In November 2011 Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery won the Contemporary Art Society Annual Award for Museums to commission you to produce a new piece of work for their permanent collection. What have you been doing since then?
Since then the work for Nottingham has been taking shape. I have had other previously planned exhibitions, and I travelled to Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory of Australia to gather ideas and images for this commission. While I was in Australia I researched materials and clays, and brought home glazes for the work.
Back in the UK I added a kiln to the studio and have been experimenting and learning about working with heat. Ideas drawings photographs and paintings are accumulating.
How has winning the Annual Award changed your career?
Having a serious commission and budget has allowed me to think hard, do what I need to and spend what I need to. I think this has enabled me to improve my work, and to create a considered show. It certainly sped things up.
How important is it that Museums are able to continue commissioning new work by contemporary artists?
As Museums are likely to be very long lived institutions (6oo years?) it is important that they continue to add to and refine their collections.
Spencer, Carrington, Gertler, Nash, were all supported by the Contemporary Art Society enabling people to see work that they would not normally be able to.
How was the initial proposal developed with Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery?
The proposal was developed with Deborah Dean and Elisa Kay who was Contemporary Art Society Curatorial Fellow in 2010-11. Their enthusiasm and hard work made it all happen. We discussed the possibility of making a work and I developed a proposal based on a piece that I would be progressing towards anyway, and which would work with the gallery space.
The new commission is to research and make a new ‘chapter’ in the body of work The Judges, where does the title for this series come from?
Initially I was exploring the concept of judgement of work or character by a panel of judges. This process of judgement can always be found in human endeavors and it’s a powerful emotional force. But more than that I am discussing judgement by time – these odd characters seen in the rocks are judging human beings in time.
The Judges emerged from a fellowship that involved residencies in both Oxford and Melbourne, how important has this commission been for you to develop new research?
The Arts Council Fellowship in Oxford allowed me a view of academic process, peer review and the judgement of quality. For an outsider the library based society was interesting.
In Melbourne I found the key image that informs the work – a set of massive brooding stone outcrops which suggest the character of judges. This commission has allowed me to take these ideas further, and to research new materials and locations.
Your work often adopts the form of multi-layered sculptural installations including a wide variety of sources and materials ranging from biomedical data and geological field-research to watercolour techniques and artisanal sculptural processes. What process do you use for selecting materials?
Sometimes they are selected because they are visually connected together. Or complement each other or are in counterpoint.
Each of the pieces I have selected forms part of a larger statement. The way they are juxtaposed or positioned is similar to a rhetorical argument, approaching the subject by different means.
How has working with the collection at Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery influenced the work?
When I am making my work I don’t usually think about where it will be shown. I also don’t know which collection it will end up in, or if it will remain in the studio. In this case I have to take into account the fact the work will be in the permanent collection at Nottingham, so this gives the work a more permanent and formal aspect. So in some way the work is becoming specific to the place that it will be shown in. Also the format of the show was informed by the salon hang and the purpose built Victorian picture galleries.
What sort of role have the museum staff played and how important have they been in supporting your research?
Deborah Dean has been a huge everyday help, helped compose my thoughts, reflect on ideas, and has been a generally relaxed supportive presence. Her team have been great. Russell Jenkins the chief technician especially has been very generous with his time and practical help. The geology department have been willingly engaged in the project which has given me a better understanding of the larger NCMAG.
Are there any particular aspects of the collection you are drawing from?
Geology, the concept of “collection”, the handmade, history, also the 20th century interwar period paintings.
You describe the process of making new work as preparing objects before ‘gradually bringing them in to an alignment that makes sense’. Often this intuitive process takes place once you are in the gallery, how important is it to allow for an element of risk?
Essential, to keep the edge between what was and what is, visible. If everything is predetermined then everything is already known, so its best to keep an element of change in a work.
How is it different making new work knowing in advance it will reside in a permanent collection?
It has been a new experience for me. I have to avoid considering permanence and ignore the fact that the work has a home even at the concept stage, in order to keep it experimental.
What was the most unexpected thing you gained from this commission?
An appreciation of Nottingham.