Spotlight on the Judges - Emily Speed

Emily Speed is one of the judges on the panel for Nottingham Castle Open this year.   Speed is an artist and also somewhat an activist. As an artist, her work explores internal and external; architecture and the body; the way a person’s environment affects the way they are and how that person inhabits their own psychological space.  As an activist, Speed stalwartly resists the accepted artistic norm of paying a fee to enter work into open exhibitions.  She documents and explores this ‘rebellion’, along with further comments on the unreasonable expectations placed on artists such as free labour, in her blog on the a-n website.  However, Speed’s active avoidance of these situations has not restricted her artistic development in the slightest.  Recent exhibitions include a solo show at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, entitled ‘Make Shift’, and the Northern Art Prize exhibition at Leeds Art Gallery in 2013. Future projects include ‘Lady Garden’ later this year, a new commission for the exhibition ‘STILL/Life, Ecologies of Perception’, at the National Trust property Tyntesfield in Bristol. In this interview Jenny Gleadell finds out how Emily thinks Nottingham Castle Open is different from the rest and how she became involved in the exhibition.

Emily Speed Carapaces, 2013 Northern Art Prize. Photo credit Simon Warner

Carapaces, work shown in the Northern Art Prize 2013 exhibition, Leeds Art Gallery. Photograph by Simon Warner


[Jennifer Gleadell] How did you become involved with Nottingham Castle Open?

[EMily Speed] I believe that Tristram was aware that I have written quite openly about working conditions for artists and, more specifically, about open exhibitions and my strong dislike of application fees. The decision to stop charging entry fees is a really great move. My work as an artist coupled with my outspokenness on this matter was probably why Tristram asked me to be a judge.

[JG] What are you most looking forward to about working with Nottingham Castle Open?

[ES] I am just looking forward to seeing loads and loads of work. I love seeing what is going on in other parts of the country and what people are making. I think it'll be really exciting, especially as a lot of the work will be from a younger generation than me.

[JG] As you are an artist primarily, how is this going to feed into your role as a judge of Nottingham Castle Open this year?

[ES] I have been thinking about this recently, and wondering if it would make me a harder judge or a kinder one, but I'd like to think that I'll really be able to appreciate the work and effort that has gone into the art we'll be looking at. I tend to spend most of my free time and holidays visiting and looking at art and architecture too. It is just something I love to do.

Cabanon (outside)

Cabanon, a site-specific performance at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, 2011. Photograph by Mark Reeves


[JG] Having won and been awarded many artists prizes throughout your career, such as your recent nomination for the Northern Art Prize and winning the Feiweles Trust Bursary from Yorkshire Sculpture Park, how do you think winning something like the Grand Prize from Nottingham Castle Open can help an artist’s career?

[ES] Gaining the Bursary from Yorkshire Sculpture Park was totally life changing for me. The Northern Art Prize and Liverpool Art Prize (neither of which I won!) have certainly opened up my practice to a new audience and led to further work. I think art prizes are a slightly doubled-edged sword. They often put an emphasis on winning and the judgement aspect can be difficult for artists.  However, I am very aware as an artist that it is a long-haul career choice and that chances like this to exhibit your work can often lead to other opportunities.  You never know who is looking at your work and though sometimes it may take two or three years to lead to another opportunity, but you just never know what might result from an exhibition.

[JG] Do you know what you are looking for in this year’s winner?

[ES] I am guessing that it will be a difficult process to choose one winner, but it will most likely be something that is exciting and that has a strong identity of its own. Words: Jennifer Gleadell

Mattdress and Drawers 1

Mattdress & Drawers, work made with found furniture in the old student halls at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, 2011