Various sites in the UK, Europe and North America

Aug 2007 → Oct 2009

Centrifuge was a professional development project for twenty early career artists and curators based in the north of England. It attempted to reorganise the hierarchy implicit within professional development projects, to build a cross regional working group that is bound together through ideas generation rather than simply an interest in others’ work, and to give the group creative control over the project’s budget.

Centrifuge began with a group visit to Documenta 12, where the participants – who were selected from an open call – first met, and where they were introduced to Dirk Fleischmann and Imogen Stidworthy, who would act as mentors. They spent three days viewing the exhibition before convening on the fourth day in Documenta Halle, where they discussed how they would like to proceed through the project.  A portion of the budget had been partitioned for the group’s control, and the only stipulations would be those that the group set themselves. This first session drew out the participants’ desires, what they wanted to learn or understand through the process, and demanded that they identify a suitable vehicle though which to achieve their goals. The vehicle decided upon was an art prize.

Back in the UK over the following months, the group attempted to make their ambitions manifest. Adopting an art prize model proved particularly fraught, as the majority harboured (and continued to harbour throughout the process) not only doubts, but outright political opposition to art prizes in general. We persisted, as it was considered that such internal wrangling would make the process more interesting because the decisions the group made could not simply be pragmatic, but would require them to question their decision making every step of the way. The first new model that the group arrived at, and began to act upon, was soon discovered to be almost identical to existing art prizes despite the oppositional rhetoric that spun around it, so after six months we began the process again.

The final model was simple. Using the knowledge and discussions they’d generated over the first six months, the group began carrying out the prize process with no map or model at all. They contacted artists (or others) whose work was important to them, telling them that they had been nominated for a prize and asking whether they could meet to discuss what that might mean. And so a number of individual journeys across Europe and North America began. After meeting with their nominees the group reconvened to discuss how to proceed with the new ideas that had been generated. It proved impossible to drop the language of art prizes, such as judging, nominating, winning etc within the process, as many of the ideas for progress centred around a critique of prizes, but the group chose to put money towards some projects that represented an interesting analysis of their predicament. These projects were documented in a book, Art Prize, which was published in 2009 in a run of 500 and shared out between the participants to distribute how they please.

There remained debate amongst the participants as to whether the process should be considered a prize at all, rather that the prize was a framework in which to think and to generate ideas. Without the framework, the “winning” projects would not be as they are, but the irreconcilable problems many had with what was often described as the “judging process” made latter meetings fraught and there remained a distinct unease and confusion about whether participants had made themselves complicit within an establishment trope that they fundamentally disagreed with.

The participants who completed the project were Alice Bradshaw, Chris Clarke, Matthew Cowan, Katie Davis, Kate Day, Rosie Farrell, Evi Grigoropoulou, Laura Harrington, Rebecca Lennon, Tim Machin, Pete McPartlan, Daniel Simpkins, Ruth Todhunter, Tom Watson and Penny Whitehead.

Centrifuge was commissioned and funded by Manchester Metropolitan University and Northern Edge.