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

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