Interview with the Curator – Bella Easton discusses DIVIDING RULES: The Line Between, presented by PAPER
by Sara Jaspan
London-based artist and curator Bella Easton discusses her current exhibition, DIVIDING RULES: The Line Between at PAPER, which explores the use of line in the work of ten contemporary artists whose process-driven practices are motivated by the tension between certainty and chance.
Exhibiting artists: Alice Anderson, Biggs & Collings, Jemima Brown, Tiny Domingos, Bella Easton, Jane Harris, Georgie Hopton, Vincent James, Tim Noble, Sinta Werner.
Sara Jaspan: DIVIDING RULES: The Line Between marks the first exhibition in a new series of shows curated by BEASTON Projects, which set out to explore the geometric and abstract boundaries at play within the work of several artists. Could you tell us more about the concept behind the show and the overall series? Where did the idea come from? And how do you foresee the rest of the series developing?
Bella Easton: I’m a practicing artist and curator. All of my curatorial projects stem from and are shaped by my own artistic work and, as such, my process of creating and curating are deeply entwined. I constantly write words down as they come to me whilst working in my studio, and these then serve as the catalyst for new projects to develop.
My work is at once figurative and abstract; two parallel aspects that tend to manifest themselves in a simultaneously lucid and mathematical way. I find myself naturally drawn to the idea of constant contradiction and enjoy working this dichotomy through in order to arrive at some sort of equilibrium in each piece that I make. To my mind, it’s a case of trying to find order within a multitude of ideas and somehow make sense of things through a process of ‘gelling together’.
I think this creative approach also comes across in my method of curating and the artists that I select. ‘The line between’ referred to in the title of DIVIDING RULES is precisely this delicate balance between certainty and chance.
The line in my own work is the mirroring of two halves, to the left and right of each composition and the changes and relationships that occur between them.
In terms of developing the project going forwards; it will naturally evolve each time it is presented in accordance with the artist selection and the context of the space in which it is shown. For PAPER, the emphasis was of course upon artists that work with paper, but future renditions may vary widely in terms of scale, ambition, method and process.
Another ongoing curatorial project that I have been working on is the Collateral Drawing series, which began in 2014. This explores the by-products of the artistic process by presenting the ‘detritus’ or ‘off-cuts’ that would normally be discarded or severed when making an artwork, alongside the finished piece. The project is now in its sixth edition (having previously been presented at Plymouth, Athens, Berlin, East Anglia and Kent) and, although the basic concept hasn’t changed, the result has been completely different each time – most recently branching out into sound and animation-based art, raising interesting questions around what we classify as the ‘by-product’ of an artwork.
SJ: Tell us more about BEASTON Projects. Who is involved and what is it about?
BE: BEASTON Projects is an independent curatorial platform that has grown out of my artistic practice. I knew I wanted to go to art school from around the age of six (my father is a painter and my mother is an oil painting restorer) and enrolled at Winchester School of Art to study painting (BA) at 18. While raising a young family, I then returned to study a postgrad at the Royal Academy Schools for a further three years. After graduating from the RA in 2000, I became the first recipient of a fellowship at City and Guilds of London Art School. Through receiving funding, I travelled to Japan and India, having my first international solo exhibition with The British Council in New Delhi in 2002. I have continued to exhibit both nationally and internationally ever since.
In 2012, I established a project space in South East London that I co-ran for four years. This was a great learning process. During the first year we programmed back-to-back shows, but when it came to planning the second year we decided that it was more important to allow space for the projects to exist in a more experimental form. To this end, we changed to a combined model whereby artists were invited to undertake a one-month residency in the space before publicly exhibiting the work they subsequently produced for one month afterwards. This really loosened things up and also allowed more time to focus on my own artistic practice.
After a while, I eventually came to realise that it was the various off-site projects that I had been working on that I enjoyed the most. I liked the ‘nomadic’ approach of travelling to other parts of the country and world to present shows, and the new connections and collaborations that came from this (I met David Hancock whilst working together on The Foreign Affairs II project in Athens, 2017, for example). Such activity is really important in my view, especially if you are a solo-artist. You need to get out there and meet new people in order to create new opportunities.
