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Grand Union programme director Kim McAleese and associate curator Seán Elder speak to a-n news about their 2017.

Kurt Hickson, Dead Painting #2 (2016), Dead Painting (2014), Black Triangle (2016), and Night Fume (2017). Exhibition realised as the result of the last round of Engine Studio Visits.

We are again offering artists and curators living in the West Midlands region the opportunity to receive a studio visit* from an arts professional. This is an opportunity to discuss your work and to seek valuable feedback and practical advice on either artistic or curatorial practice.

Kurt Hickson, Dead Painting #2 (2016), Dead Painting (2014), Black Triangle (2016), and Night Fume (2017). Exhibition realised as the result of the last round of Engine Studio Visits.

We are delighted to announce that this year’s studio visitors will be:

Irene Aristizábal, Nottingham Contemporary
Irene Aristizábal is Head of Exhibitions at Nottingham Contemporary. In 2010, she was the recipient of the H+F Curatorial Grant and worked as Guest Curator at the FRAC Nord Pas de Calais, Dunkirk. Prior to moving to London, she co-directed the not-for-profit space Bétonsalon in Paris. She has curated exhibitions and projects at the Miro Foundation, Barcelona; La Maison Rouge, Paris; the Museum of Health Sciences, Bogota; Form Content, London and LOOP festival, Barcelona.

Lana Bountakidou, Bosse & Baum
Lana Bountakidou is the co-founder and co-director, with Alexandra Warder, of Bosse & Baum, a contemporary art gallery founded in 2013 based in Peckham, London. The gallery promotes new developments in arts and culture, curating site-specific exhibitions, supporting emergent practitioners of art, with a focus on audience development in contemporary visual arts and culture. The gallery has a strong focus on performative art practices, with an active events programme which accompanies exhibitions, bringing current discourses to the attention of new audiences both in the local community and internationally.

Anne de Charmant, Meadow Arts
Born in Geneva (Switzerland) of Hungarian and Italian parentage, Anne de Charmant is a French citizen who feels European above all. Having trained as journalist, she was an arts correspondent for various French and Swiss media and press. Her particular interest in the contemporary visual arts led her to specialise in that field and when the opportunity arose she turned her hand to curating. Meadow Arts is a non-venue based organisation that collaborates with partners across the region, in order to bring excellent contemporary art to underserved areas; often using unusual venues to produce exhibitions, new commissions and events. Meadow Arts has been supported by the Arts Council from early on and is now in its third round of NPO funding.

Seán Elder, Grand Union
Seán Elder is a curator, researcher and writer based in Birmingham. He works with artists to produce writing, exhibitions and public programmes. Past projects include a Anthology of American Folk Song: a Scottish Première of new work by Steve Reinke at Glasgow Film Theatre, tracing the [public] garden wall, with artists Gordon Douglas and Tako Taal, which took place at Glasgow’s historic Botanic Gardens, and a new piece of writing, Hockney’s California, as part of Active Model, an exhibition for Glasgow Open House Festival. Previous to his role as Associate Curator, Grand Union, he conducted independent projects in proximity with organisations including LUX Scotland, The Glasgow School of Art and The Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow. He has written and spoken on research of Queer aesthetics both in his current writing residency with Cooper Gallery Dundee, as well as CCA Glasgow as part of their Talk See Photography lecture series.

Ryan Hughes, Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art / Office for Art, Design and Technology
Ryan Hughes is director of Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art. He has worked extensively in artist-led spaces both nationally and internationally as well as with institutions including museums, universities and local authorities. Additionally, he has made projects in ‘unusual’ locations including churches, mountains, online and in print. He has worked closely with practitioners from various fields including musicians, technologists and writers in addition to many artists and believes that interdisciplinary and collaboration are crucial. He has shown work by Lev Manovich, Radical Software Group, Ryder Ripps, Assemble and Andy Holden whilst also conceiving and delivering professional development programmes for emerging artists including students and recent graduates.

Milika Muritu, Cell Project Space
Milika Muritu is co-founder and Director of exhibitions at Cell Project Space. Recent projects include; ‘Free Traveller’, Yuri Pattison acquired by ZKM Museum, Karlsruhe (2017) ‘Submission/ Critical Mass: Pure Immanence’, Anne De Vries, selected for Berlin Biennial (2016) and ‘Greenhouses’, Aude Pariset, exhibited at ‘ARS 17’, Kiasma, Helsinki (2017). As an RCA Sculpture postgraduate, Muritu continued her Fine Art practice until 2007 exhibiting at 6th Sharjah International Biennial (2004). Appointed by ‘Commissions East’ she produced a public artwork and adjunct publication for ART U NEED (2007). Now working solely as curator she has collaborated in public programmes at Serpentine Gallery, London (2005) Tate Britain (2008), Hayward Gallery (2008), Turner Contemporary (2009) and is visiting lecturer at Camberwell College of Art, Central St Martins School of Art, RCA, and Royal Academy Schools.

If you would like to apply for a studio visit, please send a short application to for the attention of Anneka French.

You should send a maximum of three images of relevant work, your CV and a summary of no more than 300 words outlining who you would like to meet and why, and how you feel it would help to support and develop your practice. Please send as a single PDF document.

Applications will be shortlisted by a panel including Deborah Robinson, Head of Exhibitions, The New Art Gallery Walsall, Anneka French, Project Coordinator, New Art West Midlands and Zoe Lippett, Exhibitions and Artists’ Projects Curator, The New Art Gallery Walsall.

