James Harper

James Harper
with Jo Thomas and Jack Brown
The Royal Standard, Liverpool

JB: Which do you prefer, which role are you happier in?

JH: At the moment I quite like having the two, I like that situation where I’ve got the moral support of the group… the ‘mob affect’ of being here. And then going and working on my freelance practice and being out there on my own...

JB: yeah, cos you can kind of come back to this...

JH: there is a bit of security here

JB: – Is this place quite useful as a sounding board or discussion space… ‘I did this and it did or didn’t work’ that kind of thing…

JH: Yeah, it’s useful, you can kind of go off, fly the nest, come back and talk to people about what you have done

JT: … and that stops it getting stale here...

JH: Well definitely yeah…

JT: So I’m wondering, how would you describe your practice?

JH: Erm, it’s quite difficult actually…. erm… I did my masters in curating but I consider myself to be an artist. So although everything I do is as an artist most of what do is curatorial.

The way I tend to describe it is that my practice is based on the struggle between being an artist and a curator… and finding the dividing line, or asking whether or not there is a dividing line, or how the two cross over and merge. So, for example I curated this exhibition here but the concept of the exhibition is more about the things that I am interested in as an artist, things like using the architecture of the space, but then, when I’ve made my own work, as an artist, it can be things like making structures to house other people work or doing projects that involve other artists as

well. So, yeah, I’m basically still not able to concisely describe my practice, it takes a long time…

JB: But that often more interesting, for me anyway, than someone who just says ‘Oh, I paint’

JT: So, would you say that when you curate it becomes your artwork?

JH: I guess it does and this can sometimes sound a bit derogatory towards the artists involved but you are kind of using other artists or their work as a material to make something else, they become components of a bigger thing, that’s not to be disrespectful to their work or their practice.

JT: It’s a sensitive ground that a lot of artist/curator relationships are built on…

JH: Traditionally a curator is someone who looks after a collection at a museum, they are the ‘keeper’ or the ‘protector’ of that work, but in a contemporary art context it’s more about looking after people than objects, I think.

JT: So, how do you projects happen?

JH: Through my freelance practice or generally?

JT: Is there a difference?

JH: I think there is a slight different between what I do here to my freelance practice because here (the Royal Standard) I’m working as part of a team of directors and generally we work together… whereas freelance I can do what I want…

JT: So, how does that work then?

JH: Well actually I work collaboratively with Jo Marsh, who does the ‘Wonder Box’ project I was involved in. We have a studio here, we both also happen to work at Oriel Wrecsam, that’s just a coincidence, so we work collaboratively and we make artworks together and we curate together, but we both kind of sit in that hinterland between the two disciplines.

We did a project together called ‘I know you, you can come with me’ and that was our first project together…

JT: Could you describe that project to us?

JH: Yes, so before that I was working on a project called ‘Jazz cakes’ which was a large scale collaborative project where I would invite a number of artists, usually one hundred, and I would invite them to contribute to an edition of one hundred works…

So that was my side of the project and Jo was doing a project called ‘with love from the artist’ and she would deposit objects in public spaces with notes attached to them, so that people could find them and take them away and then start some sort of dialogue with the artists or Jo.

JB: How did the people who found the notes/artworks start a dialogue?

JH: It was an email address on the notes, she would ask whoever found the objects to take pictures of the objects in its new home, sometimes the object would be an item of clothing so Joe would get a photo of the person wearing the object… so there was that initial transfer of information and then a dialogue would form from that… So we merged the two projects, which meant we were inviting a large number of artists to donate an object or an artwork… and we would then deposit them in a public place

JB: Where was that public space?

JH: We have only done one project so far, in that format and that was in Wrexham. So we invited twenty artists, they all came together on one day and we went on a tour around Wrexham, we went to urban areas, industrial areas, rural areas… different site of interest, then at the end of the day we discussed the different sites. After that Jo and I received the artworks and took them out to the sites we had agreed on with the artists.

Then, when or if the works were found, we would then have this dialogue, you know, emailing back and forth with members of the public..

JB: How many works were found?

JH: Well each artist contributed four items so there were eighty deposited and I think we got about half responded to, there was only one artist who didn’t have any works found.

JT: So when does the work finish?

JH: So the end of the project, if there is an end, because maybe there are some artworks still out there that haven’t been found, which it quite interesting, but we did have an exhibition at the end which included documentation that we had done and documentation that whoever had found the objects had done too. We asked, whoever have found an object, to loan it to us for the duration of the exhibition, and after that then get to keep it. So there is an interesting element of ownership and also transactions…

JT: Can I ask, where the artists who made the work or who had gifted stuff, were they paid?

JH: We gave them a fifty pounds contribution towards travel and productions, well that was all we could afford with the grant that we got.

