Brown Owl Press Dispatch #2: Lungs Project

Lungs Project is a curatorial collective that comprises of Angela Burdon and Sheyda Khaymaz currently. I've known Angela for a long time, I met her a decade ago and our paths have crossed enough times to become friends since. The first Lungs exhibition (curated by Angela) was a group show comprising of North-East England-based artists and a series of my photographs were included, Sheyda was one of the other artists. In a strange turn of coincidence, it turned out that she lived in a house on the other side of the street from me. She's since moved to Turkey but if I look up from my keyboard right now, I can see her old home! Small world. Lungs Project has been responsible for exhibitions, magazines, book and more!

Introduce yourself! Who are you, where do you come from and what do you do?

Angela: Hi I’m Angela Burdon. I’m from the United States. I was born in the UK but my people are here in the US.

Sheyda: Hi, I’m Sheyda Khaymaz. I come from Turkey but I have been based in the North East of England long enough to call it my home (I’m a Geordie at heart you could say). Together we run Lungs Project, which is essentially a platform for early-career artists and writers to gain international exposure. We’re both artists, Angela does photography and I do sculpture, but also dabble in writing poetry and fiction.

Your latest project/publication (New Landscapes Anthology) is an anthology of poetry described as "a distillation of our cumulative experiences as womxn of colour". How did you find it working with non-visual art? Any lessons learned?

S: I’ve found the project to be an extension of what we have already been doing over the years, in that, I didn’t find it all that different. It still required using the same skill sets like effective communication, time management, attention to detail.

A: I agree. In terms of publishing, editing process, creating layouts, and typesetting were all the same.

S: There were only a few extra steps due to it being an actual book, such as registering book and publisher data in certain agencies. It also required a bit more work in terms of securing distribution in some bookstores.

A: We also learnt a lot from working with a few writers whose first language isn’t English. Sheyda translated some of the works in the book from Turkish, working with the poet to make sure the integrity of the works are intact and we didn’t sacrifice meaning and cultural significations when translating.

S: Absolutely! I have gained a lot of translation skills in the process which wasn’t a skill I thought I’d need to acquire. This also led to more projects of me translating other people’s works here in Turkey. I have also come to realise that you understand a poem on an entirely different level when you try to put it into your own words.

Do you find Lungs feeds into your own personal practice? And do you feel that the opposite is true too?

A: Yeah, definitely. We’re interested in growing our practices as artists and curators, so in that sense we definitely feed our practice into Lungs and the opposite is also true.

S: Yes, it’s a reciprocal relationship. Just as artists have their practices, curators and publishers could also approach what they do as a practice. Meaning, it’s geared towards growth, it’s informed by certain principles, it’s self-reflective and relies on trial and error to find what works best for you. Especially when you’re independent and up-and-coming, you have to feel your way in the dark so to speak.

A: I think Lungs definitely adds to the argument that curating is a practice.

S: Yeah, most artists curate these days but we must acknowledge that it is a practice in its own right. If you’re not an institutional or academically integrated curator, you could only gain a better sense of the field of curating by practising it. We often think about our curatorial practices in conjunction with our artistic and publishing practices. They all feed into each other, publishing becomes curating, curating becomes a creative endeavour, and so on.

Any advice for aspiring curators?

A: We’re in the mindset that no one is going to come for us and give us the opportunities we want so we have to make our own path. I guess our advice would be a little unorthodox.

S: I agree. I have tried to do things the traditional way (internships, galleries, biennales) and it turned out not at all beneficial for me. But that doesn’t mean that this route will not work for others. There isn’t a right or wrong career path to pursue, only a path you desire. You can certainly become quite successful in larger institutions and curating more traditionally, you just need to know if this is what you want. I think I’m too independent to subscribe to other people’s ways of working, it was also shocking to see the level of incompetence in many places I’ve worked at. So, get your foot in the door and “work your way up“ model didn’t work for me. You also have to take into consideration that at entry-level, the job is practically admin so the repetition becomes boring after a while.

A: That is so true. The positions you are going to get at those levels aren’t necessarily nurturing. It doesn’t allow you any space to grow into.

S: I think the confusion comes from the belief that there’s only one way to achieve in the arts. I think all forms of curating is fine. You just need to decide if you want a traditional route which offers you a solid structure/a working model, or if you want to become an alternative to those traditional narratives—for this, you can explore working with others in collaborations, explore DIY methods, curate in unconventional spaces, exercise skill exchanges with your peers. Don’t go into an institution having experimental ideas in mind, expecting to work in alternative ways because chances are that opportunity won’t be offered to you. The kinds of experimentation in institutional spaces are reserved for big shot curators. You can go crazy in a museum once you’re established. Just learn the limits and rules of the field you work within.

