Artangel: Spatial Identities

The increasing number of site-specific artworks being commissioned, accompanied by the rise of “pop-up” art projects, suggests this area of creative practice is growing at a remarkable rate. As part of the Future Now Symposium 2017, Artangel’s Laura Purseglove will discuss strategies of engagement, in relation to both the physical and social aspects of a site.

A: As Production Coordinator at Artangel, a company that is known for site-specific works such as Roger Hiorns’s Seizure, why do you think that this type of artwork is growing in popularity?
I think there are a number of reasons, but a major one is the increase in biennials and other art fairs across the country over recent years. So many cities and towns hold art and culture festivals now, and site-specific commissions are a mainstay of their programmes. I also think that, as permanent gallery space in cities becomes increasingly unaffordable to young curators and artists, finding temporary “pop-up” spaces in disused buildings is seen as an alternative way to exhibit outside of established galleries.

A: In addition to your work with Artangel, you work as a Project Curator at ACE Trust, supporting and commissioning projects based in churches. Why do you find these environments so stimulating in terms of religious and spatial connotations?
Churches and religious buildings are fascinating because they are designed to facilitate a particular experience but also point to something beyond, there’s a metaphysical dimension, which is really interesting in spatial terms. The relationship between the church and artists is so ancient, and churches have always been social spaces. I think it’s an interesting point now to reconsider those relations.

A: How do you think that your work contributes to a sense of community, and in a way enveloping the wider populations with a sense of accessible culture?
Off-site projects are well placed to engage with communities that might not be art-going in general because they take place in areas not associated with art; perhaps ex-industrial or residential. Proximity to such projects is of course not the same as accessibility, and I think it’s important to involve local communities in projects before they open, to maintain conversations. I think that was definitely true of Artangel’s Inside project in Reading Prison, for example.

A: With the rise of globalisation, why do you think that place has become so important in terms of preserving identity, or perhaps understanding a new, alienating sense of living?
I think it’s important to be critical when thinking about place identities, to think of them as networked and complex. I think the world has been globalised for longer than we often think but, perhaps more than ever we need to address and represent the plurality of places. They tend to exceed simplistic, politically driven nationalisms.

A: Why do you think that space is so important in terms of being conceptually read by audiences – in some way are artworks layering meaning on top of a type of semantic that already exists?
Yes, spaces are never “blank”, not even museum ones, but I guess people can read them differently, they aren’t totally stable signifying systems in that way. That said, churches buildings are fascinating to me, the architectural language of the church has developed over such a long period and the way in which those buildings condition our behaviour when we enter them is almost inbuilt. We read them even if we don’t consciously know the language.

A: At Future Now you are discussing The Importance of Place: Engaging with the Site. What are you most looking forward in terms of topics that you’re interested in developing?
I’m interested in exploring the different dimensions of the site; the physical and the social, and about thinking about space in the context of migration and diaspora.

A: What types of projects are Artangel working on for 2017?
Not all can be discussed but we are working on an exciting project with Andy Holden that will take place in London and look at relations between humans and birds. We are also running an open call, Artangel Everywhere, which is an opportunity to submit an idea for an art project which can be experienced anywhere.

The Importance of Place: Engaging with the Site takes place on 26 May at the Future Now Symposium, 12:15 – 13:30, De Grey Lecture Theatre, York St John University.

For more information or to book onto individual sessions:

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1.  The Institute for New Feeling, This is Presence. Courtesy of the artists.