Sarah Perks – Cornerhouse

sarah perks cornerhouse

Pushing the boundaries of visual art and film. We sat down with Sarah Perks from Cornerhouse.

Cornerhouse in Manchester is one of the UK’s foremost facilities for visual art. Established in 1985 they have gained an international reputation for film and visual art; featuring a cinema, bar, café, bookshop, and art gallery. They will move to a new purpose-built space including two theatres in late 2014 called HOME.

The facilities at Cornerhouse provide a challenging forum for visitors to find natural overlaps across multiple art forms.

Working with a rota of artists who consistently push the boundaries of how we approach visual art and film Cornerhouse has created a programme of events that’s worth noticing.

2011 saw the launch of a new project, Cornerhouse Artist Film, dedicated to the production and distribution of visual artist’s feature length films like Gillian Wearing’s Self Made and Andrew Kötting’s Swandown. Sarah Perks, Programme & Engagement Director is in charge of this programme, and she sat down with us to discuss Cornerhouse and what’s next on their agenda.

sarah perks cornerhouse

What’s your Favourite film?

I can’t do it. There’s too many. I used to try to narrow it down to five, then I think about films I haven’t seen and one of them might be my favourite. I studied film history, so there are some classics, like Some Like it Hot or Chungking Express by Wong Kar-Wai that I could watch repeatedly. And Labyrinth with David Bowie, I would watch that over and over again.

Working with film for so long, do you have a favourite cinema?

They aren’t exciting – cinemas, but I always love being at the Berlin Film Festival. It’s just a multiplex, but I’m always excited about being in that cinema. I like some of the large ones, and then they have Q & A’s with the directors.

Favourite artist?

I have lots and now many are my friends! Like Phil Collins was always one of my favourite artists, now he’s a good friend yet I am honestly a really, really big fan of his work too! It gets too difficult to pick one as it changes too often!

Favourite Colour?

I don’t even have a favourite colour to wear. I don’t know….blue.

I would like a new colour. Try and think of a new colour, obviously impossible, but a good challenge.

sarah perks cornerhouse

How long have you worked at Cornerhouse?

I’ve worked at Cornerhouse for over 10 years, I’ve been doing this job which is programme and engagement director for about 5 years. I started the new trajectory that included artists like Artur Zmijewski.

I oversee all the programmes, not just visual art and film. We have creative industries, young people and community work, I direct all of them, but I am working principally on the major exhibitions and film seasons and festivals. I have what people see as the very unreal position of working with artists and filmmakers and going to a lot of biennales, film festivals, and various events.

Sounds like a dream job, can you explain your approach to work at Cornerhouse?

I like to work in a very open and collaborative way. I have a lot of long term collaborators that I work with. Some more official than others! I have two visiting curators. One is Henriette Huldisch she is based in Berlin, and Michael Connor who is based in New York. I have a lot of other associate curators across visual art and film around the world.

sarah perks cornerhousesarah perks cornerhouse

Can you tell us a bit about how you present visual art at Cornerhouse?

At Cornerhouse we are involved with artists that we call UK solo breakthrough artists. They could be artists from anywhere in the world, but this is their first big UK solo show in a public institution of our size.  Stanya Kahn  fell into that category.

The second category is mid-career artists doing something new in their practice, David Shrigley and Rosa Barba, whose work is currently on display. Rosa is known for her 16mm film installations but this is her first time exploring feature length 35mm film. Which she has never done before, so it’s really pushing her.

The last major sector we work on is group exhibitions. We have followed a line of enquiry around socio-political concerns for the last few years.

In 2009 I curated an exhibition called Contemporary Art Iraq with artists living and working in the country and I went there for research.  This was followed by two more exhibitions with guest curators exploring the region New Cartographies and Subversion.

This series comes to climax with Anguish and Enthusiasm, which opens in April. Anguish and Enthusiasm is an exhibition that is all about post-revolutionary societies. It takes different instances of historical and geographical significance, its not necessarily concerned with nations or a specific region of the world.

sarah perks cornerhouse

Rosa Barba Subject to Constant Change, and FOUR are on at Cornerhouse right now. Tell us a little about these shows, and how they differ from past exhibitions at Cornerhouse.

Rosa Barba’s show includes the installation version of our new commission Subconscious Society that will become a feature length film and performance event. Subject to Constant Change also includes existing works by Rosa like Coro Spezzato: The Future lasts one day from Venice Biennial 2009. It’s also an exhibition in two halves, with the other part currently at Turner Contemporary in Margate. FOUR is really special as it’s curated by 3 of our young people (17-18 years) who commissioned four new pieces of work from an international call out that attracted over 650 proposals.

What’s next for Cornerhouse?

We’ve started a new line of enquiry, moving away from the socio-political dynamic that we’ve been working with for the past five years.

Over the course of the next couple of years we are taking Classic Film narratives and, I hate this word but it’s probably the best word to describe what we’re doing, deconstruct them and re-present them as contemporary art exhibitions. You won’t be seeing any posters or costumes or anything like that, this project is about work that relates to the themes and ideas in the films.

The first one, which starts this year, is Double Indemnity curated by Michael Connor. We’re looking at sexual politics, particularly how women in the contemporary art world will use and abuse, if you like, that power. We’ll also explore other themes like, relationships, fidelity and trust. There will be new commissions and recent work by artists like Sophie Calle, Jenny Holzer, Emily Jacir, Jill Magid, Laurel Nakadate, Christodoulos Panayiotou, Frances Stark, Jemima Stehli, Hito Steyerl, Sharif Waked and Anicka Yi.

sarah perks cornerhouse

What are you listening to?

Frank Ocean, with a bit of Kendrick Lamar. I’m a real horrible chart pop person who listens to whatever’s out. People are always commenting on my Spotify being a bit lame and poppy. My favourite album of the year was sadly the Guardian album of the year as well, but it was definitely Channel Orange…. I think he’s a bit of a genius Frank Ocean.

Photograph by Ben Page.
Rosa Barba, Coro Spezzato: The Future Lasts One Day, 2009, Installation view at Cornerhouse, Manchester, Photo credit: We Are Tape, © and courtesy the Artist.
Pocas Pascoal, Il y a quelqu’un qui t’aime, 2003, Film still, © Ex Nihilo, Integrada, VOI Sénart, France 2003, Courtesy the Artist.
Jun Yang, Paris Syndrome, 2007-8,16:9, 10 min, © the Artist.
Installation View. FOUR (26 January – 24 February 2013). Cornerhouse, Manchester. Photo credit We Are Tape
Rosa Barba, Subconscious Society, 2013, Film still, Installation view, Photo credit: We Are Tape, © and courtesy the Artist.

-Megan Conery

Visit Cornerhouse.

FOUR is on display 26 January – 24 February 2013.

Rosa Barba: Subject to Constant Change is on display at Cornerhouse from 26 January – 24 March 2013.

Anguish and Enthusiasm: What do You Do With Your Revolution Once You’ve Got it? is on display at Cornerhouse 13 April – 18 August 2013.