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Curating the East Midlands: Four/Four Collective

Four/Four is a gallery and event space located within the ground floor of the caretakers house at Primary in Nottingham. Founded in 2018 by Nottingham Trent University graduates, it was established to showcase emerging artists and present a programme highlighting practices that serve to activate space, through performance, installation and/or sound, and explore the way that artists react to the space through pre-exhibition mini-residencies. It is currently run by Nottingham-based curator and artist Adam Grainger, who is also co-producer of whorling.net and studio coordinator at One Thoresby Street and Greek visual artist, fashion designer and makeup artist Christos Gkenoudis, who joined in 2019.

Find our more about Four/Four on their website and follow them on Instagram.

Finn Rabbitt Dove’s ‘Films You Watch When You’re Ill’, in ‘We Might Never Reach You’, at Nottingham
Contemporary’s Gallery Zero in collaboration with Kühle Wampe, December 2020

Tell us about Four/Four

AG: Four/Four is an artist led gallery based out of the Caretakers House at Primary, Nottingham. At present it is Christos Gkenoudis and Adam Grainger, and over the course of its existence has also been Alice Reed, Chloë Laycock, Ashley Hay & Alice Hunt. I (A.G.) always attribute the birth of Four/Four to a conversation with Bruce Asbestos during an internship at Trade, in which he mentioned the space we now inhabit would soon be going free. At around a similar time the initial collective were coming together and applying for post-grad opportunities. These two things eventually led to us meeting with the team at Primary, and the rest has sprawled outwards from there!

How did you each come to curating / producing?

AG: Since being at University I’ve been running curatorial projects in one form or another. There’s a necessity to it: there’s always an abundance of people creating art, but I felt it important to think about the structures that are in place to facilitate the production and exhibition of it all, especially for those of us that can still be considered ‘young’ in terms of the art world. To create something by us, for us is crucial, which is something I think Christos addresses well below. Four/Four was my first project post graduation. It’s nice to have had continued success with it, to be able to grow and develop my curatorial practice alongside the growth of the collective. To know we’re able to provide a platform for our contemporaries, and that people want to engage with that is also continually affirming, it’s a great motivator for doing what we do. To cycle back around to the internship at Trade, that feels like the point that cemented a desire for getting into curating. It demystified the process, which was crucial in encouraging me to pursue what I do now. The path of development in the arts is neither clear nor linear at the best of times, making it easy to view projects such as ours as this thing detached from your capabilities, especially for younger artists.

CG: In the current environment, the system in place does not allow for the showcase of emerging artists, and when that happens, resources are sparse and the creative perspectives that are showcased are only streamlined to a certain type of creative work. This has pushed me in taking an active role in the creative scene in Nottingham and the East Midlands in general. Rather than waiting for the established institutions of the area to give a voice to the ones that need it the most, I thought it would be important to build our own platform to facilitate that. Another driving factor that has pushed me into curating/producing, is my drive and passion to enrich and shape the creative scene from my perspective, rather than passively waiting for change by others.

Chatum Tanning’s ‘Untitled Score for Two Performers’, at the conclusion of their show ‘As If Nobody’s
Watching’, November 2019

What did you set up Four/Four to do?

We set up Four/Four on the principle of platforming early career artists whilst at the same time giving curatorial experience to a cycling collective. ‘Early Career’ feels like such a reductive way of addressing the artists in our programme though, a friend once referred to our interest more aptly as ‘artists in a stage of becoming’! In the initial collective there was a shared interest in art that worked with sound, moving image, installation and performance, anything that sought to activate the space, to work with its parameters in a way, say, a painting show wouldn’t. At the time we were starting out we felt there was an absence of these mediums in the city at an emerging / artist-led level, and seeing all the exciting things being produced by our peers across the country we wanted to provide somewhere for this to exist. These interests have gone on to become the basis for our programming, everything we curate comes back round to this starting point in one way or another.

