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“centering practice”

Jonathan P. Watts

This photograph, taken in midsummer 1997 by the then assistant curator Kirsty Ogg, shows the Norwich Gallery’s streetside location in the purpose-built historic Norwich School of Design Gunton Building. Visitors to the opening view of the sixth EASTinternational spill out onto the pavement, drinking beer, reclining on cars and chatting with exhibiting artists.

Lynda Morris was the Curator of Norwich Gallery from 1980–2007 and founded EASTinternational in 1991. Operating until 2009, EASTinternational was an annual open-submission exhibition selected by two guests – artists, critics or gallerists – that took place each summer in the Norwich Gallery and in the art school studios and hallways after the degree shows had finished.

When EAST was founded, Morris intended it as a networked model that could be replicated in art schools across the UK: EAST, NORTH, SOUTH and WEST open exhibitions. A central exhibition in London bringing these shows together, would, Morris writes in the 1991 EAST catalogue, ‘really be a British Art Show’ (the British Art Show opened in Glasgow the previous year, part of the city’s European Capital of Culture programme, with no Scottish artists). Glasgow School of Art and Kent Institute of Art & Design were confirmed as hosts for NORTH and SOUTH, alongside West Glamorgan Institute of Art and Design and Liverpool Polytechnic in the WEST. There was one SOUTH in 1992 at the Herbert Read Gallery in Kent; when the curator didn’t show up for the install, the co-selector Helen Chadwick rolled her sleeves up and got to work installing the show.

The choice of selectors for EASTinternational was an expression of Morris’s social and professional networks. The selectors, in turn, utilised their social and professional networks. Centring practice, an artist was invited first, who then invited someone of their choice: so, in 1992, Chadwick invited Marjorie Allthorpe-Guyton; in 1996, Carl Andre invited Richard Long (Andre, however, had a debilitating eye condition, so Long invited Roger Ackling to step in); in 2000, Keith Piper invited Sebastian Lopez; and in 2006, Jeremy Deller invited Dirk Snauwaert. Gustav Metzger was the only solo selector in 2005 (and requested two fees).

Except for the stipulation of application by slides, there were no rules for submission to EAST: no restrictions on age, location, medium or subject matter. Each year approximately 25–35 artists were selected from thousands of slides submitted by international applicants, largely from England, Scotland, North America, Canada and Japan, with a particularly rich and diverse representation from the Netherlands and Germany. While the selectors chose the artists, it was Morris, in conversation with the selectors and drawing on her intimate knowledge of the art school spaces, who placed the work.

Around 550 artists exhibited during EAST’s 19-year history. It was an integral event in the now largely lost calendar of UK regional open and prize exhibitions, including BT New Contemporaries, Beck’s Futures, John Moores Painting Prize, Mostyn Open, and Kettle’s Yard Open. EAST gave many graduates their first exhibitions, but because there was no age limit on application (unlike, say, Beck’s Futures) established artists showed too.

To the left of Ogg’s photograph is Liesbeth Bik and Jos Van Der Pol’s work for the 1997 exhibition, titled Proposition for Reclaiming a Space. A façade of the 1967 entrance to the curator-dealer Konrad Fischer’s Neubrückstrasse Gallery in Düsseldorf – one of the most significant sites for the development of conceptual art in Europe – is overlayed on the entrance to Norwich Gallery. Inside, out of shot, is a handout of a 1971 interview Fischer gave to Georg Jappe in Studio International. Fischer, a colleague of Morris’s who selected EAST in 1993, outlines his interest in working with artists, not art works; the progressiveness of European conceptual art; and the necessity of bringing artists from Europe and New York to Düsseldorf to realise works on site.[1]

Intergenerational and international, EAST was a rebuttal to the neophile impulses of the gallery-, state- and museum-sponsored jingoist orthodoxy of the YBAs (Young British Artists). In EAST established artists legitimised emerging artists. The Royal College of Art’s Visual Arts Administration course, later renamed Curating Contemporary Art, sent work experience students every year from 1995–2009. Critics in residence joined from Kent Institute of Art & Design. Student technicians worked directly with artists. It resulted not in an unhinged contemporary but in a contemporary rooted in heterogeneity and histories of practice: in this way, EAST challenged the growing standardisaton of contemporary art and curation as it developed at the end of the 1990s.

March 2024

[1] Five years after Proposition for Reclaiming a Space was presented at EASTinternational 1997, the artist Stuart Taylor’s work for the 2002 edition, selected by Lawrence Weiner and Jack Wendler, was an intervention in the catalogue that re-presented three earlier works: Matthew Higgs’ Running Man installation of 1994; Andrew Grassie’s painting of an art school gallery being prepared for an exhibition (2001); and Proposition for Reclaiming a Space. Taylor’s gesture enacts memory.