Sheyda is in Turkey, Angela is in the USA. How do you work around the distance?

A: Video calls.

S: So many video calls. But now, the whole world suffers from “distance” and everyone completely relies on video calls to get any work done or keep in touch with their loved ones. We have been continuing this project remotely for over 4 years so we’ve become used to this now. Also, the breadth of our online communication isn’t just limited to conversations between Angela and I. We work with so many international artists who we are always in close communication with. Everyone’s scattered around the world, we all work in different schedules in different time zones but we make it work.

A: We’ve built a community so we’re always checking in with them also, even when we're not working towards a specific project.

What is next in the pipeline for Lungs?

S: We’re currently running an open call for the fourth issue of our magazine. The deadline is 30 April. We're looking for people from the African diaspora. We want this issue to include photo-essays contemplating on the idea of a home, which is why the concept of diaspora interests us. For the upcoming issue, we want to commission new works which will be created in collaborative pairs of photographers and writers. We will pair them ourselves and see what they’re going to come up with. We’re also in the process of trying to acquire funding as we wish to pay our contributors. Let’s hope the current pandemic doesn’t put a spanner in the works as it already created a lot of damage in people’s finances.

Tell us about any artwork/music/podcasts/books you're enjoying at the moment.

A: I haven’t really been enjoying anything lately because I think my body is in panic. Or my mind is panicking and my body is just lethargic. I don’t seem to be able to focus. I’m just not feeling it these days.

S: I feel the same. I’m finding it difficult to go on the internet. I have this overall lack of motivation to do anything. It’s a tough time to be enjoying things. Recently I’ve been trying to read to distract myself from the noise of the world—all that panic and anxiety around the world just seem to reverberate inside my brain. So to understand what I read is certainly challenging in these times.

A: Not to mention the online pressure to be productive. This is my third week at home and after the first week, I began feeling that I needed to be doing things, otherwise felt useless.

S: In a way, I understand when people say “now is the time to start your creative project”. Before all this started, I’d been in voluntary isolation for a couple of months to work on my poetry project. I find self-isolation really productive at times. But this time it’s totally different. We are in a global crisis, there’s a huge media frenzy and the collective anxiety and restlessness are growing. So no, this isn’t the time to write that best selling novel—we don’t owe anyone productivity.

A: My mum was telling me the other day that I used to always complain about not having time to do things and now I have this opportunity to just sit and rest. And I didn’t know what rest meant. She said “go outside, sit on your chair and just look at the sun. Do that all day. That’s what retirement is and I love it”. She’s not bored or lonely.

S: That sounds lovely but the longest I could ever do that on holiday was 5 days. I think we’ve all been conditioned to equate the validity of our existence to our productivity so we don’t really know how to stay still.

If you could interview anyone, who would it be?

A: It would probably be my grandad who passed away last year. He was a really interesting person and was always full of stories. I don’t think I utilised my time with him wisely enough. I just have bits and pieces of his life.

S: I would like to interview my future self to ask if made it through the pandemic. It would be cool to get some tips on how to get over certain obstacles in life, granted they already survived them.

Do you feel hopeful for the rest of 2020?

A: No. I’m not a hopeful person anyway. The virus aside, what puts me in a state of despair is people’s reaction. The pandemic is also bringing out the necessity of certain socialist ideals like free healthcare for all and universal basic income. I don’t believe that this virus will change the mindset of those who are in power and those who only think of themselves though.

S: I partially agree with you, although I want to stay as hopeful and positive as possible. I feel that a lot of the systems we’d relied on for so long are now breaking down. It is, in a way, had been a collective effort to invest so much of our time and energy into growing these precarious systems. We had put all our eggs in one basket so to speak. I hope that we can come out on the other end to build an alternative future with everyone having equal access to healthcare, educational resources, a steady income and plentiful leisure time. Not in 2020 though, I think a complete restructuring of society (although necessary) would be a gradual process. It’s safe to assume that 2020 is pretty much eaten away by the virus. The damage is already done to the economy, our jobs, our summer plans, our peace of mind. But the virus also showed us that we are far more connected than we have originally thought and capable of more kindness and camaraderie. So maybe radical change is possible.


Upcoming books
We have several books at various stages of production by Hans Nøstdahl, Isa Gelb and the long awaited title by Jenny Riffle. It's coming, I promise! It'll be worth the wait. 

Still available
We recently published Beware of Trains by Brian David Stevens, In Between Breakdowns by Rosie Kliskey and Framework Vol I by Al Palmer. Copies of all are still available. 

Thank you for reading. If you have any questions or opinions please don't hesitate to get in touch.


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