Monday, 24 May 2010

Dilston Grove Relaunch

The Dilston Grove space reopens on Thursday after a two year renovation project. I met up with David Allen, one of the artists who runs CGP London and Dilston Grove to have a sneak preview of the space and talk to him about the programme for 2010.

We met at CGP before walking over to Dilston Grove, which seemed fitting as this is the site where it all started. In 1984 the Bermondsey Artists’ Group, fed up with submitting work for exhibitions with open submissions, decided to host their own group exhibition. All with studios in South London, they started scouting around for a space to exhibit and put their hopes on the derelict café next to the lido in Southwark Park. A concrete wreck, the council were happy for them to use it as long as they did it up themselves. After exhibiting in the space for several years, they eventually knocked it down to rebuild what is a pristine, white walled gallery, and so twenty six years on, they are still there. It was during the two years of rebuilding CGP that the Bermondsey group nosed about for another temporary space to use; their gaze rested merely minutes away, on the disused Clare College Mission Church on Dilston Grove.

Except for a brief year when Richard Wentworth used the space as a studio, the church had been derelict since the sixties. First up was a group show, with some big names involved, which put Dilston Grove firmly on the map. From this starting point came other exciting exhibitions such as Ackroyd & Harvey, who grew grass up the interior wall space of the building. Following this was Michael Cross’ Bridge, where the space was flooded and the public had to walk across stepping stones that rose up out of the water as you made your way across. David tells the tale when one art critic fell in to the dark murky water in their new Diesel jeans! I could go on about all the fantastic exhibitions this initially temporary space held, but it is the renovation that I went to find out about.

Whilst David took me over to the site, he explained the changes that have been made to the space and their intentions with these. The rebuild of CGP created a stark, white gallery environment, whereas the concept for Dilston Grove couldn’t be more different. Those who loved the raw, disused quality of the space before can rest assured that the renovators felt the same, and so have gone out of their way to make sure it maintains this raw edge.

Dilston Grove is a listed building, for the wonderful reason that it is a very early example of poured concrete. And so not only did the project need an architect, it also needed a heritage architect – so this is very much a collaboration between the history of the building, and its new function. David points out that the main problem was the roof. Before the renovation they would have to get the buckets out if it looked like it was going to rain. The first chunk of the funding therefore went towards restoring the roof – using as many of the old slates as could be reasonably rescued to keep the look of the place as it had been beforehand.

Those who visited Dilston Grove before its makeover will remember having to scramble round the back of the building by the neighbours’ gardens to get to the entrance. The building is much more accessible now, with disabled access and a reception area, (that had been the blacked-out side room, used for showing films). Now don’t be alarmed, this reception is out to trick you. As you enter through the enormous glass walled entrance and find yourself in a perfectly white plastered room, with under-floor heating and varnished floorboards, your heart may sink – but fret not, they haven’t transformed Dilston Grove in to a modernised white cube. A large unobtrusive heavy door to the right will automatically open for you, inviting you ethereally in to the original space.

A wonderful surprise is how best I would describe this entrance; the Dilston Grove church is undeniably impressive. Large cracks in the walls, old white peeling paint, battered windows, dusty floorboards all within a vast open space - and it is beautiful. There is character good enough to charm the most OCD of gallery-goers. David rushes me round in enthusiasm. All the floorboards have been taken up, the new electrics put in, and the old floorboards put back down – every detail in this renovation has been sensitive to the original personality of this building. With the exception of some very discreet bars to light the roof if needed, there is no gallery lighting as the space will rely on the natural light. The nave is still raised and the balcony above it watches over the builders scaffolding.

The relaunch of Dilston Grove will open with the exhibition, Mémoire by Congolese artist, Sammy Baloji. Photographs documenting the exact place of Patrice Lumumba’s assassination in January 1961 will be projected. Whilst down by the nave, the abstract video, Mémoire wil be shown, which was shot in collaboration with the Congolese performance artist Faustin Linyekula. This building is very apt for the film; shot in derelict Congolese factories and now shown in this once derelict building.

David explains that Dilston Grove will hold three shows a year, but hopes that this will expand if they manage to secure more funding. The exhibitions will focus on work that is site specific; work that plays off the environment of this building and works at its best within it. In between exhibitions, the space will be used to hold artist performances, and considering the dramatic size and atmosphere of Dilston Grove, I think it will lend itself naturally to this.

So on Thursday there is one place I know I will be, and I would recommend you all make your way to. The inspiring and exciting exhibitions Dilston Grove hosted previously to its renovation, can only promise great things for 2010.

CGP & Dilston Grove

Preview and Relaunch: 27 May 2010, 6.30-8.30pm
Exhibition: 2 June – 4 July 2010

Saturday, 1 May 2010

The Pigeon Wing

The Pigeon Wing is a gallery space in Deptford, run by three graduates from the St Martins’ Fine Art course. Alastair T. Willey, Isobel Shirley and Sarah Jury opened the space sixteen months ago. I went along to have a look round the gallery and meet the curators.

