Prize Focus - The Nottingham Castle Solo Show Prize, interview #2 with Frank Abbott

In 2012, Nottingham-based artist Frank Abbott won the Solo Exhibition prize from Nottingham Castle Open. Abbott’s winning piece ‘You Do Something to Me’ was a combination of installation, performance and digital documentation (you can see the piece on Frank’s website). The experimental nature of Abbott’s work, developed over years of exhibiting both nationally and internationally, collaborating with other artists and teaching at University level, exemplifies the diversity of art on show at the Open. Just weeks away from the launch of his exhibition, Jenny Gleadell visited Abbott in his studio, to find out how he was feeling about his solo exhibition at the Castle, and what he thinks is important about Nottingham Castle Open.

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Frank Abbott at the Nottingham Castle Open 2012 Prize Giving.  Photo: Anthony Hopwood.

[Jennifer Gleadell] What is it in particular that made you enter Nottingham Castle Open?

[Frank Abbott] Mainly it was because it is such an historic space. As a museum and art gallery, it was one of the first of its kind; it was the first municipal gallery in the country. Secondly, the formality of the building appealed. It has such a grand atmosphere being situated on a hill. This formality seemed to be something interesting to work with, or even work against. Another reason I entered was because I had this idea that I really wanted to show the boxes (titled ‘You Do Something to Me’) in the Castle environment. It was the space of the castle which I liked and was interested in. So as a result of my entering, to gain the opportunity to be able to exhibit in a bigger space like the stairwell is terrific. It’s a great opportunity.

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Nottingham Open-5775

You Do Something To Me, 2012, Frank Abbott.

[JG] What excites you most about the Solo Exhibition prize?

[FA] It is the opportunity to work in this location. I like stairwells. They are interesting spaces. They are great for sound. With a piece of work in a stairwell, there is no place you can stand for optimum viewing – you have to move through the space. It is a transitional space and it imposes a sort of narrative on what you do. The previous piece was made for a doorway, which also meant that people had to walk through and therefore it mixed performance in with the installation, which is something that I am particularly interested in. Also, it is a really individual space which means many people can compare what they saw last year with what they see now. This very easy comparison gives people a foothold and a way to approach what they are seeing this year.

[JG] How long has it taken you to work on the Solo Exhibition?

[FA] I have been working on it for the last year, really since I won the prize, though I actually had the idea very quickly, within about three weeks of winning the prize.

[JG] From your experience, what do you think Nottingham Castle Open can do for an artist’s career?

[FA] Well, though I have exhibited in many different countries, such as Tokyo, Berlin and the UK, there is always a certain digital audience to my work. I work in ways that combine performance, electronic and projections, and this has a certain following. The castle has a completely different audience. As well as the contemporary art enthusiasts, there are also school parties, tourists, members of the public who have little direct interest in contemporary art. So this exhibition is good because it brings the work out to a wider audience. In the Open, there are also paintings and sculptures adjacent to the work so it really takes the work beyond its usual situation, and particularly for new mediums, people can see that they are not so strange or alien. It often takes ages for new media to move into the mainstream but it is exhibitions like this that encourage this transition. In my opinion, it is important that the Open always strives to take on board work that is beyond the traditional.

[JG] Can you tell us about the piece you are working on or is it a secret, do we have to wait until the opening?

[FA] Processing is actually four large pieces clustered around the stairwell, interconnected, which operate within the space as an installation. I was thinking about it like a piece of equipment, responding to people moving through the space. When people arrive their presence will be picked up by the work. It is a completely new piece, but there are many themes within my work that reoccur in Processing, such as game and play and chopping and slicing. In this installation, the idea of chopping and slicing is used again but within a digital framework, things are fractured and then I re-work them. Though this may seem mechanical and focused on digital processing – such as the transmitting of a virtual image through pixels – it is actually a very human process. We only understand images through breaking them down into little bits. Our hearing is the same, our understanding of sentences. I do a lot of reading about the memory and the brain, and it is as much about human nature as mechanical.

You Do Something To Me 3

You Do Something To Me 3

 You Do Something To Me, 2012, Frank Abbott, Exhibition Sequence, Nottingham Castle.

Processors opens alongside the Nottingham Castle Open 2013 on 12 October 2013 and runs until 10 January 2014.  Nottingham Castle will host a special evening to celebrate the launch of Frank Abbott’s solo exhibition on Thursday 17 October, and will feature performances and an exhibition by artist Simon Raven,recipient of the second ‘Castle Café Table Commission’ bursary.

Words: Jennifer GleadellImages: Frank Abbott