It seems that we are living in a century of change. The traditions are being broken, institutions are forced to change the vertical format to horizontal, critic is getting louder and sharper. The present period is one of those regularly repeating cycles, when societies’ values are shaken up, systems clean up themselves and appears a new clean platform to build everything from beginning. This type of important phenomenon like the global internet expansion and free information accessibility created a possibility for separate individuals to make more radical decisions. The so called “Out of the box thinking” for ambitious people became not an exceptional quality, but a necessary attribute in personal characteristic. No positions, no hierarchy, no privileges. It seems that precisely now two sides begin a heated and tense discussion. A very good example is in global scale researched Wikileaks history, when a small, independent horizontal organization, was forced to fight with a rooted vertical mutant.
The art scene is also fretting. The discussion about art’s status, the influence of institutions and the dependability is getting sharper, emphasized in press, examined by anthropologists and philosophers. Everywhere receding funding sharpens the discussions about what is really needed in the society and whose time has come to become history. The angular rock of modernism is being moved – aesthetics and space understanding. The main theme of this article is space, its transformations and use of it. The main object can be found in Soho area, in London. Let’s talk about Riflemaker gallery, its curators’ position and work style.
Understanding of the exhibition space. Riflemaker gallery curators Virginia Damtsa and Tot Taylor, when beginning talking about the main goals of their activity, first of all, emphasize the space of the gallery. Tot Taylor in one interview (with Michael Xuereb) claims that white gallery walls that are sort of created because of art pieces, trying to emphasize the piece as much as possible, eliminate any look that could distract element is an absolute absurd and relic. All the galleries, chosen the white wall format, are trying to create a neutral space, in which an art piece would not have any connection with the walls, would not have to fight for attention – these spaces are similar, boring, lifeless, don’t have any characteristic. T. Taylor strictly says that this is just a falsification because life, nothing less than that, has nothing in common with this thinking and lifeless cubes that have no position.
Exactly driven by this type of thinking and avoiding to start another one white gallery collectors T. Taylor and V. Damtsa established themselves probably in one of the most active art spot in the world – Soho area in London. Their gallery space is one of the oldest buildings in this territory. In 1712 here was a gun craftsman’s workshop. After starting to work in this historic shop, the duet decided to leave the space as it was 300 years ago — with all disadvantages and advantages, the dust and bullet marks on the walls.
This decision opened up a possibility for a different atmosphere and thinking. After stepping inside, the viewer immediately notices the unique handles, door number 79, a fireplace and walls, covered by planks. Going up, scraping of the stairs is heard, and contemporary artworks are forced to have a dialog with the interior and the history. The viewer feels that nothing is being hidden from him, he has the freedom to open the doors and to explore the oldest public building in London (the exhibition space is situated through three floors). Questions about white walls and correct art representation don’t even enter your mind, all that is left is to enjoy the space harmony.
The artists’ selection and dialog with the curators. Some galleries search for artists for exhibitions themselves, others announce contests and accept personal artists’ applications. Riflemakers does not emphasize some single selection way, the curators say that it’s a natural spontaneous process, which isn’t in some way influenced or imposed by a strict system. Another exceptional characteristic of the gallery is that there are 12 weeks given for the exhibition and not 4 like in most of other galleries. T. Taylor says that this gallery is oriented towards artists and only towards them. That is why exhibitions are given such a great deal of attention, they last for a longer period of time. Sales for the Riflemaker is not the main goal contrarily than to most spaces, established in Soho area. The commercial aspect is not important for the curators, whereas, a great deal of attention is given to the gallery events such as discussions, concerts, film reviews and performances.
99 percent of London galleries and museums are free, that is why the support of visitors is very important. Another very interesting fact is that the curators try never emphasize their names (not even personal photos in the press).
Art forms. Sometimes happens that gallery space is very interesting and unique, however, the presented artists disappoint. Sometimes conversely, we have interesting artists but a very boring space. Riflemaker is one of those examples, when both aspects fit and complement one another. To tell you the truth, I was pleasantly surprised finding such a variety and a wide creation assortment in one gallery. It’s unique to notice and experience very different artists’ pieces fitted and presented in one space. Riflemaker point of view is certainly open minded and analytical. On the first gallery floor I found interactive installations and new media art. I had to play, move stuff, interact with artworks. Whereas, on the second and third floors I found a more illustrative artworks. Artist J. King can be labeled as a representative of the traditional art, influenced by Indian culture, whereas, just nearby in the front door room I found artists analysing feministic topics, mostly through photo collages and object techniques.
Contact with the visitors. The staff of Riflemaker communicate with the visitors very closely. If you want to look over the exhibition, you have to ring the bell. A girl, working at the table, tells where you can go, and answers questions, if you have some. There is no wall between the working and the exhibition spaces, however, there is no discomfort. Everything is very simple and open.
The gallery name. As you know the word Riflemaker means a craftsman, who makes guns. Gallery name got a gun shop name because the curators did not want to change not only the interior of the space but also the exterior with all the décor. Precisely that is why the old writing, which became the name, is left. Surely, this decision got loads of critic. It was said that it has nothing in common with art, is associated with prison and killing but curators replied that they don’t care about that and sooner or later people will start to associate this name with a public space. And that is what happened.
I would like to add that even though most conservative people from art world support white cubes and black boxes (theatres, cinemas), and think that they still are the only acceptable spaces for art representation, it’s immensely important that the aesthetics of space understanding gradually changes. I like new interpretations and opinions, if you are interested in this topic as well take a look at book Rethninking Curating by MIT Press.