JT: But you thought that was important..

JH: Yes, definitely, mostly because we were asking them to come to Wrexham for the day so fifty pounds manly went towards the travel costs, there wasn’t necessarily any production involved…

JB: because it could have been an object they already had..

JH: Yeah, but I guess there is a question about how much time they put into choosing the object or making the object… if there was time put in then we would have liked to have paid…


JB: Were the exchanges and correspondence with you or the artists?

JH: They were with us except for one. The artwork was some plaster casts of rabbits and the initial contact was with us but then what we told the person who found them who the artist was they must have looking them and got in touch with them personally, which was quite nice… in fact the children of the person who found the artwork then made something in response and gave it to the artist.

JH: Its nice when people who wouldn’t go to an art gallery or maybe don’t even own any art are inquisitive enough to pick it up and them to actually follow through with what we want them to do.

JT: What drives you to do these projects?

JH: I guess there are two sides to it, one is bringing artists together, as kind of like a networking thing… but then also to get members of the public to see that work.

The title of the project ‘I know you, you can come with me’ is a Christian Boltanski quote, and he is talking about lost property items and how these items are left unanimated and dormant and in a kind of state of flux until someone comes along, and picks it out and says ‘I know you, you can come with me’ and then that item is animated and becomes something, which is nice…

JT: And what has made this project possible?

JH: We had a grant from Arts Council Wales, a research and development grant, for the pilot project, so that made it possible…

JB: Also, that makes it possible in a particular way, because its research and development, so it’s not attached to the need for outcomes...

JH: Yeah, because we didn’t know what the outcomes were going to be, I mean it could have fallen completely flat on its face...

I thread we have discussed with other artists and one that seems relevant now is whether or not you feel your practice needs local connections to function… would it still work of you packed up and moved to Sreckovic?

JH: I think it would, especially the ‘I know you, you can come with me’ project, I think it’s transferable to anywhere really. Having said that I like having a connection, I’m interested in communities of artists particularly so…

JB: So is an important aspect of what you do being ‘local’ or being involved in a locality?

JH: Yeah, maybe not so much local but, I mean geographically, not so local but feeling close to people I think more that a place…

JB: There are also different ways of thinking about being local, I have a group of friends from secondary school who I socialise with on face book, I don’t really see them anymore but that group feels local… it’s a kind of community

JH: I think social media eradicates any kind of geographical distance, so you can feel local to people on the other side of the world.

There is a Lucy Lippard quote that stays with me throughout my practice, and it’s to do with her wanting to document the connections between friends, institutions, the places where people work, she also talks about ‘who people are sleeping with’ so those personal as well as work relationships. Trying to map that out in some way is something I’m working towards.

JT: So in a way the connectivity you are offering to all these different artists is almost like creating a field that you can operate in, in the future

JH: Yeah, a web...

JB: I few of the artists we have spoken to have mentioned blurred edge between work and friendships…

JH: You develop a level of trust (in the community of artists at the Royal Standard) people do leave, and people like Jayne (Lawless) who had a studio, but don’t have a studio anymore, but she is still around...

JB: She is still in the group...

JH: Yeah, absolutely, she comes to exhibitions, we talk about stuff and she is still very much connected, and I think that’s fairly unique to the royal standard, that when they go away they are still a part of the community.

JB: What is the turn-over of artists here? Are people here for a year…

JH: Sometimes people are here for less than a year and obviously that affects their connection to the people, that said there are people who have been here since the beginning

JT: Which was when?

JH: It’s actually coming up to ten years so, 2006, someone who came to the private view last night was actually one of the founding members of the Royal Standard, he now lives in Morocco, so for him coming back here, it seemed quite emotional…

It was really interesting because he was looking at the exhibition text and there’s a bit at the bottom of the text that describes the Royal Standard for anyone who hasn’t been before, and I think the first sentence is the sentence he wrote as a description of the Royal Standard when it first started and it’s been passed down through by the various generations of directors and has kind of stayed as part of the Royal Standards DNA.

The Royal Standard was established in 2006 by four Liverpool-based artists in response to the need for a new artist-led organisation that would operate somewhere in between the city’s grass-roots DIY initiatives and the more established arts institutions. Originally housed in a former pub in Toxteth, in 2008 The Royal Standard undertook an ambitious relocation and expansion into a larger industrial space on the Northern periphery of the city centre, relaunching to acclaim for the 2008 Liverpool Biennial.


James now works as a curator at Oriel Wrecsam, Wrexham; he also curates a project space in Wrexham called PERICLO in a freelance capacity. In Liverpool James maintains his studio practice and also co-directs Tžužjj, a curatorial project with Louis Palliser-Ames.



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