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Strike Site: Exhibition Curator Sacha Craddock Talks Unreality and Insistent Physicality

22 March 18 interview: Adrian Shaw

Strike Site is an exhibition which attempts to create the contradictory yet palpable sense of the temporary that comes with an exhibition of arts. Now in it's second manifestation, after being previously exhibited at Pi Artworks London, curator Sacha Craddock worked closely with the Nottingham Refugee Forum to explore notions of displacement, movement, freedom and barriers...

Tell me about your work. The show at Backlit - how did you approach it, an how did you get the artists involved. I read that you were keen in having a temporality in the space...
I am very keen on the insistent physicality within an exhibition; that objects and pieces find it hard to have a place within the gallery. Anyone making work for the space is sort of playing house in filling the space, and the objects themselves feel as though they have a context, a fictional role or place, some justification in being there. I want it so that one’s experience of an exhibition leads to an understanding and appreciation. I want people to feel the physicality, as well as experiencing the conceptual. 

So that there is a temporality, really, in the exhibition space, which in this case may allude sympathy to the plight of migrants; for example, to feeling uncertainty in belonging?
Well not literally, but I was thinking about the nature of control felt by people moving about in the space; seeing the objects, their thinking when they see the objects, and thinking they know what’s happening. But they don’t; there is an uncertainty in the experience, and there’s always an element of non-permanence which is immanent, of seeing the objects and feeling they know, but they don’t. So, I wanted people to feel that they perhaps didn’t know; in the case of putting Jack Killick’s tents in the front, there is a feeling of haunting uncertainty there between the object and the fact that there is an element of doubt about them being there and within the observers. 

Has this always been a concern of yours, or has that been accentuated recently?
It has; perhaps not in the beginning, but gradually. I’m very keen on insistent physicality within an exhibition, that objects or pieces find it very hard to make themselves have a place or role within the exhibition. 

Is there an unreality?
Yes, it’s always there. One’s experience of the exhibition would lead to an understanding which has a different nature.

Regarding the tent – there is an experience of safety.  Of being within the tent, of home, of certainty; but a knowledge that the tent – and the situation – will move on and become less certain...
Whether you’re fortunate or unfortunate, there is a feeling of being on the move. I felt I wanted to control people’s movement through the space. I wanted the relation of the object to be less obvious to the subject.  Nowadays, it is more important to have exhibitions which relate to the art itself. I’m not going to do what people want me to do! I want to short-circuit the relationship to contemporary art, the power that art may have in the real world.

How does this relate to the plight, for example, of refugees and migrants, which again seems to be generating a creative response, as it did in the days of Powell, and now in post-Brexit Britain? You want people observing this exhibition to experience what they observe, but also feel unsure about what they are observing...
Exactly. And also in the notion of the value of art, and the art object itself. There are very skilful messages – of art for the people, art for the non-expert, art for the expert - being put out. Regarding the exhibition, I wanted to have really good art being put out there for the experience; the relationship between object and value is split. That the relationship between value and experience is less obvious.

In this case, there were a couple of artists who made art specifically for this show, which is in its second manifestation; it started out in Pi Works in London, last year. It also has a relationship with a gallery in Istanbul. Regarding this show, I thought about the relation between my intention and the artist in the most general sense. For example, I had taught Anna Fasshauer - who made the black, grey and white German ‘Flagge’ - before, and strangely, I felt a kindred spirit in her in terms of her art and politics and intent. I explained to her the basis of my exhibition, and we have always had a strong sense of work for years. There was a like-minded sympathy politically, in the art and the show. I’ve seen what she used to make, and knew what she thought. I knew she would understand. But we must not over-egg the relationship to flag to nation.

Did you tend to feel this with most of the artists you used?
Brian Griffiths is an old friend I’ve known for years. I told him I really needed his work in the show – those tent pieces – for what I wanted to do. They were made some time ago. Sometimes I need the work as it was, and sometimes I needed artists to address the notion so that there is a relation to the subject there. And most of the work are keys to a map. 

In terms of specific artists, Anna Čvorović - who I taught at Royal College - is interested in psychoanalysis, which I am not particularly, and made work in regard to the refugee council. She is from Bosnia, I think. I hesitate to be anecdotal about artists, but there is an obvious personal fling.  When I contacted her, she produced the most extraordinary assemblage of support-bars with waxed canvas tarpaulins hanging over and down; there is an element of domesticity as in a care home. They contain painted vignettes of various refugee camps.

People can use the supports to get about in a controlled space - controlled group and individual movement.  Over them are these heavy draped canvasses, again reminding one of tents and tented cities. There is also a relationship between 2D and 3D work again.

Yes, it reminded me of a bathroom, with draped towels and rails. Very domestic...
Yes, it is very domestic. It’s also about aids to movement and aid, and it’s a beautiful concertina-shape. There is a piece by Siobhán Hapaska, who’s work I admire and who I like very much. I saw her most recent work which was brought over from Ireland, which is a manifestation of a bird in the form of concrete cloth but with a hardness, such as in the ball-bearing-shaped eyes. It reminded me of a creature in a Bosch painting – half-bird, half person.

Of course ‘bird’ is also term for an aircraft, helicopters, drones. Again, there’s an element of being observed, of threat and control...
And of manufacture – it’s hard and soft. It’s fitted at an angle in the space, so it can’t all be seen simultaneously, and it might move suddenly, when you’re not looking. It’s unsettling. For the show in Backlit, we had all these amazing odd spaces to place the work.

The piece by Alice Hartley, who again, I taught at Royal College, is very expressionistic. She worked for several days in the studio to produce the huge splendid map using mono-print screening on to blue paper, covering the wall and floor.  It’s sited strategically and topically, between those surfaces and behind Brian Griffith’s huge cubic tent, which blocks it off.                                                                                                                                                          Her work, like others, is from the New Contemporaries with which I am heavily involved.  Originally, it had large ‘PLEASE LEAVE’ in giant gesturalist lettering, on it, which was removed for the Backlit show.

I’m glad to see that you are planning to work with the Refugee Council in Nottingham once more.  I hope and plan to be involved, which is very exciting. A lot of local studios around here came out of Opus, where I work, including Backlit and Primary....
Yes, and there was a third. It’s great being here at Backlit, and I like Matthew [Chesney], the Gallery Manager.

It’s great working in Nottingham; as a former London Artist I don’t miss London. In fact, it’s a bit like a mini-London, with its creativity and multiculture - more so than many other East Midland places....
Yes, I agree. While being here I’ve managed to get around Town and go to lots of venues. I enjoy Nottingham very much and while working at Backlit for this show and when it came to the opening, I really enjoyed the atmosphere and the enthusiasm and in relation to the work shown.  It really has an extraordinary atmosphere. I was so impressed by people here going beyond the normal call of duty.

As you mentioned, Strike Site has appeared in other places. Have you noticed differences in how it transferred or how it was received.
Yes, there were massive differences! We got a lot of it, being here in Nottingham.  It was great to create a relationship with another city and great to learn about somewhere else. It was a completely different context to London. It’s much more evolving and there’s so much going on here culturally. The people that attended the launch were very bright and very enthusiastic. The artists were very impressed.

Strike Site runs at Backlit Gallery until Sunday 8 April. 

Backlit Gallery website