Out in the Cold: A chat with the curator of Warwick’s upcoming contemporary art exhibition

Coventry may be set to be named City of Culture in 2021, but it’s journey into being one of the country’s hot spots for bursting diversity and creativity has already begun. Curator Oliver Noble is bringing out in the cold to Warwick University campus; a contemporary exhibition showcasing video works by some of the world’s top talents working today. Stepping out from the comfort of indoors, out in the cold brings you a boundless show of artistry; stripping away the walls of the gallery in exchange for the open space of Warwick’s own piazza.

With the intention of making art accessible to everyone, Noble brings together artists such as Fred Bungay, Mel O’Callaghan and Tsubasa Kato to publicly inspire the masses.

Ahead of their preview party on February 22nd (featuring a smorgasbord of art, music and dance – including DJ sets from Leamington’s very own Keep The Faith gang), we got the opportunity to chat with Ollie himself about the message behind the exhibition.

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LINE: Hi Ollie, thanks for chatting with us today about your upcoming event. Why don’t you start with telling us a little about yourself? 

OLLIE: I’m currently in my 4th year of a Maths/Physics degree. It’s a bit of a weird one with the science background but I think I have always been quite interested in art. I would say the big moment [for me] was when I went to the 2015 Venice Biennale and discovered that it was something I really wanted to be part of.

Being an artist was never really an option, I was barred from taking art by my secondary school for being so terrible at drawing. However, I enjoyed looking at artworks in a quite a mathematical way, as problems to solve, so I continued going to the galleries. Then one day, I thought bugger it, I’ll organise my own exhibition.

LINE: What is ‘Out in the Cold’ and what is it all about?

OLLIE: I had been told a few times over the summer that without four History of Art masters, I would never be a curator. So, when I got back from my year abroad, I decided to give it a go.

Over Christmas I sent out a few emails to some established artists I had seen over last few years and who I thought would fit the bill of artwork that would be able to engage students and work in the outside environment. They were all really lovely and three of them were happy to be part of the exhibition. I then took the idea to the Mead gallery and from there everything started coming together.

out in the cold comes from the [concept of] video works being taken out their comfortable gallery white cubes and the classic art-capitals. The original idea was to do a projection onto Warwick Arts Centre, the wall overlooking the bus shelter, but having been scarred for life by the experience of trying to organise an outdoor projection, it will now be screening on the big screen on the Rootes building.

Still, the aim is the same; the exhibition looks to place contemporary art in a new environment and open it up to a new crowd. I hope that it gets rid of some of the barriers of the art world and that it tells stories that students will be able to take hold of. I think there is one thing that is important above everything else with art and that is, whoever looks at it is able to make the work their own and move forwards with it into the future.

There will be a preview event called KtF x out in the cold. I spent some time at the Tate over the summer and I was amazed by their Tate late events. At the Soul of a Nation Late, the vibrancy and the diversity of the event was just amazing. I have never been to anything that has shown more how art can bring together and inspire. So, along with Keep the Faith, we thought we would we would steal the idea and take over Warwick Arts Centre from 5 – 9pm on Thursday the 22nd of February. It will be an evening of dancing, musics and art, and all are welcome to join us.

LINE: Why do you think a contemporary exhibition , showcasing art in such a nuanced way is so important?

OLLIE: I think that artworks only have any meaning relative to their environment and that taking them out of the gallery space gives them a new life.

I think art has a bit of a problem with sacredness. It’s often seen as something to be only ever placed in its full splendor in bright white cubes, like royalty on a throne. The visitor is then expected to play the part of the passive observer behind the tape line. All the while, curators act the part of being merely middlemen in the flow of art to the people. I don’t really like the idea of this.

I think curators often far underestimate their own reach and should allow themselves to do far more with the art they exhibit. When a curator places one piece next to another the visitor will often end up experiencing very different pieces of artwork than if they had been seen apart. Seeing as they have this power, they should not be afraid to take larger stakes in the paintings, to place them in different environments and to allow the audience to be less apart from them.

