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Get to know: Panel

Back in 2010, Catriona Duffy and Lucy McEachan came together to establish Panel: an independent curatorial practice based in Glasgow.

Having previously worked together at The Lighthouse, and at what they describe as a "pivotal moment in their careers," together, the pair made the decision to pioneer an "independent model for presenting design in Scotland", that was inherently "artist-focused, not with institutional or national remit, but with a distinct and experimental curatorial voice delivered on its own terms."

It's a big goal, but Panel work tirelessly to put it into practice. "We commission designers, makers, artists, writers and other creative practitioners," they say, "to make new work grounded in research, and often in collaboration with Scottish manufacturing."

    Cultural commissioning and social context

    Panel's approach embraces design in its widest sense, incorporating craft, visual art and other art forms, presented through a range of models and methods. Crucially, the professional skills of designers, makers and artists are nurtured through cultural commissioning, which in turn aims to "raise the ambition of design and craft in a commercial and cultural context".

    As a curatorial practice, that often means mining local archives and collections, and working with partners across Scotland’s museums and heritage sector.

    "Through this work we explore contemporary connections to social histories and propose alternative ways of looking at Scotland’s current situation through cultural production," they add.

    Moreover, Panel's projects are not created specifically for one sector or group: they are aimed at a wide audience, and as the team say, they "create exhibitions, events and publications that we hope will be of interest to everyone."

    We want to present a pluralistic version of Scottish identity that reflects our diversity, in people, places and ways of making, whilst also reflecting Panel's connectedness: across art form and across networks- Catriona Duffy and Lucy McEachan, Panel

    Design in the world: from swimming pools to gym halls

    In practice, that means taking spaces that perhaps aren't traditionally used for artistic works, and infusing them with creativity.

    "We are committed to finding spaces beyond the traditionally cultural," they explain, "from gym halls to swimming pools to factory floors."

    They do this in the hopes of creating an "ambitious variety of quality exhibitions, events, [which are] all closely connected to their site and the communities that they serve.

    "We also work with venues and institutions across Scotland and much of our output is characterised by those collaborations," they say.

    "By placing new work and creative practitioners in unexpected settings, and by facilitating the expression of multiple voices across venues, spaces, organisations and regions, we aim to lay ground for new conditions through which to make and see work with design and making as its focus."

    International thinking

    As an organisation, Panel wants to use its curatorial voice to showcase Scotland's talents to the world, or rather, "define a position for design that is confident and inherently international."

    "We want to present a pluralistic version of Scottish identity that reflects our diversity," they say, "in people, places and ways of making, whilst also reflecting Panel's connectedness: across art form and across networks."

    Past projects

    Panel's inaugural project was The Inventors of Tradition (2011): an independent public programme that encompassed a new clothing collection, by fashion label Atelier E.B, presented alongside a selection of historic borrowed and archived material, gathered from across Scotland’s textile industry.

    The project intended to "map out particular connections across design, making, industry, fashion and fine art in an attempt to articulate a subjective sense of Scottish ‘style’ and to examine the idea of ‘identi­ty’ as defined through such relationships".

    Carpets of Distinction (2012), with Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh, developed some of the themes born in The Inventors of Tradition. The project took the business and design archive of Stoddard and Templeton, held at Glasgow University, and opened up material to a public audience for the first time, alongside new textile com­missions at Dovecot.

    With this project, the team say they "wanted to explore contemporary making, in particular hand-tufted rug manufacture, through collaboration between artist and weaver." The artists involved were new to working with textiles, which opened up a new creative stream in itself.

    Following on from Carpets of Distinction, their project Scotland Can Make It! developed a series of six unique limited edition souvenirs designed and manufactured entirely in - you guessed it - Scotland. Commissioned for the 20th Commonwealth Games in 2014, the souvenirs were created by leading Scottish designers and artists in close collaboration with producers, fabricators and developers across the country. The works were then presented for sale, and were the focus of a series of events that aimed to celebrate our cultural heritage, creative practice, skill and production.

    Commissioning new projects, leading on new work

    The team describe their commissioning process as "an opportunity to work with designers and creative practi­tioners with no commercial pressure from the outset.

    "Briefs are open-ended to support experimentation and risk - which is really exciting, to work in this way with designers, allowing projects to flourish without being beholden to particular predetermined, or client-led outcomes."

    Their whole philosophy on projects, though, is rooted in an inherent love of design, and an awareness of its role in our cultural landscape.

    "We believe that design and craft are interconnected cultural, social and economic concerns and as such are relevant to everyone. We believe that people should have the opportunity to engage in the processes of design and making, raising awareness of the value of creative activity and its role in improving health and well-being, and local and national economies.

    "We feel very lucky to be in a position where we can potentially create a haven for artists and for audiences, as Scotland’s social and political landscape evolves. How can an impartial, strategically managed design and craft programme challenge, debate and examine national and international concerns as we navigate states of political and social change?"

    Becoming an RFO

    Previously, Panel did not have any core funding. "Rather," they explain, "we have generated income to cover our modest overheads though fees from project funding and consultancy."

    As one of the new Regularly Funded Organisations for 2018-21, Panel are focussing on "developing a more strategic and sustainable programme."

    "During this period we intend to develop major new commissioning projects, complemented by an annual publishing commission and an associated public events programme," they say. "We would also like to expand our support for designers and makers by developing the ways we work with our partners, audiences and collaborators both locally and internationally."

    "Securing a period of stability over three years, empowering us to reduce consultancy work, will fundamentally transform our capacity to research and deliver our programme meaningfully as the company grows.

    "Being part of the network of RFOs means that Panel can be responsive to such opportunity when there is a need, and that through such flexibility our artists and our audiences can become well equipped to understand the ways in which alternative viewpoints and perspectives can be presented and recast through culture."

    As for the future, Panel hope to continue to "lead and inspire a critical, cultural and independent public space for design in Scotland."

    "This is what we hope to continue doing by supporting makers, designers and artists and by working with others to create ambitious and thought-provoking programmes."

    Image information (see gallery) - One: The Inventors of Tradition (2011), Vacant retail unit, Stockwell Street, Glasgow, Atelier E.B, Exhibition installation view, photograph: Alan Dimmick; Two: Carpets of Distinction (2012), A partnership with Dovecot Tapestry Studio, Edinburgh, John Byrne, Nick Evans, Ruth Ewan, Alasdair Gray, Nicolas Party, Joanne Tatham and Tom O’Sullivan, Exhibition installation view, photograph: Michael Wolchover; Three: Nicolas Party hand-tufted rug ‘Landscape’ in progress at Dovecot, photograph: Jonathan Cleaver; Four: The Golden Tenement, Neil McGuire and Marianne Anderson for Scotland Can Make It! (2014), a commission for the XX Commonwealth Games, Glasgow, photograph: Gordon Burniston; Five: The Inventors of Tradition II (2015), The Palace of Art, Atelier E.B, Exhibition installation view, photograph: Keith Hunter; Six: O YES, performance, a recreation of Yes O Yes by Michael Clark Company for The Inventors of Tradition II, The Art School, Glasgow, Photograph: Alan Dimmick; Seven: Votes for Women Cushion by Donna Wilson, for From Glasgow Women’s Library (2018), photograph: Caro Weiss; Eight: 'Language, Slogans and Graphic Design' talk chaired by Edwin Pickstone with Sally Hackett and Maeve Redmond for From Glasgow Women’s Library, photograph: Sequoia Hearne.

    This article was published on 30 May 2018