16th November 2003
Visual art: Switch off your TV set and do something less boring instead - like checking
out the new touring art initiative from Channel 4, featuring two Glasgow-based talents.
Catriona Black gets with the programme.
With specialist TV channels sprouting up everywhere, Channel 4 has a reputation to protect as
the natural home of the cutting edge. For years it has sponsored the Turner Prize, fashion shows
and arts events in London, but now it's got a new collection up its sleeve. "Up until now our
sponsorship has been restricted to the London locale," says Channel 4's arts editor, Janet Lee,
"so we thought that if we bought some art it could tour round all our buildings and it wouldn't just be capital-centric".
Art 4's first batch of works has just been unveiled in the channel's London headquarters and,
of the eight emerging artists, two are Glasgow-based. "That just happened," says Lee .
"It was the strength of the work. We're very aware that there's lots of exciting stuff happening in Scotland.
Along with London, it's one of the two places where really interesting things are happening. When people talk to me
about emerging talent or great art schools often it's Scotland that they're talking about."
Michael Fullerton and Lucy Skaer are among the first to join a collection that will adorn the public spaces in Channel 4
premises - including Glasgow's - and will subsequently be lent out to galleries and museums around the UK.
"We won't keep them and we won't try and sell them," continues Lee, "We've got no intention of trying to make money out
of it at all; it's a very public service thing to be doing in a way. We'll spend 20,000 pounds a year on it, which is a reasonable
sponsorship budget for any major corporation. So I don't want to say, "Hey, look at us - we're so fantastically altruistic.
But what's special is that we're daring to buy new, young and emerging artists - and we've not gone for established names at
all. That's what's risky about what we've done."
Skaer showed this year at the Venice Biennale and was shortlisted for Beck's Futures 2003, with a series of posters
illustrating public interventions. For example, she hid moth and butterfly pupae in the Old Bailey, hoping they would hatch
mid-trial. Channel 4 have commissioned her to produce a new poster for them, but have also bought one of the large-scale
drawings which form the main part of her practice.
"Quite often I draw on photo-journalistic imagery," explains Skaer, "photographs of war-scenes or destruction, and I'm
particularly interested in the cadaver. What I am interested in is the brutality that's inherent in the pictures, and to
build on that, to push them over the edge, making them both more aesthetic and more problematic.
"The commission is to make a poster, which will be an unlimited edition that Channel 4 will reprint when it runs out.
People can just take it away. It's going to be a drawn image, taken from the archive of Channel 4 footage. It's really
exciting for me to think about working with the very recent past rather than these more well-known or digested images."
She says the project is com patible with her existing oeuvre. "It sits really well with things I'm doing in my work anyway,
so that feels quite exciting . That fits with Michael Fullerton's work very well too, so I think they've thought quite a lot
about how the work relates to what Channel 4 does."
Fullerton agrees. Two of his Gainsborough-style portraits have been selected. One is of Scotland's first female judge, Lady
Cosgrove; the other of Paddy Joe Hill of the Birmingham Six, founder of the Miscarriages Of Justice Organisation (MOJO).
"It's good that they've ended up in Channel 4 because a lot of my work is about information - how it goes from one place to
the other - about the structures of authority involved. I'm interested in Gainsborough because he makes these persuasive,
seductive images and to me that's a powerful thing. I do feel the mass media is quite like that as well".
"Channel 4 asked the artists to get involved in the selection process," Fullerton continues, "and because I'd painted these
two people and I knew them, I thought they'd be chuffed about it. I was quite chuffed! It's a good audience - it gives MOJO a plug,
and it's not just going to sit there and gather dust, it's going to be lent out to museums up and down the country for a long time to come.
"Channel 4 are trying to help artists, particularly people in my position, at the start of their careers. There's something
quite benevolent about the whole thing. With Paddy, they thought they were helping me to help him."
"All the works make you rethink, says Janet Lee, and I guess that's what we're trying to do with Channel 4 programmes,
making people look again at what they've always taken for granted - hey have a look at this, this isn't what you think."
The Art4 art collection is now on display at Channel 4's headquarters at Horseferry Road, London. Guided tours are
offered four times a year, bookable via the Art4 website. Parts of the collection will visit Channel 4's premises at 227 West George Street, Glasgow next year
16 November 2003
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