SARAH PERKS

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The HOME cu­ra­tor talks about Manch­ester’s new arts hub

Manch­ester’s much-loved arts hub Corner­house is no more, but a new cul­tural Mecca, HOME, has risen from the ashes. At its helm, with the ti­tle of Artis­tic Di­rec­tor: Vis­ual Art, is north­ern pow­er­house Sarah Perks, 37. DIVA found out more.

DIVA: What’s your ear­li­est mem­ory of art in a pub­lic set­ting, like a mu­seum or gallery, Sarah?

SARAH PERKS: As young­ster, I was ob­sessed with for­eign lan­guage cin­ema, I loved the dif­fer­ent ways of telling sto­ries. I sort of grew up in Corner­house; I went to the the­atre and art gal­leries, and then bars, gigs and clubs. Cul­ture from low to high has al­ways felt really im­por­tant to me, par­tic­u­larly how it af­fects the way we understand the world and talk about it. Art for me is very po­lit­i­cal and in­ter­na­tional, yet it has to have an emo­tional im­pact and have space within it for peo­ple to re­act. Con­tem­po­rary vis­ual art has a free spirit and in­tegrity I’ve yet to ex­pe­ri­ence in any other art form, it mu­tates, evolves and af­fects ev­ery­thing around it.

When did you know that you wanted to work in the art world and how did you get your first toe on the lad­der?

De­spite all the ob­vi­ous point­ers to­wards be­ing a pro­ducer or cu­ra­tor, I spent the ages of three to 21 con­vinced I would be an in­die pop star. At some point I re­alised I didn’t have the time to waste, and set out to be an aca­demic in­stead. Ev­ery­thing changed when I got a job at Corner­house aged 24.

What is the dif­fer­ence be­tween peo­ple who want to make art and peo­ple who want to cu­rate? Did you ever think you might be an artist your­self?

I didn’t even take art at school as I hated draw­ing tins and ce­real boxes. Think what fun we might have had with con­cep­tual art class! I’m not a tra­di­tional cu­ra­tor and never worked in a mu­seum, so I hands- on pro­duce art­work with my artists and feel my ap­proach blurs con­ven­tional roles and art forms. I dis­like the way peo­ple tend to see things as ei­ther cre­ative or prac­ti­cal or aca­demic, the ge­nius is in the blur­ring of th­ese things. I’m sat right now on a film shoot where I’m pro­ducer, caterer, writer, driver, wardrobe and art di­rec­tor, whilst preparing for a book launch tonight.

Ob­vi­ously your role at HOME has a cre­ative el­e­ment to it. Tell us about your job and what it in­volves…

One way to de­scribe it is jug­gling lots of small to large scale art projects – one pri­mary fo­cus for me is cu­rat­ing the ex­hi­bi­tions (four or five a year) for our ma­jor gallery space. Each one will in­volve re­search and defin­ing the con­cept, then a com­bi­na­tion of pro­duc­ing new work along­side ex­ist­ing work. Along­side this cu­rat­ing runs cre­ative writ­ing, artist pub­li­ca­tions, film pro­duc­tions, train­ing pro­grammes, events, per­for­mances, con­fer­ences and ev­ery­thing that is a part of HOME.

What do you have to think about when you are plan­ning an ex­hi­bi­tion?

There’s a lot to con­sider, I look at three year pe­ri­ods bro­ken down into themes and re­search to be­gin with. I look at the di­ver­sity of the artists I’m pre­sent­ing and cru­cially whether they are “our” type of artists – for ex­am­ple, HOME wouldn’t do a ma­jor solo ex­hi­bi­tion by an al­ready very es­tab­lished artist that you can see else­where. I’m very much led by think­ing in­ter­na­tional and cross art form, ex­plo­rations of the per­sonal and po­lit­i­cal, of­ten re­vealed via sto­ry­telling. For group shows I take an in­flu­en­tial text as in­spi­ra­tion, a pop cul­ture ref­er­ence or a his­tor­i­cal move­ment to re­visit. Start with some­thing nar­row and ex­plore from cen­tre out­wards. Also, I’m track­ing artists ca­reers over time and al­ways on the look­out for new and ex­cit­ing art­work from any­where.

Tell us about your cur­rent ex­hi­bi­tion, Safe...

