Inspirer Talk – Sarah Perks

Words: Aimee Plumbley

The Unit X blog recently caught up with Sarah Perks at the latest Inspirer talk. Sarah is the Visual Artistic Director at HOME and Professor of Visual Art at MMU. Her research spans across curating exhibitions, producing films and writing and publishing her research. Sarah walked our students through some of the projects she has been working on, and the process that she goes through for each.

“These projects can take me into different spheres beyond visual arts… it’s quite interdisciplinary”

Solo Exhibitions

As a rule of thumb, HOME has around 2 solo exhibitions a year. Sarah’s process of selecting an artist for their own solo exhibition is based on a metaphorical “holding pen” of artists of whom Sarah has built a professional relationship with.

The current solo exhibition is John Hyatt’s ‘Rock Art’. It took just under a year to curate. Sarah had been aware of John’s solo work for some time, but from a curatorial perspective she was interested in how John collaborated with other people and wanted to explore how this would translate into a solo exhibition.  Installations include:

  • Club Big: a pop-up club that occurs in the gallery every Friday and is a celebration of collective creativity. It was born based on a conversation based on a mutual visit to Milan between John and Sarah. The queue itself to the club is a piece called the ‘Anticipation’.
  • The lead image is another example of collaboration. John asked people in the bar at Home to draw a skull, and the image features all of these attempts.

La Movida, Arts Festival

A project Sarah has been working on is ‘La Movida’. It is part of the Viva Spanish and Latin festival that celebrates a spectrum of art forms. La Movida, or the transition to democracy, refers to a countercultural movement in Spain following the death of Dictator Franco in the 70’s. There was a sudden outpour of freedom, and the boundaries that once oppressed society became a source of inspiration for creative communities.

Sarah explained that from a curatorial perspective, it was interesting to contrast this movement against the current political landscape; in a world of Brexit and Trump there seems to have been a clamp down of rights and freedoms.

To find work, Sarah starts with traditional curatorial research, like reading and referencing to identify any artists who cover the subject- who could either contribute their existing work or commission a new piece especially for the festival. She worked together with the assistant curator to identify younger artists in Spain who channelled the La Movida aesthetic, although they weren’t present at the time of the movement.

The Festival will also explore parallels with other places at the time like Manchester in the 70’s and 80’s- and will feature work form local artists. Sarah reflected that when curating a project like this, you’re essentially “creating a little world” that can live independently from its original source.

I think it’s important that when you’re curating, you shouldn’t take the concept literally. Take it some ways, and throw away the core, and expand outwards”

Home Artist Film

Sarah established ‘Home Artist Film’ five years ago. It wasn’t necessarily a response to a brief, but an original idea to fill a gap in the creative market. It aims to support with the training and development of visual artists who want to create feature films.

Notable films that emerged from Home Artist Film project include:

  • ‘Swandown’ by Andrew Kötting, which received a lot of coverage at the time as it was a critique of the London Olympics gentrification of the surrounding areas, by two men in a swan pedalo going through the canals between Hastings and Hackney.
  • ‘Art Party’ by Bob and Roberta Smith, HOME tailored a bespoke release so that it would overlap with GCSE results day. Arts Centres across the UK were encouraged to screen Art Party and host their own art parties. This was a dig at Michael Gove, who was then the education secretary at the time.

Sarah’s curatorial role exposes her to many unique opportunities, and we would like to thank her for sharing this with us. Keep up to date with Sarah’s latest projects on Twitter @SarahPerks.

La Movida starts from 31st March 2017 at HOME, Manchester.



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