Ben Woodeson and Robert Dingle are two of four judges for the Nottingham Castle Open 2015, alongside Deb Covell and Kerry Harker they will select from hundreds of submissions made by artists practicing within the Midlands. This is the first year the panel has been made up of four judges and we are very excited to see their final selection. Woodeson's work demonstrates an acute sense of tension and angst, and constantly experiments and investigates the physical and psychological qualities of materials through a process of trial and error. He was joint winner of the 2014 Anthology Prize and will be exhibiting in The London Open at The Whitechapel Gallery, from 15 July - 06 September 2015.
Robert Dingle brings a different professional background to the group, and is currently Contemporary Projects Manager for the Art Fund. In 2010 he won the Arts Council Collection’s select:ac, a curatorial competition that resulted in an exhibition entitled The Gathering, taking place at Yorkshire Sculpture Park's Longside Gallery.
With the deadline rapidly approaching (you have until Sunday 12 July to apply) I spoke with Ben and Robert about the format of the Nottingham Castle Open, the positives of applying and exhibiting and their thoughts on selecting:
[Colette Griffin] One of the entry criteria for the Nottingham Castle Open is that the work must have been made within the last year. Do you feel that only seeing work made in the last 12 months gives a fair representation of that artist’s practice? And is this element essential to an open selection format, ensuring that the exhibition surveys a current and significant example of what Midlands-based artists are making?
[Ben Woodeson] In a perfect world with infinite time and infinite resources and infinite nice people, any exhibition would surely look at all the artists work, in fact, probably look at every work ever created… Meanwhile back in the real world, I do feel that the restriction gives an accurate representation at this specific point. All artists have good years and bad years, but this is a selection of right here, right now, it’s not an overview, it’s a snap shot which can be both positive and negative.
[Robert Dingle] I think it’s different for each artist. I wouldn’t say that seeing work made only in the last twelve months was the most reliable way to view an artist’s practice, but what it does allow for is to get a real sense of what is being made now – to take the current temperature of a place, if you like, in terms of what is being produced, the subjects artists are dealing with, the questions they are posing, as well as the reasons they are choosing to do so.
[CG] Is there an obligation for you to select works that warrant a platform because they are addressing present political, ecological or economic questions, or show a high level of skill or execution, and not just works that you like or appeal to your taste in art?
[BW] The craft skill or subject of the work is I think broadly irrelevant, or at least it is to me. I’m interested in work in any medium on any subject that makes me go “wow”. The best painted/photographed/drawn/sculpted object might be the best made ever ever ever, but if it lacks a coherent idea and/or the ability to stimulate or challenge the viewer then personally I’ll be passing… I’m just looking for the most interesting work ever created irrespective of subject matter or medium…. A simple task really!
[RD] The question of obligation here is an interesting one – the sense of being compelled to act on the behalf of someone else – in this context who might that be? The audience? The artwork? The artist? Myself? Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery? It does quickly become a muddle. It also raises the question of whether we are ever truly able to operate without obligation to someone else or something else.
[CG] When making your selection you do not see an artist statement or CV, just an image, for you is it easier or harder to judge the work cold?
[BW] It possibly favours works that are faster, more impactful. However as selectors, our job is surely to try and look past that initial bite, and look for the quality, even or actually, especially if the works are slow burners. I’d like to think that selection will always be about the work and not just the validation offered by CVs, so blind tasting the work seems like a great move.
[RD] I wouldn’t say it is any easier or more difficult – it is different. There is a huge amount of research that goes into the process of working with museums and galleries to acquire artworks for public collections, or as a freelance curator commissioning artists. This will be the first time that I have worked in this way, and for me that is what makes it a unique and exciting process.
[CG] You all have a background that links you to an open show format in some sense or another, be that acting as a judge before or as an artist who has been selected for and exhibited in a show with an open show format. Do you feel this gives you better credentials to act as a selector?
