Spike Island

Interview: Bristol Diving School

Bristol Diving School is an artist collective based both in Spike Island's artists' studios and in an independent space around the corner from us on Hanover Place. Communications manager Anna Searle Jones sat down with members Tom Prater and Holly Maries to discuss what they're up to at the moment.

So, first of all, who or what is Bristol Diving School?

Bristol Diving School is an artist-led initiative founded in 2009. It is an annually expanding group of artists, with a base sited around the corner from Spike Island. This base remains as an unfunded and experimental platform for young artists from across the South West of England.

Bristol Diving School is also a roaming artist collective, encouraging a discourse of exchange between other organisations to develop alternative approaches to an artistic practice. The core ethos of the collective is that collaborative practice is both the method and the subject. Through the process of collaboration, we erase the individual and give authorship to the brand, like a ‘franchise‘ type artist group. Bristol Diving School is the author and the artist.

How many people make up Bristol Diving School?

There are currently 18 members. That’s the core, but with each year, an open call is sent out to the regional universities to accrue more people. The project is now in its fourth round of expansion.

You mentioned that you collaborate with other groups. Can you talk a little bit about who they are and whether they are from Bristol or further afield?

Bristol Diving School began to branch out and initiate collaborative exchanges with other groups in the UK and internationally in 2010. One of the first Bristol Diving School international projects was Mandelbox, staged at Nomadenetappe gallery in Linz, Austria, working with a group of artists from the city. This was in reciprocation to an exhibition we invited them to have at the gallery in Bristol earlier that year.

We also participated in Supermarket, which is an independent artist-led fair held in Stockholm each year. We used the fair to create a dialogue with other artists and groups who we took interest in, or shared similar ideologies or practices with. Subsequently, Supermarket has led us to work with several other groups. Bristol Diving School already hosted Liquid Potion by Superclub gallery, from Edinburgh, in the gallery space last summer.

We’re currently working with a group called Third Belgrade from Serbia which will culminate in an exhibition in KARST gallery in Plymouth next month. We are also working with Wander, which is an artist in residence program in The Netherlands. We met all of these organisations through the fair last year so it provided a really important international dialogue for us to expand the project. 

You just received an Arts Council England Grants for the Arts, which will provide you with a year’s worth of funding. Can you tell me about what that’s going to enable you to do and what your plans are?

Yes – it’s really important to state that the funding is being directed specifically toward a year’s programme of projects, which four members of the collective have instigated, so it’s not a development fund for the whole Bristol Diving School. The space will remain unfunded and continue to be used as an experimental place for recent graduates. However, the grant has been invested into a series of residencies and projects with the intentions to promote our activity in a more culturally-diverse network, and to encourage this discourse back into the wider ecology of the Bristol Diving School.

Firstly, the funding will support our next exhibition which opens at KARST in Plymouth on March 14th. The exhibition, MEMEX: An Autoscopic Exercise, is a study of the motions of collaboration, working with the aforementioned group Third Belgrade. This will be the largest presentation of Bristol Diving School’s work in the UK to date. Following this, we will then be taking part in a two month research programme in Den Haag, Netherlands working at Wander studios. Wander act as an ‘artist agency’, inviting professionals from a range of different disciplines to meet with us and to help further our understanding of our position within the visual arts. This is in comparison to other fields of profession such as philosophy, science, literature and advertising.

Directly following that is Oxygen Art Centre in Canada, which is a month’s residency where there will be more of an emphasis on practical led development following on from the research gathered in the months prior. We hope to gain a better understanding of the artist initiatives and culture whilst over there, through working with the local community and visiting other organisations.

In the autumn we will be collaborating with Malgras | Naudet which is based up in Manchester. The structure of this project is currently being formalised, but will potentially create a framework which a rolling-body of members from Bristol Diving School can participate in.

Lastly in December, four members are taking part in The Curfew Tower residency programme in Cushendall, Northern Ireland. Some of the funding will be used to help support and realise our project proposal in terms of production. 

Parallel to the forthcoming projects, we will be designing a new website that will act as secondary to the current Bristol Diving School site. This will serve as a transparent mediation to the wider context of the group’s concerns surrounding research, production and collaboration. We are thinking of it as a more ‘heuristic and Wikipedia-type’ resource of curated information, which not only informs our practice, but extends as an invitation to external practitioners to also add their research and knowledge.

You can follow a prototype of this model in the lead up to MEMEX: An Autoscopic Exercise at www.bds-tbg.tumblr.com