Friday, February 24, 2012

5 Minutes With Chris Wainwright

Chris Wainwright is an artist, curator and currently the Head of Colleges of Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon, University of the Arts London. He is also President of ELIA, ( The European League of Institutes of the Arts ) and Acting Director of ICFAR ( The International Centre for Fine Art Research ).

His recent group exhibitions include Gandhi Group, Museum of Modern Art, Santiago, Chile and Donna Beam Gallery, Las Vegas USA. His work is currently being shown as part of the UK touring exhibition Fleeting Arcadias - Thirty Years of British Landscape Photography from the Arts Council Collection.

Recent one-person exhibitions include Emergency Lighting, an exterior installation at the Photographers Gallery in London. His time based work Capital, with David Bickerstaff, has been shown at File 2002 in Sao Paulo and the Institute for Interactive Media and Learning at UTS, Sydney, Australia.

Other recent works include Channel 14 a video projection at the Champ Libre Festival of Electronic Arts, Montreal, 2004. In 2005 Channel 14 was selected for the Media and Architecture Biennale, Graz, Austria. His photographic work is held in many public collections including the Victoria and Albert Museum, London: Arts Council of England: Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris and the Polaroid Corporation, Boston, USA.

Q1. What was the first record that you owned that had a life changing effect on you?

CW: The first Record I ever bought at Chesterfield Market, Was Gerry & The Pacemakers “Ferry Across The Mersey”. It has t be The Beatles “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window”, my youth in Sheffield. Aesthetically, Frank Zappa’s “Hot Rats” was probably one of the first pieces of music that stood out as being very different.

Frank Zappa - Willie The Pimp.

Gerry & The Pacemakers - Ferry Cross The Mersey (1965).

Q2. When did you first become interested in the medium you work in and what prompted you to go into the arts as a career choice and vocation?

CW: It probably sounds a bit corny but I always did art. From when I was a little kid and my parents were brilliant at saying “Just do it”, because they enjoyed watching me do it they enjoyed me giving them really na├»ve pictures. My dad was a farmer and I just used to paint pictures around the farm and they just loved it. That progressed through school and my parents never discouraged me from being an artist. A lot of my peers when I would speak to then, they almost made art despite what their parents wanted them to be; accountants or politicians or doctors, something that was going to pay back in later life. I guess my parents never expected anything from me other than wanting me to be happy.

It was an easy run in that sense, to go through school and develop something that I felt was being supported. And art school just happened. I think I had a bit of a reputation at school for being good at art in earlier years and I guess when I was in ‘big school’ it became more formalized in exams and I always did quite well and I got on pretty well with art teachers. I got good recognition early on. I was probably really lucky in having really good teachers and that can’t be underestimated. That important phrase that someone says at a certain time can make or break a career for you.

I’m really rubbish at French, not because I am bad at French but because I had a complete bastard of a French teacher who said I was useless! I didn’t like him and he didn’t like me and that set it up-I thought French is not for me. There are some points in your life when someone can say something unbelievably empowering or a real turn off. My art teachers just kept saying really positive things and that makes a big difference when you are at that impressionable age. You take it to heart-so teaching is really important.

Q3. You joined Cape Farewell on the 2008 Disko Bay Expedition, visiting the spectacular Disko Bay area of West Greenland with a group of international artists, journalists and scientists. Can you tell me about that expedition?

CW: Cape Farwell has been going since 2002 and it takes artists, musicians, scientists and creative people to the Arctic region to basically engage with and witness what is fairly well accepted as the front line of climate change. You can see what is happening there much more easily than in other parts of the world.

I got involved in 2005/2006. Eventually David Buckland who is the director said “You should come along on one of the voyages”. So in 2008 he invited me to go with 35 people altogether to Disko Bay in Western Greenland. He wanted me to go for 2 reasons; one was he thought the work I’m doing is relevant and second I knew something about ships and I might be quite useful and thirdly he wanted to put a show together at some point and he asked me if I would be interested to curate work for an exhibition that was done on that trip, form the previous trip in 2005 and also from a trip to the Andes.

Chris Wainwright with the Cape Farewell expedition.

So when I got back off that voyage I started to work with a group of artists to put work together, and over time we amassed and exhibition of 25 artists and that has been touring around the world ever since. It started in Vienna, it’s been to London, Chicago, New York and it now in Liverpool and is going off to Beijing, Seoul so it’s a big production that seems to be rolling endlessly. We do seminars and projects and concerts. In Chicago last year we did a couple of concerts. Robin Hitchcock came over and we did things there that coincided with a tour he was doing with Joe Boyd. When we were in Chicago Robin and I did some things together, talks and a couple of visual things so it continued that process of bringing people from different art forms into close proximity. That’s the ethos of Cape Farewell-make bridges between art and science.

On the expedition we found ourselves in this hotel in Umanak, when I say ‘hotel’ that is stretching the definition a bit! We just all set up a concert in the bar of this hotel which was full of locals getting blind drunk. That’s what the local people do-there’s not much entertainment in the winter so people drink a lot.

Robin Hitchcock, Martha Wainwright, Jarvis Cocker, KT Tunstall, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Leslie Feist and Laurie Anderson. We set up this little concert and it was amazing. These guys were thinking “ aliens have landed” but then they realized “we recognize these aliens!” It was great fun.

KT Tunstall - Hold on - live Cape Farewell 1 Oct 2008.

Q4. You were a trustee of ‘SPACE’ (one of the largest artist studio providers in the UK). Can you tell me about that project.

CW: I stood down form the advisory board but I am still involved with the project. ‘SPACE’ takes buildings which or often derelict or semi derelict and offers them to artists as studios. They are often perfect for artists because they’ve got ‘character’. Putting buckets to catch the rain or plastic over the windows.

They’re a really important provision for artists because when you leave art school, what do you do? You’ve had these studios and suddenly that all disappears. So ‘SPACE’ at the moment has about 600 artist studios around London and quite a big waiting list. I was on their board for about four years just helping to basically acquire new buildings. Every year you get more and more people wanting studios.

But also the practice has changed quite a lot, often artists don’t want a white cube next to another white cube. People are working more collaboratively and are using studios in a different kind of way and a more flexible way. So we were looking for different kinds of support structures for artists. Maybe for five months you just want a desk because you’re working on a project that might happen for a month, in a huge space. So the research side of working is often more important and you don’t need to occupy huge spaces you can just hire it for a month. So I am still involved but had to stand down from the board because of other commitments.

Q5. Being the Head of Colleges of Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon, University of the Arts London must be a huge responsibility. How do you maintain a creative pace with your own work and balance that alongside the demands of academia?

CW: I have a really simple answer for that-I don’t see a distinction. Those definitions of private life and professional life and artistic practice. Because my life and relations ships are very different to segregate. My wife is an artist and so that bits easy. I often do work as an artist and curator that involves education. If I am touring the 'Unfold’ show around the world I am touring it to places where we have institutional links as well.

By taking the show to Beijing it kind of creates an interest and benefits the Universities as much as it benefits the public. So I try wherever I can to do things that bring those elements together. For instance Cape Farewell as an organization, is a partner of our graduate school. We bring those guys in and they do talks and then students work with them on placements. You try and keep some kind of permeability between those things. Of course that means you only sleep four hours a night!

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