Since November 2019, I have been working as Bow Arts’ Gallery Assistant through Create Jobs’ ‘Shared Training and Employment Programme’ (STEP). Throughout the course of the year, I have had the opportunity to support the planning and delivery of three exhibitions and a range of exciting events. Most recently, I have been working on Visions in the Nunnery, Bow Arts’ renowned biennial showcase of moving image, digital and performance art selected from an international open call. It’s been wonderful to see the exhibition through from the early stages to the launch of its first two programmes and to learn from everyone involved in its making!
Visions in the Nunnery is curated by artist Tessa Garland and Bow Arts’ Director of Arts and Events, Sophie Hill. I caught up with Tessa and Sophie to find out a bit more about the biennial’s rich history, their experience of programming in a pandemic and their plans for the future.
Can you tell me a bit about the history of Visions in the Nunnery? How did it come about?
In 2001 video artist Chris Meigh-Andrews started Visions in the Nunnery at the Nunnery Gallery. I was lucky enough to be around in the Bow Arts Office to support him alongside Marcel Baettig. Chris was the main selector and Marcel and I were his side-kicks, offering our thoughts and helping him with the nuts and bolts of putting a show together. Up until this point I had organized quite a few artist-led exhibitions and events but was particularly interested in moving image practice and so Visions was the perfect container to focus my attention. A few years later Chris and Marcel could no longer commit to Visions and I took on the running of it alone.
Despite having a very small budget Visions managed, through the generosity of artists, to put on really great shows. Right from the word go Visions invited high profiled artists alongside an open call. The first artist I invited was Oreet Ashery (Turner Prize winner 2020), who at that time had a studio at the Bow Arts Trust. The following edition we hosted the work of the great Michael Nyman (although most widely known for being a composer he is a well-respected video artist). In 2006 Cinzia Cremona joined me as co-curator, with her interests in performance Cinzia worked hard at developing this part of Visions, bringing in artists such as Franko B and Richard Layzell. Through the Open Call we have selected cutting edge works including Heather Phillipson (who has work currently on the Fourth Plinth) Marianna Simnett and Lawrence Lek. Over the years Visions has invited and shown many profiled artists including Tacita Dean, Ori Gersht, Dryden Goodwin, Susan Hiller, Mikhail Karikis, Tina Keane, Melanie Manchot and Bedwyr Williams. In 2016 Sophie Hill, Nunnery Gallery Director, joined the Visions team and helped us professionalise and focus what was quite a diverse month of events into three focused programmes, each lasting a month and headed up by one lead artist. Sophie and her gallery team now do a brilliant job of running Visions in the Nunnery which has allowed me to take a step back from the admin side and enjoy my role as curator and selector.
Image courtesy Bow Arts, © the artists. Photography by Rob Harris.
How does this year’s programme compare to previous editions? Is there anything you’re particularly excited about?
Despite the pandemic, this year’s edition has brought into focus how well-respected Visions has become in the moving image and performance world. Artists are really excited to be a part of the programme, it’s become a big thing to be selected and to exhibit / perform alongside high profiled artists. I’ve so enjoyed this year’s two launches and probably most excited about meeting and talking to all the artists, it was brilliant to see Vidya Patel and Hetain Patel’s performance… a definite highlight for me. Live art compliments the digital work and at Visions we are so lucky to have great outdoor space to accommodate both performers and audience. None of the above would have been possible without the gallery team’s commitment to Visions and this year in particular the Visions gallery team were super organized… very impressive! It’s good to see how the gallery team have engaged with the content of Visions, they know all of the works intimately, through corresponding with the artists and watching the films. Such interest and knowledge have equipped them well when engaging with gallery visitors, perhaps particularly important in a show like Visions where extra insight and background knowledge can be very helpful.
How has the pandemic impacted the programming of the exhibition? Is there anything that has surprised you about the process?
Working during a pandemic has thrown up many challenges, but luckily much of the Visions content exists in digital form which has been uploaded online. We have become so used to viewing art online now that this has become the new normal. One great story... I noticed that Said Ardus (showing in Visions P1) has been viewed the most times out of all of the Visions films. Curious - I asked Said about this and he told me that now many friends and family internationally were able to view his film, The Riddle of Bakuli, including in Kampala where Said travelled to make his film in search of his family home. He said it had been quite touching to listen to the comments and having it online enabled whole communities to tap into and connect with his beautiful and gentle film.
I’ve personally found it really rewarding to see everyone come together for the launch of the first two programmes of Visions. We’ve had to make lots of changes to the way we work in the gallery but seeing artists and visitors enjoying the programme has really made it worthwhile. What has been your favourite part of working on Visions for you?
I love looking at moving image art in particular, so for me the selection process is fascinating, perhaps the most interesting part is the programming and having all the selectors in one room to discuss the work. It’s not always an easy conversation, often viewing quite challenging work, but definitely the part I find most engaging. This year Nye Thompson, Benedict Drew and Kamila Kuc joined Sophie and I, which offered up new ways of seeing and of interpretation.
Image courtesy Bow Arts, © Tessa Garland, Chobham. Photography by Rob Harris.
Do you have any plans for the future that you’d like to share? This could be plans for the future of Visions or plans for your own practices.
As an artist I have always shown a piece of work at Visions and this year I installed a new wall piece, Chobham in P2. It is a new work and so it was particularly useful to have an audience reaction and to discuss it in the gallery setting. Also intriguing to see that it exists on other people’s social media posts which is particularly useful considering the early closure of the show due to the lockdown. This is part of an ongoing series of work which I shall develop over the next weeks and months.
Visions is a biennial, we have a year to reflect and hopefully to see the pandemic diminish before we begin to plan. Part of my role is to help Sophie shape the programme by selecting 3 lead artists. Visions has never shied away from big subjects and in an ever quick changing world representation of the current situation is key, so in preparation I will be visiting shows, attending screenings and listening to artist’s talks… all of this will help inform the invitation of lead artists for the 2022 edition.
Visions in the Nunnery 2020 was on in the Nunnery Gallery until December 13, 2020. You can read more about the 2020 programme here.