Jotta’s forthcoming group exhibition Sum of Substance presents nineteen recent graduates whose art work seeks to make progressive inroads into our understanding of value. In the run up to the opening on 15th March, Elizabeth Homersham speaks with Jotta curators Ellie Grieg and Dave Charlesworth about the concept behind the show and the artists selected.
What was it that inspired the exhibition’s theme?
The terms sum and substance are drawn from classical argumentation, perhaps most closely linked with legal proceedings. The words sum and substance provoke thought of what is at the heart of an argument; the essence, the gist. These words also describe calculations, valuations, weight, mass and, in their combination, value.
Within the context of the Affordable Art Fair we were looking for art works or practices which could form part of a narrative about narrative around the idea of value in monetary, taste and moral terms.
This thematic has very current resonances with regards to the global economic climate and the way a public approaches things of value. The function of art as a commodity can't be ignored in this context yet the discussion around value is on far more than financial terms as various works move into the realm of nature, technology and spirituality.
How were the artists selected?
The artists were selected through a process of visits to degree shows all over London and further afield, from jotta.com portfolios, from students currently concentrating on their MA courses and more widely from projects previously run inside and outside of Jotta. I think one of the challenges in producing a show like this, a kind of survey show, is that you are striving to represent a multitude of practices and approaches from a wide range of artists from different backgrounds. The difficulty is to make the show coherent but not be overly prescriptive in the treatment of the artists’ work.
Some of the artists, such as Gareth Owen Lloyd are presenting digital works. Do you think such works are inherently more resistant in terms of the art market?
Gareth Owen Lloyd will be showing Flag of Europe, a carefully collaged collection of Google Earth satellite photos that recreates a new landscape using star shaped fortifications as mapping points upon the EU flag. The work exists both as a digital work on a website and as a print. With Lloyd's work there is a happy balance between the com-modifiable image object and the freely accessible website. The encounter experienced is different depending on whether you view the physical print or the website so the reading experience is different and at different times it will have different appeals to separate audiences.
On the whole new media art, or art relying on a digital element, does not have a huge share in the art market. However this is an interesting challenge for the future: with younger audiences becoming increasingly digital savvy, there will be an interesting question mark around the need to box art works into digital and non-digital categories: as we move forward such separations will seem arbitrary. How the artworld learns to commodify an object or a file or indeed a programme that can instantly be replicated or shared is another question. Within the context of this exhibition, a work that straddles both traditional and digital media is perhaps attempting to address that struggle.
There are many precedents for artistic investigations into the notion of value: recent examples include Pil & Galia Kollectiv’s In Praise of Yachts, Christian Jankowski’s Luxury yacht shown at Frieze 2011. We can also look to post-war works such as Manzoni’s Declarations of Authenticity, Artist’s Shit or Artist’s Breath. Do any of the artists selected for Sum of Substance explicitly acknowledge this history?
There is a great discourse on taste within sum of substance, Lisa Selby, Sophie Percival and Joanna Mires all address the crossing points between a culture that that is led by desire and deals with replication, abundance, opulence, as well as the seductiveness of the designed form and of surface.
Each work to be shown in Sum of Substance must have an exchange value at the same time as its content, medium etc. points in a more critical way to our understanding of value in a wider sense. What do you make of this tension?
This is true, though this is the inherent strength of art as a pursuit, commodity or collection. Art is restless: at its best it continues to butt against its frame and challenges the viewer, maker or owner to continue in a process of thought. Art that is a full stop, art that stops at the edge of the frame is compromised and powerless.
When presented in the commercial context of an art fair can works concerned with value stand at a critical distance from high-end consumerism?
I am not sure that it has to stand at a critical distance from high-end consumerism. I wonder if it can be part of the same universe, to converse with the same vocabulary, to be as seductive as anything else and to also be steeped in critical dialogue and art historical readings. I think it would be difficult for the art world to produce objects that commented on value whilst attempting to remain valueless.
A great number of artists are participating in Sum of Substance, what will govern your decisions regarding the exhibition layout and installation?
As I described earlier, there is a challenge within this show to draw out dialogues between the works without over-determining the context of individual art works. The curatorial methodology will seek to draw connections and parallels between the art works. This may require different parts of the space to focus on particular aspects of a wider curatorial premise. There are natural synergies between certain artists’ work; the work of Joachim Sefzick, Joe Crowdy and Lisa Selby seem to speak in a similar aesthetic vernacular yet approach the surface of culture from different starting points. Likewise, the natural forms in the work of Samuel Robinson, Chloe Sells, Irina de Bertier de Sauvigny, and to an extent Song Nian Ang, will allow us to explore the ideas of a natural resource, the experiential qualities of the natural world and the moment at which human interaction is imprinted upon it.
Thursday 15 March- Sunday 18 March