Friday, 2 July 2010

Auto Italia South East

Auto Italia South East is an artist run project space that thrives on energy and enthusiasm. Set up by Amanda Dennis, Kate Cooper and Rachel Pimm in 2007, it has evolved as a place of exciting projects and a strong community ethos.

Amanda and Kate both graduated from art school in 2006 and quickly found they wanted to create a context for themselves, and their peers to make work. Less than a year from graduating, they found a small space in Peckham to hold, what they had intended to be, a few shows. There was no expectation at this point, to set up an artist-run-space and they admit, that perhaps had they been aware of what this initial idea would lead to, they may have felt too self conscious to go ahead with it. The desire was not to set up an organization, but to hold a few shows, talk to people and to have a reason to contact some other artists. At first they were just playing with the space, giving people some freedom to try ideas out.

After the first six months, they found they had held several successful shows and were surprised to find themselves in the position of looking for a new space to carry on the initiative. They worked with a developer to find an alternative location, and were offered a vast space, which had previously been a Volkswagen garage and is now awaiting demolition; but as it waits, Auto Italia are making the most of it. This is a demanding space, and one that would possibly intimidate, or even terrify many, but Auto Italia take this on with gusto. It being a temporary space means that everything happens with real energy, being all too aware that they may have to leave soon. The ‘make the most of it’ attitude rules here.

Although wary of clearly defining what Auto Italia is too much, Kate and Amanda describe it as a project space. It is artist led, and they see it as a way of collaborating with other artists they are interested in, to facilitate dialogues and to explore the concept of self-education; and that has always been the driving force. Many of the artists they work with do not have tradition “studio” practices so accessing a project space has been really important ... and so they will always question the ‘this is how to be an artist…’ package, what constitutes practices and the role of the studio.

The move from the original small Peckham space to the current garage space off the Old Kent Road was a pivotal moment. The inaugural show, EPIC involved fifty artists and was a great opportunity for the community that Auto Italia had created to meet and start new projects.

Both being artists, Amanda and Kate do not have a curatorial practice, and the programme is created through a diverse range of their own interests and those of the artists who have been involved in the space. The programme evolves as just a natural development that happens more on its own accord. They will often look back at past projects and people they have worked with and work with them again, maybe extending a previous idea further. For example last October they hosted 5 different projects across 4 days in which artists presented their own ongoing projects, everything from a dead pet séance to fictional guided tours of the building by a number of up and coming curators. Working with artists such as Katie Guggenheim, Darren Banks, Zayne Armstrong, and a group of artists who present their project New Display Strategies. The ideas explore within these works have lead onto other projects at Auto Italia such as an expanded screening of Dan Grahams Rock My Religion or been developed into projects in other spaces, galleries and institutions. They have ongoing relationships with so many exciting artists and curators as well as other groups such as music collective Upset The Rhythm.

They stress that Auto Italia is not just an exhibition programme, there are lots of other things going on around this. It is the mix of dialogues and ideas surrounding Auto Italia from its artist community, that means it is not just exhibitions that the space facilitates. There are regular crit groups, artists use the space as a work space in between exhibitions, and they have just started a research group amongst other things. This all comes back to getting the most out of the building, and using it in every different way possible.

Although it all began as a collaboration with their peer group, the community that now surrounds Auto Italia is a natural development and extension of this; other artists, work and people that they are interested in. Kate and Amanda both make work and work on projects themselves, and so are interested from the position of being an artist – it’s a different agenda. Kate and Amanda say they have sometimes have quite opposing tastes, but that is always a positive; with so many opinions and voices involved in this space, there is always a diversity to the types of work and projects that happen, which can often have unexpected conversations with one another. Participating in No Soul For Sale at Tate Modern in May was a great opportunity to try and allow all the different personalities be seen – they worked with 20 artists in a tiny 5m x 5m space where work, collections, posters, interventions and discussions were all presented.

Kate describes where Auto Italia currently is located, just off the Old Kent Road, as ‘an Oasis, or a black hole’. There is a certain autonomy in a way to Auto Italia. None of those involved in its running went to art school in the area, and the building itself is located on the edge of Peckham, and on the edge of New Cross, so cannot be lumped together with either ‘scene’. But Amanda points out that it is the way in which Auto Italia brings people together that is the anchor, rather than the building or location. They hope that they will be able to continue in the space for as long as possible, but they are aware that it is the people involved that make Auto Italia happen, and so this can be moved to any location and space and still go ahead. Maybe Auto Italia will change, or reform when the time comes to leave the current space, but Kate and Amanda set it up because they are interested in working and learning about other artists and their work, and so as long as this carries on and they are still enjoying it, they will carry on. They are very wary of becoming institutionalized, so want to make sure they keep autonomy and freedom, and maintain Auto Italia’s own position, existing only as an organised network of artists and not a specific curatorial, physical or artistic entity.

Auto Italia South East

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