What kind of a year has 2018 been for you?
2018 has been wild. After seven and a half years and a lot of hard work with the team, we finished building the new Site Gallery and then I moved to MIMA. A change is as good as a rest. I was very grateful that the Site team let me come back and co-curate with Angelica Sule the launch exhibition ‘Liquid Crystal Display’. I’ve loved seeing that project transform a special little gallery into something that has more scale and resource for the future. It’s been brilliant handing it over to Sharna Jackson who is now peering under the artistic bonnet and remaking it again. And for me, MIMA has been a dream. I wanted to see if the words on the tin were true… this is a place where art is in action in society. There’s a fantastic team here who have achieved so much already so there’s plenty to build upon.
What has changed for the better and what, if anything, has changed for the worse?
Watching the Brexit debate unfold has been like seeing history passing in front of your face in slow motion. We’re in the middle of a battle of ideas and it’s hard to know where it will land. I am ever hopeful that things could change for the better as people realise that living together might be better than a very nasty divorce. Watching austerity play out on the streets has been heart breaking. We shall see.
For the better, I am gradually seeing our sector change. There are new people, new ideas and new voices emerging. I loved the Turner Prize announcement this year. It felt quite different. That’s exciting. We need to change a lot.
What do you wish had happened this year, but didn’t?
Well, I really wanted to travel up the Tees river on a boat. I didn’t think it would happen and then one Saturday I got a call that a private craft was available to take me and my son on a trip. We travelled five hours there and back out to sea and through all the heavy industry, mineral piles, shipping container docks, energy stores, out to the windfarm. So, actually, the thing I wished to do did happen in the end. The weather turned the following day and it’s too cold and choppy to travel on a small boat now. It gave me an insight into the extraordinary infrastructure here. That’s one of the things I find so exciting about working in this area. Invisible things that produce the material world as we know it (energy, plastics, steel) are understandable from an entirely different angle.
What would you characterise as your major achievement this year and why?
Seeing Site Gallery into its new building was pretty amazing. It’s a gorgeous gallery and feels like a proper space to give to artists. I was really pleased to leave the Freelands Artist Programme award behind as there are so many extraordinary artists in Sheffield and it’s a great resource for that creative community. Getting the job as director of MIMA is my greatest achievement though. I am loving it and feel like the right person, in the right place and the right time, and that’s such a fantastic sensation.
Is there anything you’d like to have done this year but haven’t?
It’s been a funny year because I’ve needed to not do certain things. When I arrived at MIMA the curatorial team had reduced as the men in the team had moved on. This left behind a band of brilliant women, two of whom had worked on many projects but didn’t yet have their own curatorial credit to their name. One of the most important things to do then was to back the team so that they could get on and deliver some fantastic work. This has led to a carefully researched collection display developed by a set of communities connected by LGBTQI+ concerns in collaboration with a curatorial fellow Claire Mead and our in-house curator Helen Welford. At the same time a stunning show by Chila Kumari Singh Burman has been beautifully curated by Olivia Heron. It’s the first time a major institution has undertaken a solo retrospective of this scale and it reveals the complexity and currency of Burman’s work. The work sparkles. And Elinor Morgan, who is our senior curator, has co-curated a great project based around the Cumbrian artist Peter Hodgson and the many international contemporary artists who have responded to his work. In 2019 we will recruit some new curators to join us, but by carefully doing nothing too quickly I have had a great opportunity to understand the core creative team here at MIMA and support them to make exhibitions that matter.
What would make 2019 a better year than 2018?
No austerity, no Brexit… There are a load of great projects that I want to get off the ground. But that is always the way… I enter 2019 with an open mind. The incredible people, artists, friends around me keep me inspired. It is easy to feel despondent then I meet an artist and hear about their work. I’ve loved meeting Emily Hesse speaking about Hannah Arendt, Laura Harrington telling me about her research into the Uplands of Cumbria, Anna Barham, Suzanne Treister… artists make life so much better than it would otherwise be. That will be the same for 2019.
- The answer to the fifth question was amended after publication at the request of Laura Sillars
1. Laura Sillars. Photo: MIMA
2. Joanne Tatham and Tom O’Sullivan, A Proposal to Ask Where Does A Threshold Begin & End, 2018, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. Photo: MIMA
3. Site Gallery’s inaugural exhibiton ‘Liquid Crystal Display’. Photo: Jules Lister; Courtsey: Site Gallery 2018
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“A blank canvas for artists to experiment and create new work”: Sheffield’s Site Gallery reopens after £1.7m development