Chisenhale Gallery: NO SHOW

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How would it feel if there was no text in this post? Strange? Weird? Empty, to say the least. Such exact feeling did I receive from visiting the Chisenhale Gallery. There is currently Paul Maheke’s A Fire Circle for a Public Hearing on, however, when our class visited the venue, it was dead, turned off. So, what can one learn from attending a performative exhibition outside working hours?

Having visited the gallery on Monday when the venue is normally closed was a bit of a shock. The performers were going to be absent, that we knew, what we did not know, however, was that the exhibition is based entirely on the performers. And thus we admired one head-spinning video played on repeat, a 20-min long repetitive soundtrack expressing emotions, and an Insta-friendly image of space covering the entire back wall.

The curator of engagement, Emma Moore, described to us how the organisation operates. From the annual budget of £600.000 to the 6-month long conversations with artists prior to an exhibition. She also touched upon the decision-making process when receiving multiple submissions, and the key role of fundraising to keep the showcase alive.

As galleries evolve, so does the content they are showing – from dense exhibitions to multiple events and performances. Paul Maheke is only one of many undiscovered artists who the institution trusts and believes in. Following multiple conversations, it finally offers the chosen artists a space to kickstart their career through exhibiting solo.  It was hard to imagine the space being packed for the opening night, yet, it was refreshing to see the enthusiasm of Emma when talking about the little details such as the window-covering iron bars. The works are not for sale but can be donated to the gallery which can then resell them.

Over the past 30 years, the gallery has established a strong recognitions among its supporters as well as artists who rent out the studio spaces on the first floor. We were not given much insight into the fundraising nor the installation process. However, what we did find out was that the show is controlled by two in-house curators and overseen by the showing artist. For somebody passionate about art direction, this would have been a great talk. For those interested in project management, it lacked a more in-depth analysis. Nevertheless, it is admirable that this organisation has been operated since its launch in 1986 by only a handful of people.

Galleries have a huge potential to in/form our awareness and influence the decision-making process. The question is – how is each show enabled? From sponsorship to propaganda, the details remain still an elephant in the room (which was conveniently missing on the day of our visit). If my next blog post is empty, do not worry, it would probably be called art. I learnt that running a gallery can be as challenging as it is demanding – time, dedication, creativity. This lesson I will try to replicate to all my future projects, although I will hardly ever run a gallery.

With special thanks to Danah Abdulla from LCC and Emma Moore from the Chisenhalle Gallery.

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