Nicole Mortiboys, No Title. Photograph Gavin Rogers


It was an unusually pleasant summer’s day in July 2017 on which I first set foot inside the cool, cavernous interior of the former Coventry Evening Telegraph building. I was being shown around by Coventry Biennial director Ryan Hughes, as I had recently been selected for a New Art West Midlands Curatorial Bursary to work on the biennial and also because ‘The CET’, as it has affectionately become known, was to become the site of the biennial’s principal group exhibition. At that point, a not-inconsiderable feat of imagination was required to see how this could be so. The building had, in eight or more years, been used only for self-guided heritage tours that did not even nearly cover its entire footprint. There were whole floors without power and many rooms blanketed with the assorted detritus that is left behind by a down-sizing company which neither intends to return nor expects anybody else to. Deeper inside the building, the initial cool gave way to a chilly cold as that cavernous lobby, by turns, contracted to become claustrophobic office space and then expanded to become truly massive in the former print rooms. Those who visited the building during the biennial will know that what looks, from the street, to be a handsome, but fairly unprepossessing, mid-century office block becomes, upon exploration of its interior, a veritable warren of spaces encompassing the domestic, the commercial, and the industrial in a complex of connected buildings covering almost an entire city block.


Nicole Mortiboys, No Title. Photographer: Gavin Rogers


The Biennial’s theme, and the title of the exhibition in the CET building, was ‘The Future’. The irony does not escape me that, as I write, ‘The Future’ is now in the past. But any conception of the future is always inextricably bound up with the past from which it springs. The biennial’s exhibition at the CET always acknowledged its place in a historic building in Coventry and sought not to predict the future but to thread art through that historic building in a manner which united old and new for a vision of the possible futures which might await us all.


My principal concern and the focus of my work, however, lay in the question of quite how, even with around 60 artists planned to be shown, we were going to fill the almost endless available space. During my time with the biennial, I visited artists in their studios as far apart as rural Yorkshire and urban High Wycombe. I had the privilege of being invited generously into the practices and thought processes of many artists, having discussions that helped to evolve my understanding of how their numerous practices with varying starting points could be situated, within the exhibition, to invite each work into a lively discourse with the others and to generate a hearty artistic and intellectual feast for visitors.


Bermuda Collective, Alcoholism ’65. Photographer: Gavin Rogers


On the more pragmatic side of affairs, I supported volunteer recruitment events, worked closely on the design direction of the Biennial’s printed programme and led on the coordination of the VIP and Professional’s Preview Day. During the biennial itself, I led curator’s tours for members of the public, as well as colleagues in the arts sector. Part of the potential of any biennial lies in its ability to habituate itself to its host city, finding moments of encounter that grow out of, respond to and transform the spirit of the city. To this end, I used the curator’s tours as an opportunity to discover and discuss other people’s reactions to the exhibition and the artworks in it, as much as to share my own knowledge and opinions. The biennial was a truly collaborative, city-wide project and I was delighted to also be asked by biennial partners Scratch the Surface Festival to lead a conversation with the artists of their END//BEGIN-Dialogue exhibition, on the topic of how art making can intersect with, express and sometimes provide relief for artists with mental health issues.


We did, ultimately, fill the CET with art and, in my entirely biased opinion, we did so quite admirably. During my time with the biennial, I developed my project management, networking and research skills. I also gained a great deal more experience of working with artists at various stages in their careers. The experience has already led to my being given a place at artist Jamboree 2018 and I am now greatly looking forward to spending a summer’s weekend in the glorious Devon landscape surrounding Dartington College, which is of course very different from the urban landscape of Coventry that I spent a lot of time in during the course of the biennial. But, once again, I will have the privilege of sharing discussions and debates about the practices and processes, this time, of 150 fellow artists and curators. Whatever that may lead to, whether exhibitions or other forms of dissemination, I hope to experience again the genuine and enthusiastic public support that people from Coventry and beyond lent to the biennial. For after all, as my experiences with the biennial reaffirmed, art needs people just as much as people need art.

Engine Curatorial Bursary recipient Jonathon Harris reflects upon his experiences of working with last year’s Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art.

Axisweb preview the inaugural Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art.

Join us at our six ‘expedition’ events to explore the extremities of artistic practice in the region.

Led by New Art West Midlands, The Outer Limits programme for artists explores the extremities of artistic practice – seeking out the far and distant places that make visual art in the midlands distinct and encouraging peer interaction.

Our six ‘expeditions’ will cover topics ranging from new artist opportunities all the way through to the cult of biennials. They will ask what is needed to safeguard the future of artists in the region, drawing upon national and regional speakers, key venues around the West Midlands and most importantly open minds.

All of these events are an opportunity for you to engage with us at New Art West Midlands, to moonshot our future work and boldly go beyond the current limits. The conversations we have will inform the West Midlands visual arts strategy and become the blueprint for our future programmes and advocacy work.

