Curating the East Midlands: Tom Godfrey & Joshua Lockwood-Moran

Tom Godfrey has been the Curator of Bonington Gallery since 2014. Prior to this he worked as an independent curator and publisher and co-ran the artist-led gallery MOOT from 2005-2010. In 2014 he founded TG, an independent gallery and publisher based at Primary that works with artists in both long & short terms capacities. He co-directs TG with Joshua Lockwood-Moran. Joshua Lockwood-Moran is a curator and artist. He is currently the co-director of TG gallery, based in Primary and Assistant Curator at Bonington Gallery. Alongside TG and Bonington, Joshua has worked as a freelance curator, working on exhibitions in a number of artist-led spaces and institutions. These include All Men by Nature Desire to Know at Bonington Gallery (2017); Viewpoints at The Collection and Usher Gallery, Lincoln (2015) and The 8 Artistic Principles, Attic, Nottingham (2014).

Bonington Gallery is located within the College of Art Architecture Design and Humanities at Nottingham Trent University. Follow the Gallery on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

How did you come to curating / producing?

TG: My interests in curating go back to my art foundation course that I did in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, near where I grew up. One of my tutors (artist Richard Paul) was opening a project space at the time in London called the Hoxton Distillery which we all visited on a course trip. I really liked the programme and was instantly excited by it, especially how it could bring people together and create an energy. Despite studying Fine Art at both BA (Nottingham Trent University) & MFA (Glasgow School of Art) levels, I have always maintained my interest in curating, whether running spaces in warehouses (such as MOOT, 2005-2010); self-publishing (Marbled Reams, 2008-2012); commissioning (Keep Floors and Passages Clear, 2008-2011); opening the independent gallery TG at Primary in 2014 and now working at Bonington Gallery.

I fully committed myself to a curating practice in 2013 quite soon after graduating from Glasgow School of Art with an MFA. I was in a few exhibitions at the time as an artist, but always felt dissatisfied and more interested in the spaces and contexts around the shows. I didn’t think my own artwork was strong enough and recognised that perhaps my instinct for identifying and developing good dialogues with artists was greater in power than any artistic gesture I could make on my own (although I don’t think the mindsets have to be that far apart). When I started at Bonington Gallery, it was an opportunity to bring together everything I had done before, whilst responding to a strong resident context of it being an ‘art-school gallery’ which energised me a lot as it united a lot of different interests for me.

JLM: My interests in curating started from my time in Norwich, studying Fine Art at Norwich University of the Arts (2009-2012). During this time, I worked for the university gallery as an invigilator and also helped out with installations. Working with Lynda Morris at the gallery, including the solo exhibition Jean Genet by Marc Camille Chaimowicz which travelled to Nottingham Contemporary in 2011, I was exposed to curating and what was involved. This time in Norwich was a testing bed for learning approaches to curating, I was involved in making a number of offsite exhibitions happen with peers, and also was on our degree show committee.

Since moving to Nottingham in 2013, I assisted Tom in the setup and launch of TG to which we now co-direct alongside working as a freelance art technician for various institutions and curated a handful of projects as a freelance curator. As a technician I was able to learn more about exhibition making, architecture of gallery spaces and fabrication of artworks which have been able to apply in curating exhibitions. In wanting to make the leap from freelance to a position within an institution, I decided to undertake my MA in Art Museum and Gallery Studies at Leicester University, completing my studies in 2018, soon after this I joined Bonington Gallery as Assistant Curator. It has been an exciting time being at Bonington, I have been able to develop my curatorial practice and also contribute to the ongoing gallery programme and developing the curatorial methodologies and thinking at the gallery.

‘C/J’ by Chloé Maratta and Joanne Robertson, 2019. Photo: Jules Lister. Courtesy the artists

Tell us about the programme at Bonington Gallery. What are its priorities for working with artists?

