Interview with Kirsty Ogg (Bloomberg New Contemporaries)

Published Sep, 2015

In today's world ‘curated’ is used as a buzz word, it seems everything from a newsagents stand to the playlist at your local coffee shop is ‘curated’. What does ‘curated’ and ‘curating’ mean to you?

Good question: for me, curating means arranging ideas and objects in space to create a proposition or a set of possibilities. How these are read or interpreted needs to be — to a degree — left open-ended, or at least porous enough that anyone encountering the work can bring their own experiences and knowledge to what they are seeing.

Your career reads like something most curatorial graduates can only dream of, however you graduated with a degree in sculpture. Were you planning to become a curator or was it something that happened gradually?

I am acutely aware of how lucky I am. I’m the product of a particular moment in time when there was far more fluidity in the art world for people to move between being artist and curator, or to occupy these two positions simultaneously. We all live in a far more professionalised and competitive world and I realise that it may not be so straightforward for someone to follow the same path. There is also an incredible weight of expectation on young people now to achieve, to be productive, to contribute straight away both creatively and economically, and a lot of this has to do with the fact that they graduate already saddled with huge debts: they don’t have the luxury of just trying things out or take time to formulate a position in relationship to the world.

You have been part of the Transmission in its early days. How has this artists led space changed in the last 20 years, has it changed at all?

Transmission is an ever-evolving entity that responds to the needs of the community of emerging artists in Glasgow that it serves, and this is its great strength. It is driven by the interest and energy of its organsing committee of artists that serve in a voluntary capacity for two and a half years. Quite rightly, it is a different organisation to the one that I was involved with nearly 20 years ago.

Could you tell me more about turning your home into an exhibition space in Norwich? How did it happen, how long did it last, and what did your flatmates think of it?

I lived on my own in an incredibly cheap, unfurnished, one bedroom flat above a cinema in a once-grand, Edwardian building near the station in Norwich. It was perfect for showing work, and coming from a DIY or self-organised culture it seemed the obvious thing to do. The project was self-financed and ran for most of the two years that I spent working in the city. The programme was fast-paced and was about bringing together a network of my peers that were working locally, nationally and internationally. It was about creating another platform in the city for work to be seen on and discussed, and a way of bringing people together.

Bloomberg New Contemporaries has existed from 1949, does the organisation keep track of the careers of the winners of the competition? Have many of them stayed in the arts or has the majority changed careers?

The roster of Bloomberg New Contemporaries since 1949 is impressive and reads like a who's who of the British art world. In the period to 1989 it has in Frank Auerbach, Helen Chadwick, Patrick Caulfield, Peter Doig, Anthony Gormley, Mona Hatoum, Damien Hirst, David Hockney, John Hoyland, Issac Julien, Anish Kapoor, RB Kitaj, Mark Leckey, Grayson Perry, Paula Rego, Mark Wallinger and Catherine Yass. Since 1989 Fiona Banner, Becky Beasley, Chantal Joffee, Nathaniel Mellors, Mike Nelson, Chris Ofilli, Laure Provost, Conrad Shawcross, Simon Starling, Jane & Louise Wilson and Lynette Yiadon-Boakye have all been involved.

These are figures that we are all very familiar with now. Of course equally there are those whom, for whatever reason stopped making work. We have a collaborative PhD established with Nottingham Trent University, starting in 2016 as a legacy of Bloomberg New Contemporaries launching in the city in September this year, which will study New Contemporaries’ history through our archive, and provide an opportunity to understand how to archive future selected New Contemporaries artists. We are as interested in looking at these stories, as we are of charting how New Contemporaries has played a part in creating the canon of post-war UK art.

Is there more pressure on young artists these days to make saleable works?

Yes, and this is not always a good thing. Not everyone is ‘market ready’ and everyone needs time and space to try out ideas and be allowed to fail.

Does personal taste play a big role in curatorial decisions?

Not so much taste, but positioning informed by society, values, theory, aesthetics and broader culture.

What was the work/exhibition you where most proud of?

All of them, but especially Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2014, which brought 55 artists to public visibility for the first time. It was a hugely ambitious project that launched as part of last year’s Liverpool Biennial.

How has the art market changed during your career and how did it influence the London art scene?

It has changed beyond recognition during the time that I have been working. I think that the arrival of the Frieze Art Fair in 2003 created a paradigm shift in London being considered as an effective, global centre for the buying and selling of art. While the capital has always had a strong historical association with artistic production, it was the intervention of the market at all levels of the art world — from blue chip to more emergent, and from primary to secondary trading — that has made such a difference to how the city is perceived and operates within a global market place. The knock-on effect in the capital on artists’ practices, production and expectations is equally palpable

Do you collect anything?

Only regrets about all of the artists with whom I worked at an early stage that I didn’t acquire work from.

What are you reading at the moment?

I have just finished reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and I need to decompress before embarking on another odyssey.

Which artist/curator do you think is under the radar but should be known to the wider arts public?

This year’s Bloomberg New Contemporaries selected by Hurvin Anderson, Jessie Flood-Paddock and Simon Starling is an extremely strong grouping of artists and works. Their selection includes a strong sculptural presence that deals with materiality and form; painting that tackles the medium’s rich history; moving image critiquing current societal attitudes to socio-economic and gender differences; as well as photography, printmaking and works on paper. In addition to revealing a process of transformation in the production of the work, many of the works selected this year contain layers of narrative.

By giving emerging artists — who might otherwise remain under that radar — a platform at this stage of their career is the very reason that New Contemporaries continues to be the leading and longest-running open submission exhibition, showcasing some of the most dynamic and engaging work emerging today. The wider arts public can see this year’s Bloomberg New Contemporaries from 18 September to 31 October 2015 across Nottingham, and from 25 November ’15 to 24 January ’16 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London.

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