Heather now works at Nottingham’s Dance4, is a studio holder at Leicester’s contemporary Two Queens Gallery and is in residency at Phoenix Interact Labs with a performance/ installation piece in the pipeline.
Seed Creative Network interviewed Heather Forknell to ask more about how she juggles being an artist, producer and curator and how she has come to gain success.
MF: Graduating with a Degree in Fine Art, how did you come to curating performance art?
HF: During my studies I had researched into performance art, but I had never really practiced it until my second year of university. In my second year I dabbled in some photography and video work that explored the idea of live art behind the camera – and this developed onto staging elaborate, cinematic photographs that I showcased for my degree show.
After the completion of my degree, I began networking, and by happy accident I became friends
with a group of talented performers – comedians, dancers, devised theatre practitioners and live artists. We collaborated on several projects together, myself always acting as the documenter and facilitator more often than the actual artist.
Through several opportunities like curating through The Attic Art Collective (disbanded in 2013), being the Art Curator for Handmade Festival and a great residency with EC Arts in an amazing space – I was given the opportunity to curate and produce not only some amazing art and installation, but also performance art; and that’s when I discovered I had a real passion and talent for it.
MF: You are an artist, curator and producer – what do you consider your main job and how do these integrate with one another?
HF: Such a great question! I currently work at Dance4 as an Assistant Producer. Dance4 is an internationally recognised, experimental dance organisation who support international and UK artists who are interested in taking risk through the development of 21st century dance. So, I am lucky enough to be able to work as a producer full time and I have had the pleasure of working with the most amazing artists and professionals, it’s a real joy being able to make someone’s work a reality and it really drives me everyday.
However, working full-time as a producer doesn’t stop me from being a creative in my spare time. I am currently a resident artist at The Interactive Labs based at The Phoenix, Leicester where I am working towards creating an installation performance piece that incorporates how digital technology can become tactile through the use of textiles. It’s given me the opportunity to learn from and collaborate with others and create something out of my comfort zone – which is really exciting.
I have some curatorial projects lined up in the future which is all a little hush-hush, but I have recently completed a successful exhibition in partnership with Leicester City Council titled From The 12th Floor at LCB Depot, Leicester. It was a real pleasure working with local artists and the City Council who were the most encouraging and supportive of people.
Image © Heather Forknell
Of course skills that I learn from producing and curating influence my decisions when making art and vice versa. It’s taken a while to master how to balance all these things, and I am still learning everyday, but it’s amazing looking back and seeing what I’ve accomplished since graduating and all the things I have lined up in the future.
MF: What interests you about performance art?
HF: It’s always changing; mainly I am fascinated with the role of the audience and how you can curate the audience when creating a performance piece. But presently I am really fascinated with space and the concepts of phenomenology in regards to architecture. Architecture and the environment have always been an underlying theme in my work, but it’s been great to explore it in more depth with my current practice.
MF: Is space and site important in the curatorial process of performance?
HF: Where the performance takes place is an integral part of how the audience reads that piece of work, and I’m really interested in exploring the ideas of that and how architecture can recall memory that can affect the present moment. It is the atmosphere created by architecture and the familiarity with a site that allows certain spaces to embody very different properties, and this is always going to be important when you’re taking a performance into a space.
MF: Is the live performance or the recording the final product of the artwork?
HF: For a long time I’ve always worked with documentation via lens based media – whether that’s for my own artwork or others. It’s only been recently that I’ve become more focused on an actual live performance event. There is only so far you can engage with a photograph or video – the audience is always going to be guessing at the bigger picture; with a live event it’s very open and mostly what you see is what you get.
Having worked with live performance artists for almost two years now, this seems to be the route I’m travelling naturally towards with my own art practice and that’s very thrilling as a maker. It’s nice to work with artists and professionals who have been doing this a lot longer than I have and seeing how they approach making work, it’s really influenced my own method of creating in a positive way.
MF: Do you have any advice for graduating artists who want to move into curating?
HF: I think it’s really important to get involved in artist-led projects. I wouldn’t have been able to explore curating without being a part of an art collective – which we founded during the second year of my degree. I really encourage art students to go for the DIY method. If you want something to happen, it’s always better if you do it yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and remember you’ll make mistakes, learn more and meet people who are just like you; and I think that’s always going to be the best way – especially in our current economical climate.
Being a studio holder at Two Queens Gallery, Leicester has also enabled me to network and be a part of some great opportunities. It’s wonderful to be surrounded by this network of artists who are working towards bringing some amazing things to Leicester. I really urge artists to rent a studio or become a gallery member. I think after you graduate you can become really isolated as an artist, it’s important to network and build those bridges with artistic communities; get yourself out there, both online and in person! Sign up to newsletters, check website opportunities and go to opening night events whenever possible. The arts community is always willing to share information, and that’s the best part about it. Be open to that and embrace learning.
My final advice is to always be persistent, don’t let a no get you down – ask for feedback and roll with the punches, it will make you more knowledgeable and stronger in the long run.
Article written by Mel Fletcher
Text by Mel Fletcher 2014
Article commissioned by Seed Creative Network 2014
Images © Heather Forknell
Sioned Huws Aomori Aomori at Newton and Arkwright Building
Image © Heather Forknell
Heather Forknell and Lewys Holt’s City Speaks at The Salon, Leicester, UK
Image © Heather Forknell
Gabi Reuter and Mattef Kuhlmey at Backlit Gallery
Image © Heather Forknell
Artist, Curator, Producer
Heather Forknell is a contemporary artist and graduate of De Montfort University now working in Leicester and Nottingham, UK on curatorial projects in performance art.
She has curated Leicester’s Handmade Festival, curated an art project alongside Leicester City Council, produced both national and international performance work at venues such as Nottingham Contemporary, Backlit Gallery and The Guild Hall and has been successful in being awarded the Embrace Arts Award for her artistic practice.
Words by Mel Fletcher