Superbia is Manchester Pride’s year-round programme of arts and culture that supports LGBTQ+ artists by promoting events through its events page and social media, funds LGBTQ+ events with Superbia Grants and by curating original events through collaboration with partners, venues, groups, curators, community members, artists and creatives.
Queer Contemporaries is a forthcoming Superbia-supported art show curated by Short Supply. It will be one of the first in-person art shows since COVID-19 disrupted ordinary life in the city. Co-Director of Short Supply Mollie Balshaw is based at Islington Mill in Salford, and is a Gallery Invigilator at AIR Gallery in Altrincham.Short Supply is an artist-led curatorial collective established for the purpose of generating creative opportunities and facilitating and curating collaborative events specifically for artists in the North West. Ahead of unveiling the show, Superbia spoke to Mollie about art, how they are coping in lockdown, and making brilliant art up North.
In August–September you will unveil a group show entitled Queer Contemporaries which Superbia is proud to support with one of our Superbia Grants. What’s the idea behind the show and what might audiences expect from their experience?
We identified quite a while ago the lack of queer representation in visual arts outside of London, particularly in the North, and that’s profoundly frustrating for us. The UK has a breadth of talented queer artists from a myriad of backgrounds, and we wanted to use our platform to show them off, basically.Like many queer artists, we have that mindset of “okay, if you don’t see our representation as a priority, we’ll show you exactly what you’re missing” and that’s very much the place the show came from.
Audiences can expect to be dazzled. We know they will see things you certainly do not and will not see every day. It’s a privilege to experience the unique voice of queer artists, to see their vision, be taken into their world, and to not necessarily be given all the answers. Something visual art does very well that many other creative mediums don’t always do, is to draw you in and keep you guessing.It’s often assumed that queer people have to give their time and energy to educate others on identity, gender, sex and queerness, and while many take pride in this education, it’s exhausting. To see someone’s art, maybe have the chance to have a conversation with them, experience something you might never have before, or see something from a perspective you hadn’t even comprehended before is education without words, in a way that art has the unique power to achieve.
There is very limited queer representation in the history of art, and a whole other debate surrounding negligence towards living artists. Ultimately, the show will hopefully meet that intersection between showing queer artists that their voices are being heard, and introducing audiences who maybe don’t consider themselves to be LGBTQIA+ to queer art in a way they may not have had the chance to experience fully before, encouraging them to observe, listen and spend time with queer art intimately to enrich their own understanding.
The exhibition is likely to be one of the first art shows in a long time that people are able to attend in person. What has curating the show been like through COVID lockdown and how have you been adapting?
It has certainly been a more difficult process trying to organise the show through lockdown, there’s so many things physical presence is crucial for that we are now realising more than ever. Curation in a physical space presents its own challenges, and curation in a digital space is still a largely unexplored terrain, at least in terms of mainstream culture.
For us, curation is about trying to think two steps ahead as well as thinking right there in that present moment where this piece of work is going to be placed. You have to anticipate the needs of the artist, the needs of this piece of work and consider its relation to the other artists and works in the room.You ideally want an exhibition to feel full of life, but not overcrowded. You want audiences to navigate the space in a way that means each piece gets its moment, to allow space for thought, conversation, admiration, confusion.
We usually visit a space way in advance of a show to get a sense of how many artists could reasonably be included, and curation begins right there in that moment before we even know the artists and pieces we’re working with. Now we’ve made the selection for the show, we’re anticipating any problems that might arise, plotting out a strategy, and the real action begins when we get into the gallery and start combining our knowledge from the planning stage with the more on the spot decisions. In that sense, we’re grateful to have had a lot of time to think about the show while being physically restricted from visiting the space, because it’s helped us to reconnect with the subject matter and remind ourselves of why we’re doing this and why it’s so important; which can be difficult when you’re on your hands and knees filling, sanding and covered in white paint.
The pressure is certainly on knowing this may be the first physical show a great deal of the visitors will be attending after almost half the year, but it’s motivating us to make it incredible for them and of course the artists who put all the real leg work in to make the art for us to show in the first place.
Tell us a little about the Short Supply project, where it came from and what your mission is?
Short Supply was established for the purpose of generating creative opportunities, and facilitating and curating collaborative events specifically to connect artists in the North West and the UK.We started the project in 2019 when we were in our final year of university, because we knew the structure of our degree coming to an end would mean we had to formulate a new strategy for making and maintaining our momentum in the art world. We both have individual art practices too, but running a project that allows us to collaborate, provide support and motivate ourselves and others has been just as beneficial for our personal art because it keeps our head in the game.
