Grolsch Unseen Residency: Interview with the jury members

by Unseen November 30 2017

Grolsch Unseen Residency Jury, Unseen Amsterdam 2017 © Maarten Nauw

With a common commitment to innovation and creativity – and a shared ambition to challenge conventions – Grolsch and Unseen joined forces in 2016 to launch an exciting new platform for emerging photographic talent. 

The Grolsch Unseen Residency annually grants one artist a scholarship to create new work relating to an unfamiliar urban context; that of a chosen European city. On the ground, the winner is supported by a local network of industry professionals, ranging from curators, gallerists and editors to publishers and fellow artists. The resulting project, with its unconventional approach to urban space, is exhibited at the following edition of Unseen Amsterdam. 

Last year, Lana Mesić (b. 1987, Croatia) was selected as the inaugural winner by an international jury, comprised of key figures from the photographic community. With the residency taking place in London, Mesić was initially intrigued by the city’s famous financial sector, focusing her research on the influential people that work within a relatively faceless industry. This culminated in The Currency of Ideas, an exhibition presented on-site during Unseen Amsterdam 2017. 

Portraits_Unseen2017_IrisDuvekot_24sep.2017_0337.jpgThe Currency of Ideas, Unseen Amsterdam 2017 © Iris Duvekot

Meet the Jury

At the recent edition of Unseen Amsterdam, an international jury was invited to select nominees from a pool of 22 premiering artists, each of whom had registered to be considered for the Grolsch Unseen Residency. You can find out more about all the nominees here.

With the 2018 residency to take place in the Swedish capital, Stockholm, Tristan Lund (art consultant & curator), Shinji Otani (photographer & past recipient of the Unseen Dummy Award) and Salvatore Vitale (photographer, editor & co-founder of YET Magazine) made up the jury. 

Whilst the task of drafting a shortlist from a large pool of eligible artists represents an exciting opportunity for the jury members, it also involves a range of difficult questions. With this in mind, we asked each of the jurists to outline some of the considerations that guided them through the process, and that ultimately shaped their decisions. 

Tristan Lund: “It is exciting when you encounter work that connects with the way you see the world”

Working on this jury was visually and intellectually rewarding, the standard of work was very high and the discussion generated within the jury meeting was extremely engaging. It is always a privilege to be on a jury, and I am in admiration of artists that submit their work to such a selection process.

It is exciting when you encounter work that connects with the way you see the world but then helps you to look at it in a fresh way. Most rewarding is when art makes you see something that was right in front of you, but which you hadn’t noticed. I suppose the common theme we could identify in the work we reviewed was a desire to make sense of the world around us. Equally, each of the artists has a strong signature to their work, which I believe is one of the hardest things for an artist to find.

We selected artists that we thought would benefit from a residency; essentially, that it would be a profitable opportunity to further their practice. The artists we selected are looking out at the world, sometimes with a political and social motivation. This feels very relevant to participating in a residency programme.

Shinji Otani: “It’s good to enjoy the surprises that the location gives”

Being in an unknown location is a great way to get new inspiration. For me, the chemistry between the artist and the city of the residency is perhaps the most curious part of this program. I have heard that many companies choose Stockholm for testing their new products. This is due to the compact size of the city, and its trend conscious residents. Stockholm is very sensitive to what is up-and-coming, but it’s also a very calm and charming city. It’s a perfect place to think about what is contemporary.

I have participated in many residency programmes, and I have even worked for one before. I think the most crucial thing about a residency is adapting to local materials and sources. It’s better not to stick to your usual style or professional daily routine. Instead, it’s good to enjoy the surprises that the location gives. 

Actually, my first photo book was about my journeys to Stockholm. The air was very crisp and transparent when the sun was shining. It was if you were wearing new glasses. That feeling was already a good enough starting point for a lens-based artist.

Salvatore Vitale: “The variety of concepts proposed by the artists was inspiring”

When you are called to judge a prize that can literally change the career of a young artist, you always feel a certain kind of responsibility. Imagine, then, when the overall level of the works you are called to judge is extremely high and the competition is fierce. You need to set some guidelines in order to find the right compromise between your interests, the artists’ motivations and the residency’s distinctive traits. 

The variety of concepts proposed by the artists was inspiring, and it was possible to trace some wider clusters of work connected with contemporary issues, from the understanding of modern society’s dynamics – sometimes in a very analytical way – to issues concerning identity, technology, beauty and the re-thinking of the language of photography. This last point in particular led us to an interesting discussion about the relevance of the media in the construction of a body of work, and the coherence between use of language and conceptual intentions.

Residencies are a life experience per se; they allow you to place yourself in a new context, dealing with local activities, scheduling, commitment and discovery. They can also stimulate new ideas, and can create networking opportunities and long-term collaborations. Stockholm is surely one of the European hubs for contemporary art and photography. With the presence of institutions such as The Swedish Museum of Photography and Moderna Museet, it is an important place to explore, discover and re-think photography.