Artspace, offspace, any space? It’s still rock’n roll to me.
How to look at independent artspaces. - - - The discussion after my lecture on independent Frankfurt artspaces at FADs artspace, Tokyo Kunitachi, has demonstrated that global exchange on those art practices still suffers from a lack of definition in terms of finding accurate concepts of naming and describing artspaces and their operations.
We in Frankfurt, for example, use the term “offspace”, resembling Off-Broadway, for activities outside “main business” perceived as those of galleries, museums and institutions (like Kunstverein). But this term is not even recognized within Germany as a whole, not to speak of the rest of the world.
For the English speaking countries and those who borrow from their culture, I have the impression that “artist run space” (ARS) has been established as common ground for adressing practices we connect to “offspaces”, - to be repeated: any kind of cultural activity which defines either itself or is perceived by others as beeing independent from galleries, museums and institutions.
However the term “artist run space” is too narrow in its scope to cover all practices I have witnessed so far falling out of the grid of mainstream art representation practices.
First of all, not all spaces need to be run by artists. We had the best spaces here managed by non-artists. Second, the concept “artist” seems to imply a certain style of operation different from “curator” or “gallerist”, without going into details why it is important to stress the concept “artist” here. I think the term has more or less a historic and sociological connotation refering to fact, that that there were mostly artists who pioneered these practices first. Nowadays we should be more precise with meaning of “artist” in this context.
Before going a little bit further I’d like to state that terms like “non-profit” or “non-commercial” are of little use in defining the practices I have in mind. If we look at video- or performance art, for example, we could hardly say that there is any commercial market for these kind of practices. In fact, any radical and advanced art practice is without any commercial value at the beginning and often stays like this all the time. Since we’re already talking about some advanced practices, i. e. working outside established forms of art presentation, it’s rather natural and consequent to drop the “non-profit” alltogether.
As I’ve already argued above the term “artist” in “artist run space” implies a different practice separated from spaces run by other sorts of people. Imagine a “butcher run space” or “pilot run space”. What would that mean to us? My main argument is, that we have to look at the mode of operation of the practice in mind, not at who runs it or what kind of object it is. There may be ones without a space at all.
Since there can be no normative prescription on how an artist run space should be operated, we can at least take some hints from the way artists behaved in the last 150 years. (This presumes a Wester/European model.). If we look at painting as the form with longest tradition we will see that during that time nearly every parameter of painting has been questioned. In modernism every piece of painting practice has been revolutionized. So, nowadays we can have painters who do not paint at all, or we can have painters who paint like 200 years ago or in any give style of painting history without beeing called reactionary. Painting has become a total open field of fluid metaphors only to be differentiated from other metaphors.
We should take this as a model for looking at artist run spaces. From such a space I’d expect the same flexibility and challenge towards its own parameters than painting did with its ground in the past. One of the common examples we see here and elsewhere is the Ausstellungsraum (exhibition space). This is normally a space which is not defined as a traditional gallery but as some empty box which houses exhibitions from time to time. It may be run by artists or not. Its token and justification is the propositions that it shows art not shown anywhere else. The manger very often shows his or her friends who he or she feels to be under represented by the traditional exhibition system.
The Ausstellungsraum operates on a formal level like any gallery or institution: it sends out invitation cards, has openings, opening hours, some 6-8 shows a year and provides a preferably neutral background (white walls) for the display of its art. The main difference between an Ausstellungsraum and a (commercial) gallery is, that the manger of the Ausstellungsraum, though selling pieces from time to time, is neither interested nor able to push his or her artists into the artmarket. Young artists very often start their career by serving an Ausstellungsraum, probably in the hope that some curator or director of a museum might show up and “discover” him or her. Later these artists change into professional galleries or try so because these galleries are mainly interested in “building” their artists up, pushing them into international shows or attracting grants for them. There are galleries as well which operate like an Ausstellungsraum, but they normally do not need a space any more. They just need fax and internet, because they sell some well established artists to a selected circle of customers.
The true artist run space should not imitate the mediocre white cube resemblance but should rather try to push the boundaries of art presentation beyond its present limits. This is especially urgent because free based curators and also institutions copy meanwhile a lot from forms outside their respected fields. The whole clubculture has nearly been absorbed by the museum. Any so called artist run space should therefore question all parameters connected to art presentation wether these are the white walls, operation modalities like invitation cards, openings, openings hours or the very nature of exhibition itself. Is there really a need for exhibition perceived as a form of display, as the presentation of a certain flatness of concept, like easing the way of the visitors into the display through means borrowed from mass marketing? (It can be questioned wether there’s really a difference between a shopping mall, a gallery and a museum.)
To give some examples, we have seen here in Frankfurt the Galerie Fruchtig as a project which perfected the art of transmutation from a simple showroom over a lawn-mower race track, an underwater world experience landscape, a 5 room LDK appartment, towards a stage for Korean Elvis impersonators. Traumatic for the visitors, they had to change their accustomed roles with each “installation”.
The group Phantombüro built a real swimming pool and a fake hotel within an industrial area, which they operated for just one summer, flooding a previous deserted part of the town with a young crowd, which enjoyed the pool at 7 AM as the literally coolest after hour they ever had. Phantombüro also installed a threefold worship place within a former Pakistani restaurant with a Christian church, an Islamic mosque and a Buddhist temple situated next to each other on the same floor. Common to these projects is the blurring of fixed separations between art and the real. See the swimming pool as a giant installation, a social welfare project, or just a fitness appliance? You didn’t know.
For my part, I worked out three principles with my artspace “multi.trudi”. First, blurring the difference between the show area and the apparatus supporting it. With only 10sqm size the cabin already was very small, but I thus made no efforts in preparing a special presentation area different from the rest, instead everything could be used for presentation or was seen as equally presentable. That made people even ask me, if I also lived in the space. Second, no destinction between the singular shows, if there were any. I’d rather took some pieces away and added some others instead, transmuting the whole sight into a constant flow of changes. It could even be stated that during the whole time of operation I had one four years’ show.
Third, the most important principle, no finished artworks but the offer to built them together with the visitors I’d therefore called “my collaborators. In “normal” galleries and especially in museums, to a much stronger degree, the artworks keep their existence wether they are perceived by visitors or not. They are not only strored they are kept (much like animals in a zoo), and one could easily argue that from this every other attribute of the museum follows. In general I understood each multi.trudi event, which happened mostly in the night, as a sculpture I built together with my visitors. The essence of the sculpture: communication.
A more specific example was the event “park’n ride”, where I asked six artists to place six cars, prepared with art or not, all along the Franziusstrasse, where my space was located. Neither me nor the visitors knew where the cars were, but equipped with cameras and questionairs they could explore the street and take documents of what they thought would be art. In effect they let me their eyes to see through them and with their help I was able to produce art. But not me alone, but also the tenants of the surrounding houses being scared by the squads of people with cameras and notice boards inspecting their cars. I’ve been reported the following dialogue:”Hey, Misses, what are you doing at my car? Are you police?” “I’m looking for art.” “There’s no art in it, it’s only tools.” “But they could be art…”
To draw a conclusion here I have to confess that I have no better short and comprehensive name for either “artist run space” or our local “offspace”. In length I prefer to speak of “independent art practices outside galleries and institutions”. The disadvantage of this definition is besides its length the lack of a more specific exploration what kind of practice is to be expected outside galleries and instituions. Hopefully I could have filled this gap with the last few paragraphs above about what has been done and what should be done in the future.