Uncertain States is a London artist-led project created by David George, Spencer Rowell and Fiona Yaron-Field that publishes a free quarterly newspaper showing lens-based-art, hold talks that focus on photography and curate exhibition to showcase the contributors’ work.
Their shared purpose is to support the creative process, both of others and themselves, to offer a platform of exposure for work to a wider audience and to be part of the ongoing dialogue of what photography is today, what motivates them to create and ask how photography communicates. We spoke about it with Fiona Yaron-Field.
FM_How did the idea of the collective Uncertain States come about? Who is the audience for this project?
FYF_David George, Spencer Rowell and myself set up Uncertain States in 2009 after completing their MA studies at The Cass Art School. We felt there was a need to create a format where artist like us, artist outside the mainstream could show work to the public and also have a platform to share and support each others artistic practice. We were attracted to work that takes more time to consider and when Spencer brought in the idea of the paper it just seemed to fit. We began to publish our own work and the work of our immediate circle of colleagues. We recognised that around us were talented lens based artists who for one reason or another weren’t getting seen. The initial enthusiasm for the broadsheet encouraged us to develop the concept of Uncertain States and this has organically grown over time. We’d like to think anyone could be our audience. That’s why we’ve kept the paper free. By making it free at the point of delivery it can be picked up by any one with any sort of interest in the arts opening a more diverse and democratic new readership. Our choice of present distribution points also reflect this idea, tending to be art rather than photography galleries. It also underpins our determination to become less “London –centric” by distributing the newspaper on a nationwide basis via regional art galleries allowing a much wider engagement with a much more varied regional audience in return offering a wider range of photographers and contributors a platform for their work.
FM_How do you see this project developing in the future?
FYF _We develop in relation to our experiences, there isn’t a plan. Its a process. So although there are ideas floating about, like publishing artists books or developing out print sales, what we enjoy is the organic nature of the project. We like to respond to suggestions brought to us and interesting tangents. As long as we are developing and providing opportunities to show work.
FM_What is the role of Uncertain States within the contemporary scene of London and what is it placed in?
FYF_Although formed and based in London we try not to think of ourselves as “London-centric. We distribute the paper nationally, and our website is specifically for people to access who are not based in London nor near our distributing galleries. We hope the use modern technologies to distribute our ideas as far and wide as possible. We have been talking about an app that allows pdf’s of the broadsheet to be downloaded anywhere in the world. Therefore, you could describe us as an outreach department of the contemporary art scene in London today.
I don’t know what taking a role means, we are not consciously positioning ourselves anywhere. We are simply artists who are passionate about art photograph and about the ideas related to it. I would hope we are open and accessible and people can feel they can get involved but we are not inclusive, we are aiming to show British artists (by British I mean artist living in the UK) and work is selected.
FM_How does your interaction with an photographer/artist evolve from your initial encounter with their work (or the online submission) and then to the realization of the exhibition and/or publication in the magazine?
FYF_An artist will submit to the paper through our website or through word of mouth. The editorial team meet to consider all the submissions for the paper. Our consideration sometimes depends on the other contributes to the issue and how the work works together. How the work is contextualised is also important to us. Once they have been published they will be invited to participate in our annual exhibition. As we have so many contributors and only limited gallery space this is also a selection process but we do try to have both established and emerging artist involved and want to prioritise artist who have been in the paper in the last year. We also offer artist opportunities to talk about heir work. For most this might be the first time, and its great practise for them to start in a warm and informal setting.
FM_With the rise of online based open calls, art hosting platforms, and artists’ websites do you feel that physical gallery spaces and museums roles are changing?
FYF_We feel there is nothing like seeing the real artefact. Nothing replaces the experience of seeing the work and sharing that with other people. Obviously it is also great that artists can get their work seen by so many people worldwide through open call, art hosting platforms. I feel there is a place for both and the experience of each one is very different. I sense that galleries and museums are working harder to get an audience and so they are becoming more open, inclusive and full of brilliant events.
FM_Do you think that online sales platforms add value to artists work or does it run the risk to devalue it?
FYF_There is a proliferation of images, which can be overwhelming and it maybe harder for work that is slower, more considered and less sensational work to get noticed because we are now so used to flicking through and looking so quickly it has to grab us, if at all. I suppose Uncertain States is also a reaction to this. We are a bit old school. The broadsheet, the talks, the exhibitions. We like the idea of the physicality, something you can touch and sense. Having said that we have just launched an online print sales with Four Corners. We could never have opened a physical gallery, both due to lack of money and time. So its also an opportunity for groups like us who have no backing and reject advertising to open up another avenue for exposure and hopefully revenue for the artists. We hope it doesn’t devalue work, what we hope is it will open up an opportunity for a new group of people to start collecting, ones that may not have felt they had the means to invest in art before but have now discovered that they can enter it . This may then give them the confidence to go on and invest at another level.
FM_What do you think are some exciting ways in which current and future technologies will influence contemporary art? (e.g example: curatorially, art sales, and arts education?)
FYF_If we knew that, we’d be millionaires. However, digital technologies are feeding into art photography in a very direct way. In the 19th century, with photography taking over the day to day work of recording, that had up till then been one of the mainstays of painting. Painting was then allowed to develop into the many genres we know today- impressionism, cubism, surrealism abstract etc. Digital photography has now, with its ubiquity, taken over the recording task once assigned to photography, allowing photography to develop in ways unimagined a decade ago, the same way painting did with the advent of photography 200 years ago. This is what we are finding exciting about photography at this moment in time.
Francesca Marcaccio Hitzeman
This post is also available in: Italian