TG: I think priorities change and fluctuate, and we try to be responsive to what’s happening around us and the gallery. When I first started working at BG in 2014 it felt as though the gallery had slipped off a consciousness both locally and nationally. I was fortunate that in the recent years leading up to my appointment, the gallery team had got several important things in place and had preserved the autonomy the gallery had established within the wider institution. I was therefore able to hit the ground running with implementing a programme that was outward looking but paid close attention to its relationship and relevance towards its immediate proximity. I also wanted to prioritise commissioning new work from individuals, and ensure artists had a good production budget and felt supported in taking risks and pushing their practice. I relish the dialogues that you can form with artists as a curator.

Bonington Gallery originally opened in 1969, and formed a strong reputation with some excellent exhibitions (under individuals such as Stella Couloutbanis) leading up to the mid to late 2000’s when it temporarily closed, so it felt important to try and restore the gallery as a local and [inter]nationally recognised curatorial platform again

The ‘art-school’ context for the gallery has been a major influence on the programme, and I was able to explore my own interests in areas beyond contemporary art, such as fashion & design, knowing it would directly connect to the surrounding departments. It was also really important to pay attention to what other spaces were doing in the city, and try and do something independent, and contribute something new to the city.
Now that the gallery has gone someway to restore its platform and reach, we’re paying closer attention to our immediate university context and looking into ways that we can take more advantage of the resident knowledge and expertise that is on our doorstep, in order to expand, inform and bolster our programme and organisational structure. The Formations programme that we are running this year with NTU’s Postcolonial Studies Centre is an example of this, where we are able to reach out across the institution and help support and amplify some great work that is happening in such close proximity to us.

Within the programme we’ve also created different strands such as the Bonington Vitrines, Bonington Archive and Bonington Film Nights which expands the types and scales of work we show, represent and preserve.

Who is in the programming team, and how do you work together to devise and deliver it?

TG: The programming team consists of myself as curator and Joshua Lockwood-Moran (who joined in 2018) as assistant curator. We have quite a unique structure here at BG, where Josh and I are the only dedicated members of staff for the gallery. All other support (marketing, admin etc) comes from fractional staff who work in other areas of the university. There are sometimes disadvantages to this, but on the whole it makes for a very streamlined organisational structure which has its advantages as we are connected to all parts of the operation – we just find ourselves doing all aspects of gallery work – for instance two weeks ago Josh & I were laying carpets in the gallery. The gallery then sits within NTU’s cultural umbrella ‘Curated & Created’ which brings together the different programming strands resident at NTU.

Prior to Josh joining the gallery, I would set the programme or invite curators to devise individual exhibitions and sub-strands. I enjoyed the independence, but it did feel lonely at times. I definitely missed having regular conversation and the opportunity to bounce ideas off someone else, the importance of which can never be understated. Now, with Josh in the team there is a strong & supportive dialogue between us which I believe pushes the capacity and criticality for the programme further. Josh’s skillset, knowledge and experience is informing the future direction of the gallery and programme which is really exciting and he has autonomy over certain areas of programming and is working on some of his own projects in the future which allows me more time to think about more strategic aspects of the development of the gallery.

‘Sensing Systems’ by Matt Woodham, 2020. Photo: Jules Lister. Courtesy the artist

How do you identify and select the artists you work with?

TG: Having both worked as curators and practitioners within the artistic community for a number of years there’s never a shortage of ideas for exhibitions or people to work with. I think the challenge is always marrying the programme with the aims and objectives for what you want to achieve in a strategic sense, whether that’s purely providing opportunity to individuals who may not have them elsewhere or developing relationships with major stakeholders and partners. Being based in Nottingham encourages you to expand your critical context and ensure you are on a ‘map’ with other organisations, locations and conversations around the country and world, whilst feeding into a locality that needs energy and input to keep it sustainable and viable. Balancing and achieving these things is always the challenge. I think what we’ve both welcomed working at Bonington Gallery as opposed to some of our own initiatives (that may at times be very niche), is having to programme against a backdrop and situation that is more varied and requires greater consideration towards how it relates and connects to more people. I think we both enjoy this challenge.

