3 Sep 2018
Bonington Gallery curator Tom Godfrey recently caught up with Adam Murray, curator of our September – October exhibition, The Accumulation of Things. Read on to find out more about Adam’s approach to curating and his interest in representations of everyday life – particularly in the north of England – as well as his background in photography and experience as an educator.
Tom Godfrey: The most recent exhibition that you (co-)curated was North: Fashioning Identity that I saw at both the Open Eye Gallery and Somerset House locations. The exhibition took quite a pragmatic and museological approach to presenting a history of fashion (with associated disciplines) connected to a geographical context. The exhibition at Bonington appears to be much looser in concept and suggests a more intuitive approach to putting together an exhibition. I wondered if you could expand a little on these two approaches and what your initial motivations were behind the formation of The Accumulation of Things.
Adam Murray: I agree, the two approaches to the exhibitions, and indeed the exhibitions themselves, are quite different in some ways. However, they are both very much linked by subjects that I have been interested in for many years and I do think that there are similarities, particularly in the way the artists deal with their notion of the familiar.
Since I moved to Preston for university in 2001, the north west of England has been my familiar and the years spent there have been very influential on the work that I have made in the past, for example, Preston is my Paris. This was an ongoing project produced predominantly with Robert Parkinson that dealt with our everyday life in Preston. This then motivated a strong interest in how everyday life and personal experiences inform creative work, as well as a strong interest in representation and identity of the north of England. The latter of which became manifest with the North: Fashioning Identity exhibition that you mention.
With this exhibition at Bonington, I wanted to move away from being so geographically specific and but still engage with work that was clearly about the circumstance, experiences and personal histories of the artists. In my work as a lecturer I also work with and encounter a lot of work by early career practitioners, so I saw the invitation from Bonington as a fantastic opportunity to showcase this. The sourcing of the work has been an intuitive process yes. I encountered all of in the last couple of years at either degree shows, in tutorials or through recommendations by friends. It felt like it came together very naturally.
TG: As evidenced throughout your projects there is a focus and celebration of the so-called ‘regions’ and the practices and associated histories that dwell within them. I wondered whether you could talk about this further, what is it about these geographies that motivates you and the others you work with?
AM: Primarily it is to do with my own experiences and places I have lived. I grew up in Shepshed, a small town not too far from Nottingham, then moved to Preston for university and spent ten years living there. Although I now live in Manchester and partly work in London, I am still active in exploring regional towns and cities. As you mention, this has been a feature of previous projects and exhibitions, I think because I have spent the majority of my life outside of major cities. This has developed my awareness that these places matter. For me, it is not about creating a hierarchy, but it is about encouraging the same exploration of smaller places in a similar way to large urban centres.
As the major ‘creative cities’ are given so much coverage, it is often, not always, but often the work by people from places other than recognised centres, that can offer an alternative and therefore more innovative view on things. I think that is reflected in most of the work in the exhibition. It is also why I am excited to collaborate with Bonington, it is important for these spaces to exist outside of London.
TG: The group exhibitions that interest me always present practices that extend beyond the objects in a room, so the individual contexts, networks and histories represented by the artists protract, conflate and interrupt what might be physically on show. I wondered if you could talk a bit further about how you have brought together this set of practices and what might be represented by the exhibition that we might not see physically in the gallery. The premise that you present at first glance is quite simple, but the array and depth to the practices represented by the exhibition reveals to me something much more complex and nuanced.
AM: All of the artists in the exhibition have produced work whilst being based in Britain for the last few years, so I definitely think that there are a number of narratives and reflections on recent general experiences. However, it was also important for me to work with artists from different backgrounds so that their own personal approach offers a variety of interpretation.
I always try to present work in quite a simple way, without being over theoretical with text etc. It is important for me to create a space that doesn’t feel intimidating and respect that an audience will be able to engage with the work without the need for extensive direction from a curator.
TG: I closely consider Bonington Gallery’s context of being an ‘art school’ gallery when programming and identifying the practices we present. I’m always drawn to people who have a lot of cross-over in their practices, and have done different things and occupied different contexts. I wondered if you could talk about your background, and the different projects you’ve worked on over recent years, and paint a picture of your own relationship to working with/across different artforms.
AM: My background is mainly rooted in photography. I studied photography at university in Preston and as mentioned before, the first major project after this was Preston is my Paris.
Since I was a teenager though I’ve also had a strong interest in fashion photography. This has manifest in different ways but most recently in North: Fashioning Identity which I co-curated with Lou Stoppard. The exhibition included a range of different media and art forms all linked to one subject, the influence of the North of England on Fashion.
I have also worked in Higher Education for 15 years. To begin with it was on the photography course at University of Central Lancashire, then moved on to Fashion Communication at Liverpool John Moores. Now I’m working on Fashion Art Direction at Manchester School of Art and pathway leader for MA Fashion Image at Central Saint Martins. I find it a real privilege to be working with new creative talent, learning what they are about, what they want to communicate and then responding to that. It also appealed to me that Bonington is part of a university.
The main two things that I think link all of this is collaboration and exploring the relationship between different practices. My work simply wouldn’t exist without this and I think putting exhibitions together is the ideal way for me to engage with an audience.
The Accumulation of Things opens with a preview on Thursday 27 September, alongside Bonington Vitrines #8: House of Wisdom.
All images courtesy of Adam Murray.