Interview with Ann Franke
Ritz Hotel, 17th of March 1999.


Nina: Can you just start by telling me about your role with Ulay.

Ann: Fine, well let's see ... my Name is Ann Francke that's f-r-a-n-c-k-e and no 'e' on the Ann, because that's something that never gets done correctly, but never mind! I'm the marketing director on Oil of Olay, formerly known as Oil of Ulay, and also on Olay Colour which is the cosmetics line, formerly known as Oil of Ulay cosmetics.

Nina: OK (laughing)

Ann: Now you have all the proper names, Olay Colour is the lead sponsor of the Award for Women Artists, and ...

Nina: ... and am I right in thinking that the Award is your baby? That you originated ... well, perhaps you could say a little bit about the fact it started last year?

Ann: So, you might ask how did we get into 'women and art' with Olay?

Nina: Yes.

Ann: It did start when we launched the cosmetics line - Olay Colour, we were thinking about Olay's brand values which are really about empowerment and celebration of women, we were thinking about entering into makeup - and makeup for women is about transforming themselves, and enhancing themselves, bringing out a better side of themselves ... it's basically using colour to express yourself. Well, it isn't a huge leap to go from that to the notion of art, because after all art is about using colour and materials to express yourself. So, when we launched we teamed with five conceptual women artists and we commissioned works and the only brief was we asked them to incorporate the make up somehow into the work ... and that's the door bell!

Nina: Oh, I'll get it ... (I collect room service) This is hilarious - I should have said at the start of this that we're in the Ritz, in our own suite now ...

Ann: Yes, anyway we teamed with these conceptual artists and we asked them to in some way incorporate the makeup in their work, and they all did and we launched installations at the ICA, and we also asked them to do a 30 second video of their work and we aired that the first week of launch, prime time - the same time every night for five days, instead of the usual launch commercial. That's not to say we didn't have then a more commercial campaign, but that's what we used to launch the fact that Olay was going into colour cosmetics. So, it's about transforming yourself through make-up, artists also express themselves through art, and women express themselves through make-up and you could say make-up is an art form ... and that's how it came about.

Nina: So maybe you could talk a bit about the way the award has changed this year, because the remit this year was particularly for women who work with technology wasn't it?

Ann: Yes ... So, the question was, fine, we've done that now where do we go? Again because we were very pleased with the association with the women artists, we thought it was a very good project and we wanted to continue it in some way but we didn't just want to do the same thing again. We wanted to move on and move forward, just like the times, and we thought about ... OK, it's 1999, obviously the century is changing, and so is the means and ways of communicating. You know, we're in the digital age, and we thought wouldn't it be nice to tap into that as a cultural trend, because that too opens up new possibilities of expressing yourself, and new possibilities for women, and for artists. So, we thought why not link the award to digital art, and turn it into an 'award' instead of a series of commissions, so that we would enable younger artists to get exposure to electronic media, to create with electronic media and then be able to pick one work for an even larger commission in time for the Millennium. So it's sort of bringing together women, art and the digital technology in a way that we hope will be good for everybody.

Nina: So, how do you see this kind of thing affecting Ulay? Maybe you could site it alongside similar campaigns that you're doing at the same time.

Ann: Well, it's really about the brand values interpreted in a more contemporary and slightly more avant garde way. Because, Olay as a brand has always been about understanding women, it's seen as a very trusted brand, it's seen as a very positive brand, an empowering sort of a brand, and a lot of women see it as, you know, an uplifting friend. Now, if you want to interpret that in new ways it leads you to ... OK, this brand should be about helping women with a vision, it should be about helping women to express themselves, and the award for women artists captures that part of Olay, and it's at the forefront of the brand - we're hoping that the relationship with women and with art is seen as a signal for what we want the brand to stand for. It's not a mainstream commercial campaign, we are not expecting to have a direct link between sponsoring a prize for women artists and digital art and selling lipsticks ... but it's more about celebrating the brand values in a way that's unique - that does have a relevance and that's contemporary and a little bit more cutting edge.

Nina: Do you personally have many connections to the visual arts? Is it a kind of personal interest which has prompted launching it?

Ann: Well, I've always enjoyed art it's always been an interest of mine and I suppose it's nice that you're able to somehow combine your personal interests with business interests, but I don't think that's a driving factor. I do think that one of the things that I notice about the Millennium, that happened a hundred years ago as well if you think about it, is that at the end of the century the cultural worlds tend to converge. Certainly that happened at the end of the last century, through a lot of movements and most notably in places like Russia with the constructivists or in Paris where you had the coming together of politics, of music, of theatre and of art and it wasn't uncommon at all for artists to design theatre costumes or indeed to do political posters. I suppose today at the end of the C20 the world of commerce has become so prevalent in peoples lives - perhaps much like politics was a hundred years ago, and I think it's nice to bring worlds together, so you have the world of art, the world of commerce and you're bringing them together in a way that is looking towards the future and in a way that is celebrating women.

Nina: What do you hope the audience coming to the show will take away from it?

Ann: Well, I suppose audiences take away ... each individual always takes away their own interpretation. What we would like them to do, is recognize that there can be interesting new ways of expressing yourself through digital media, we'd like them to like the works and admire both the works themselves and the women behind the works and have a bit of fun and think perhaps to themselves that it's a present surprise that a brand such as Olay is giving these people a chance. But, again we won't be selling lipsticks on the day!

Nina: No (laughs)

Ann: So, it's more about building a relationship with the people who do come to the exhibition, that might be more of an indirect, more of an emotional relationship ... and also about saying that women shouldn't be afraid of digital media - you know, they should embrace it and that's what we'd like to encourage women to do.

