In a city with plenty of museums and galleries conscribing to the classic (dare I say - boring) model of displaying work, Guest Projects has stepped in to shake things up.
The canal-side exhibition space gives artists and art collectives a free (!!) month-long period in which to display their work, affording them the time and space to test out new ideas, encourage collaboration and feedback and promote their work and their cause.
From July 21 st - August 8 th, the space was occupied by a collection of work curated by La Wayaka Current, a UK-based art initiative, whom I happen to be doing a residency with in September. They organise residencies in remote locations - Arctic, Desert and Tropic - and encourage artists to explore the implications of working in these environments.
La Wayaka Current packed their allotted exhibition time with talks, workshops and film screenings, and managed to smoothly arrange 21 pieces of work in a single square room. With a selection of works ranging from sound installation to traditional Panamanian Molas, the catalogued items were as diverse as the countries they came from.
The work celebrated the diversity of plants, cultures and biomes whilst promoting the potential of earthy materials like wood, cotton canvas and clay. With many artists exploring themes of climate change and the increasingly strained relationship between city and wilderness, the collection of work could have easily become accusatory or preachy.
The actual result was far from it, rather a celebration of the professionalism and potential of a collection of diverse artists, in which the viewer is subtly nudged to ruminate on the fragility and transcendence of the last few wildernesses on Earth (one of the best ways of turning people on to the realities of climate change, in my opinion).
The 'gallery' was reminiscent of an informal pop-up exhibition or artist-led space. It was refreshing to see so many works of art in a space that wasn't the least bit intimidating, nor creaking under the weight of institutional norms (no 'Do Not Touch' signs or gallery reps pushing to make a sale).
I visited on the exhibition's final day. I hate to say it, but if there wasn't a solid 'end point' or fairly short duration to the show, I probably wouldn't have made the effort to travel down to London to see it, which piles credibility onto the 'pop-up exhibition' model. The work felt new and exciting and wasn't like anything else I'd seen over a few days in London.
Everything had a place - it didn't feel like anything was included just for the sake of it, and unlike older, more established galleries, there wasn't the slightly morbid sense that the work had been wheeled out of a store room for a few weeks, just to be stuffed back in when the exhibition ended. Furthermore, since each piece was, if not created, then at least conceptualised whilst on residency in a remote location, the work maintained a sense of ephemerality.
The one gripe I did take away, was the lack of clear marking against each piece of work. There was a floor plan posted near the entrance, where the works were named alongside corresponding numbers, so I guess if I was really concentrating I could've made a mental map, but I ended up feeling a bit blind.
Call me old fashioned, but I love traditional gallery plaques that at least tell me the artist's name, the medium and a short description of the work. If I have to work hard to unearth this information, chances are I'll give up out of frustration. The thought of artists not being fully recognised for their work gives me anxiety, and it seems as if the process of forgoing traditional museum placards is making this a real possibility.
I remember first seeing this method at Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester whilst I was at university. Rather than using traditional information plaques the curators decided to number each piece and provide a laminated sheet with the titles of each corresponding number. This did allow for more paintings-per-wall, but I found the whole thing immensely confusing. Not to mention the fact that museum hand-outs have a 90% chance of being left in the cafe/cloakroom/handbag of an elderly lady and so half the visitors didn't even get to see the listed titles.
I have a hunch this will be the next challenge for contemporary curators. Until then, more inter-disciplinary pop up shows, please.
Guest Projects, 1 Andrews Road, London, E8 4QL