Tendency Towards is a new artist-run initiative in Aberdeen. It was set up in 2016 by six graduating students from Gray’s School of Art: Jessica Barrie, Yvette Bathgate, Paula Buškevica, Donald Butler, Mary Gordon and Jake Shepherd. Currently running without its own space, its first curated programme takes place in a variety of sites across the city over the coming year.
Kicking things off this week is the exhibition ‘Fertiliser’, at Peacock Visual Arts. The show features an all-female line-up, with newly commissioned works by four artists: Gray’s School of Art communication design graduate Ellen Berns, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design graduate Cassia Dodman, Edinburgh College of Art MA graduate Ailie Ormston, and Glasgow School of Art graduate Anna Wachsmuth.
“We wanted the show to be evenly-weighted, so it was important to have one person from each art school,” explains committee member Donald Butler. “Built in to Tendency Towards is the idea of being equal when presenting artists. Fertiliser has become an opportunity to show different aspects of contemporary interdisciplinary practice.”
The motivation for banding together came from the lack of exhibition opportunities for early-career artists in the city. It was also a way to experience and be responsive to the work of other artists. Over the last year the group has identified the need for a grass roots voice that brings artists to Aberdeen from elsewhere, and Tendency Towards‘ initial programme includes London-based Verity Birt as well as Glasgow-based artist Christopher Macinnes and Edinburgh’s Stephanie Mann.
The committee are looking at possibilities to exchange with artist-run spaces in Europe too, particularly in the Baltic states. The programme also includes 3/8 collective in Latvia, who Tendency Towards plan to build an ongoing relationship with. But ultimately they also want a project space for Aberdeen-based artists to use.
“What we are now is not the end goal,” says Butler. “We want a space for early-career artists to experiment and show work in a public forum. We have been setting Tendency Towards up for just over a year now; we wanted to get the curated programme out to show what an artist-run initiative in Aberdeen can do. From this, we can gather some reputation to establish a more permanent base.”
Tendency Towards has no desire to be Aberdeen’s only artist-run initiative, and the committee hope that the group’s structure could become a seed bed for future Gray’s graduates to learn from and add to. Says Butler: “We will help foster other artist-run projects, to create a critical mass where there is art for artists to see and engage with.”
To maintain this openness as well as push research and development, Tendency Towards has entered into a year-long associate role with Peacock Visual Arts to generate discussion and research around how to establish a sustainable artist-run model.
Butler adds: “Currently we are just a curated programme and we have an element of freedom as our constitution is developed. We are acting as advisers for Peacock’s programme, and they are advising us on how to set up as a space that works with the needs of artists working now.”
The group are still very much in the process of researching models with in-built provision for them to step beyond volunteer positions. Aberdeen City Council is funding the curated programme, with Butler explaining that this is all part of “a push to diversify what Aberdeen has to offer people”.
The council’s support pays for the programme alone, rather than the committee’s time, and Butler believes that artist-run models based on the expectation that committee members can support themselves, on benefits or otherwise, are “no longer an option”.
“As part of our conversations we have been thinking about how to work in an alternative way that doesn’t rely so much on the usual strands of public money, which have an unwillingness to pay the committee but to pay everyone else.”
Butler says there needs to be more conversation with the council on how they approach the needs of artists. “There’s an ongoing debate here about establishing affordable live-work spaces in the city. We will see what comes of that, but the good thing is there are established arts organisations higher up who are in dialogue with us, helping to address important issues.”
Fertiliser opens at Peacock Visual Arts on Friday 3 November, 6-8pm with a live performance of The Pestitarian by Ailie Ormston, and runs until 18 November 2017. www.tendencytowards.com
1. Cassia Dodman, Agitating The Cusp, 2017. Courtesy; artist. Photo; Donald Butler.
2. Anna Wachsmuth, Träume aus Fernost, 2017. Courtesy: the artist. Photo: Donald Butler.
3. Ellen Berns, Framfor Teven, 2017. Courtesy: the artist. Photo: Donald Butler.