Nina: You know, obviously, that for my piece I'm collaborating with Ladbrokes and I'm trying to spread the work outside the gallery environment. I just wondered if you had any comment about that? I mean in some ways it ties in with what you were saying about two worlds coming closer together - so artists starting to use the media much more directly and trying to manipulate that coverage rather than it just being a comment on what they produce in a gallery space ... I've just given you some betting slips as well, so I hope you are going to go and place a bet!

Ann: Absolutely.

Nina: You are allowed to, it's only the artists who can't bet.

Ann: Well, I think that it's a great idea, and that's very much in keeping with what we are trying to do on Olay ... celebrate this, disseminate it in a way, make more people aware of it. What you're doing is very much in line with what we did with the virtual gallery where we aired these conceptual art works to millions of people, we shared them, we took it out of a gallery environment so that they could actually experience it, and what you're doing is very much along that same philosophical line - you're sharing this with people outside of a rarified art environment and I think that's great, that's exactly the kind of thing that we would hope to achieve.

Nina: Lastly I was interested to know why you switched to a competition rather than a series of commissions, I mean I know that we are all producing new work for it but the focus is ... because it's such a large prize, the focus is inevitably going to come down to what will happen to the winner - and maybe linked to that how you hope it might affect the person who wins the award and maybe the other artists involved in it.

Ann: Well, we're working this in collaboration with the LUX Centre and make, and we had a lot of discussions about this, and I think that people felt that it would be in many ways more noticed if we did make a selection and attach an award to it. So, it wasn't a very debated, deliberate kind of a choice - it was sort of an evolution. We had five works last year, this year we'll have five works but we'll pick one - that's how it came about. I would hope that all of the artists who are taking part in the exhibition this year will gain something from the experience, and certainly my hope is that the winner will also gain from the experience and have the possibility of creating another work on a larger scale. Our intention is that really, all the artists taking part should be seen and celebrated and that as many of the works as possible should be moved on and incorporated in our next event for the Millennium which will be something that we are doing together with Visionnaire magazine.

Nina: OK, that's great, did you want to ask me anything?

Ann: Sure, now, are you trained as a journalist!

Nina: Why does it show that I'm not!

Ann: No, on the contrary, I'm asking because I trained as a journalist .. so, how did you come up with the idea for the betting?

Nina: It was a long haul! I was ... well unusually when I had to write the proposal I had two weeks when I was totally on my own, which was complete bliss, because normally you have to do these things really quickly ... and I was thinking around lots of ideas to do with competitions, the line between amateur artists and professional artists, a lot of my projects are to do with dispersing things so that was quite an obvious link, and to start with I'd thought about running a parallel competition for amateur artists and looking at you know, within digital art what does it mean to be 'professional' or 'amateur'. Then I just went and looked around Hoxton, and went to the bookies, and I thought this is a really nice juxtaposition, because you know the area has been very gentrified of late ... and then I just liked the idea ... Well, I find the idea of being in a competition quite daunting and so instead of just trying to ignore that I thought it was better to do something that dealt with that in a very up front sort of way. So, you know the whole world of gambling, I have mixed emotions about that, and lottery funding for the arts and so I just hope that the piece touches on all of those things ...

Ann: So, you're confronting some of your demons? Embracing them!

Nina: No, because, well other than refusing to participate in a competitive situation you don't really have much choice about it, but, you know this gives you a chance to look at the pros and cons of that situation.

Ann: Do you think it's a mistake to make it a competition? Do you think that it would be better not a competition.

Nina: Well, I think in terms of Ulay it's not a mistake - in that, I think you're right it is more 'publicity worthy' as a competition, but I think it's definitely quite stressful for the people involved in it. But unfortunately patronage in a ... well if you'd just given us all an amount of money to make a piece of work it doesn't generate as much publicity. So, I can see why that situation evolves. I'm torn about it because you know, I think the Turner prize does a lot to publicize art, and I think a lot of people do go and see that who would never go to a gallery normally but then on the other hand you go to see the work and there are so many people there that you're viewing it in a very artificial situation ... so you know I have a lot of mixed feelings about the whole sort of area.
It's interesting working with Ladbrokes their approach is so different to someone actually making a piece that you do really have to think about how you describe your work to people in that situation and how you work with them to generate something that both of you are happy with. So, just really a process of opening it up ... I like the idea that somebody could perceive the work on a very simple level of just getting a slip through the post and going to a betting shop - but then other people will go to the web site and will read ... you know I've done interviews like this with all the artists, very detailed transcripts about what they are trying to make. So, I'm hoping it will work on lots of different levels.

Ann: Great, well and also I think all of the artists should be very proud that they were selected in the first place, and we Olay, have not ... obviously we've over seen it but we haven't interfered, we've been quite conscious that this does need to be seen and respected as art. So, we've had the selection panel, who nominated the five of you, were a very 'art aware' and informed group, so I hope you all feel very good about being asked to participate.

Nina: I think it will be a good exhibition, the pieces that are being made are very good, so it should be an interesting show.

Ann: Good, well I'm looking forward to it and I think it's great that you're all involved and that you've asked every body about their work ...

Nina: It's not over yet! Things are getting hotter and hotter towards the date ...

Ann: I hope that, and this was very much the feeling that was left amongst the participants last year, that people had fun, because that's important to. So, I hope that people just enjoy the experience, enjoy the work, and whether or not they win enjoy the exposure, and maybe make some new interesting connections through that ... because , you know, also it's about building relationships and if you create something like this it's an opportunity to connect people and build relationships that might lead to new things, new opportunities and again that's a very important aspect of this that shouldn't be overlooked - irrespective of who wins.

Nina: Yes, I'm looking forward to you meeting Ed Nicholson from Ladbrokes, who's incredibly enthusiastic about the whole thing - he's working out the odds today so I have to phone him when I get back to see what they are!

Ann: Great.