From Space to Space to Space
The period from 1986 to 1995 spans the totality of Unit 7 Gallery and the first five years of the Museum of Installation; it highlights an exhibition policy based chiefly on the notion of the extended studio, as argued elsewhere. This was partly a conscious decision, and partly the outcome of spaces that lent themselves to individual exhibitions. While the gallery at Unit 7 remained a largely unified, open space, Site 1 of MOI at Great Sutton Street was often partitioned. Here, the artists created a studio within a studio, a complex warren1An older meaning of the word ‘warren’ is that of a space set aside for the preservation of game to be hunted. of interconnected spaces.2As is also argued elsewhere, the 1969 exhibition When Attitudes Become Form and its 2013 re-assembly set some parameters between which we might think of the move from one space to another, and how such a move always causes (either temporarily or permanently) the first space to be rebuilt within the second.
A perceptible shift took place in 1997 as MOI moved to Deptford. The building offered 6 large and small exhibition spaces which were already built as discrete rooms, eliminating the need for constant spatial alteration. The resulting shows often involved several artists who made individual works delineated by the walls of the rooms. As a result, each exhibition developed a thematic, or common thread. If we understand curatorial practice simply as a selection process, then it is arguable that these exhibitions were more heavily curated than the previous collaborations. However, it was the idea of the project that expanded as the level of complexity was ramped up. This can be seen, and heard in the exhibition Soundproofs (1997), which turned all the installations into a single score for the building, and later, in the shift towards complex, multi-platform shows at SE8 Gallery.
Other exhibitions began to examine new formats of collaboration and display. Forensic (2000), a project involving a number of artists who had no prior working experience with each other, was the result of intensive meetings at MOI with the group. Initially these were led by the curator(s), but progressively, the artists took over proceedings; finally, they built all the work in the space together and wrote about one another’s work. In this instance, the curator provided the basic structure, a place to meet, and the space, but had no impact on the new final works, their installation and interpretation. Here, the idea of the studio emerged once more, albeit in an altered for: that of the collective studio.3The idea of the ‘social turn’ refers to the audience of ‘social practice’, not to the social practice of the makers.
Projects at SE8 Gallery from 2009 began by foregrounding the notion of display; we thought about a set of spatial rules to which we would like artists to adhere. We arrived at a set of 3 custom-built cabinets, or glass showcases, within which artists would present their works. No work was to be shown anywhere else in the gallery. Cabinets became the generic title for what proved to be a season-long programme. As is often the case, the most challenging iteration of the project, by Israeli artist Daniel Silver, came about as a mistake. He had measured the vitrines in order to make the work in his studio. The elaborate structures he built to fit inside were precisely the same size as the cabinets themselves. As a result, he was only able to use the leg-supports, and his own structures replaced the glazed enclosures. It seemed like a challenge to the authority of display, but Silver was a reluctant and accidental rebel.
In a curatorial career, there are key exhibitions and seminal works one often returns to often for quite different reasons. I wonder if it is a question of the perceived quality of the work, whether we get on well with an artist, or even because some things can be narrated with greater effect or because they fit better into a cohesive art historical argument.4If such a thing is possible, of course. I think that all these factors have some bearing on our selection. As gallerists or curators we may call these events important or groundbreaking, but it is sufficient to say that we like them especially, without the need to explain.5I concur (by way of explanation).