Olivia Plender website

Having worked with Olivia Plender on a book about a whole body of work, titled Rise Early, Be Industrious (2016), I am delighted to be working with her again. This time we’re thinking through what it may mean to build a website for a practice as diverse, but at the same time very consistent, as hers. We’ll be working with designers APFEL, thus bringing other people I’ve had the pleasure of engaging with in the past in another configuration. Currently we’re considering structures, access and how to work with projects that are less visual, and where conversation and collaboration are what ‘happens’. We’re also thinking about how to build an index that in and of itself is an embodiment of how Olivia works as an artist with a research-based approach – where everything is connected to longer arcs of interest that alternatively converge and diverge – and the inclusion of a variety of mediums, without medium becoming a focus in itself.

For a recent conversation with Olivia, you can listen to this podcast, titled Learning to Speak Sense (2016), in which which she talks about ‘productivity and care, about suffragettes and museums, and about adolescence and schools. She looks at groups without charismatic leaders, embodied education, and the possibility of transforming errors in honest discussions. And she tells us about women gaining authority through voice training – the material aspect of speech –, and about how, sometimes unconsciously, we adopt a voice for which we feel socially rewarded’. This quote (from Radio MACBA) gives a flavour of the breadth of her practice, and the challenge of documenting and gathering its diversity. Idioritmies_Olivia_Plender_Terre_Thaemlitz_Laurence_Rassel_04_05.1

Olivia Plender, Learning to Speak Sense, sound piece with hand painted instructions, installation view, Ar/Ge Kunst, Bolzano (2015)


Launch Rise Early, Be Industrious

I’d clocked it, vaguely, before I went on holiday early August, but it was fully confirmed upon my return several weeks later: Olivia Plender’s will be the next show at Maureen Paley. Maureen’s was one of the first galleries I started to follow and visit frequently after my move to London exactly 20 years ago, so it’s a nice coincidence to see Olivia in this gallery, rather than any other. The opening of the show is also the occasion for the launch of Rise Early, Be Industrious. Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 12.03.32.png

Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 12.03.12.png

Olivia Plender – Rise Early, Be Industrious

0bb2390d-03f9-40b0-b75c-5bc389d310ecOff to print this week is also the book I’ve been working on with artist Olivia Plender and designer Nuno Luz: Rise Early, Be Industrious.

Although it relates to exhibitions at three UK institutions and the texts commissioned (before I became involved) talk about artworks in them, in the process of looking at the material available in relation to the work involved, and two residencies Olivia did in Banff, Canada, over time a structure emerged for the book that makes it deviate from traditional catalogues.

Each work, or body of work is approached as an image section, where the sequence is often derived from different manifestations and iterations in the different shows, which allows for a sense of moving through the often large-scale installations that are entire environments. Through them Olivia explores how official historical narratives are constructed, and the hierarchies behind the ‘voice of authority’ that is traditionally produced by educational institutions in the public sphere, such as the museum, the academy and the media. So rather than representing the work as it was to be seen in one show, we have ended in some cases up with a mixture of images from different shows, and sometimes not related to the three institutions involved here at all, allowing for a comprehensive visual representation of the work.

The image sections sit between the texts by Tirdad Zolghadr, Maeve Connolly and Lars Bang Larsen. While all three authors touch upon the work in the image sections, and there are areas of overlap in what they describe and pick out, they do it from distinctly different angles, to some extent conceptually circling around the work, and the issues explored within them. There is also a conversation between Olivia and several people involved with the Art and Environment course at The Open University, which launched in 1972, and environmental artist David Harding. In addition Olivia has added her own personal reflections in relation to some works – both through descriptive text, and further contemplation and contextualisation – and an intrinsic Index, which can almost be considered a work in its own right, as it really draws out her personal research and concerns.

The process of actually being allowed to take time, and have many conversations via skype (which more often than not would last 2 hours) between Olivia in Stockholm, Nuno in Paris, Berlin or Lisbon, and myself in London, with the odd meeting of all three of us in London, made it a very collaborative one, in which we all contributed from our own angle – as artist, designer and editor.

Keynes & WifeIn the index there is also an image of the economist and founder of the Arts Council, John Maynard Keynes, who lived in one of the houses that now constitute the School of Art of Birkbeck, University of London. The Keynes library is literally a couple of doors down the corridor from my office. It shows him in an unexpected pose with his wife, a Russian ballerina. I had come across the wonderful image not long before I started working with Olivia and Nuno, and when there was reference to him, I jumped at the opportunity to smuggle it into the book.

Published by Arnolfini, Bristol; Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow; MK Gallery, Milton Keynes; and Walter Philips Gallery at The Banff Centre, in collaboration with Sternberg Press, Berlin


Olivia Plender book


I have been invited to work with Olivia Plender on a book that brings together newly commissioned texts, edited conversations, existing texts and excerpts, as well as her own reflections and comments on her wide-ranging practice and previously published writings by her and about her work by others.

The book follows the exhibition ‘Olivia Plender: Rise Early, Be Industrious’, which had three iterations in the UK in 2012/2013: at MK Gallery in Milton Keynes, the Arnolfini in Bristol, and the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow. A fourth exhibition – ‘Society is a Workshop’ at The Banff Centre (2013) – provides an additional point of reference.

Plender’s research-based practice focuses on educational models, including games, world fairs, television and the Internet, exploring how attitudes towards education have evolved over time. She also questions how official historical narratives are constructed, looking at the hierarchies behind the ‘voice of authority’ that is traditionally produced by educational institutions within the public sphere, such as the museum, the academy, the national library and the media.

Contributors to the book include Lars Bang Larsen, Tirdad Zolghadr and Maeve Connelly.

Due early 2016.