Institutionalisation is consistently observed as a key feature in both historical and contemporary art. Sectioning art into an isolated area in which to be observed and uninterrupted, has evolved the gallery space into a ‘privileged circle of an elite, institutionalised bourgeois culture.’ (Beech, 2006) Scholar Brian O’Doherty, describes the gallery space as the white cube, which is both out of time and beyond time. It is a clinical space with white walls and a silent surrounding. Similar to a religious building due to its’ look of greatness and immortal beauty, but in reality has conditions and specific limitations. It’s religious management-like qualities maintain the rules of no eating or shouting, which therefore enforces a polite etiquette from the audience - enabling an awkward void within a very impersonal space. The formality of the white cube is contradictory towards human instinct to touch intriguing things around us. In turn, the atmosphere creates a shrine-like presence, which resultantly (and helpfully to the gallery) enforces the works security.
In her essay ‘What will art institutions be like in the future?’, Deborah Jackson states that, ‘Reflexive enquiry into alternative models of art institutions has remerged in the past ten years.’ Jackson is accurate in describing contemporary curating today, as it evolves and explores ideas surrounding artist run initiatives (ARI). These initiatives are challenging the ideals of the white cube, as the exclusivity of the institutionalised space has become worn. Artists have lost patience with relying for institutions to recognize their work in order to be exhibited and have realised that there are cheaper and more accessible alternatives, which also allows for the freedom of experimentation.
Artist run initiatives have become the alternative to mainstream galleries and the institutional art world. Writer Jackson, has reinforced however that whilst they are the alternative they ‘are not opposed to institutions, rather to work alongside/ within existing structures to enhance their chances to be artistically, socially and economically relevant.’ Artist run initiatives create connections with formal art institutions for advice and exposure, whilst formal art institutions make connections to artist run initiatives in order to be recognized as being more connected and involved with the community. The two oscillate amidst one another, which therefore sustains the growth of community culture and art infrastructure.
A thread of the term ‘artist run initiative’, that has begun to be undoubtedly utilized by artists and curators is the use of exhibiting within residential and domestic space. The realisation that such space often has a much lower rental rate than gallery hire – or can sometimes come free of charge, has meant that both artists and curators are noticing ready-to-use gallery opportunities all around them – and taking advantage of them. As with all artists run initiatives, artists have become the curators, creators, critics, administrators and publicists. With this increasingly growing job description, they have realised the benefits that accompany working within a collective artist run initiative, in particular the domestic space gallery. Spaces like this become hubs for friendships, collaborations and encouraged public participation - in an informal and relaxed environment. To exhibit art in domestic space depressurises tendencies that often accompany when exhibiting within an institution, and allows the artist to produce and curate their art in an uninhibited manner. Experimentation becomes a major factor as there is the freedom to ‘play’ in the space. Resultantly, curating exhibitions within residential space can improve the area culturally. It gives the community accessible, free and unusually convenient opportunities to visit art. Art which does not need to be negotiated and moved around religiously, like the white cube’s audience is implied to do. In his essay, ‘Bad smells but no sign of the corpse’ Ross Sinclair states that,
‘Artist initiatives are a valuable way of demystifying the business of art. They promote a sharing of information, skills and experience while also nurturing relationships between artists which can often become futile breeding grounds for a horizontal and organically developing infrastructure and unknown quantity, the general public.’
Domestic space that exhibits art publicly, exceed Sinclair’s statement that is based upon general artist run initiatives. They procure the ability to refreshingly create further unique cultural opportunities for the public, which mainstream galleries, museums and sometimes elite crowded, artist run initiatives do not have the ability to do.
However, the use of residential space to exhibit art is not a recent development, regardless of its now increasing popularity. In Autumn 1971, a collective named Womanhouse began in a private residence for students in California- due to the Feminist Art programme not obtaining a space to hold meetings. The project then cultivated and the residence became a cheap and plausible venue to reside their projects. Four decades later, and the collective is still at large. Tackling current political and social issues, the group has remained both contemporary and relevant with current work ‘infusing groundbreaking feminist works with contemporary and queer perspectives.’ (Somarts, 2016) They have secured the message of importance to artists to utilize any available space around them to exhibit, proving that domestic and residential space can be sometimes be more culturally beneficial.
Satis House in Belfast, Northern Ireland, are a contemporary collaborative and curatorial partnership between curator artists, Kim McAleese and Eoin Dara. Transforming a residential space into an exhibiting gallery has allowed the duo to take initiative with their practice. Taking inspiration from Charles Dickens Great Expectations for the name, they transformed the room of a very old house in South Belfast into their own DIY gallery. The room is transformed monthly as invited both emerging and established artists are asked to respond directly to the environment. Inclusion of emerging artists is an important aspect to this space, as quite often artists are over looked at the beginning of their careers by more established galleries. Exposure is not a commodity that materializes easily at the beginning of an artists career, so spaces like Satis House where there are less formal and stressful gallery demands is a friendly acquaintance for a budding artist. The two curators understand the financial struggle and recognition for emerging artists and curators, having had to find their own opportunity through Satis House. Even few artist run initiatives have such a welcoming approach to such unexperienced artists and curators.
Another collective who utilized domestic and residential space was Switchspace, who formed in 1999 in Glasgow, Scotland. Beginning by fundraising and self refurbishment, they transformed residential venues in order to exhibit art. The collective then began an agreement with a property agency named Fab Flats, to temporarily exhibit art in properties that were not at the time being rented. By relying on part time jobs, donations and fundraising, the collective was able to exhibit and curate work exactly the way they wanted to – without the limitations or reliance of an institution. The group was able to preserve this freedom for almost five years worth of practice.
The transformational use of residential space like Switchspace, Satis House and Womanhouse into gallery space has been an exciting process for not only the artist and curator, but also the public. It has created a less daunting voyage for members of the public who feel that they do not fit in with a typical elite artistic audience, but want to experience art. Such elite audiences that can usually be found within general artist run initiatives. The extent of the relaxed atmosphere in which the domestic art gallery obtains, makes the space that furthermore appealing and inviting to new audiences. The audience is ‘encouraged to leave their critical faculties at the door’, as Julian Stalabrass states in the essay, ‘Artist run and alternative’. Another factor that supports audience expansion for domestic space galleries is reliant upon the novelty of the anticipation that accompanies such an unusual art venue. Even the journey to get to the actual work is an experience as the viewer ventures through what should conventionally be seen as a home or appear strangely familiar. The art begins to appear like a secret code - without the elitism of the institution surrounding it- leading the viewer to sense their very own exclusivity.
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