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

Typically if we’re planning a large portion of programming we’ll all go and research artists we’re interested in, and bring it back to the table to discuss collectively. Myself and Christos come from quite different places artistically, and the same can be said of past collective members, so we always manage to find a good breadth of work, which helps avoid becoming too pigeon-holed into one medium or style of work. A big part of what we do comes back around to what we’re not seeing in Nottingham, and acting on that. Instagram plays a big part for us in the research process. A redeeming quality of social media is how easy it makes the act of finding new artists you’re excited by. Keeping up with those you’ve worked with in the past, what they’re up to, who they’re showing with always yields good results, and inversely it’s super easy to come across work you’d never be exposed to otherwise! An important part of the programme for us is achieving some balance between the exhibitions and events we do. Early on in the project we’d alternate on a monthly basis between having an exhibition or an event, although this has become more free form over time. This is another aspect of Four/Four that benefits from a variety of membership, often collective members will be more inclined to exhibitions or more inclined to events, enabling us as individuals to focus more time on one side of the programme or the other, spreading the workload. In the past we’ve also been fortunate to work alongside other organisations including Beam Editions and UK New Artists on projects they’ve suggested to us that we’ve felt fit in with our own programming. Opportunities like this are great as they enable us to realise projects that would be much more difficult to achieve as a solo organisation, especially in our (relative) infancy, and the continually precarious financial situation of the arts.

Emily Stollery’s ‘Tangible Nothings and Momentary Happenings’, February-March 2020

Tell us about your current or recent exhibitions and projects.

Prior to lockdown we had the pleasure of presenting Emily Stollery’s ‘Tangible Nothings and Momentary Happenings’, with Pangaea Sculptors Centre. ‘Tangible Nothings…’ was Emily’s first solo show, presenting works made at Lockbund Sculpture Foundry as part of PSC’s Sculpture Production award which were shown alongside works made in residence at Four/Four and some key older pieces. We’ve known Emily for many years now so it was great to be involved in this key developmental moment in her practice. Emily’s works have this quality that means they can exist individually or interact as part of a wider installation, and with our affinity for activating the space in mind we wanted to make sure we weren’t just presenting an exhibition of independent works. There was no need to worry of course, as Emily did a fantastic job of adapting to and interacting with the space, creating a series of associations within her installation that tied everything together perfectly. Further back, in January, we had tattooists @dudley_the_nodule and @ugly_evil_twin in the space for a tattooing residency. This was the first event of it’s kind at Four/Four, and something quite different to the rest of our event programme which has taken quite a performative angle. This got us thinking about how we could occupy the space with similar occurrences in the future: Hairdressers and MUA’s with links to contemporary art practice were looking like possibilities, alongside an expanding programme of reading groups and video game playthroughs, we’d also love to get some more tattooists in. Hopefully we’ll be able to realise all of this sooner rather than later, lockdown and funding permitting!

Jawbone Jawbone’s show ‘ Passing Between Clouds and Under Rocks’ from October 2019

What have the last three months looked like for Four/Four?

The last 3 months have been understandably quiet for us! Alice Reed moved on to begin her Masters in Sexual Dissidence in Brighton, and we’ve both been pursuing our own projects: Adam has been working on whorling.net with Four/Four alumnus Chloë Laycock, as well as continuing to act as studio coordinator at One Thoresby Street. Christos has focused in redirecting and developing his creative practice during this time, delving into mediums such as garment making and how that mode of creativity finds its place in the art scene. In a way this period of non-activity in the collective has been a good refresher. In one form or another we’d been curating near monthly exhibitions and events for the past year and a half, it’s nice to step back from that, to evaluate what we’ve already done and what we’re looking forward to doing, to consider what it is needed by both artists and audiences right now, rather than using previous ways of producing. It’s also been good to just do nothing for a while. Whilst we could have continued on and tried to work around the situation we’ve all found ourselves in now felt like a good time to take that step away. You look at organisations that immediately switched tracks (especially early on in the pandemic) to keep pumping out stuff, and just question, why? Who is this for besides yourself? We can all benefit from rejecting the capitalist-rooted mindset of hyper-productivity every once in a while.

