Saturday, 2 June 2007

Selection day for the Shrewsbury Open Art Competition

Ann McCay & Russell Parry

On the 14th May we acted as VAN's representatives in the selection process for the 2007 Whittingham Riddell Open Art Competition. Acting in this role we thought VAN members might like a brief report of the day's happenings and our feelings about the process.

The other participants were:
Adrian Plant SABC, Exhibitions Officer at the Museum & Art Gallery
Rebecca Owen SABC; curator of Open Competition
Paul Brown Invited artist and writer; specialises in the interface between art and artificial intelligence.
Emma Puente Digital and video artist who also works at Belmont Arts Centre

We were also assisted by a placement student from University of Chester, who 'kept the engine turning' but did not have input to the selection process.

Why select?
It was our joint task to whittle the 100+ entries down to a group that could be exhibited at the various venues, bearing in mind that a certain level of quality and relevance had to be maintained.

The process
There were no strict guidelines to be followed, other than quality and relevance considerations; the selection was to be a matter for discussion and agreement. On the point of relevance it was fairly clear that this was to some extent flexible if we all agreed an entry was of high quality and desirable for the exhibition.

In the event there was a surprising (to us) degree of unanimity. As the viewing proceeded a good proportion of the final list was assembled from entries that we all agreed immediately were 'must haves'. There was a similar batch of unanimous rejections. Which left a group of 'maybes' from which to select. More detailed viewing of the popular 'maybes' allowed us to re-assess our initial reactions (and in two cases obtain more information) and once again a consensus developed.

The entries
These covered a very wide range of media, and were presented in hard copy, as digital stills and moving images and even on good old slide film. The range of formats did pose a bit of an obstacle to efficient selection. A few entries were very poorly presented. The biggest surprise, perhaps, was the doubtful relevance of many of the entries to the Competition's title. A good proportion were only tenuously relevant whilst in a few cases it seemed as if the artist had selected existing work quite regardless of any theme or title.

An invited section
Paul Brown had applied for funding that would allow recognised artists and speakers in the field of artificial intelligence to participate as 'invited artists'. We all agreed that if the funding materialised this would be a great bonus. It would provide a bedrock of material that directly connected with the theme and the Charles Darwin Symposium.

Future of the Open
Discussion of the place of invited artists within the scheme of the Open and Darwin Symposium led to Adrian asking whether it might not be preferable to connect the Darwin Symposium to an event consisting of invited guests, allowing the Open more freedom. There did seem to be merit in this idea, as there was no doubt that an unsympathetic Symposium title could make it very difficult for the organiser to arrange coherent and relevant event from the Open entries. Provided the funding were in place for the invited guests such an arrangement would seem to be a gain for both the symposium and the Open. Adrian suggested that this arrangement would not only free the competition from restrictive themes, but also allow it to be held at a more convenient or propitious time of year.

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