Ten years ago, Bold Tendencies grew out of a desire to find a space to show a group of artists’ works in South East London. This need, coupled with the open-mindedness of the artists and founders to embrace an unconventional site for displaying sculpture has resulted in a unique space for seeing newly commissioned artworks, architecture, musical and theatrical performances in a car park in Peckham. This interview with Founder/Director, Hannah Barry, confirms that as Bold Tendencies enters its 11th year, its ambitions are still growing.
What led you to start Bold Tendencies?
Bold Tendencies started in 2007 as a sculpture exhibition with the simple idea of giving artists an opportunity to make ambitious new work for an outdoor public setting. The project has since developed intuitively into the commissioning organisation it is today, and extending the commissioning principle to architecture, classical music and beyond.
What makes Bold Tendencies unique within the London landscape?
Bold Tendencies is unique in terms of the rich mix of what it does, and where and how it does it. Since 2007 we have welcomed +1.5m visitors to our space, presenting the many different kinds of work in this special environment that cannot be encountered anywhere else. Our unique setting here at the multi-storey car park is something we are very proud of. The work we commission is by nature emphatically site-specific and we hope this offers artists an inspiring scenario for developing a piece of work. The spectacular views from the site and the brutalist character of the building’s architecture and the relationship of these to the programme and our public spaces we hope offers a unique experience in the city.
How has it transformed over the years?
We are lucky to have had the opportunity to work on all kinds of projects over time and this has afforded us the pursuit of progress in our programme and in the organisation.
How did the interest in multidisciplinary commissioning develop?
The space is incredibly generous in the sorts of activities it welcomes on site: it is this in combination with the daring of artists and our many collaborators and partners that has permitted us to work across such a variety of disciplines.
Can you describe the new works you’ve commissioned this year? Art, architecture, music and more?
We’ve had a busy year. We have produced a broad range of commissions and projects. As always the season has been exciting and challenging. We have a wide, diverse and growing audience in Southwark, in London, in the UK and globally. In 2017 the project has had +170,000 unique visitors in five months.
We commissioned two new works for the site: Let’s go. Yes, let’s go. (They do not move) a new work by Ewa Axelrad referencing one of London’s most celebrated public squares, gathering places and protest spaces. Incorporating iconic elements of this immediately recognizable location into a barricade and considering positions in the world of law and order, this installation presented the artist’s statement about the current condition of public protest, civic unrest and civil liberties. Your image will be weathered but never taken away a new work by Isaac Olvera using giant natural hair wigs. Over the summer period, London’s changing climate and weather conditions altered the composition, styling and hair texture. The wigs were made in Mexico City and were influenced by the hairstyle of Natasha Fuentes Lemus (1974 – 2005), daughter of the Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes (1928 – 2012), whose family of intellectuals for some years lived in London. This anecdote forms a historical axis whose associations reveal themselves through the sculpture which in turn explores the relationship that people have with their own self-production. A play entitled “Divine Destiny” written here in Peckham throughout the summer gives context to the performative aspect of the sculpture, in which the ghost of an influential writer´s daughter enters into the daily routine of Nigerian hairstylists in Peckham. Your Image Will Be Weathered But Never Taken Away has been the result of a series of linked projects since 2015, starting in Mexico City with the dissemination of street poetry and up to the following year 2018 when the play will create a distribution network in London hair salons. Both commissioned artists had a strong relationship with London. Ewa Axelrad studied at the Royal College of Art and works between here and Gliwice, Poland, and Isaac Olvera studied at Goldsmiths University and was a resident artist at Gasworks in Vauxhall. He now lives and works in Mexico City and is returned to London to work on site for two months.
We also completed two new commissions to young British architects Oliver Cooke and Francis Fawcett (Cooke Fawcett Architects): for our lower floors their concertina Concert Wall and for the rooftop the Peckham Observatory, allowing visitors for the first time spectacular new views out over London and a bird’s eye view down onto and across the rooftop space.
The award-winning Multi-Story Orchestra returned to the site with a summer-long residency of Orchestral and Chamber music. The Chamber Series crosses the classical and contemporary repertoire including Leoš Janáček, Béla Bartók, György Kurtág, Louise Farrenc, George Crumb, Bach, Zoltán Kodály, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Astor Piazzola, Simon Steen-Andersen, and Rūta Vitkauskaitė whilst the Orchestral Programme includes Mozart’s ‘Jupiter’ Symphony, Haydn’s Symphony No 82, known as ‘The Bear’, along with the world premiere of a new work for choir and orchestra created by children from Hollydale, Kender, Lyndhurst and John Donne Primary Schools. We were honoured to host again the BBC Proms. In celebration of John Adams’ 70th birthday, The Multi-Story Orchestra paid tribute to his influence on 20th and 21st century orchestral music with a performance of Harmonielehre together with Bach (arr. Bantock) Wachet Auf and a performance of Kate Whitley’s celebrated work I am I say for children’s choir and orchestra. The inaugural performance of The Multi-Story Orchestra was Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring in 2011. We were delighted to return to this iconic work, presenting it for four hands on one piano, and as a Living Programme Note followed by the full orchestral score to end the season.
