Am I An Artist? - Charlotte Powell & Millie Battershill
Am I An Artist? is an exhibition of multi-media artist Charlotte Powell's work, curated by Millie Battershill. The show marks the first collaboration between the pair, and a first solo show for Powell and curation for Battershill.
Charlotte's work began as a quest to build a representation of herself. Charlotte’s thoughts are noted down in her sketchbook much like a fragmented, incoherent diary. She does not shy away from the truth; these words are unedited and unfiltered. It explores the need, almost compulsion-like in its nature, to record thoughts, feelings or snippets of conversations, to collect objects and to capture the world through photography. Charlotte associates the content of this exhibition with the everyday, causing her to contemplate its position as an artwork. Therefore, begging the question, is she an artist?”
F&A: How did the exhibition come about? (Have you collaborated before?)
Millie Battershill: We had previously talked about doing a show together. There was a recent conversation where we discussed Charlotte’s work in more detail; it was after that when I decided to see what the availability was like for The Brewery Tap Project Space – mainly out of curiosity. This was sometime during March and I thought there wouldn’t be a chance to use the space for quite a few months. However it turned out there was a free slot to use the gallery in May, so we decided we should just go for it.
Charlotte Powell: We haven’t collaborated before but we both went to the same uni (Norwich University of the arts) and lived together for most of our studies, so we spent a good few years bouncing ideas off each other. Although our practices are different it seems we both have similar tastes in ‘art’.
F&A: Tell us about your work?
CP: My practice has changed quite considerably throughout my time at uni, more recently it had become about depicting self, or creating a representational personality. I would do this through collecting objects, images and words, which seemed to happen quite naturally. Recently I have taken more of a focus on exploring the idea of a visual diary. These sketchbooks encapsulate my truthful, unedited thoughts.
F&A: What approach did you take to curating Charlotte’s work?
MB: My approach in general as a curator has become a lot about discussing the artists work; the artist always knows their work best so I think it’s important to talk about how they visualise it as an exhibition. This way if there’s any issues then they can be approached carefully. I have a need to make a less conventional exhibition space, my concerns as a curator relate to how I can encourage an audience to engage with the artwork.
Even though I already know Charlotte and her work, this exhibition isn’t an exception. We began by deciding that it would be interesting to almost scale up the pages of her books, this meant working directly onto the wall. Due to this, we cannot say for sure what the final outcome will look like, which is exciting and perhaps a bit of a risk. Charlotte questions within her work whether it could be included as artwork a not and thus, whether she is actually an artist. So, we decided to use that as the main theme and lifted the quote “Am I an Artist?” directly from her book to use as the title. As my interests lie with making an engaging space and Charlotte’s work is partly related to her home, it seemed fit to bring objects that feature in her work into the gallery. For example, the blanket you can see in the poster image. Also, as discussions went on, we talked about having a fair amount of seating so that visitors can contemplate the work comfortably within the space and maybe even make something of their own.
F&A: Has the exhibition changed your perception of curating and exhibiting?
CP: Yes it has, I have done my fair share of exhibitions but this one seems a lot more involved, which isn’t a bad thing. I remember doing a solo show during 2nd year at uni and I really wasn’t bothered about any publicity – which now I realise is very important (if you want people to visit). I enjoy putting up work and preparing a gallery space but I had no idea how much other planning was involved. Millie has been very good with organising stuff to get this show out there! With this exhibition we have spent a lot of time planning and making sure everything is sorted, as well as getting into joint discussions about the curating. This makes me feel more confident about this show and any other future exhibitions.
MB: If I’m honest, I don’t know what my perception of curating an exhibition really was. I recently did a joint curatorial project and that was the first experience I had. From it I learnt that actually there’s many different ways be a curator. In the way that someone might have a specific artistic practice, which includes their inspiration, conceptual ideas and the practical side, a curator has all of these things, which make up their own personal practice. However, it involves a lot of admin as well; the curator is in charge of all the parts of an exhibition that you don’t get to see.
Although it’s similar in ways to being an artist (of course it depends on what type of artist you are), it’s also very different because as a curator you have to rely a lot on others. To put on an exhibition as a curator, obviously you need an artist and to ensure that everyone in the equation is happy, it takes a lot of conversations and planning.
Overall, I don’t think this exhibition in particular has changed my perception a huge amount however it has just allowed me to actually put my curating skills into practice.
F&A: What is your advice to others seeking to curate their first exhibition?
MB: I’m no expert, but my advice would be to think carefully about what type of person you are and how that might translate into what type of curator you would be. As an example, I’m not especially interested in a certain type of work. What I’m interested in is how people respond to the work, therefore I think have to think about how I could create a show that will get more than just a passive response from an audience. My main piece of advice would also be to work with the people whose work you’re jealous of. If you see a piece of artwork, read the information and have that “I wish I’d thought of that!” moment, then that’s the work you should aim to curate because you’re already passionate about it. From there, it’s about deciding with the artist how you can display the work to make it as impactful as possible. It’s not just about where it’s put on a wall.
Lastly, I would say don’t be afraid to disagree. When it comes to their work, the artist does know best, but when it comes to curating, that’s your skill set. So, if you don’t think what they want to do will work, tell them. It’s about putting a positive spin on something that might seem negative. Rather than just saying no to them, suggest something else and explain why it might be better for the artwork.