I chose to place the exhibition out in the cold in all senses. I really want to allow a situation where the viewer sees the art as sharing in their experience ‘in the cold’. We see with people who have lived through the same things that they are naturally closer- even with an object and a person, we have seen the same effect. I think the same thing can hold with an exhibition. As the students escape from the library into the open air, the videos move from the warm, safe inside and out into the bracing, free world. In the end, it’s about allowing about the viewer to relate to the art and get closer to it.

LINE: What was your process for curating the exhibition? There’s a wonderfully diverse spread of artists being featured, from all over the world- how did you come across them?

OLLIE: Originally, there was no set theme at all for the exhibition. The only aim was to exhibit sharp contemporary videos that an audience could engage with and make their own. I have a real thing against the often uninterpretable-ness of how contemporary art is exhibited. The amount of unreadable sentences in the art world does nobody any favours. My main aim was to put on something that, instead of cutting people out, looked to bring people in.

Taus Makhacheva I saw in Venice last November. I thought I was about die from cold for the whole Biennale but then I saw her work and I just loved it. Mel O’Callaghan I saw at her solo exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo last year. While Tsubasa Kato and Enrique Ramirez, who also exhibited in Venice, I discovered from a visit to Jeu de Paume which, like the Palais, is in Paris.

In a different way, for the other artists, some of the major art universities around the world were kind enough to put out an open call to their students for the exhibition. Out of all the submissions, there were three artists who really stood out to me: Fred Bungay from Goldmsiths, Nayoung Jeong from Slade and Magdalena Kotkowska from the Oslo National Academy of the Arts. All have a great clarity to their work but also, a theme was starting to emerge from the exhibition and they all shared in it.

Looking at it now, that theme comes out. Whether it is in Taus’s female superior hero taking over from the male road workers and single handedly clearing a boulder from the road. Or Tsubasa’s community of stateless refugees who, under the threat of eviction, make the first move and tear down a mock shanty. Each video shares in a hopes to break down the boundaries that are placed on people, and in doing so, give them a chance to claim their own stake of life.

LINE: What is is about Coventry and Warwick University that makes our area perfect for this sort of exhibition?

I actually think there is a really exciting future for Coventry. Hull had a great success with its time as city of culture and I hope that we’ll see the same here. It’s got some great initiatives going on at the moment and Ryan Hughes did a great job putting on the first Coventry Biennial last year.

The new arts centre and whole new gallery for the Mead should make for a really funky space. It’s a shame so few students visit the Mead gallery; my housemate thought it was a gallery in London, but they put on some great exhibitions.

With the development of the university and Coventry 2021 it’s a great opportunity for students just to take hold of their ideas and run with them. The Mead gallery are running a whole out-of-gallery programme for the next two seasons during the building works and I know that they would love to hear suggestions for student projects. From the Mead, to the university, to the Coventry art organisations, everyone has been hugely supportive of out in the cold. The Coventry 2021 team have shared the KtF x out in the cold event on their social media channels. They all really want to make things happen and it’s just about sending over an email or dropping someone a Facebook message.

LINE: Attendees will be able to make donations to Leamington Winter Support at your preview party- what do you think art can do to help those in need? What do you think the purpose of art is in our current socio-political climate?

OLLIE: That‘s a heavy question and maybe one where I really am missing the four History of Art masters. I recently attended a talk on contemporary artist in Kazakhstan at the Central Asia Forum. It is great to see contemporary art expanding but taking it to a global scale, I do wonder whether it can really have a defining purpose when the large majority of the population have absolutely no interest in it.

Still though, it would be wrong of me say that art can’t address big problems. You only need to look at Picasso’s Guernica or the Guerrilla Girl’s works, both in very different areas, to see what art can do. Also, just as fashion does, art enlivens towns and cities. Whether it is a product or a cause of the great places, I don’t know but definitely it becomes part of their souls.

In the end, like all good things, it should help in someway and hopefully we will too with the collection for Leamington Winter Support during the KtF x out in the cold party.

Details on the KTF x out in the cold preview party can be found on the event page here.

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