Comparing Bubbles – a chat with Nina Pope

Posted 1 October 2013 in News

It became apparent during our conversation with Nina Pope that keeping a balance between self-directed projects and working to an invited or open commission, has been a long-term struggle for many artists, and will continue to be so. We’re not alone.

Nina is an artist/filmaker, who runs a collaborative practice Somewhere with Karen Guthrie. We’re talking about how Somewhere operates, and it’s one of several discussions we’re holding with artists over the coming months to help review our own setup. These will all be artists that are further along their respective career paths, and each has a wealth of individual experience, which we’d like to learn from.

It turns out that Somewhere themselves conducted a similar ‘review’ a few years ago, and like us, they take on site-responsive projects and don’t have a studio-based practice (though this is something we’re beginning to establish). So we had a good discussion about: learning how to say no to offers because it’s not truly what you want to do; different ways of negotiating collaboration, managing the creative and admin workload; balancing family commitments with work ambitions; the importance of networking (we could all do more); the pros and cons of taking on interns, and how important it is to get the right person if you’re working with project managers, producers, techies, etc. She thinks it’s a beneficial process of learning and trying out new things, some of which stick, others morph or are dropped, and can help you extend beyond a feeling of complacency in your bubble.

We spoke of an ideal that we envisage for ourselves, where we’d have a producer who was an integral part of the creative process, who’d establish a lot of the groundwork for us to build on later – something we’ve seen with Tino Seghal. Nina wasn’t sure about this dynamic because as the artist you lose out not having a face-to-face experience through the lifetime of a project. Indeed she spoke of her joy of maintaining a connection with participants “The Fans” through twitter and blogs. Taking an audience of regular people with you – not curators or other arbiters of taste – is to her an important part of the legacy of a project.

Nina houses Somewhere’s admin and archive at her London studio, whilst Karen lives elsewhere, with her laptop as her studio and she visits London regularly. They team up for research visits, residencies, get face-to-face as often as they can, but often deal with things over the phone. They have no fixed weekly work meeting, trying one out didn’t feel right. Theirs is a close-knit practice, not suited to doing short, small projects. They are currently programming The Floating Cinema, but the main focus of their practice is a love of making films – there’s a super description of their Bata-ville project in an article here – and these can take years to come into fruition or just be shelved.

What’s interesting about Bata-ville is that it developed from an invitation to do a £5k public art project for the Council, when Somewhere said they’d help fundraise to make something bigger! Nina says they’ve had bespoke funding approaches for their three films so far, often writing dozens of funding applications in order to get the ones that are successful. Different funding bodies have different distribution expectations, and distribution of films can be pretty frustrating. “If you don’t crack the fixed circuit, then your film is not going to be shown”, she says.

We left with a feeling of uncanny kinship, not only did we discover we live a few streets away from each other, but we’ve arrived at some similar solutions to situations with our practice and how to keep a healthy perspective on what it is that we do. It’s a coincidence, but Nina, like Rebecca, is part of a long-running [but different] all-woman artists group that meets monthly to have a good ‘moan’ about the state of things.