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P-ART-Y in full swing at Soup Kitchen, February 2020

An interview with Chris Bailkoski

Questions by Chris Bailkoski with answers by Short Supply

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.

CB: How did you find the process of collaboration?

SS: We liked the process of collaboration, it felt very natural. There seemed to be a good balance between control and nuance, the night was planned enough to run smoothly, but there was room for fluidity and chance that kept us on our toes and kept the night a little unpredictable and really interesting.

CB: If there was anything you would change about the collaboration, what would that be?

SS: We’re not sure what we would change, we think it worked out really well and we were happy with the night as a result! If we were to do something like this again though, it would be interesting to explore a direct collaboration with PROFORMA, perhaps introducing emerging performance artists to more mid-career and established performance artists. We’re really interested in providing less experienced artists with opportunities to learn from more practiced artists, to try and develop those mentor-mentee relationships outside of exclusively educational settings.

CB: Now you have experience of curating live and performative visual arts, do you think this will inform future curatorial processes?

SS: Definitely! The curatorial process for this collaboration was difficult for us, and it has presented us with a lot of points for learning. It was quite different to the curatorial experiences we’ve had before; we had an active audience to consider, reactions that couldn’t be predicted and performances we hadn’t seen live before. While audiences and audience reactions for traditional exhibitions also cannot be predicted, their experience of a sculpture or a painting or a film is a much more private experience. Watching a person perform in such an intimate setting draws the audience in and makes them an integral part of the process, their reactions and behaviour directly shape its delivery and reception, even in performances like these which required no audience participation. We were very happy with how the night played out, and we think the curation was an important part of this as well as the energy in the room.

CB: And if so, how?

SS: This experience has made us think more carefully about how we want an event to be received, and the factors in our control to achieve this. It should never be so tightly controlled as to not allow for a little unpredictability.

Chester Tenneson and Laura Weaver performing at P-ART-Y, February 2020

CB: Thinking about the broader Greater Manchester region, as young curators, do you feel there are enough opportunities to exhibit in the city?

SS: Not really, no. We expressed similar concerns when curating the first iteration of MADE IT last year; we feel very distanced from many of the art institutions in the area, and don’t feel there is a proper system of support in place to encourage young artists and graduates. It’s a big part of why so many of these individuals struggle to keep that momentum going; they either know what they want but need some support they aren’t getting, or they don’t know what they want, have no-one to turn to and are left with no other options. It’s a problem not exclusive to Greater Manchester of course, cities across the UK are sharing the same issues. Lack of opportunity, adequate funding, system of support and wages for artists lower down the chain means people get left behind, particularly artists from marginalised backgrounds and artists who haven’t even managed to get a foot in the door yet.

Students and graduates have a bit more of a chance to put themselves out there as they have entered a system with the connections and knowledge already available, but at a great financial cost, and once you’re out that door as a graduate all the support you were receiving stops, so even if that system worked for you it’s completely temporary. It isn’t all doom and gloom - we’ve been lucky to receive support from many artist-led groups over our first year of doing this, but even then they more often than not don’t have the time and resources to offer the support I’m sure many of them would like to offer.

These concerns alone mainly reference our difficulty exhibiting our own work or facilitating exhibitions of others, but opportunities to curate are fewer still. If we want to curate something it must come from us, there are no other options. While we enjoy the experience of taking the bull by the horns, dictating our own vision and being in charge of our own opportunities (and making the time to do so despite many other responsibilities), it’s hard and extremely time consuming to organise shows with full and part time jobs that keep a roof over your head.

CB: If there is anything you would change about the city, what would it be?

SS: This is a tough one, the problems are so vast and for so many reasons it’s hard to know where to start. Knock down the flats and invest more money into culture in the city, and by that we don’t mean keep supporting the same established galleries and organisations that aren’t bothered about the artists on their own doorstep. We don’t need galleries to keep giving us the same old. We don’t want to de-value commercial, historical and traditional art, but if we’re going to change people’s minds about the value of art in general and create a better art world that we all have a chance to succeed in, we need to be promoting living artists of all backgrounds, archiving their work and getting their vision out to the general public. We have to unify against the tired practices that are making succeeding in this industry so difficult; but this would mean organisations who benefit from it would need to give up some of their control. Ultimately we can’t fix these larger problems alone, and that’s why working on projects like these which places significance on the filling the gaps in the city and trying to cultivate a better and more inclusive community is so important to us.

Chester Tenneson and Laura Weaver performing at P-ART-Y, February 2020

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