Tell us about your current or recent exhibitions and projects.

We have just reopened the gallery with a solo exhibition by Sophie Cundale, where she is showing a new single-channel film entitled The Near Room that we co-commissioned with the Film & Video Umbrella and the South London Gallery. The basic premise for the film is that it’s ‘a supernatural melodrama’ about loss, following the journey of a professional boxer after a near-fatal knockout. The boxer’s disorientations become entangled with the story of a queen living with Cotard Delusion which is a rare neurological condition inducing the sensation of death. The show opened at South London Gallery at the start of the year, so it’s great to be partnering with some great organisations on realising and showing this work.

Over the past 2-3 years we’ve worked hard to expand our public events programme, so this year we’re partnering with NTU’s Postcolonial Studies Centre to deliver a programme called Formations. This year long programme will be a series of events in response to Black History Month, Black Lives Matter, and the Decolonisation agenda. The events are centred around seven themes/objects such as lace and memorials that run consecutively throughout the year. These are centrally concerned with making visible the centrality of Black artists and thinkers, and the patterns and materials that connect global creative and intellectual histories.

Sophie Cundale, The Near Room, 2020 (film still). Installation view at Bonington Gallery. Photo: Jules Lister. Courtesy the artist and FVU

What’s happening behind the scenes at the moment? What has lockdown looked like for you in your roles and for Bonington?

Behind the scenes at the moment we are rapidly trying to rethink and learn new methods to deliver our events programme (moving to online platforms) and managing the safe day-to-day operation of the gallery. Opening the gallery and meeting all of the regulations adds another layer of complication to everything. Being such a small team there is a lot to consider and deliver. As usual we’re in several parallel dialogues with future exhibitors and working on exhibitions and plans for 2021/22 & 22/23 which is exciting.

We took a programming break over lockdown as the situation at the university was uncertain for a time. We considered doing an online programme, but this approach felt pretty saturated at the time, although there were plenty of projects and excellent talks that we attended (particularly in June/July time following the Black Lives Matter protests). It was a strange time as we had to still work on this year’s programme, and maintain dialogues with artists, curators, funders and stakeholders whilst not knowing 100% whether we would reopen in October. Fortunately, everyone was very understanding.

Despite this uncertainty, events this year (COVID-19; George Floyds murder and resultant protests & discourse; global political unrest) has stimulated a lot of conversation within our small team and to have some space for this over the past months has been important and welcome. The results of which will have a strong influence over how we develop and determine our organisation and programme going forwards.

Who are the artists and/or partners that you’re working with at the moment?

Our next exhibition is a solo-show (opening at the beginning of December) by British conceptual artist Terry Atkinson, who is a very important and prominent artist in his own right, and was part of the conceptual art group Art & Language. This exhibition will be curated by Berlin based exhibition space and artist cooperative SELECT who are based in Berlin. They have devised a really interesting financial model for supporting their activities which it feels great to support, and their eye for programming is second to none. It will be great working with them on delivering an exhibition by such an important artist.

In February we will open an exhibition by Nottingham based performance group REACTOR. NTU is their ‘alma-mater’ so it’s great to bring them back to the place of their formation. They are one of the longest standing and most important artistic groups in Nottingham and have done some fantastic projects over the years, and across the world. We’re expecting the gallery to be completely transformed.

The final exhibition of this academic year (which is the calendar we work to) is The Annotated Reader which is a project devised by artist Ryan Gander and writer & critic Jonathan P. Watts. They invited 281 of the world’s leading artists and thinkers to nominate two pages of their favourite texts, which they had individually annotated in some way. These are then photocopied multiple times and displayed on the walls for visitors to take away with them. We are going to run an ambitious events programme within the gallery if conditions permit, or online instead!

We’re also talking to a number of artists and individuals regarding our programme into the future but it’s probably a little early to share details of these yet.