Safe is an ex­cel­lent ex­am­ple of an ex­hi­bi­tion de­vel­op­ing over time, as a col­lab­o­ra­tion. At the heart of it all is Todd Haynes’ sem­i­nal film Safe (1995) star­ring Ju­lianne Moore as a LA sub­ur­ban house­wife who be­comes grad­u­ally al­ler­gic to ev­ery­thing around her. It’s a very com­plex and unresolved film ex­plor­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal ill­ness and pol­lu­tion, self help, sub­ur­ban malaise, and of­ten viewed as an al­le­gory for HIV/AIDS. Con­ceiv­ing and pro­duc­ing with my co- cu­ra­tor Louise O’hare has been an epic jour­ney and I think it is a deeply res­o­nant, timely and ac­ces­si­ble ex­hi­bi­tion – half of which is new com­mis­sions, with a pub­li­ca­tion in the style of self help along­side.

Sounds fan­tas­tic! What else have you got in the pipe­line?

Our next ex­hi­bi­tion is by su­per cool artist and film­maker duo AL & AL, who will present and nar­rate In­ci­dents Of Travel In The Mul­ti­verse (6 Feb - 27 Mar 2016), a ma­jor new solo show con­ceived from their epic sci-fi odyssey, both real and imag­ined, along­side some of the world’s ground-break­ing sci­en­tists, Pro­fes­sor Brian Greene, Alan Tur­ing and Dr Bart Hoogen­boom. And there will be a live con­cert per­for­mance with the BBC Phil­har­monic and mu­sic by Philip Glass. I have two weeks to write some very in­ter­est­ing semi-autobiogra­phical science re­ports for a pub­li­ca­tion which will ac­com­pany the ex­hi­bi­tion!

Fol­low­ing that, next year has ma­jor solo ex­hi­bi­tions by US artist Ju­dith Barry, Scot­tish artist Rachel Maclean and ev­ery year we have a ma­jor VIVA! Fes­ti­val of ev­ery­thing Span­ish and Latin Amer­i­can. I’m look­ing for­ward to how HOME de­vel­ops gen­er­ally, in one way it’s still in its in­fancy and hope­fully we can really push what it can be­come in the fu­ture.

Manch­ester is well-known for its well-es­tab­lished LGBT com­mu­nity as well as be­ing a des­ti­na­tion for LGBT visi­tors, and HOME is just a stone’s throw from the Gay Vil­lage. What will HOME of­fer LGBT visi­tors?

As with other more easy to de­fine au­di­ence groups, HOME of­fers spe­cific in­ter­est events, for ex­am­ple, an LGBT film sea­son, but also does not make as­sump­tions of where in­ter­ests lie. An LGBT vis­i­tor could be in­ter­ested in any­thing, how­ever I ap­pre­ci­ate the at­mos­phere has to be wel­com­ing and the gen­eral pro­gramme is di­verse and avoids lazy stereo­types. We’re much too counter- cul­ture by na­ture – in­di­vid­u­ally and as Man­cu­ni­ans – to pro­mote ho­mogenis­tic “nor­malised” views of the world.

Work­ing in the art world, has be­ing a gay woman ever felt like an ad­van­tage or a dis­ad­van­tage?

I’ve no­ticed ab­so­lutely no dif­fer­ence be­ing gay or straight, and I don’t be­lieve be­ing a woman is a dis­ad­van­tage. I don’t give any time or credit to peo­ple who treat oth­ers dif­fer­ently, I have ex­pe­ri­enced class and age be­ing more of a dis­ad­van­tage, but al­ways only by stupid peo­ple.

You ob­vi­ously live a busy life – what do you do to kick back in your spare time?

A lot of my so­cial life is con­nected to the arts, of course, and I’ve made a lot of close friends through work. The so­cial side is ad­dic­tive and I’ve met such a wide range of amaz­ing and tal­ented peo­ple over the years. Af­ter work, I’m equally happy to be in HOME’S bar or watch TV at my real home with my girl­friend.

We hear you have a par­al­lel ex­is­tence as DJ Brit­ney $perks, too.

In­fre­quently, I DJ at art par­ties or friends’ oc­ca­sions un­der this pseu­do­nym! I play an eclec­tic range of pop­u­lar mu­sic that peo­ple can dance to, only us­ing my lap­top or phone, hence this name. I feel it’s im­por­tant to have a backup ca­reer.

CU­RA­TOR SARAH PERKS HATED ART AT SCHOOL. NOW SHE’S HEAD­ING UP HOME, MANCH­ESTER’S NEW CUL­TURAL MECCA

IN­TER­VIEW

LOUISE CAROLIN “I’m not a tra­di­tional cu­ra­tor. My ap­proach blurs roles and art forms”

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