London claims to be the pioneering art capital of the world. Yet young emerging artists face the grave challenge of creating in one of the most expensive cities and looking for some exhibition space beyond their Instagram account. At the same time, art audiences and collectors are intrigued by the process artists go through to create art and by the artists themselves.
Stacie McCormick and the Workshop Foundation address these points in question in the most inspiring way. An artist herself, McCormick founded in 2015 Unit 1 Gallery | Workshop in a former builder’s merchant and organises exhibitions and residency programmes with the aim to allow artists, curators, and theorists a platform to present their work, share their ideas as well as provide an environment for freethinking and challenging ideas.
So far, the Workshop Foundation has organised 20 exhibitions with over 100 artists and curators, essentially supporting them in progressing their careers and connecting them to the public. McCormick talks to Art Verge for her vision to support local and international artists to create and contribute to the society, along with further interesting insights about the contemporary art scene
Radical Residency III, Unit 1 Gallery | Workshop, 5 April – 25 April 2019, https://unit1gallery-workshop.
Art Verge: Based on your extensive experience, which are the main challenges artists, and in particular emerging artists, face today?
Stacie McCormick: After 4 years here in our space at Unit 1 Gallery | Workshop as well as our 5 year residency programme in the US, I can honestly say the constant and ever present issues are time and space, particularly in London. We all know how expensive it is to maintain life in London, and to dedicate time as an early career artist is definitely demanding financially and physically. At the core of our interests is to provide space and time in a dynamic way, so that an artist can focus their practice unburdened for a period of time.
AV: How does the Radical Residency programme contribute to redefining the traditional gallery experience for both artists and audiences?
SM: The Radical Residency® programme is crucially interested in connecting the public to the process of the studio practice live in the gallery space. Often the disembodied white space absent of the artists leaves so much unknown. We are thoroughly excited to have a month of making in the space followed by an exhibition of works created here. The artists are able to support one another, collaborate, share and invigorate, and we also have the solo residency ongoing in the upstairs studios, adding up to 12 artists in the space.It’s inspiring and full of vitality, not to mention messy – really messy! – until we sweep up and clean up for the hang, when there’s also the exciting dimension of curating the works into a balanced exhibition.
AV: How do you decide on the artists to participate in order to achieve the optimum multidisciplinary and international mix? How important is this mix to the success of the residency?
SM: The Radical Residency® was born out of the popularity of our Solo Residency open call. We received an amazing number of high quality applications that indicated the need and the desire, thus forming the initial group of Radicals. It only seemed fair to provide more space and more time and then to introduce the element of a group dynamic. The selection is really difficult, and the diversity as well as international mix is a real reflection of the variety of applicants. We then work as a priori curators, meaning we look at the candidates practices and try and ‘predict’ a synergy that is based on similarities as well as types of practices. In this session, we have several of what I would call ‘off the wall’ painters and sculptors, as well as what you could class as more traditional painters at this half way mark; I can already anticipate a very interesting exhibition.
AV: Could you identify three key components that constitute London city as an inspiring force for young artists in today’s contemporary art scene?
SM: Well, apart from being the best city in the world, the world shops for art in London. The gallery, museum and art fair scene is second to none at the moment and this constant exposure, whilst exhausting, is extremely inspiring and motivating. If you add the best fine art colleges in the world, we have in London an incredibly dynamic constellation of factors for artists to expose themselves to as well as hopefully be exposed within.
AV: What would be your advice to an emerging artist who starts his/her career in the contemporary art market?
SM: Work, make, work and make some more and spend as much time as you can with other artists. Come and see me, visit the space and join our community of artists who are dedicated to finding ways for artists to support each other.
AV: What would be your advice to a new art collector looking for up and coming artists?
SM: The great thing about collecting from the yet to be ‘discovered’ world of artists is multilayered. I love what we are doing here because the collector has a chance to meet the artist, creating a relationship with the collector, and this has a substantial impact on the experience and the resonance of the piece. The other great advantage to collecting from our artists is that the artists benefit, but all the gallery’s proceeds are returned to providing more space and time for further artists to benefit from our programmes.
AV: We live in the era of social media and digital revolution, yet galleries and exhibition spaces are still high on demand. What would be the optimum balance between the physical and the virtual world in the art market, and how can this be achieved?
SM: Oooh… big question, which I will try and reflect on. The constant ‘on’ of the digital visual world is changing our way of doing and seeing. I just went to the Diane Arbus show at the Hayward Gallery as well as Pierre Bonnard at Tate Modern and both blew me away. I really was very aware of the experience as being slow and shaded as opposed to the back lit speed of the digital experience. What I grow increasingly aware of is the crucial difference between, as well as the need for, both. The lusciousness of paint on a canvas, the density of a small analogue photograph can only be experienced as they are, and therefore I see the digital/virtual as another tool, another experience, but in no way a replacement. Our organisation could not exist without the digital/virtual: we have found all of our artists on the digital platform; we are constantly sharing the ongoing works and studio practices on social media. The content of our programmes is densely digital and the narrative of our artists’ practices so exciting to share in this format, yet we still have an infinite faith in our gallery exhibitions for viewing and seeing and being in conversation with the artists themselves.
AV: Which are the plans of Unit 1 Gallery | Workshop for the future?
SM: We have many! We have plans to expand the Radical Residency® and are currently looking for places to run remote residencies so that we can provide more space and time for our growing community of artists. Online platforms are very popular at the moment – suffice to say we have big ideas there too! We have such an amazing membership of artists and the group is really growing. I think what we would most like in the future is for anyone with space available who would love to see it utilised to a great need as well as outcome to contact us. Where there is space and time, we will bring great artists.
© All images are courtesy of Unit 1 Gallery | Workshop and artists