What kind of a year has 2017 been for you?
A year of anniversary and big birthdays. Professionally there have been some great highs – not least as we marked 10 years since The Common Guild first came into being in 2007. I’ve tried to avoid wallowing in retrospection, but it has been a pleasure to look back a bit and realise what we have achieved. Phil Collins leading a round of ‘Happy Birthday’ to The Common Guild at a talk recently was the cherry on that particular cake. It was also great to spend a lot of time on the island of Bute – one of my favourite places in the world – thanks to working with Mount Stuart on a show with Steven Claydon in conjunction with our own at TCG.
The lows have however been considerable in the world, especially with the growing and troubling shambles that is Brexit, including how it will affect international working, which is our mainstay. While the uncertainty around funding in Scotland due to the timing of Creative Scotland’s announcement of the next three-year funding packages for over 100 organisations, which will only happen at the end of January, has been an unwelcome additional challenge to any kind of planning or stability.
Art has also been a bit of a mixed bag, with the greatest delight not necessarily in the biggest shows. There were some great shows in London in October, including the remarkable ‘From the Vapor of Gasoline’ with my long-time but seldom seen favourites Cady Noland and Robert Gober at White Cube Mason’s Yard, and Arthur Jafa’s devastatingly good film, Love is the Message, the Message is Death, at the Store Studios. The decennial trio of Venice, Documenta and Münster was somehow less satisfying and exhilarating than it should have been, although there were some truly memorable individual works, including Rosalind Nashashibi and Maria Hassabi in Kassel, and especially in Münster by Pierre Huyghe and Hito Steyrl.
What has changed for the better and what, if anything, has changed for the worse?
Two things are undoubtedly better: one is the cat getting out of the bag around the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace, which hopefully will mean young women will not in future feel they have to suffer in silence. The second improvement is the growth in awareness of the horrors of plastic pollution, which again hopefully is reaching a point at which serious measures are being taken. Remember when we all used to aim for the ‘paperless office’? Now what we really have to try and achieve is a plastic-free office.
What has changed for the worse? Well, the government. It seems now to be possible to lie while in public office without suffering any consequence, let alone loss of position. I can’t stop myself from being incensed.
What do you wish hadn’t happened this year?
I was in an actual car crash recently – I wish that hadn’t happened. Although it seems we are all having to live through a metaphorical car crash in British politics these days.
What do you wish had happened this year, but didn’t?
I wish there had been a change of government in May. I also really wish this year had seen an end to the all-male lists of artists, contributors, speakers that still seem to occur far too regularly in the art world.
What would you characterise as your major achievement this year and why?
10 years of The Common Guild – not sure if survival counts as an achievement but it feels like one. I started out with TCG the year before the financial crisis, and despite the almost constant theme of ‘challenging financial circumstances’ since, we’ve managed to endure, to grow and do some great things, and I’m really proud of that. A curator colleague once told me that perseverance and tenacity are what it really takes to make things happen, and he was right.
Is there anything you’d like to have done this year but haven’t?
Read the pile of books by my desk.
What would make 2018 a better year than 2017?
More dancing, less antagonism.
In art, as in everything, it would be good if we could be less ‘either / or’, ‘black / white’, ‘yes / no’ and a bit more accepting of difference, complexity and subtlety. One of the most valuable and important things to me about art is its capacity to accommodate ambiguity, doubt, complexity, and that zone is something I relish.
1. Katrina Brown, director, The Common Guild. Photo: Alan Dimmick
2. Steven Claydon, Zoetrope – The Earth Becoming World, 2017 (detail). Steel, polyurethane resin, gold-plated resin, painted resin, gym mat, hydroponic light.
From the exhibition ‘The Archipelago of Contented Peoples: Endurance Groups’ at The Common Guild. Photo: Ruth Clark
3. ‘A Synchronology: The Contemporary and Other Times’. An exhibition marking 10 years of The Common Guild curated by Dr. Dominic Paterson. Exhibition view at the Hunterian Art Gallery showing works by Simon Starling, Ruth Ewan, Sharon Hayes and Corin Sworn