Tuesday, 2 March 2010

The Woodmill

Just a few weeks back in February, The Woodmill threw open its doors to the public in a perfectly buzzing first night, with its exhibition, The Devil’s Necktie. We all know what it’s like, when you are the host numbers are everything - but The Woodmill had nothing to worry about; opening nights couldn’t get much better. With almost 1,000 people at the private view, this event can safely be accepted as one of the successes, a promising starting point for what is to come.

Goodness, so what is it all about? Under the roof of The Woodmill is a studio and gallery complex, made up of over 50 artist studios, 2 gallery spaces and a project space. It will run for two years, in which time it plans to give us a strong mix of exhibitions, talks, workshops and events that combine both the talent of early career artists, with the already established – enough to keep anybody busy.

The two that got this project off the ground are The Woodmill’s directors Naomi Pearce and Tom Trevatt, working with a strong team that includes, Emily Hussey, Dave Charlesworth and Thom O’Nions. I revisited The Woodmill after the PV to have a proper snoop round the place and had a chat with Tom about the project so far.

It cannot be denied that it is the welfare of the artists that is at the heart of this project. As Tom explained:

“We’re very excited to work so closely with artists at this stage in their careers. The project is supported by them financially through the rental of studios, but also the unquantifiable support they offer in terms of advice, skills, emotional and intellectual engagement is second to none.”

The Woodmill is dedicated to providing sustainable and affordable studio space. Offering rents at almost half the price of other London studios, it is unsurprising that they are already full up, having had twice as many applications to spaces, and now a nice waiting list for those patient hopefuls.

“Property prices in London often make it difficult for artists to find space, this project encourages the development of an artist’s career without the financial pressures of maintaining an expensive studio. The knock on effects of this are huge.”

Those knock on effects are out to be seen in the opening exhibition The Devil’s Necktie, a group show of the studio artists’ work and a good one to kick off with. Despite there being fifty-six artists with studios and as a result, sixty works in the exhibition, the density is a really positive factor – from sculpture to video, installation to wall painting – this diverse exhibition shows the talent that is working under the roof of The Woodmill and how together they have created an effective working community. Tom explained the importance of this starting exhibition:

“This was, in a sense, a watershed moment for us. The moment that made all the planning and hard-work worthwhile. As with everything so far, all the artists worked hard and we managed to install the entire exhibition of 56 or more pieces in under two days.”

There is an undeniable sense of common purpose already at The Woodmill, these are not the type of studios that you slink in and out of, “we often eat together in large groups, discuss ideas and offer solutions to problems. Without this supportive network we would be just another studio and gallery complex in London.”

Almost as if spoilt for choice – there is a project space and two gallery spaces - one being in an out building, dubbed The Hanger. This is the first part of The Devil’s Necktie you will find. Welcoming you is a wonderful work by Yuri Pattison, hanging ceiling to ground, these swathes of fantastically coloured fabric immediately pump energy in to the vast space and states that this is an exhibition that is not intimidated by scale – just like The Woodmill project as a whole.

Their next exhibition will open in April, a solo show from the Spanish artist, Elena Bajo. In the next two years of The Woodmill, both Naomi and Tom will curate the exhibitions and will invite guest curators for collaboration in the gallery, whilst Thom O’Nions will curate the project space. There is no set theme or structure to the exhibitions – Naomi and Tom want things to remain fresh, interested to see how different artists work together. There is also a residency programme, managed by Thom and Dave, who will invite national and international artists to The Woodmill.

It is not just exhibitions that this project offers the public. Talks and film screenings will be held in the project space. Print studios, sounds recording rooms and wood workshops are all being set up, managed by Emily. A reference library has also been created, titled Past Projects, which will be open to the public during exhibitions. Artists and curators will recommend books to be held here and so over time, it will begin to chart the project.

The project is self-sustainable, allowing it to develop in its own way, which avoids the usual financial and policy restraints. There is also a political motivation to the project. As Tom recognizes, “A gallery or art space is an actor in a wider network of social and political situations. With the numbers of artists working in The Woodmill we occupy an amazing position to realise certain potentials that a smaller gallery might not be able to.”

So all in all, The Woodmill is certainly going to be contributing a great deal, both to a large group of emergent artists and to those who visit the complex. You cannot help but be impressed by the scale of this project, and the enthusiasm with which it is being carried out. This is definitely one to watch. Bookmark it, post-it note it, pencil it in your diary - make sure you go visit it.

The Woodmill

Holly Willats

The Devil's Necktie: 12 February – 7 March 2010
Elena Bajo: 8 April – 16 May 2010

Thursday to Sunday, 12 - 6pm

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