Keynote speakers at each of the events will catalyse the debate before we hand over to the people in the room to respond. Benefits to you as an artist include direct engagement with and impact on New Art West Midlands’ future programme, meeting other artists and discussing your work, and finding out about current opportunities. Plus, we will be issuing a New Art West Midlands limited edition badge (yes, seriously).

Leading us through The Outer Limits is artist Simon Poulter who will facilitate each session with Director of New Art West Midlands, Craig Ashley. New Art West Midlands’ Advisory and Executive Group members will also be in attendance. If you have to something to say, we want to hear it.


Event #1 ‘Setting the scene’ at AirSpace Gallery (Stoke on Trent)
Tuesday 19 September, 2 – 4pm

How to be successful as an artist. Sign up to join this event which will focus on the raw materials and engine of being ‘successful’ in your practice. We will be looking at core concerns for artists at all career stages, including insights by practising artists. What does a good gig look like? How do we Play Nicely in the art world and get proper reward and contracting for what we do? What rates of pay are current and workable for artists in the market place in 2017? We will be joined by Ryan Hughes (Director, Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art) and Dan Thompson (artist, writer, speaker) to discuss these matters. The session will be an opportunity to gain valuable insights into how other artists work and input your own experiences.

Book here


Event #2 ‘F@ck this Sh/t’ at The Hive (Shrewsbury)
Wednesday 20 September, 11am – 1pm

How to take on the universe and make it listen. Sign up to connect with us and make some change happen within the grand new abnormal. We will be exploring the context of how artists respond to fundamental shifts in the political space, examples of disobedience and the fakery of the ‘disruptive’ economy. This session is about marginality, voices of otherness and a real opportunity to contextualise artistic practice as a response. We invite artists to debate and devise beyond the social media silos, with the intention of informing New Art West Midlands’ future programme. This session will include opening talks by prominent artists Noëmi Lakmaier and Ann Whitehurst, as well as the stuff you bring with you. Presented in partnership with DASH.

Book here

Event #3 ‘Out there’ at Vivid Projects (Birmingham)
Friday 6 October, 2 – 4pm

We explore the Outer Limits of digital space and the current thinking in digital culture. What mixed reality methods lie in wait for the artists of the new millennium? How can we bust through barriers to make new tools have some meaning? This session explores next generation ‘radical’ art, physical and digital realities – what is out there to be explored? Artists discuss tape machines, VR as painting, sci-art, bio-art, coding, experience design and user interaction. We will have two speakers on board for this mission – Gina Czarnecki and Laurie Ramsell.

Book here


Event #4 ‘Bring it on’ at Worcester Arts Workshop
Thursday 12 October, 11am – 1pm

You live in the West Midlands, you want to stay but what opportunities are there? In this session we invite artists and arts educators to explore the elephant in the room – retention of talent. This is a rapid build satellite session discussing recent development initiatives, new commissions, access to technical resources and partnerships across business, the funded sector and arts education. We will be hearing opening talks by self-organisers Emma Chetcutti and Lara Ratnaraja who will frame the discussion on how to sustain practice where you are. We also want to hear your ideas on the problems you face in working in the region.

Book here


Event #5 ‘Far Out-ness’ at The New Art Gallery Walsall
Friday 13 October, 11am – 1pm

‘Far out-ness’ is commonly associated with the post WW2 avant garde and jazz movements. Within this session we invite you to join us to discuss the position of art-making in the brave new world. This event is all about practice, presentation and making. Hosted at The New Art Gallery Walsall, we contextualise how West Midlands-based artists can shape and form their practice and process. What contexts are now available to artists? Gallery, web or public space? Our two speakers – Ruth Catlow and Gavin Wade – focus vanguard debates and we then connect in the talent in the room. This is suitable for early career, emerging and hybrid practitioners (artist curators for example). This event will be live streamed.

Book here


Event #6 ‘Cut and paste’ at the Coventry Evening Telegraph Building
Friday 20 October, 11am – 1pm

Biennial art has become synonymous with internationalism, neo-liberalism and globalisation. Would it be cool to rock up with a smart phone and shoot a new film in each major city you visit with some locals and then get on the next plane? What makes a new biennial – responsive, embedded and tailored to its locality? Or is this the wrong question? Located within the Coventry Biennial events and exhibitions programme, we invite artists from across the West Midlands (and beyond) to conduct a debate on art, instrumentalism and next-generation biennials. We will be assisted in this session by Roney Fraser Munroe and Mike Stubbs, who will give us reality checks on the cult of the biennial and more. Book early for this session.

Book here





Led by New Art West Midlands, The Outer Limits programme for artists explores the extremities of artistic practice – seeking out the far and distant places that make visual art in the midlands distinct and encouraging peer interaction through 6 events across the region.