This October, Bonkers Contemporary will present its second exhibition in Edinburgh, we asked founder and exhibition curator Freddie Thomas about Bonkers, where it began and what’s next.
When, why and where did Bonkers contemporary begin?
Bonkers began because we could see a need for it, especially in Edinburgh, the art scene here is quite small. Having left art college in 2015, it felt quite overwhelming and difficult to establish yourself as an independent artist. There was little to no professional development guidance for art students at the ECA, you finished art college and were left to get on with it. We could see a need and urgency to provide a platform for like minded artists. Otherwise, too many of us would just become demoralized and give up.
The first Bonkers exhibition was at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2016. To begin with, it was a bit of a laugh but the exhibition was successful and the feedback we received made us realise that there was a demand for this type of thing. We were not a lone!
We started planning Bonkers 2017 with the idea of giving artists space and freedom to experiment and create the artwork they really wanted rather than thinking about sales, popularity and how to please art critics. We underestimated the demand and had lots of proposals. Clearly, we had hit the nail on the head. Artists want more space, greater opportunity and more visibility.
What do you hope to achieve?
We aim to give artists support and an exhibition to work towards, without the stress and hassle of organising it themselves. The artist can focus on what’s important – the art.
We want to challenge and question who actually decides what is good art and what is bad. It is soul destroying, particularly in Edinburgh, when large institutions select your art and then give you limited space to actually exhibit. I felt this was quite elitist and condescending to artists.
Where do you work, whats the average day working for bonkers?
My time is very limited I have a part time job, a toddler and I’m making my own work in the studio. I do all my admin from my kitchen table. I dedicate one full and intense day a week to Bonkers. It usually starts getting my son Winston ready for nursery (he goes twice a week), and then my husband drops him off. I have a lovely breakfast (child and husband free), then start by replying and sending emails and then everything else happens naturally as the day evolves.
How do you select artists you work with? What advice would you give to artists looking to get there work out there?
For Bonkers 2017, we put out an Open Call, which was brilliant. It was marketed by Lynne Mackenzie who did a cracking job targeting a large demographic. During the selection, we focussed on the art and the attitude of the artists. Past exhibitions and education were of little interest to me. You can be self-taught and be producing really great art. Art school education does not mean better art – let’s bash that myth down straight away! Especially considering how expensive it is to study right now.
For artists trying to get their art out there, I would say do not rush, you have plenty of time. If you are not represented by a gallery within two years of leaving college that does not matter. What’s important is you truly understand what type of artist you are, and then fuckin OWN IT! Make your choices based on this, do not follow the crowd, the crowd is not you.
Thinking about the visual arts Scotland, what inspires you and excites you? Is there anything that frustrates you, what you would like to see change?
In the past couple of years, the visual arts in Scotland has been quite exciting and tough at times. There’s nothing like the constant threat of a referendum to get peoples pulses going. It definitely ignited something in the Scottish art scene which I loved. It’s like Scottish artists wanted to be heard more and became quite passionate about it. It is this very passion that I find exhilarating and exciting and feel very privileged to have been living in Scotland at such a political time.
Another fantastic thing about the art scene in Scotland is that it’s not London! So many artists believe you have to live in a big city to be current or connected, this is the biggest load of pish ever. It’s been quite a long time since a really great artist has come out of London. However, in Scotland, Rachel Maclean is leading the way for young female Scottish artists and doing something unique and refreshing. Dougie Wallace is paving the way in street photography. Both have very strong identities and narratives in their art. Name one great artist from London working today? Apart from Grayson Perry, they are mostly trendy twats all producing the same type of paintings, blending into one.
What are you proud of?
I am really proud that we had the guts and the courage to do this. There are high and lows along the way but for sure it has been one of the best art projects I have been part of. I’ve learned that you’re always going to get lovers and haters and as long as you believe in what you’re doing that all that matters.
I am also really proud of the calibre of artists that have applied to be part of Bonkers 2017, and those who have taken an interest. We really have done a cracking job in selecting talented and unique artists that are developing very strong identities within their own art practice and this will come across in the show.
Finally, I am exceptionally proud of is, in the first year it costs the artists £100 each at the venue Whitespace, and this year £75. Next year it will be completely self-sufficient with NO ARTIST FEE! That’s quite an achievement in 2 years.
What is your big next project?
Bonkers 2017 opens at on the 5th October and there is still a lot to do. Then it’s retirement for me!!! 😉 Bonkers Contemporary 2018 will be going ahead. I will be advertising for new members to take over and will enjoy seeing how it evolves and moves on. So watch out for the job advertisements. It’s pretty much set up and ready to go for some passionate individuals to take on. Send me messages now if you’re really keen.
Bonkers Contemporary 2017 opens on 5 October at The Biscuit Factory in Edinburgh.
Feature image: Samantha Boyes