Arts Council Collection


David Batchelor

David Batchelor
Interviewed by Robert Dingle, 2009

How did the commission arise for the South Bank Centre Christmas lights project and what was the reason for subsequently gifting the work to the Arts Council Collection?
DB - I was contacted by Ralph Rugoff some time in 2006, when he invited me to make a proposal for the inaugural Christmas lights commission. I really liked the idea and we did a number of site visits. At the time the RFH was in the middle of its major refurbishment and as a result there was a lot of building work and material in the area around it. Given that I tend to be drawn to the more overlooked aspects of the urban environment, I developed the idea that I would illuminate not the building itself so much as some of the elements within the building site. So we removed certain elements - 2 concrete mixers, some barrels, a few palettes and a wheelie bin - and I worked on them in my studio before returning them to the site. I also made a large festoon of lights, each with a coloured plastic bottle added, which was to be wrapped around a different part of the building each year.
By the time it was completed we had quite a bit of work. Given the specificity of the project we - Caroline Douglas, Ralph and I - agreed that some of the elements would become a part of the Arts Council Collection. This emerged quite informally - I have known Ralph and Caroline for several years - and it just seemed the right and practical thing to do.
What was your relationship with the Collection like when you gifted the work?
DB - The Collection had bought some of my work a few years earlier, which I was very happy about, and it had been exhibited in the inaugural show at the Longside Galleries. So I'd say my relationship was good. In general I find the more work they buy and exhibit the better the relationship gets, but I have no idea why that is...
To what extent did the prior relationship you developed with the Arts Council Collection (as a selector in 2001 and having your work "I Love King's Cross and King's Cross Loves Me", 5, 2001, enter the Collection) provide a consequent basis for gifting the work?
DB - Have you seen that film Memento, the one where the main character forget everything within minutes of it happening? The art world can seem a little like that at times, especially when you are young, which clearly I am not any longer. And it is true that things can come and go over a very short cycle. But if you stick it out for a little longer, by one means or another, you come to value relationships that develop and last over a period of years. I have known people from the Arts Council for a long time now and, given some ebbs and flows on the way, I respect much of the hard work they have done. This is not quite the same as respecting the Institution, but we are fortunate that the art world is still small enough to be able to deal with individuals rather than institutions.
What is your opinion of the Arts Council Collection as a totality, in terms of the way it operates and what it proposes to do?
DB - I have spent much of my life trying to avoid totalities. Like I said above, I find it more useful to think of and deal with individuals rather than institutions. I have never studied the aims and structures of the Arts Council; I have encountered it on a number of occasions, through various individuals and, also like I said above, many of these encounters have been worthwhile and valuable. I have observed that the ACC has often bought work from young artists relatively early in their careers, as well as from more established figures. That seems to me to be a good thing as it is always difficult to make a living, especially early on, and that can give much needed confidence as well as some cash.