We’re given this impression while in university that it’s just the beginning, a springboard to the world outside, where anything is possible with hard work. For many art graduates though, university is the full story, because maintaining momentum in a career in the art world is extremely hard. In many respects, university is a fantasy world; you’re given top quality resources, have access to world class educators, an enthusiastic peer group 24/7, mentorship and support, and you’re given money so you can stay afloat while dedicating time to your craft, it’s amazing. But it’s not real.
We despise the narrative that the reason graduates fail is that they haven’t worked hard enough, when it’s so clear that the system meant to prepare them for life beyond the institution isn’t doing enough, and the system outside of education is practically non-existent. Really, you have to find your own way of navigating a world with no rules.Short Supply was our way of doing that; our attempt at keeping going, and helping others in a similar position to us to do the same. We’re immensely proud of how it’s continued to grow and cultivate a supportive network across the board. Running this artist-led initiative has almost become our own professional development programme, we have learned so much in such a short space of time that university could have never taught us, and we think that there’s a future in the mind set that there is a life after university, if you persevere and stay true to your vision and what you think you’re capable of. It’s in all of us.
As a curator in Manchester, what does the city do well and what do you think we need more of?
We feel so at home here. The community spirit and willingness to support emerging artists is so admirable, and we think that has a lot to do with the warmth of the North as well. We mean it when we say we wouldn’t want to be based anywhere else.
Manchester’s art scene has flaws like any other city, but there is a community for everyone, and we think that’s what makes the difference. For example, the Queer Artist Talking Circle has been an invaluable source of opportunity and connection for us, we’ve met so many great people and it feels so good to be welcomed into a community that shares similar interests and passion, but that also allows you to keep learning.We think the future of art in the city needs to be more like this; shared experience, shared learning and not treating peers as competitors. We all have a unique story and skills, and if we’re going to change people’s minds about the value of art in general and create a better art world that we all have a chance to succeed in, we need to be promoting living artists of all backgrounds, archiving their work and getting their vision out to the general public.
We have to unify against the tired practices that are making succeeding in this industry so difficult; but this would mean organisations who benefit from it would need to give up some of their control.Ultimately we can’t fix these larger problems alone, and that’s why working on projects like Queer Contemporaries which places significance on the filling the gaps in the city and trying to cultivate a better and more inclusive community is so important to us.
What advice would you offer for the LGBTQ community to stay well and thrive while we are apart?
It’s not as if queer people aren’t used to quote on quote “trying times” – things have always been exponentially harder for us, and through that we’ve found ways of innovating and adapting to new circumstances and coming out the other side. Nevertheless, we think that it’s really important to not socially isolate yourself; find your people and ask for help if you need it! There are lots of charities, organisations, helplines and platforms that recognise the difficulty of the circumstances facing us and who want to support you.On a more personal level, even just one short conversation a day with someone you care about can make the world of difference, and you could make the world of difference for someone close to you by just checking up on them too. It doesn’t have to be a lot; a quick text to let them know you’re thinking about them and you’re there if they need it could be the difference between a good or bad day. If we all show empathy for each other, and try to promote understanding and positivity, you just can’t go wrong with that can you?
In terms of staying connected as artists, social media is probably both a blessing and a curse. Don’t get bogged down worrying about productivity. Being an artist isn’t a race; do things at your own speed. Trying to stay motivated is helpful, and it’s good to remind yourself of your goals and aspirations, but keep that on a personal level and don’t use it as a reason to beat yourself up if you aren’t quite there yet.When the world’s going tits up it is hard to keep focused on long term goals, so maybe set yourself short term ones that put your well-being first. We know that’s been helpful for us. Your art life isn’t going anywhere, give yourself a break if you need it. ........................ Queer Contemporaries Venue: Air Gallery MCR Date: From Friday 28th August More Info ............... Manchester’s Finest is collaborating with Superbia on this new series, Superbia Spotlights, shining a light on some of the incredible Superbia-supported arts and culture talent across Greater Manchester. Superbia is inviting artists to submit proposals for three new commissions. Each commission includes a fee of £200, technical support and advice to help produce your work, and a wide audience across our Superbia and Manchester Pride platforms, and will be featured as a Superbia Spotlight right here on Manchester’s Finest. The commission fees are made possible with generous public funding from Arts Council England. To find out more visit Superbia.