The University of Salford’s art collection began life in the 1960’s with an ink and watercolour painting from a Portuguese artist. Now over 600 pieces strong, the collection is being lovingly restored, catalogued and added to by our art curator Lindsay Taylor. Her mission, she says, is to create a body of work that will tell the story of Salford - and its university - to future generations.
“I’m often asked why we have an arts budget,” says Lindsay. “It’s simple: arts and culture is central to a civilised society. It’s really important for us to be at the heart of it if we’re educating the next generation.
“When it comes to collections, what makes them interesting is when they’re distinctive: why has this particular piece been bought? What’s the story behind it? Is it reflective of a particular part of society? How does it fit with the rest of the collection? There are many reasons for collecting art, but the stories behind the pieces are what makes them interesting. An object with no story is just a thing.”
Lindsay has developed a collections development policy focussing on three main areas: Chinese contemporary art, ‘about the digital’ and ‘from the north.’
“The overarching theme behind it is to collect what’s important in Salford right now,” she says. “We’ve developed a strong partnership with the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art. CFCCA has existed for almost 30 years and has commissioned and exhibited work by some of the best artists in China, however they’re not a collecting organisation. By working with CFCCA we’re ensuring that there is a permanent legacy of some of their great work,and developing a unique collection and archive that will be available for research and for loan to museums and galleries nationally and internationally This initiative also supports the ongoing work and aspirations of the School of Arts and Media in China as well as our existing student population from China; it’s very positive for us to be able to reflect our students’ own culture back to them.
“The ‘from the north’ strand of collecting stems from a firm belief that we need to be supporting artists who live and work in the north of England. The university is has a strong arts school - we want the artists we’re teaching to live and work here after graduating. We’ve nurtured some brilliant artists and we want to support them in their ongoing careers.
“The digital aspect to the collection is a reflection of our presence at MediaCityUK, and the fact that many artists are using digital media in the making of their artwork. Artists will always experiment with new media and there is so much great art with digital content. There aren’t many museums and galleries significantly collecting digital art work so we’re identifying gaps and trying to fill them.”
An obvious problem with collecting digital art is much of it is intangible. But, says Lindsay, that is an important issue to address rather than ignore. “How do you collect digital work? How do you add a website to a collection? As a university we should be experimenting with what we can and can’t do, because if we don’t collect now it’s so much harder to do retrospectively. With digital art, the technology can becomes obsolete. Yes, some of the work may only exist for a limited time, but we can ensure it is well documented so future generations can see what are doing now, in 2015.”
Most recently the university worked with partners Quays Culture to commission Aeolian Light, an installation by Squidsoup, which saw 12,000 lights suspended in a 10-metre square in the centre of MediaCityUK. The installation was the setting for a dance performance from University of Salford students, as well as providing an impromptu play area for the thousands of children and adults that passed through it.
A more controversial commission is Engels’ Beard, a sculpture and climbing wall by Salford based arts company Engine. It will sit within the gateway to our main campus as part of our New Adelphi development, and will be part of a wider, public arts space.
“Engels was a very influential thinker who was based in Salford for a short time, and his thoughts on social climbing were very controversial,” explains Lindsay. “It’s very fitting that this piece is provoking such debate. As a university, we encourage social climbing, we push boundaries and test limits. We’re doing exactly what we – and Engels - set out to do.”