Tattooing Residency by @dudley_the_nodule & @ugly_evil_twin, January 2020

What’s happening behind the scenes at the moment?

At the end of June we had our first in person meeting since before lockdown! In the immediate future we’re working on several projects that will allow ourselves and the artists we’re excited about to keep on producing despite everything going on at the moment. In the works we’ve got online screenings, small scale exhibitions in our outdoor courtyard space, and a series of residencies that will allow local artists to make use of the Four/Four space in ways that seem relevant to the continuation of their practices right now. In the longer term we’re waiting for funding to become more readily available again: we were in the process of applying to the Arts Council when funding was cut off, and it would be a shame to be unable to follow this through as we think the programme we had coming up was our strongest yet. We’ve a lot of conversations to rekindle and dates to reset!

What or who are you really excited about?

AG: I’m really excited by what’s coming out of Glasgow at the moment – there seems to be a real consistency and quality in the work of so many young artists up there. I guess there’s some truth to every city or region having its own style. In the past we’ve had shows by Kate Frances Lingard & Rebecca Gill, and Peter Eason Daniels, Rosa Klerkx & Allegra Salandini at Four/Four, all of whom are Glasgow based. These are all fantastic artists that I’d encourage everyone to check out!

CG: I have been really excited with the recent visual album by artist and music producer, Arca, who has really honed into the digital realm during this pandemic through live streams of her work. She has created some very thought provoking video pieces, looking into gender, the human form in how it relates to dystopian technology.

Kate Frances Lingard & Rebecca Gill’s ‘I Lost Track of Information’,part of UK New Artist’s ‘City Takeover’, February 2019

What dates should we put in our calendars?

We’ve no concrete dates yet, but we’re looking to have the previously mentioned projects up and running by late July / early August! You can keep up to date with the development of these on our Instagram and Website.

Whose work or what spaces would you most like to curate or work in?

AG: There are so many artists I’d like to work with, we’d be here all day! That being said at the moment I’m completely in love with the works of Julia Sjölin, Michaela Cullen and Blackhaine/Tom Heyes. I’d love to try and work in some big open spaces, or spaces on different levels. Anything that works differently to the two room format we have at Four/Four. I suppose if you work in the same space long enough you start to become familiar with where things are best placed, what works and what doesn’t. It’d be nice to shake that up a bit, step outside the comfort zone!

CG: I don’t have any particular people that I would want to work with at the moment, but I would like to involve creatives outside of fine art. In terms of spaces, I think I would like to explore digital platforms, their benefits and limitations.

Peter Eason Daniel’s ‘Welcome’, in ‘A Billboard Facing a Wall’, August 2019

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

AG: More young artists from outside the region, from outside the country too. My housemate, who did her masters in Umeå, has been introducing me to some great Swedish artists recently and I’d love to work out getting them over. More performance art, too. Working with Chatum Tanning (Rohanne Udall & Paul Hughes) last year, particularly facilitating a performance of their work ‘Untitled Score for Two Performers’ made me realise how little I see this type of work in an early career context here in Nottingham. This feels like a shame, as I think performance art not only has the ability to occupy the space between several mediums, but it also contains a vital energy that I don’t feel is present in more static mediums, painting, sculpture etc. Moving image does this too! That’s it: More young international performance and moving image.

CG: With the current times that have put a stop to most creative exhibitions and events, I think that what is needed at the moment is the excitement in discovering and showcasing work that looks into pushing the boundaries of modern mediums to the extreme and reviving the more liberal side of the arts. Technology modes such as video, sound and performance, whether that is in person or through distance using digital means, are perspectives that are necessary to be explored at the moment. Also it would be interesting to see the merging of different creative fields coming together in creating, eliminating the borders of separation that are in place at the moment.

 

Adam and Christos were interviewed in July 2020.