[BW] As with the other panel members, I have a range of experiences. I make, I show, I teach and I’ve curated, those various roles depend on an ability to analyse, to reflect, to criticise and to express those thoughts. The thing is, as artists, curators or whatever, we spend our time analysing, whether evaluating our own work, or a show we’ve seen or something we’re putting together. Ultimately, it’s about showing facilitating and promoting the artworks that make you go “wow!” while assembling a coherent balanced exhibition. It’s going to be really exciting looking at and discussing the works and trying to see things through the eyes of the other panel members.
[RD] I suppose it gives you some sort of experience and expectation, but I wouldn’t necessarily say it gives you better credentials.
[CG] Some might say that artists practicing in video or performance might struggle to represent themselves for the selection process due to the application criteria (an image and a detail for each work entered or a video clip of 2 minutes maximum duration) do you feel this is the case and if so what would you suggest could combat this?
[BW] I think any non single-image 2D work is inherently discriminated against in almost all open submission shows. Certainly video and performance, but what about sound? Or Installation? I think that this is a comparatively generous application in that two images are allowed per work. In terms of suggestions, it’s all quite practical and pragmatic. I’d say, find the most interesting, tempting, challenging and downright communicative way of documenting your work. As with college assessments, try and make it easy for curators, assessors, selectors etc. They don’t necessarily have an emotional or conceptual reason to select your work, so try to make them want more…
[RD] On the one hand, everything we see will be a form of documentation of the artwork, though I think it is fair to say that certain media do present specific challenges when it comes to how they are represented through documentation alone. For instance, how do you best convey a fifteen minute moving image work with audio in one static image? In recent years video and performance have moved from what was the periphery of the contemporary art world – now I think many of us would come to expect to see these types of works when we visit an exhibition. Museums have taken the leap when it comes to working through the knotted issues of how to collect performance work – though there is still a long way to go before collecting performance is a common as painting or sculpture. As a result I think there is a real awareness of artists choosing to work in this way, and I’m sure all the selectors will be attuned to that – I might even dare to say there could be something compelling to the fact of only glimpsing the work! However, that will remain to be seen.
[CG] Again you have all experienced an open show format in one way or another as an artist, sector or both, what would you say are the benefits of showing in an open? And can you give examples of opportunities that presented themselves to you as a direct result of this experience?
[BW] Clearly the validation of being selected can help the cv and career development of artists, but I’d say that sometimes the most beneficial thing is the increased footfall or exposure a larger venue or group show can bring. Certainly, I’ve been exposed to new curators and gallerists through being selected and exhibited. It’s quite rare for there to be a specific contact or show via an open, I’d say results are more often cumulative. That being said, I’ve won quite a few prizes and also been in big exhibitions as a result of opens, and it’s a great feeling when it happens!
[CG] The applicants will in turn be working across a broad range of media, are you conscious of selecting work that represents this diversity, or will you simply be choosing what catches your eye?
[BW] I’ve no interest in seeing the exhibition become somehow mono-cultural. I’m hoping that all the selectors will have different tastes and strong opinions. I personally might think something’s a bit, how shall I say it? Let’s go with “uninteresting…” but I look forward to being convinced or simply out-voted.
Quality ideas expressed in a variety of ways will I hope come together in a great show.
[CG] Ben, you are one of 48 artists to get selected for the The London Open 2015, a Triennial exhibition opening at Whitechapel Gallery in July. Why did you apply, and what benefits can you foresee as a result of being selected?
[BW] You mean apart from the champagne, caviar and private jets?
Seriously though, applying meant that the Whitechapel’s curation team had to look at my images and being selected means that many many thousands will see my work. I have a solo exhibition obstacle open at the moment at Berloni Gallery in London the dates of which overlap with The Whitechapel so maybe there will be a wee bit of cross-fertilisation. Certainly the Berloni show is proving really successful and has already received rave reviews.
Ben Woodeson, Robert Dingle, Deb Covell and Kerry Harker will be making their selection for the Nottingham Castle Open 2015 on 27 July, so don't delay, you have until midnight on Sunday 12 Julyto apply.