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Artist Interview: Michelle Emery-Barker, ‘Sculpture Showroom’

by Carmel Wilkinson-Ayre, May 5, 2018

Artist Interview: Michelle Emery-Barker, 'Sculpture Showroom'

In ‘Sculpture Showroom’, on at Glasgow Sculpture Studios until Monday 7 May, bold sculptures dominate the space. Car air fresheners, vases, oversized handbags and more are made from materials ranging from ceramic to soil. But one thing makes this show really different: every work is up for adoption.

Here, Carmel Wilkinson-Ayre talks to founding SPG member Michelle Emery-Barker about SPG’s aims, the show and what the future holds.

 Littlewhitehead, ‘Inner Landscape’, 2017

Carmel: How was Sculpture Placement Group established and what has the journey been like so far?

Michelle: SPG developed out of working relationships between the founding members, Martin, Kate and myself. Martin and I were committee members at Market Gallery and commissioned Kate to create a very large, site-specific piece which was destroyed at the end of the show. Following this we kept up a dialogue about what happens to works post-exhibition, the financial and practical challenges faced by many artists maintaining a sculptural practice and how we could find new ways to highlight such issues and explore new ways of working.

The first project we worked on together was ‘Reclaimed – The Second Life of Sculpture’, a large-scale exhibition for GI 2014. The exhibition included only works in long-term storage, which were loaned from artists and public and private collections. It included works from around 30 artists such as Nick Evans, Joanne Tatham and Tom O’Sullivan, Ross Sinclair, Andy Holden, David Shrigley and many more. It also included Spirit of Kentigern by Neil Livingston, a public sculpture that had been languishing in a field and hadn’t been seen by the public for over 15 years.

The exhibition received a wonderful response and we hosted an accompanying discussion event called The Problem with Sculpture. However successful the exhibition was, we didn’t feel that it really resolved the issues that we were trying to address and we felt there was much more to be done.

In 2017 we received funding from the Henry Moore Foundation to undertake an 18 month research project called Smash It Up. Within this project we are using action research to test new models of working with sculpture in order to address a number of issues. These include the untimely destruction of sculptural works before they have had a chance to fulfil their cultural potential; more sustainable ways of working that address the financial and practical issues of maintaining a sculptural practice; and testing new methods for the display and circulation of work, other than those prevalent within contemporary exhibition making.

As part of this research we have undertaken a number of research trips and also tested, to date, two new projects: Stored Sculpture Inventory, an inventory detailing works in long-term storage that are available for inclusion in exhibitions, and Sculpture Adoption Scheme, the adoption scheme for sculptures that is launched within ‘Sculpture Showroom’ for GI 2018. These projects are aimed at testing new ways of working to alleviate some of the issues that we have identified within sculptural practice.

Detail of 'OPENARIES III ever open opening_ever more open openings_the expanded vessel', Laura Aldridge and Anna Mayer, 2014 Laura Aldridge and Anna Mayer, detail of ‘OPENARIES III ever open opening_ever more open openings_the expanded vessel’, 2014

C: With such a large array of sculptural works readily available, how was the final selection for ‘Sculpture Showroom’ made?

M: The wider adoption scheme is very inclusive – if it’s sculpture and falls within the categories identified for the project then it’s eligible for inclusion. For the showroom itself, we wanted to work with artists that we thought would respond well to the showroom theme. Artists were asked to create a bespoke environment to show their work and the exhibition is definitely a showroom rather than a group exhibition. We approached some artists we had worked with before and some who we were completely new to working with. We were keen to include artists at varying stages of their career as we feel that these issues affect most artists, no matter how experienced they are.

Andrew Lacon,'Fragments', 2017 Andrew Lacon,’Fragments’, 2017

C: Would you be able to tell us a bit about your experience of taking part in GI this year?

M: We have had great fun taking part in GI this year. It offered a great opportunity to launch the project and we feel exceptionally privileged to have been hosted at Glasgow Sculpture Studios, which is the perfect location for the ‘Sculpture Showroom’. We have met lots of new people, many of whom are new to contemporary art, and have had many interesting and fruitful conversations. It’s a great time to be in Glasgow, with everyone from the visual arts community being exceptionally generous in giving their time and energy to make the festival a wonderful experience.

Laura Alridge, 'There's no such thing as textural lack (I - V)', 2016 Laura Aldridge, ‘There’s no such thing as textural lack (I – V)’, 2016

C: The adoption scheme has had such an encouraging response. What’s in the pipeline for Sculpture Placement Group?

M: The adoption scheme will continue beyond GI and we have already had a number of works adopted. So there will be quite a lot of admin and negotiations going on after the festival to make all of that run smoothly. Our research project Smash it Up will take us through to December 2018 and we have lots of other ideas for new formats and projects that we are keen to test. At the moment it feels like we have so many ideas there are not enough hours in the day to work through them!

‘Sculpture Showroom’ features the work of several Glasgow-based artists: Laura Aldridge, Beagles & Ramsay, Mary Redmond, Andrew Lacon, Laura Aldridge & Anna Mayer, Rachel Lowther, Nick Evans, Felix Welch and Littlewhitehead. A catalogue of all sculptures available to rehome accompanies the exhibition, detailing 95 pieces by 54 artists. SPG’s adoption scheme is supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland Open Project Fund.

More about ‘Sculpture Showroom’