Submissions are currently open for Shape’s annual disability-led group exhibition The Shape Open. The Open’s co-ordinator Isabella Tulloch shares some insight with Marcus Gordon into next year’s host gallery, the prizes on offer to artists taking part, the ideas behind 2018’s theme “Collective Influence”, and why the Open has become an important topic of conversation over the years.

Marcus Gordon: In your own words, can you tell us a bit about the Shape Open is and what it has to offer to artists and the contemporary art world?

Isabella Tulloch: Firstly, I’m so pleased to reveal that the 2018 Shape Open will be will be held at The Art Pavilion, Mile End, London from Thursday 22 March until Thursday 5 April 2018, with artists invited to submit work now. The Open is Shape’s annual call-out to both disabled and non-disabled artists to submit work that responds to a disability focused theme; the theme varies each year and creates a dialogue around disability in a wider context. Both non-disabled and disabled artists collectively bring different perspectives - lived experiences from both inside and outside the ‘bubble’ of disability - and in this way are able to have constructive dialogues around removing society’s disabling barriers and the benefits to everyone of doing so. The discourse created from this is what I find so exciting and rewarding from working on the Open.

Now in its sixth year, the theme of the 2018 Open is “Collective Influence”. Can you tell us about your thinking behind this particular theme, and how you think it differs from previous years?

As I’ve mentioned to our CEO David Hevey, this does feel a bit like the “second album” after last year’s Open “Power: The Politics of Disability”, so I’m really looking forward to seeing the responses we get from artists at the submissions stage. 2018’s theme “Collective Influence” stems from some of the discussions that were generated by the previous theme, and the desire to continue to interrogate what it means to be disabled, especially from a Social Model Of Disability perspective. I think the title “Collective Influence” is really powerful - it stands for methods of creating change, the idea of coming together as a group, and using voices together to influence societal change, which is really intriguing!

A woman with pink hair bends down to look at a small antique children

Our Shape Open Patron, Yinka Shonibare MBE, describes the Open as creating “great opportunities for artists to be discovered by institutions and larger audiences”. How do you think the Open achieves this each year?

The Open, for so many of our artists, has always been a stepping stone to other, bigger projects or opportunities. Many of its alumni have gone on to be shortlisted for our flagship art award the Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursary, or have gone on to receive commissions from Unlimited, a programme we co-deliver with Artsadmin, as well as many other opportunities. For some of the emerging artists who take part, it might be the first time they have exhibited their work in this kind of gallery setting; for other artists who are further along in their careers it’s a chance to have a different platform to exhibit their work or connect with Shape.

Last year, artist Richard Hunt was selected as the winner of the Open Prize, with Jay Price chosen for the People’s Choice Award. Can you explain a bit about the selection processes for both and what type of prizes the 2018 exhibition will offer?

We have two prizes linked with the Shape Open exhibition, the Open Prize and the People’s Choice award, which this year is being generously sponsored by Crucial Colour. The Open Prize winner is picked by several members of the selection panel who choose which works are included in the exhibition - arts industry professionals, including Open Patron Yinka Shonibare MBE. Each piece of work is carefully examined and judged against how the work explores the theme and the potential it has to generate dialogue around it, and the winner is announced on the night of the Private View. The People’s Choice Award is voted for throughout the exhibition by visitors, who choose their favourite piece, and is announced at the end of the exhibition.

Lastly, has there been a particular key moment or experience from the Open which you’d like to tell us about..?

A fond memory for me was getting to visit Yinka’s studio for last year’s selection panel day. It was incredible to see some of his work in such close proximity and to see some of his maquettes of future work, I felt incredibly honoured.

Thank you Isabella!

Submissions are now open for the 2018 Shape Open, to be held at The Art Pavilion, Mile End, from Thursday 22 March until Thursday 5 April 2018 - click here for more information and to submit work!

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Banner image: Isabella Tulloch with colleagues Simon Overington-Hickford and Sara Dziadik at the 2017 Shape Open
Body image: a visitor to the 2017 Shape Open looks at part of Skye Shadowlight's installation "Shade School"
Both images c. Rachel Cherry