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Instigate Arts’ Anne Louise Kershaw on Ambition & Identity

Local creatives Anne Louise Kershaw and Kevin Burke are the brains behind Instigate Arts, the organisation responsible for our upcoming HOME Projects exhibition Ambition and Identity. We caught up with Anne to find out more about the inspiration behind the gallery and featured works…

Ambition PosterWhat inspires the work of Instigate Arts?

ALK: Instigate Arts works with small independent collectives and organisations as well as large, well established ones like HOME, Manchester Art Gallery and People’s History Museum. We work with festivals around the city such as Manchester After Hours and Wonder Women as well as individual artists, academics, archives and creative practitioners. We specifically focus on curating and developing exhibitions and events combining the arts, academia and activism and with cross-practice/sector/community collaboration. All of our projects are part of our ongoing research to open up conversations around the sustainability of independent artists and arts organisations and the co-evolution and sustainability of both the independent and the established/institutional arts being part of a healthy and valuable cultural experience.

All of our exhibitions and events aim to further explore these objectives. We feel it’s important for us to respond to the contemporary political, social and artistic climate and work with independent organisations and artists exploring new and socially relevant issues. Our overall intention is to open out conversations around these things, develop further collaborative and cross-media and sector relationships, create inspiring and artistically strong work and to contribute towards positive progressive social change in some way. We’ve been lucky enough to work with some amazing artists and places and we continue to develop relationships, conversations and ideas, project by project.

Why did you choose to inspect the themes of ambition and identity?

ALK: We were really pleased to be invited to be Curators in Residence at HOME and were very inspired by the opportunity to create several exciting exhibitions and events here, both on the Granada Foundation wall and in the main gallery space. However rather than just insert our pre-existing ideas into a prominent Manchester arts venue, we were keen to respond and react to the amazing art already curated here at HOME. We wanted to join in and expand on the conversations being had here and further the concepts in some way.

So we took a good look through the visual arts programme planned for this season. Using HOME’s ‘Red Thread’ of Fear Eats The Soul and particularly the film Imitation of Life as a launch point, we explored the ideas around the forthcoming show of Brazilian art prize winners Behind The Sun and enjoyed examining the work of Rachael Maclean whose solo exhibition Wot u :) about? is due to feature this autumn. We tried to find themes, threads and concepts that tied them all together and connected socially and politically in a way we could expand on. This lead to Ambition and Identity, which we see not as two separate concepts but rather as two sides to the same story. A story that is being retold and re-experienced across the world constantly and by everyone.

How does the space at HOME complement the work featured in the exhibitions?

ALK: Because the Granada Foundation wall is a 2D and long term exhibition, we were keen to do something different with that format. We wanted to explore how our unique position and place affects who we are and the work we want to make. How our individual context, and the context we live within, affects the creativity, ambition and identity of the different artists involved. As well as presenting paintings we were keen to see how we could curate that alongside non-typical 2D work of literature and video to see what conversations these forms could have together. Again, all three artists involved with the Granada Foundation wall exhibition are exploring similar themes but each from a very different perspective and through very different types of media. The two pop-up exhibitions will take quite a different approach, and be much more immersive, active, and performative, quite different again.

Between the three exhibitions, and the project as a whole, audiences can expect to explore some really interesting and inspiring art made by some fantastic, varied and really quite radical artists working across a wide variety of media. Audiences can have conversations with us about these ideas and explore how fear feeds our desires and fuels our fragile sense of self – we very much hope anyway.

Instigate Arts - IdentityWhat can you tell us about the artists taking part?

ALK: We’re working with approximately 25 different artists across all three exhibitions. We have an amazing list of artists involved working across a wide array of media and creative forms from all across the country, coming from a variety of cultural backgrounds and contexts. This was very important for us when exploring Ambition and Identity.

We curated from artists who responded to our call out, as well as artists we know working in certain areas and those we discovered through our research. We have traditional 2D paint based artists (albeit working in very untraditional ways) such as KAZLAND and Bartosz Beda, video artists like Zarina Muhammad and Emily Mulenga, artists using gifs and sound such as Lizz Brady and Sanaa Hamid, installation and sculptural artists like Richard Hughes and Emily Pitts, endurance and performance work by Duo Stefanie Elrick and Laura McGee and Michelle Hannah, performance by Louise Woodcock and Greg Thorp, flute composition by Hyunjoo Kim and Sara Minelli and music composition and video work by our own Kevin Burke.

Having our own work in the exhibitions we curate is another way to step outside of boxes. HOME have long included curators and producers’ writing pieces in their book collections and this is something we also like to do, as we are also creatives, composers and artists. We feel honoured to be working with so many amazing people, it does wonders for our inspiration.

Ideally, what lasting impression do you want the exhibition to have on viewers?

ALK: In our society we have an interesting relationship with both ambition and identity. We are rewarded and scolded for having and being proud of both. What have we been told to be ambitious for and are these the ambitions we should have? What is identity? We exist in a patriarchal structure that creates distinct ideas of ‘outsiders’ and ‘others’, yet developments in DNA research demonstrate more than anything that we all have shared ancestry. Identity is not a fixed point. Our unique contexts, global position and relationship with class, gender, race, health, mental health and ability all form the building blocks from which we form our sense of self and ideas of identity but what fuels that and what does that mean to us? What relevance do these concepts have to a positive and happy society?

We want to connect audiences with these ideas. From the massive political and the grotesque, to the small and seemingly insignificant internal and personal. Our inner hopes, dreams and desires; where do these come from? All of these are questions and conversations we hope audiences will take away with them, as well as an awareness of some inspiring and amazing artists to connect with.

In a world of Internet memes and self-help obsession that has a fascination with the battle between empowerment and narcissism; with celebrity culture and global politics mashing up our media feeds, where we promote the eternally hopeful and optimistic, and share, share, share the morally indignant and outraged, all of which connect deeply to our innermost fears, we were really keen to use this to subvert typical notions of ambition and identity. We hope very much that audiences take some of those ideas away with them, as well as come along with their own, and join in the conversation.

Instigate Arts’ Ambition and Identity exhibition runs from Fri 17 – Sun 11 Sept. Find out more about the project launch evening here.

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