We were back in Cass Art Islington for our last Zealous Meetup of the year!
From synagogue basements and the Sea Life Aquarium to the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, Philippine Nguyen (co-founder, Art Night) recounted stories of finding unconventional venues for the festival. With over 150 studios across 8 spaces, arebyte has really grown in the last 6 months. Rebecca Edwards (curator, arebyte) shared her hopes for how they want to get a community going in an area that was previously lacking.
WORKING WITH TEMPORARY SPACE
Since relocating to London City Island last month, people have questioned whether arebyte is siding with the developers who are pushing artists out. “The area was derelict before so we’re trying to bring culture and creativity in”, explained Rebecca. It can be difficult to convince property owners and developers to see the advantage in housing artist studios. She pointed out the value of speaking to them face-to-face and cutting out the middleman. If developers have disused buildings while they’re waiting for developments to take place, arebyte take them over at a low cost for short periods, which means they can then offer them to artists at cheap prices. As more and more studios are closing, it’s great to use in-between spaces but the temporary nature can be detrimental. “If they’re going to be redeveloped eventually, how can they make sure that studio spaces can be at the heart of what they’re doing? Philippine asked.
It’s tricky to find venues and locations for Art Night. Due to the festival’s ephemeral nature, Philippine and the team wouldn’t be able to explore particular venues if it they were needed for longer than just one night. They’ve used iconic venues like the courtyard of Somerset House and secret venues that were “hard-to-find, hard to convince and sometimes hard to operate”, like a disused tube platform and Admiralty Arch. Philippine had to speak to one developer for six months before they agreed to let artist Nina Beier use one of their luxury show flats for her Art Night performance. Beier had previously asked developers in New York if she could use a luxury flat but had no luck, instead using a white cube in the Swiss Embassy. Philippine told us, “We thought, ‘let’s do this project the way it was intended’.” In the end, the developers funded the project and got great PR so it was a win-win.
THINK BEYOND SPACE
At a time when the cost of studios is rising steadily, more artists are coming to arebyte in search of studio space, but it’s less about fine art and more about digital. Why? There just isn’t enough space. “It’s hard when an artist can’t progress because of money.” Rebecca acknowledged. “If you’re a sculptor making large-scale work and you don’t have the space to make it, what are you supposed to do?” The increase in artists using digital and new media technology isn’t so much a trend but a necessity.
This challenge also faces the curator. “A lot of work we show is immaterial or it’s performance-based, and then there’s the question of documentation. Can you document a performance? Should you document a performance?” Rebecca asked. Philippine echoed this point, adding that when Art Night staged a light, sound and smoke installation in the Bascule Chamber below Tower Bridge, it was a huge technical headache. “One of these projects is tricky in terms of logistics, but then you have fifteen of them happening at the same time.” With just 24 hours’ notice, the show could have been cancelled if a shipping vessel needed to pass beneath the bridge.
arebyte will be presented with new challenges in 2018 with the exhibitions they have commissioned for their ‘Islands’ theme. Mary Mattingly will create three islands to be docked outside Canary Wharf, a continuation of a similar project she created on the Hudson River. Mark Farid will wear a VR headset for 28 days in the gallery, living as ‘the Other’ for his project ‘Seeing I’, which presents its own unique set of challenges for the team.
EMBRACE NEW ENVIRONMENTS
Both established and younger artists have been invited to showcase their work at Art Night, with newer artists commenting that it was a great opportunity to expand their practice. It offered them an opportunity to do something they wouldn’t have been able to do in the traditional environment of a gallery or museum. Artist, Lindsay Seers was commissioned to exhibit an existing work in the Masonic Temple. Once she saw the space, Lindsay thought it was too great to show an existing piece and decided to create something completely new.
Exploring new spaces also helps to facilitate more accessible and engaging art. One of Philippine’s favourite Art Night projects was Melanie Manchot’s ‘Dance All Night London’ (a continuation of her project, ‘Dance All Night Paris’). The artist invited ten east end dance schools to gather in a corporate square near Liverpool Street, where they offered dance lessons to the public using a silent disco system. The piece has had a lasting legacy, with the Arts Council about to add it to their collection. They will be able to lend the performance and video components of the project to any gallery in the UK that wants to recreate something similar.
From a curatorial perspective, arebyte’s new gallery is mostly windows with little wall space which Rebecca said is a challenge when it comes to projections. “You’re constantly thinking of new ways to exhibit work.” She hopes that by embracing the island and partnering with their new neighbours, more new projects will take place outside the gallery space.
Rebecca and Philippine emphasised that a personal touch and an open mind can work wonders when searching for new spaces. Their advice for getting started? Try and go to shows in the venue/gallery where you want to exhibit your work. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to the team. Know who you’re contacting and personalise your emails.