Alumni in Profile: Joseph Black & Caroline South - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Alumni in Profile: Joseph Black & Caroline South

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Alumni in Profile: Joseph Black & Caroline South

In June 2016 Joseph Black (MA 2016) founded Aganippe Arts in order to curate site-specific exhibitions. Caroline South (MA 2016) joined the project to work on their first exhibition ‘The Garden at War’. They spoke with Josefine Biskup (MA 2016) about their collaboration.

Can you tell us more about Aganippe Arts and your mission?

JB: With Aganippe Arts I want to create ways of exhibiting art that relate to the place in which they are shown. I think this is particularly important with historical pieces, as you can come to understand both what they mean to you in the contemporary and also appreciate the historical and cultural conditions which gave rise to them in the first place. I hope that through doing this, one can have a more developed and complex experience of what is on display.

CS: As a non-profit organisation our aim is to exhibit art in a wider and more accessible context outside the usual gallery or museum setting. We are focused on supporting cultural locations to develop or expand arts programmes and collaborations.

Caroline, you joined Joseph at Aganippe Arts in late 2016. How did your collaboration start?

CS: The Courtauld is full of exceptional people and you never know the possibilities and opportunities contact with your fellow students can bring. Joseph and I come from very different backgrounds in that he trained as an artist and I had been a lawyer for many years. Our skills and experience are therefore especially wide-ranging. A small arts company such as Aganippe Arts profits from all the skills you have, whether as an art historian, curator, writer or publicist, artist, strategic, commercial or legal, to make the project happen. 

My particular area of study had been firstly eighteenth-century Britain and later eighteenth-century France and I was rather fascinated by the premise of using conceptual art to re-interpret a historical setting. I have always valued historic houses and grounds as highly detailed artworks you can step into and which totally surround you. Equally in ‘The Garden at War’, each item functions as an artwork in itself but also forms a component element of the greater installation, responding to the surroundings.

Joseph, in July 2017 ‘The Garden at War: Deception, Craft and Reason’ opens at Stowe House with a Courtauld research symposium and a publication launch – how did work on this project begin?

JB: I developed the initial idea for ‘The Garden at War’ during my studies. Before I went to the Courtauld I trained as a painter at Camberwell School of Art and now I work both as an artist as well as Senior Curator at Aganippe Arts. Studying at the Courtauld, I felt a huge amount of creative freedom and it allowed me to think about the works I was researching in a way I had not been able to before, I think largely due to the tutor I had; Professor Sarah Wilson, who has encouraged me in this project since the very beginning.

I wanted to do an exhibition of work by Ian Hamilton Finlay within a historical garden setting. The magnificent eighteenth-century gardens at Stowe I found were an ideal place to explore themes both in Finlay’s work, as well as the history of garden design and conceptual art. The exhibition also brings together the neoclassical landscape painters Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain, whose work had a tremendous influence on garden designers of the time, with contemporary work by a young French artist, Antoine Espinasseau, a trained architect, and some of my own interventions.

The move away from the French formal style of gardening to the later English Landscape Design marks a significant change in Enlightenment philosophy of the time; from Rationalism to Empiricism. Finlay was well aware of English gardening history and exhibiting him at Stowe closes a circle and highlights the potential of the garden as a conceptual playground and battlefield.

How does your dual role as artist and curator influence your creative process?

JB: I think what I learnt from painting was not so much a dedication to the medium but a way of using the visual language of painting. I think what attracted me to Stowe and why I responded to its aesthetic was that it uses the language of painting without having to use any paint. By thinking about the exhibition as an artwork I realised I could make interventions within the artworks themselves and make artworks as interventions within a certain place. This allows me to guide a visitor’s interpretation and that’s what I wanted to achieve.

With the conceptual guidebook, you have included other voices.

JB: The book is being published by Paul Holberton Publishing and I’ve been calling it an exhibition catalogue, but this isn’t one really, it’s a collection of essays which expand on the history of Stowe and look at ways of interpreting it. There is a particular focus on the work of Ian Hamilton Finlay and his garden of Little Sparta, which was the original genesis of the exhibition.

It contains essays from John Dixon Hunt, Professor of the History and Theory of Landscape Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He is widely held to be the foremost thinker on the history of Landscape design. We also have Stephen Bann, who has been hugely influential in my research. He was close friends with Finlay and, in the words of Finlay’s son Alec, was his “preferred commentator”. We then also have essays from John Stathatos and Joy Sleeman as well as a series of new illustrations by Gary Hincks, which have been commissioned for the book.

The Courtauld research symposium on 8th July will bring them all together for a day.

I am very happy that they will all join us for the symposium, which we have been able to organise in collaboration with The Courtauld Institute. I hope it will facilitate a creative dialogue and allow a certain intellectual access to the exhibition and the gardens, which is really in keeping with the place as ‘a garden of ideas’.

‘The Garden at War: Deception, Craft and Reason’, exhibition at Stowe House 8th July – 9th September 2017. Tickets for the symposium are available on the Research Forum website.

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