Just a few minutes from South Bermondsey station, this warehouse building is on the opposite end of town from the usual east end scene. Whilst being mauled by the gallery cat, I sat down with Alastair and Sarah (Isabel being in New York), to discuss the beginnings of the gallery. Alastair and Sarah explained the difficulty in finding studios after they graduated from St Martins in 2008. They wanted to find a location where they would be free to do what they wanted with the space, that was a good size to hold a gallery as well as their studios, and that wasn’t over budget.

‘We saw some really expensive disastrous studio spaces up in Hackney, that kind of made you want to cry when you heard the price. One was about £900 a month – and then we’d still have to get other people in as well to be able to pay that price. That’s a problem, by the time you’ve got it so that you can actually live there, you’ve got a gallery space the size of this table.’

This is a problem that I’m sure many reading this will either have experienced, or appreciate. Sarah agreed with Alastair, ‘It’s difficult to have an open space that’s not going to take all your money away.’ But the trio struck gold with this building – waiting to be renovated into flats, the landlord was happy for them to have it at a reasonable rent if they cleared the top floor… this leads us on to the title of the gallery – The Pigeon Wing. I think you can imagine without me having to create the picture for you, what exactly it was that needed clearing up! With that said, the space was transformed and now offers exhibitors a fantastic large, open and light area.

Once in the building, they did not waste much time getting started. When the worst was cleared up, they started with some film screenings and weekly crits, ‘We opened in the winter! That’s how keen we were to do things – we thought we could do it through the winter – we tried, and we did it, but everyone was all wrapped up in coats.’ They then found a rather unusual way to give themselves a nudge on starting the exhibition programme:

‘To make ourselves do it we created this weird situation, where we had a dinner party – we said everyone who comes, has to be in this exhibition, and during the dinner party everyone is going to write down a name for an exhibition and we’ll put them in a hat and pick out the title for the show during the meal – which we did, which wasn’t the deepest concept – but it was more to make us do it. And we got The Reasoning Show.’

The curators invite people to exhibit in the space, accept proposals and have begun to collaborate with other groups and spaces.

‘When we started, obviously because we studied fine art in London we know a lot of the young artists here, we do show our friends, or friends of friends – but then it’s difficult in London to find someone who isn’t a friend of someone. We generally have an interest in the people that are dealing with the same things as us, so who have just graduated and lacking the opportunities to show work. After graduating I saw a lot of great artists struggling to find a platform to get discussions going over their work. I also saw that artists whose work did not fit to someone's living room were particularly under represented and in reaction to that, it is these projects that we tend to work with. We also want to give the public the opportunity to see works that are otherwise under represented by existing institutions and commercial spaces.’

However, it is not just the London graduates of 2008 that have worked with The Pigeon Wing; the curators have also approached international artists. Despite occasionally working with their peers, Sarah does admit that, ‘there’s a few spaces doing that, and it can become a bit of a fish bowl; so we like to bring in new faces to this, and this is why our international artists are important.’ One of the first exhibitions at the gallery showed work from Chicago based artists:

‘One of the first things we did was go to NEXT Art Fair with a project that Alastair was working on before we moved here. We met a lot of artists when we were out there – we rallied up an intern squad of about 15! – who really helped us out whilst we were out there.’

The Pigeon Wing also holds two studio residencies each year that concludes with an event or exhibition. Last year they invited two groups of artists from Chicago. The residencies give The Pigeon Wing more opportunity to work with international artists, to broaden both their and the artists’ horizons.

‘We give over the space to a couple of artists to create new work in, and at the end of three weeks we clear out the studio with them and hang their newly made work as an exhibition. We are open to any use of the space during these residencies, but that is how it has happened so far. The outcome is a really fresh and exciting show for the artists. The artists are in a new city/country, making work that is heading straight to a new audience. Knowing that, the residency artists really have a brilliant drive to get working in the studio, which is great.’

The current exhibition, 'The decade 2010-20'. The museum as hostage to fortune. is a collaboration with the Birmingham zine, An Endless Supply. This is just the sort of project The Pigeon Wing want to continue,

‘… this is the kind of collaboration we’re interested in - an of exchange of the space with a group that don’t have a space. So we’re really excited about working with other interesting groups and collectives, and the exhibition at the agency has meant that we met some really good people as well, so collaborating is always good.’

The exhibition agency at The Agency sees The Pigeon Wing collaborate with norn projects and MicroPerformance. This is on till the 16th May, which sees a live link from the current show at The Pigeon Wing to the agency show, to explore the idea of being self-reflective – a concept The Pigeon Wing are very interested in and continue to explore.

Their next show opens at the end of June, curated by Sarah and Fabien Tabibian. This exhibition will use films and video work that use samples, and similarly some sculptural works which also use pre-developed objects – so found objects, but more modern materials. Currently confirmed to be exhibiting in this are Stuart Morris and Justin Berry.

Although the long term plans for The Pigeon Wing in this actual building are unpredictable, in that the building will eventually be turned into flats, these curators see this as a long term initiative. Sarah explained that,

‘…until then, it is an amazing opportunity, that we’ll make the most out of. We’re working on getting funding, and that’s looking more positive the longer we carry on – so we hope to keep this going even when we do have to leave the space.’

The Pigeon Wing