Guest Site #1 Out of Focus

In the first of a series of profiles of online curatorial spaces ArtReview talks to Out of Focus

By Helen Sumpter

Jeremiah Day, still/detail from The Opposite of Fatalism, 2014, OOF#6 Stuart Wigby, still from A Month in the Life, 2013, OOF#3. Courtesy the artist and outoffocus.biz Laura Buckley, still from Digital Skin, 2013, OOF#2. Courtesy the artist and outoffocus.biz Stephen Sutcliffe, still from Paul's Case, OOF#6, courtesy the artist and outoffocus.biz Stephen Sutcliffe, still from Paul's Case, OOF#6, courtesy the artist and outoffocus.biz Laura Buckley, still from Digital Skin, 2013, OOF#2. Courtesy the artist and outoffocus.biz

Out of Focus (OOF) is a UK-based online commissioning platform established in 2012 by curators Rosie Cooper (based in Liverpool) and Ariella Yedgar (based in London) and initiates three to four projects a year. For each project an artist is commissioned to make a new work for the homepage of the OOF website and as part of that process invites two other people to participate; one person from an art background and one from a non-art background. The nature of the invitees's contributions and whether their contributions sit alongside or form part of the main commission varies from project to project.

Commissioned artists to date include:

Adam Chodzko with invitees director Bergen Kuntshall Martin Clark and actress Gretchen Egolf

Laura Buckley with invitees curator and writer Laura McLean Ferris and DJ, producer and musician Andrew Weatherall

Sebastian Buerkner with invitees artist Duncan Campbell and professor of auditory neuroscience David McAlpine

Aukje Koks with invitees artist Patricia Esquivias and zoological biologist Stuart Wigby

Jeremiah Day with invitees artist Alisa Margolis and popular media theorist David Buxton

OOF’s current commission is by artist Stephen Sutcliffe who has worked with writer Aimee Campbell to produce a form of radio play reimagined from a short story, with an accompanying painting by artist Don Bachardy and a text by writer Ilsa Colsell.

Arteview You both curate art projects in real life, why initiate an online curatorial platform?

Rosie Cooper We wanted to use the space of the internet to commission and produce new work: using the internet as a space that isn’t necessarily self-reflexive. And we were also really interested in the potential of other disciplines to come in and out of artistic practice. It was also about inviting audiences to the internet to see an artist’s work in a way they may not have seen before. So for example an artist like Jeremiah Day invited a theorist David Buxton who was writing about television theory, which resulted in Jeremiah’s work being seen in more direct relation to this strand of his research. But the main purpose is that it’s commissioning new work.


Jeremiah Day, still/detail from The Opposite of Fatalism, 2014, OOF#6

AR How do you choose your artists?

Ariella Yegar Individually we have a long list of people whom we’re interested in, and we actually do try to work with people we haven’t worked with before. Often we think about what kind of positive challenge it might present to the artist, particularly artists whose work might be quite far away from the internet. But then there are also artists like Sebastian Buerkner, for example, whose work is more screen based but in making his commission he began to think about many of the themes that recur in​ his work​ such as memory, time and space, in relation to the way that the internet stores and disseminates information​.

AR What has been the effect of asking artists to invite other contributors?

RC We realised quite quickly that artists were pushing themselves in new ways, partly because of the contributor idea. But they’ve all worked differently. With Aukje for example, the zoologist she asked made a film about fruit flies that he’d always wanted to make. They decided not to collaborate but to make their own independent works. With Laura Buckley and Andrew Weatherall, his work actually came afterwards. Andrew made something that was in response to Laura’s work. And they’ve actually gone on to collaborate beyond OOF.

Stuart Whigby, still from A Month in The Life, 2013, feature Guest Site, OOF Aug 2015

Stuart Wigby, still from A Month in the Life, 2013, OOF#3

AR Have any other projects extended beyond OOF?

AY Sebastian went on to make a longer film which expanded on the work he made for OOF. Laura Buckley has shown her work, Digital Skin, at the Whitechapel Gallery and said that the film curator had specifically asked for that work. Sebastian’s film was included in a Jarman Award screening programme, which travelled round the UK.That’s one of the productive things that we hope OOF can do, be really generative for an artist’s practice. We want it to be useful. 

AR How do you brief the artists you commission?

RC We talk a lot on Skype! We usually begin with a conversation, sometimes it takes a long time to work out what the possibilities are and how we can be involved. I think the artists like the fact that we do the inviting of the collaborators on their behalf. So if people say no, they’re saying it to us rather than the artists. It can sometimes feel a bit like a dating agency. With some of the non-art contributors you do have to talk them through it because for them it might be a very unusual invitation. I know that one non-art contributor didn’t reply to our invitation because they thought that we must have emailed the wrong person because they ​were not related to the arts.

we prefer to view the internet as a space, rather than a subject or an aesthetic

AR What is the difference for you between internet art and art on the internet?

AY I think Rosie referred to it earlier when she talked about making work on the internet that wasn’t obviously self-reflexive. It’s not that we’re completely uninterested in work about the internet, but we prefer to view the internet as a space, rather than a subject or an aesthetic. Most work in white cube galleries doesn’t address the space of the white cube in any way, so it’s a similar approach for us.

AR Do you work with a technician or designer?

RC We do, designer (and musician) Thomas Bush. He’s involved in each project from the beginning and has a real sensitivity towards art and artists.

Laura Buckley, still from Digital Skin 2, 2013, feature Guest Site, OOF, Aug 2015

Laura Buckley, still from Digital Skin, 2013, OOF#2

AR Did you look at other similar projects when initiating OOF?

AY I think we felt an affinity with projects like BMW Tate Live because it features a new work that exists online. But for us it’s not so much about what else is happening online but what’s happening more generally.

AR You’re currently applying for funding, what are your future plans for OOF?

AY With funding we could be far more ambitious. We used money from previous work to set up the project and we pay all contributors but we would like to pay them and Thomas more. Everyone does it on a shoestring. Most artists are surprised to be offered a fee at all but it was important to us from the beginning that everyone gets paid something. We would also like to focus on more ways of promoting the project and to make it technically more hi-spec, to open up the creative possibilities for artists.

More from OOF including Stephen Sutcliffe's project Paul's Case

Online exclusive published 3 August 2015