these will of course continue, but does the exhibition and publication draw a line underneath everything for now? Is it now me time: us time?
AVM: I think we would both like to build on this project, in some form, beyond the region and abroad. The constitution will evolve and I’m sure relationships from Chance Finds Us will continue to develop.
MH: Leading on from this, can you say at this stage what influence the conversations that befell and have evolved through Chance Finds Us have had on you as individuals?
AVM: I certainly feel more rooted in the North East as a result of this project. There is clarity of purpose with this group of artists and it fuels my own ideas to be part of it.
For more information on Chance Finds Us, see the mima website here.