Q5: Hannah Barry on how art holds us together [interview]
by Carey Finn (@carey_finn) The curator and founder of southeast London’s not-for-profit, carpark-based Bold Tendencies art organisation and the Hannah Barry Gallery shares her thoughts on increasing inclusivity and creative engagement in public spaces, including those in Cape Town. Barry was a speaker at this year’s Design Indaba.
Q5: What can cities, towns and villages do to encourage greater public engagement with the arts?
Hannah Barry: For us, ensuring that people feel welcome is crucial in encouraging the circumstances where everyone has the possibility to feel and be included, to feel and be part of something. At our (Bold Tendencies) site, this begins at the threshold. Step across and you are immersed in hi boo i love you (commissioned in 2016): Simon Whybray’s monumental pink entrance staircase, with its seven flights of stairs taking you to the top of the site. The sense of inclusion and welcome, collective experience and even authorship that the staircase provides is a very good example of how Bold Tendencies aims to encourage public involvement and ownership: in a context of amazement and curiosity, passive modes of consumption are replaced with dynamic and mutual dialogues between audience and works of art.
Beyond this, we think of public spirit and public space working and existing together. Over the past 12 years of work at Bold Tendencies, we have evolved and intensified our thoughts around ideas of civic opportunity, responsibility and attitude. Why do people gather together? What do they do when they gather together? Why is it important to gather together? And, therefore, why is it urgent to protect public space where this is possible? All these kinds of considerations certainly sit around the commissioning project as a whole: there is no substitute for the joy of being welcome!
Q5: Where did it all start, and what was the greatest challenge in getting Bold Tendencies up and running?
HB: Bold Tendencies began in the summer of 2007 as an exhibition of outdoor sculpture. In 2008, it had the opportunity to repeat the exercise and so, in short, an annual project was begun. Bold Tendencies has had the chance since then to pursue a desire to support the progress of artists and their ideas; to focus on realising commissions that value experimentation and risk, discussion and debate.
When Bold Tendencies started, there were fewer opportunities than there are today in London for the commissioning of ambitious-scale new works — at the time [it was] the Fourth Plinth Commission in Trafalgar Square, the Duveen Galleries at Tate Britain and the (then called) Unilever Series for the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern.
As with any nascent organisation that starts from the ground up, there is a substantial amount of work to be done at the beginning — basic things like letting people know who where you are and how to find you (which in our case, housed on the top four floors of Peckham’s multi-storey car park wasn’t always easy …). That said, the work is always ongoing; the greatest challenge is always ahead!
Our ambition is to make and share, for and with everyone, experiences of art, orchestral music, dance, opera and architecture in a civic space that visitors and audiences can find memorable, inspiring and useful. We are consistently improving how we do this. The circumstances of our space afford us the opportunity to realise this aspiration through our ambitious commissioning programme. We intend to continue to deliver excellence in our summertime programme and further extend the appeal and reach of the project. We always intend to do more with and for the artists and creative people we work with, with and for our varied audiences and with and for our workforce.
Q5: How do you bring art, civic responsibility and community engagement together in a meaningful way?
HB: Cultural establishments belong to everyone [emphasis added]. This principle has been at the core of Bold Tendencies’ thinking since its inception and continues to inform our work on site. It is our responsibility to offer the best possible annual programme of contemporary art, orchestral music, opera, dance and architecture. It is also equally important that we understand the civic character of our site and the needs and ambitions of all those involved with it, and acknowledge the opportunity this presents us.
Q5: What was your perception of the public space available for art in Cape Town?
HB: It struck me during my short visit that there, for sure, is interesting space and spaces in the city, and with that comes interesting and surprising opportunities to do something new. Design Indaba is a great example of using the large-scale traditional auditorium and transforming it into an intensive centre for the gathering and disseminating of radical creative ideas in application.
Q5: Our art spaces and general public spaces seem quite remote from one another. Any ideas on how we could mesh them together?
HB: The obvious answer to this is to always increase PROXIMITY, whether in practical ideas or other terms.
- Explore Hannah Barry’s work at boldtendencies.com.
Featured image courtesy of Bold Tendencies: Bold Tendencies 2018 Commissions, photography by Peter Landers; and Hannah Barry on the steps of Simon Whybray’s hi boo i love you (2016) at Bold Tendencies.
Carey Finn (@carey_finn) is a writer and editor with a decade and a half of industry experience, having covered everything from ethical sushi in Japan to the technicalities of roofing, agriculture, medical stuff and more. She’s also taught English and journalism, and dabbled in various other communications ventures along the way, including risk reporting. As a contributing writer to MarkLives.com, her new regular column “Q5” aims to hone in on strategic insights, analysis and data through punchy interviews with experts in media, marketing and design.
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