Our activities take place both onsite and offsite. We animate our programme and the site for schools, families and our neighbourhood (and we extend this across borough in schools) through standalone education and community programmes that take culture and civic values seriously. This activity is now gathered under a charity, Bold Everywhere. This summer 365 primary school age children participated in MY MUSEUM, our art and project space which trains young people to curate and take the lead in their own learning. When children visit Bold Tendencies they are full of questions: Is it a car park? Is it a gallery? Where did you put the cars? Why doesn’t it look like the museums I’ve seen on school trips? Who made this? Who put that there? Children often compare Bold Tendencies to the museums with which they are most familiar: spaces specifically designed to show art. When they enter the car park, it suddenly becomes clear to kids that they have a clear idea of the way art is ‘supposed’ to be experienced. One of beauties of this space is that it helps reveal to kids how open the world of art can be, and the potential to make fresh decisions about what kind of art can be exhibited, and where.
MY MUSEUM It is a space designed for children to use objects to tell their own stories, representing who they are and how they relate to their community. It is intended as a resource for the children in our locality, whether Pupils in neighbouring schools and/or of the families that visit our site. MY MUSEUM mounted its second exhibition The Colour Chemists, which took its inspiration from Simon Whybray’s “pink staircase” commission hi boo i love you, and looked at the ways that colour not only makes you look, but also how colour can make you think, hear, feel and smell!
We are committed to promoting opportunities without high barriers to entry for careers in the creative industries and 120 young people have been part of our Art Trainee Programme since 2014. 39 Art Trainees joined us in 2017 from South East London, across the UK, from Europe and Asia. 44 mentors and 35 institutions took part in our parallel learning and visits programme this year, our best ever.
This year’s cohort of Art Trainees also made their first interventions in the space, staging a series of installations on floor 8 of the car park open to the public for the Peckham Festival. This project gave a further opportunity to the Trainees to creatively engage with the programme. For many of the Trainees who are young artists, this gave them an amazing opportunity to see and display their work in an unorthodox and exciting space.
What are some of the challenges that you/your artists face when working in this setting?
It is perhaps most important to acknowledge that the challenges anyone faces when working with the site are equally the greatest opportunities! The architecture and scale of the car park are obvious considerations. Another is longevity. After we shifted our commissioning approach to a cumulative process, it became necessary for works to be able to withstand several seasons exposed to the elements. This, of course, has implications too!
Can you explain your new cumulative approach to commissioning?
Until recently Bold Tendencies had been working to a finite time-frame. As the future of the Multi-Storey Car Park and Bold Tendencies was uncertain in the long-term, we decided to re-orientate our commissioning programme to reflect this situation. Given the uncertainty, we thought it could be interesting and challenging to approach our commissioning programme with the contradictory notion of permanence executed in an impermanent situation; For the following years of its tenure on the car park site it was the intention of Bold Tendencies to undertake a cumulative commissioning programme and celebrate the site’s evolving function as a civic opportunity, allowing visitors to fully experience and appreciate the works installed, and to freely enjoy public space in the city. We are proud to have a number of works on site that we have commissioned over the past few years:
Derek Jarman, Garden, 2013
Richard Wentworth, Agora, 2015
Simon Whybray, hi boo i love you, 2016
Adel Abdessemed, Bristow, 2016
Sam Riviere and Sophie Collins, Flourished, co-commissioned with Clinic 2016
The works built on each other year on year on the car park’s top levels to create an exciting environment for our visitors. The different architectural and artistic commissions would be able to remain on site and engage with one another is new ways each year. For example, the observatory commissioned by Cooke Fawcett Architects this year gave incredible new panoramic views for both Ewa’s commission and Richard Wentworth’s Agora which had never had the possibility of being experienced fully from above. This offered up a completely new way to experience both works of art for audiences new and returned, precisely the kind of result we were looking for.
What are your plans for the future? What can we look forward to next year?
In a remarkable twist of fate, last month Bold Tendencies has just been granted a significant extension on its lease from Southwark Council. The site had been highlighted in the council’s New Southwark Plan, a blueprint for potential development in the borough, as an area to be re-developed for new mixed use development. However the most recent draft of the Plan has had the site removed. We are lucky to have had the opportunity to develop our commissioning programme across visual art, architecture and classical music over the past ten years. This news only encourages us to do more work, to do it better and to reach more people in the borough and beyond!
This coming year, we aim to make it the best Bold Tendencies Programme yet, continuing to aspire to excellence across a multidisciplinary programme, focusing on new commissions in visual art, architecture, opera and classical music. We will also be looking at several other areas in which to explore our commissioning model, further extending the appeal, reach and audience numbers on site. Thereafter this we aim to remaster the site, working with a diverse and exciting group of artists, architects and musicians to build onto the existing body of the carpark.
We aim to widen our attending audiences, in particular into Peckham and across Southwark. Joint venture with Bold Everywhere to develop the unique tools and programmes it has pioneered, widening their reach and impact, in particular with and for local primary schools.
In addition, we are working on a plan to remaster the site within the next two years, working with some of the most significant emerging and established architects to design and commission new facilities and services onsite, bolting onto the existing fabric of the building and bringing into use of aspects of the site year round. This will amplify the experience of the site for our many audiences and significantly extend our offering, importantly with regard to our pioneering educational programmes.
95A Rye Ln
London SE15 4TG