Welcome to HERO Art Month, our cross-sectional study of the international contemporary art scene during which we look at the key gatekeepers, from artists to gallerists, architects and curators, the established and emerging feature side by side as part of our month-long investigation into some of the most influential figures in the scene.
Kirsty Ogg has spent the majority of her career championing young artists, spearheaded by her time at the forefront of the Glasgow DIY scene, founding the legendary artist-run project space Transmission, and her work as Director of The Showroom in London – an exhibition space dedicated to commissioning new work by developing talent.
Today, she heads up New Contemporaries – one of a growing number of institutions providing major support to young students, graduates and budding professionals within the British art scene. Alongside a touring exhibitive platform for new graduates, each year, Ogg joins a panel of influential art voices to select 50 winners for the finalists exhibition.
Here, Kirsty Ogg goes head to head with three artist highlights from this year’s line-up. First was Gareth Kemp, next up… London-based design duo Panicattack.
Intro by K. Ogg:
“Panicattack is the artistic and curatorial duo collective, Emily Demetriou (Nicosia, Cyprus) and Naz Balkaya (Istanbul, Turkey), based in London. Using performance, video and photography to express artistic codes, collaboration is at the heart of their practice which is used as a tool against the individualistic tendencies formed by commercialised structures.”
Kirsty Ogg: Tell us about the work that was selected for Bloomberg New Contemporaries.
Panicattack: Nothing Really Mattress is a durational performance piece. It takes place on our mobile studio (a double mattress), as many days and hours as we are permitted throughout the exhibition. The live activity is composed by various current conversations that we exchange, our research, thoughts and worries; the working process. The unseen practice behind our familiar performances – the lack of studio space as well as the time, hours and days, invested and the passion to ‘make a change’.
Our dialogues are formed around topics such as migration and home, class and minorities, xenofeminisms, the critique of new conservatism and the perks of being a millennial against the neoliberal patriarchy. Our discussions include the personal and political, disagreement and opposition, exchange of ideas, debate and research; and they become an abstract learning environment for both of us. They show an insight to our collaboration, a powerful value to us, and something we struggle with, in this a self-driven, capitalist society.
At the same time, we respond to what is going on in the gallery space; who is there and how we are being treated. The literal conversations we exchange evolve into repetitive linguistic games, performative actions and exercises. They peak into intensity of experimental spoken word, sound and movement, completing the cycle of conversation, and then another one begins. The live actions are a symbolic protest, a noncooperation and confrontation, but no physical violence is used. These non-violent actions include writing, painting, making sound, balancing the body, reading out loud, posing with or without objects, singing, clapping durationally, pouring tea; these actions become surreal versions of themselves as duration progresses.
KO: How will you develop your work following your selection for Bloomberg New Contemporaries?
P: Both as Panicattack Duo, as well as two independent artists/ curators, we are shifting towards a broader practice of participatory and collaborative work. Work that includes other artists and the public, community engaging projects, collectivity, radical happiness and pedagogy. Now, what we need is to find the right strategies of reaching that, without being totally marginalised from the UK art scene. We could easily end up struggling to keep going, if we have no source of funding for the work we want to make. Here, we are not talking about work that has extremely high production costs but work that needs a big investment of time and research, and work that includes various individuals. Thus, if the work is precariously treated and if we need to make a living through a different source, to be able to survive in London, then it is impossible to reach our goals, keeping a healthy mind and body.
“Performance has been a very active movement since the 60s, always a trend in art school, almost a must for an opening, but it never really is embedded in history.”
KO: What are the current challenges faced in your own practice?
P: There is a challenge that has been constant, it has been there before our collaboration began. Coming from Turkey and Cyprus, our respective societies claim that we should be enemies, so we have employed the model of friendship to counter such national barriers, as well as a way of testing the limits of collaborative practice.
Another big challenge is making live work. Performance has been a very active movement since the 60s, always a trend in art school, almost a must for an opening, but it never really is embedded in history. Performance artists, through the years, might have reached a peak in their career, but it always seems that they get forgotten in archives, not included or mentioned, easily brushed away- a similar fate to artists of colour.
Now, following our answer to the previous question, the challenge there is to develop our practice towards a more introspectively engaging practice, a more participatory, community-based practice. It is a challenge when your work is not fundamentally for sale, or there is nothing to be sold. With practices like this, funding is almost necessary – especially in a city like London. The cost of living is so high, that when an artist needs to sacrifice a huge amount of time to make a living, then there is no time left for the practice.
KO: Can the UK arts industry stay strong in the face of funding cuts and a fall in pupils taking creative subjects in the school curriculum?
P: The right government rising right now has a big effect on art education. Cuts on funding lead to privatisation of academic institutions as well as museums and galleries. The results are the rise of tuition fees, less bursaries and less help for people who come from lower class backgrounds, cuts on academics’ pensions and no career certainty after graduation.
We, as current students and soon-to-be graduates are in the midst of this situation. I am right now supposed to go into my second year of the RCA, but I cannot continue my studies even though I have a full-time job, the Postgraduate Loan and a scholarship from a foundation in Cyprus; it is still not enough. Only the leader of my pathway felt strongly to help me, but he has no authority or choice in a deeply privatised institution, buried in bureaucracy. I am sad because I’m not the only one on my course who is in this position. It is unheard of for an institution like this to have no kind of scheme for people who come from lower class backgrounds.
The problems in art education are many- we can keep listing, but the concluding point is that art institutions and universities are just a mirror image of the current system of austerity. It is not surprising that fewer and fewer pupils are taking up creative subjects. Nevertheless, we need to stay optimistic, because there are too many good people with passion, who run artist led organisations and who dedicate their life to a better future in the sector. If we as artists, curators and creatives find the right ways to come together and work collectively then there will definitely be a future and place for all of us in the art world. Independent alternative art courses are out there, and knowing people who graduated from those, they have had amazing experiences. We need to get involved in community work, promote creative subjects in schools through workshops and engage with the public in approachable ways, not scare people off with the image of art as a field for the rich.