The deadline for applications is 12noon, Friday 3 November 2017.
*We recognise that not all artists or curators have or require studios. The visits can take place at a mutually convenient date and time and an appropriate venue.


We are again offering artists and curators living in the West Midlands region the opportunity to receive a studio visit from an arts professional. Application deadline: 12noon, Friday 3 November.

Excerpts from tracing the [public] garden wall, research project undertaken with Gordon Douglas and Tako Taal

We catch up with Seán Elder, Grand Union‘s new Associate Curator, to find out more about his background, research and future plans.

Excerpts from tracing the [public] garden wall, research project undertaken with Gordon Douglas and Tako Taal

                                                                                     What drew you to the West Midlands and what have your impressions been so far?

I grew up in the North of Scotland in the Highlands and have made my way via Aberdeen and Glasgow to Birmingham. It’s become a joke amongst a few of my friends that I’m slowly making my way further south, and while it wasn’t at all deliberate it’s funny that there has been a linearity to it.

If I’m honest my first introduction to Birmingham through studying art was, as I’m sure it is for many people, Eastside Projects and its folding of curatorial, art-making, and production methodologies. I think also reading on the establishment of art spaces in a large, post-industrial city mirrored my then-home of Glasgow. Where those similarities diverged I guess was in the difficulty Birmingham has had in creating a network of such spaces. And where Glasgow has an abundance of artist-run spaces running successfully on mostly similar models, here in Birmingham there is a smaller network of quite different structures across Eastside Projects, Grand Union, Ikon and others.

My first happening across Grand Union came with their exhibition by Prem Sahib, and the fantastic reception that followed. I was very much drawn to a small, curator-led gallery showing work by an artist who seemed at the time on the tip of reaching the next level of his career. The giant cock ring hanging in the gallery also helped to pique my interest, of course.

Researching Grand Union’s back-catalogue following that and its quiet emphasis on showing work by marginalised artists and an incredibly rich extended programme meant I was always planning a visit at some point – so it feels odd to now be working as part of the curatorial team. Odd but very exciting.

Since moving I’ve been really welcomed by the people working within the city. It’s reminiscent of home in terms of the conviviality, though there seems to be less emphasis on status here as there can be in some circles, yet there’s always the occasional male ego.


The Dead Teach the Living, Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow. Co-curated with Lucie Alexander, Shila Ghaisani, John McDougall, Sofie Fischer-Rasmussen, Vanessa Larsen and Lindsay Myles.
(Pictured: Work by Scott Rogers, Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Catherine Street)


You have recently been appointed Associate Curator at Grand Union, what are your hopes for the post? What are you most looking forward to?

I feel very grateful for the opportunity and excited for the years ahead within the capacity of this role. There’s a number of things about Grand Union which I think will benefit me greatly. Firstly, the speed at which a project develops. I’m somewhat of a slow burner when it comes to developing these projects and relationships and I think with social media, Instagram and the perception of speed at which some people work it often becomes a source of doubt.

I’m not really interested in short-form exchanges between artists and curators so this is a real opportunity to invest and nourish those relationships that are so central to developing towards something fully formed. Grand Union’s track record of commissions acting at an important intersection in an artist’s career is a reassurance that this long-form of curatorial dialogue is relevant and necessary.

Alongside this I’ll be working with the rest of the gallery’s amazing curatorial team – Gallery Director Cheryl Jones and Programme Director Kim McAleese. As Cheryl focuses more on the development of Grand Union as an organisation, Kim and I have a number of shared interests that are going to hopefully form an exciting and diverse programme over the next while.

The position also acts as a mentorship programme so I’m hoping to make connections with various established curators and practitioners across the UK to help to develop my own skillset and knowledge. I hadn’t realised just how ‘mid’ the Midlands were, so now I’m here I want to make the most of being so easily connected to the rest of the country.


Introductions, written with Tako Taal for Habits of the Co-Existent, Platform Arts Glasgow, The Newbridge Project Newcastle and Edinburgh College


Grand Union and other organisations located in Minerva Works such as Centrala and Vivid Projects have recently been awarded NPO status for the first time. What should we look forward to at Grand Union in the near future?

It’s been really exciting for Grand Union and Birmingham to have such a number of successes in the NPO funding round. For Grand Union I think it’ll help us to form a more robust action plan for organisation-wide development over the next few years across both the studios and the gallery and to think more about what developments in Digbeth and beyond might mean for our position in the city.

Our next show is the first solo exhibition in the UK by Susie Green, entitled Pleasure is a Weapon. The space is going to become home to drawing, painting and installation, animated by performance and sound throughout its life-cycle. Susie’s work is incredibly visually engaging, bright and enticing, but with a real depth of understanding and sensitivity to it. The extended programme is shaping up to be a really integral part of this – I’m particularly excited for a screening of Mano Destra (1986), a meditation on Lesbian fetishism and bondage.

Next year’s programme kicks off with Melanie Jackson, whose expansive research project is going to be taking over the gallery. Deeper in the Pyramid is going to be examining milk as a substance for probing social and political histories. Milk being something understood as “natural” but at the moment of consumption having gone through a process of homogenisation and modernisation.

This will be followed by a two-person show by artists Tako Taal and Rami George, based in Glasgow and Philadelphia respectively. I’ll be curating the show in dialogue with both the artists as they research their personal and cultural histories as a means of understanding their contemporary identities – whether  racial, queer or gendered. This is at the earliest stages right now but I’m very excited to bring these artists to Birmingham and help the project comes to fruition.


We catch up with Seán Elder, Grand Union’s new Associate Curator, to find out more about his background, research and future plans.