Are white cube spaces boring?

Riflemaker gal­lery

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.

Gintarė Žitkevičiūtė
About author:
Gintarė Žitkevičiūtė
Gintare Zitkeviciute is Art Pit’s thinker and doer. In her work practise, she values lean approach, creativity and quick decisions. She doesn't like working with random people and thinks that a team is a heart of successful project. For that reason, she carefully picks people she works with on everyday basis. She is mostly interested in innovatio... Read further >
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