Artificial Sensibility’ by It’s Our Playground, 2017. Photo: Jules Lister. Courtesy the artist

What or who are you excited about? (could be upcoming programme, something you’re going to ”see”/an artist you’re going to “visit”)

TG: It feels a luxury to be excited at the moment! I think in regard to an artist/exhibition then I hope very much to see the ‘Michael Clark: Cosmic Dancer’ exhibition at the Barbican. I saw the Michael Clark Company perform at Tramway in Glasgow in 2011 which I really enjoyed. Also, the Kai Althoff solo exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery, his first institutional solo show in GB.

Through TG, the space Josh & I run outside of Bonington Gallery, we’ve been doing studio visits over the past couple of months with a number of artists and have a rough sketch of the programme worked out which is exciting. We’ve had to put a lot of our programming on hold this year due to Covid.

TG is taking part in a project in Paris later in October run by our good friends The Community. They are inviting spaces, publishers, record labels and collectives to occupy rooms and spaces within the old Normandy Hotel in the centre of Paris. We’re going to show Nottingham based photographer Alan Lodge who has prolifically documented traveller, protest and free party culture over the past 30-40 years. He must have one of the best records and archives documenting this period and culture in the country and he appears to be attracting growing interest in his work, which we hope to extend and support further. Due to Covid we’ll be doing this from afar, so will be putting together some detailed sketches and plans for someone else to install for us! (We’re quite used to working like this).

JLM: Like Tom it feels like a luxury to be excited! For me it is just great to see the local galleries and museums opening with new exhibitions, I am looking forward to seeing Rebecca Lennon’s exhibition at Primary. Further afield, I am excited to see the Huma Bhabha exhibition at Baltic, their first survey exhibition in Europe and also Otobong Nkanga at MIMA, Middlesbrough – though seeing these will depend the ongoing pandemic situation.

What dates should we put in our calendars?

Sophie Cundale’s exhibition closes on 21 November, so make sure you see it before then – you can also watch the film online on Sundays throughout the exhibition dates via the Film and Video Umbrella’s website.

The second public event in the Formations programme will be on 28 October, this event by Dr Leila Kamali will be centred on the work of the great African American writer John Edgar Wideman.

All of this year’s exhibitions and an outline of the Formations programme are currently on our website to please visit that for further dates and details.

‘The Serving Library V David Osbaldeston’, 2018. Photo: Jules Lister. Courtesy the artists

Whose work or what space would you most like to curate?

TG: When I interviewed for my job at Bonington (and actually this also occupied a chapter in my MFA dissertation) I had to make a short presentation about an exhibition I’d like to curate. I proposed an exhibition of artworks, artefacts and material that analysed and presented the relationship between the body and typefaces/fonts. There are some amazing typefaces in existence that have been created (going back many years) that directly utilise the body in conveying the shapes of letters and characters, but there are also more abstract and far-fetched connections I’d like to make too… It would involve designers, artists and popular culture references (think Shaun Ryder swinging from the giant ‘E’ in the Happy Mondays video for ‘Step On’, or the historical tragedies occurring from certain letters in the Hollywood sign… I think my dream one day would be to have the luxury of time and space to work on something like this, and maybe some research assistants too!

JLM: There are so many artists I would like to work with! I am currently really enjoying working for Bonington – it differs so much from freelance work, as you can think longer term and strategically about the whole programme. A dream scenario would be curating for the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, just outside of Copenhagen – I visited during my MA course and immediately felt drawn to the gallery.

What do we need to see more of in the East Midlands?

JLM: I think we need to work on access into the industry so that the sector reflects the diverse community that we have within the region, both within institutions and studio provision.

TG: I started to write something political in response to this question, and disappeared down of a rabbit hole as it’s hard to know where to begin/stop at the moment… Maybe I’ll save this for a pub chat once we can all go to one again.

 

Tom and Josh were interviewed in October 2020.

All images are courtesy of Bonington Gallery.