While the sunny month of May still seems far away as we clutch our mugs of tea waiting for winter to pass, the preparations for the opening of the Venice Biennale are well underway. As in 2017, Scotland will again be represented by a strong female artist, the Turner Prize-winning Charlotte Prodger. The immense feat of preparation and organisation which the presentation at one of the art world’s most prestigious international events will be undertaken by a vast team of specifically trained helpers. This team is spear-headed by an all-female force to be reckoned with, namely: the curator of Contemporary British Art at the Tate: Linsey Young, Cove Park’s associate director: Alexia Holt and the project manager of Scotland + Venice as well as its Professional Development Programme: Emma McIntyre.
On the 15th of February, ArtMag was invited to Cove Park to gain insight into the Professional Development Programme, learning about its integral role representing Scotland in the international context of the Venice Biennale, while also drawing from budding creative talent locally. Having been founded in 2003 with the launch of Scotland + Venice, the programme has successfully assisted young Scottish creatives to expand their networks and advance their career in the arts. The project manager, Emma McIntyre, was herself once a participant of the programme and thereby stands as living proof of its efficacy in fostering a budding generation of involved and motivated individuals. This year, the programme was aimed at not only 13 students from 6 colleges around Scotland, but also reserved four places for individuals from under-represented communities or who are unable to access higher education. This new development was supported by Templar Arts and Leisure Centre as well as Scottish Contemporary Art Network, evidencing an ongoing effort in the Scottish art world to destabilise the otherwise ever growing elitism of the market. As the curator, Linsey Young commented, this approach is very much in the tone of both Charlotte Prodger’s work and her own approach to curating. Prodger and Young are interested in presenting those who have historically been marginalised and raise awareness to the importance of public funding for the arts allowing access to career opportunities to less privileged, but in no way less talented, creatives.
The participants of the professional development programme are given extensive training preparing them for their role as ambassadors for Scotland + Venice. Emma McIntyre stresses the importance of the extensive training in empowering the participants with expert knowledge and confidence in becoming such an important part in the delivery of Charlotte Prodger’s work in Venice. During their one month to ten-week stay in Venice, the participants will be welcoming guests, assisting with events and screenings as well as offering information on Prodger’s practice and the exhibited works. As the curator, Linsey Young stresses, extra care was taken in the selection of the participants to find individuals who would be able to mitigate potentially difficult responses from visitors as some may struggle with the often challenging themes of Prodger’s work. Furthermore, over the course of the weekend training sessions at Cove Park, Young will take time to relate Prodger’s work to the participants in detail. First, the participants will learn about Prodger’s earlier works coming to understand why she became the Turner prize winner at this particular point in time. Later, when the work for the Venice Biennale has been completed, the participants will be shown an exclusive preview guided by Linsey Young. As Young commented in an aside, the upcoming work will be harder and less accessible than Prodger’s previous work. Thus, it is important to Young that the participants are versed in Prodger’s critique of the commodification of queer culture and the specifically queer histories which the artist draws from. As well as receiving expert training from the curatorial and directing team made up of Linsey Young, Emma McIntyre and Alexia Holt, the participants will gain from the experience of a number of the programme’s alumni who will be a part of the residential training weekends at Cove Park. Further training will be given in basic Italian, first-aid as well as fire safety. The immense success of the Professional Development Programme as heralded by Scotland + Venice has allowed it to serve as a model for other organisations to follow. The British Pavilion for example, has likewise taken on a programme which fosters the education and professional development of young creatives. What is unique, however, about the Professional Development Programme with Scotland + Venice, is the association with Cove Park.
Charlotte Prodger herself has a long-standing relationship to the artist’s residency space Cove Park situated just off the scenic Loch Long on Scotland’s West Coast. Having completed a residency at Cove Park in 2010, Charlotte Prodger returned to the site in 2018 for a research and production residency to develop her new work for the 58th Venice Biennale. Not only is landscape and geography integral to Prodger’s practice, but the rural environment of Cove Park allows for a unique residency experience detached from the city’s distractions. Cove Park’s director Julian Forrester stresses that the neutrality of the space and the virtually untouched landscape lies at the centre of the residency space’s philosophy. Forrester explains that the artists are to enter a space in which they can explore their creativity and work on their specific artistic aims undistracted by the works of previous residents. Therefore, Forrester continues, there are no artworks hung on the walls of the communal area nor in the various pods containing the residents’ temporary homes and studios. Cove Park is all about giving the residents space, with none of the staff living on the premise, and about allowing the community of artists and creatives to develop independently. Though Cove Park desires to be in close communication with the local community, offering creative workshops for children as well as adults in its Hands-On Programme, Forrester explains that they are careful not to compete with local cultural organisations. When the summer residency programmes commence, the staff at Cove Park are slow down the more public-facing programmes to give resident artists the space and peace which the premise offers. Throughout the weekend training sessions, the participants of the Professional Development Programme are housed in the artists’ pods and thereby given a sense of what Prodger might have experienced during her residency. The communal living at Cove Park will surely bring the participants closer together allowing for a strong team to develop. The day on which ArtMag visited the training sessions, the participants had just arrived at Cove Park. Lovingly welcomed by Alexia Holt, they partook in their first lessons in Italian. In this lesson, they learnt the essential phrase: “Benvenuto all Mostra dell artiste Scozzese Charlotte Prodger.”