BEASTON Projects grew out of this mobile, non-fixed approach, coupled with a personal desire to bring a slightly more organic method into curating. I see the process as an invitation to other artists to become part of your world, and a way of making links between their practice and your own. Being an artist as well as a curator really changes the dynamic, and often leads to a more holistic end result.
I have a series of off-site projects planned for the future. I am also currently renovating a house in London that I eventually want to home ‘BEASTON Projects HQ’ (so to speak). This isn’t intended to be another public project space, but rather more like a residential curatorial environment, where I will invite artists with whom I already have a sustained working relationship to come and exhibit from time to time. It’s still very early days, however!
SJ: How did the process of collaborating with PAPER on curating the show manifest, and how has it shaped the exhibition?
BE: David and I first began discussing the concept when I met him after Athens in 2017. He later invited me to launch the project at PAPER in Manchester – a prospect that I found particularly exciting because of the gallery’s growing reputation as a critically engaged player in the Manchester art scene. After showing at PAPER, DIVIDING RULES will continue on to this years’ PLATFORMS PROJECT 2018 international art fair in Athens (another very cool and creative city to visit) and then potentially London in 2019 (venue to be confirmed).
As mentioned, this current leg of the project has been largely shaped by PAPER’s emphasis on showing artists working with paper, and I feel this additional ‘rule’ has played a helpful role in focusing the show.
SJ: The artists within DIVIDING RULES have been grouped by a shared interest in ritual and routine. What role do you think these elements play in the creation of art generally?
BE: On a very simple level, I think that ritual, routine and habit play a central role in all of our daily lives – whether that’s going to work, to the studio or drinking your morning coffee. Occasionally we break these habits however, or fall out of sync, and this can really help open things up and push whatever you’re doing forwards in a positive way.
As such, having the imposed structure of an external curatorial framework can play an important role in encouraging artists to break their creative rituals and adopt a fresh approach to their usual methods of making. A good example of this is Biggs & Collings, whose work I first exhibited as part of Collateral Drawing 4 in East Anglia, 2016. I later invited them to donate something to the Collateral Drawing archive, which I have since put together and exhibited as part of the fifth Collateral Drawing project in Kent 2017, featuring the ‘by-products’ of all 50 of the artists that have been involved so far.
One of the items that they sent was a tiny collage made from off-cuts of handmade papers and printed materials which formed part of a series of preliminary works that they had begun making as starting points for the painting Out of Heaven exhibited in an exhibition curated by Dustin Ericksen called Naming Rights at Thomas Dane in London. (The three collages currently showing in DIVIDING RULES are also part of this series.) Collings explained that, while their process is usually far more instantaneous – drawing directly onto canvas using a matrix of tessellated shapes to develop the composition for each painting – these collages are the result of a new, more naturally evolving approach.
SJ: What has the experience of engaging with each of the artists’ work through the prism of the exhibition’s core themes revealed to you?
BE: Each exhibition that I curate usually leads to a series of new discoveries and ideas, both for myself and the other artists involved.
One thing that has come out of DIVIDING RULES so far is the possibility of a future curatorial project about artists who respond to or use wallpaper within their practice. This is something that already plays a recurring role within my own work, as represented in the PAPER exhibition through my Anaglypta (2017) series. But it also features in Georgie Hopton’s practice, who has long been incorporating scraps of wallpaper into her collages, and also prints her own wallpaper (a piece of which underlays Little Brother (2017) in DIVIDING RULES). Similarly, Jemima Brown has hand-printed silkscreen wallpaper using imagery from her drawings, one of which was recently exhibited as a by-product work in the recent Collateral Drawing 5. And Vincent James mentioned an idea for a new piece using wallpaper when I was talking to him at the DIVIDING RULES preview at PAPER.
I love finding these subsequent parallels and unexpected moments of serendipity, and find them highly productive; helping me to develop my own artistic and curatorial practice, as well as allowing other artists to be part of that journey too. It’s all about creating the opportunities for those rich discoveries to occur and noticing them when they do.
Thank you for providing me the opportunity to discuss this new exhibition and the artists who are involved in it.
DIVIDING RULES: The Line Between at PAPER runs from 7 April – 12 May 2018.