REFLECTING ON P-ART-Y 2020: Part 1
An interview with Chris Bailkoski
Questions by Short Supply with answers by Chris
Back in February 2020, Short Supply celebrated our first birthday since establishing the initiative, via an event at Soup Kitchen called P-ART-Y, a night of emerging performance art in collaboration with Chris Bailkoski. Chris is a director of Soup Kitchen and curator at PROFORMA, a non-profit, performative visual art platform supporting artists and curators. He has created a range of exhibitions and residencies in Greater Manchester, London and Lancashire, Chemnitz, Germany and Venice, Italy. We attended the launch of PROFORMA's 2019 autumn programme at Soup Kitchen and afterwards we discussed the possibility of collaborating with Chris to create a unique celebration for our birthday. Unaware of how events were to unfold just a month after our P-ART-Y, we are now using this opportunity to look back and reflect on the night, and think about the place of events like this in Greater Manchester and beyond.
SS: What lead you to agree to the collaboration when we approached you about P-ART-Y?
CB: I think that Short Supply are providing a vital resource for emerging artists in terms of exhibition opportunities at what can be a career-limbo period of time. Creating your own opportunities for others to exhibit through Short Supply is something that mirrors my own emergent curator career. I soon found the opportunities and funding dried up and at this critical point (and unfortunately the most-common outcome for artists/curators) general work commitments take over in order to have a reasonable standard of living. From that negative experience but fortunately working as nightclub and venue manager for a number of years (which ultimately led to the creation of Soup Kitchen and PROFORMA), I have always tried to create and provide opportunities for others where I was unable to find them in my own career. When you both approached me about P-ART-Y at Soup Kitchen, I thought this is the perfect kind of opportunity to support you both as emerging curators and collaborate on a one night exhibition. I think collaborate is the most accurate word for the process as we started from the same viewpoint that it should be a platform for emergent live and performative artists, which opened up new artistic and curatorial possibilities for each of us.
SS: What are you looking for from artists in an open call? What factors inform this decision?
CB: To be honest, I try to steer clear of open calls, or at least competitive language and elements of them. Through PROFORMA, we have yet to use an open call format, instead identifying live/performative artists to work with through extensive studio visits. With a realisation that this process is also problematic, I am trying to figure out an in-between way of fostering a healthy balance between open calls and studio visits which will hopefully be tested later this year. My own interests are in performative/live arts and with you both wanting to test performance as part of P-ART-Y, this narrowed the field in terms of the artists we were looking for. As this was the first open call I have done in a number of years, working with you both I think we struck a really good balance between that framework and fair selection process.
SS: How do you feel about the performers/performances we ultimately chose?
CB: I think that each performer and their performances were ideal for the basement space at Soup Kitchen. Artists chose to either perform on the stage or on the dance floor, and within this they created a very immersive environment where they really had certain control of the audience and atmosphere. While I don't recall it being a conscious decision in the selection process, each of the artists played with ideas of cultural production and highlighted the invisible agencies behind them.
Luke Beech, painting his right arm in honey and gold whilst half naked, then proceeding to eat these applications off of it, fetishised the currency of the artists unique touch.
Chester Tenneson and Laura Weaver's performance of creation/destruction through our connection to social media (apple and android phones particularly) performed in the centre of the dance floor, creating an energy and focus away from the centre stage. This reflected and highlighted the disconnect between what is essentially slavery in mobile product creation and the corporate monopolisation of all our lives.
Oliver Tennant's performance explored the exploitation and monetisation of our mental health through supposedly positive affirmations, repetitive sloganism and anthemic songs that overlook our very complex personal issues and create vast wealth for the mass-generalised, symptom-cure led Pharma economy.
As Taurtollo, musicians and artists Raheel Khan, George Burrage and Glen Cutwerk, performed off stage in a corner of the the room that was mostly hidden from the audience but sonically inclusive, as the soundscapes they created could be heard throughout the venue. A sound experiment that incorporated recordings of taxi drivers and night workers reflected another aspect of multiple unseen agencies involved in our daily lives.
SS: How did you find the pace of the evening?
CB: With the performances mentioned above there was a really nice, slow build up of activity, which again reflected the nightclub space and the music that is often placed there; a slow build up to a crescendo.
SS: Did you have any initial expectations of how the event would play out? Were these met?
CB: I thought it was important to try to be relaxed about expectations as much as possible, after guidance and assurances with the practicality of the exhibitions, I think it was best to allow you both time to work out how the night panned out (in terms of order etc) An important part of collaboration (which I am still learning!) is not to micro manage every aspect of an exhibition but to acknowledge strengths and weaknesses and support each other in the best possible way. The risk is in initiating the thing in the first place, the journey afterwards will always exceed expectations.
SS: Any particular highlights with regards to audience feedback? Do you feel the event was well-received?
CB: I was really happy that the night exceeded any audience expectations we might have had beforehand but this was never the driver for hosting the event. Soup Kitchen has never been driven by audience numbers, always about supporting artists that myself and the other directors are passionate about. So, with this as our vision so to speak, I was extremely happy that there were a few people at the start of the evening that were supposedly just passing but were still there at the close of the event. Equally, customers from the ground floor bar were coming down to see what was happening and stayed beyond their intended time. At points, the basement was at capacity of 200 people, which is ridiculous! There was so much positive feedback that it felt like an acknowledgement of this vital platform you have created in Short Supply and affirmation of the potential of performative visual arts.
SS: We got lots of feedback on the night that the space made the contemporary arts nature of the party feel more accessible. Do you feel that soup/other alternative venues are a good place to be encouraging accessibility in visual art contexts as people grow more and more skeptical of the traditional gallery space?
CB: There is a long history of visual art in alternative venues in Greater Manchester which dropped off at the start of the last decade with the closure of places like the Greenroom due to the first round of major cuts by Arts Council and the start of austerity. PROFORMA is my own way to try to reignite this specific practice and by holding exhibitions in alternative spaces hopefully encourages accessibility. I actually think that the institutions in the city recognise the need to make exhibitions more accessible and one way of addressing this is through incorporating performative elements into their programmes from the start. It's really good to see artists from the region involved more often with these institutions now too.
SS: Do you think there is value in using the venues reach within the community in Manchester to introduce those who maybe wouldn’t otherwise visit contemporary art events to try them out?
CB: Alongside the artist development programme we offer, this is the specific vision of PROFORMA, rather than Soup Kitchen, inhabiting non-traditional gallery spaces to allow broader audiences to try out contemporary art events. And so each venue we inhabit, their respective communities can potentially be introduced to events they normally might not otherwise access.