This summer, The Net Gallery Magazine has covered a range of events which organisers have had to cancel, postpone or reimagine as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown. May saw the annual London Original Print Fair up stakes and move online entirely, and from June onwards we’ve seen London’s major galleries auction houses, Mayfair’s art dealers and other venues like the Imperial War Museum, Tate and the Royal Academy tentatively reopen with new restrictions and controls in place to protect their staff and visitors from the ever-present threat of coronavirus.
2020 is a year of new ‘normals’ and of reinvention. While, for some, this has made it impossible to run events and activities in any meaningful way, for others it has been an opportunity to challenge themselves and flex the boundaries and definitions surrounding their existing practice. Sluice is one organisation that places itself in this second category.
Sluice is a project that exists in many formats, running through publications, art fairs, biennial events and other ventures. The team runs a “roaming international expo” every second year in a different host city, where they collaborate with a host organisation to create new EXCHANGE exhibitions. Their 2019 event, Sluice.refresh, took place in Odense, Denmark, in partnership with M100 galleri, IMT Gallery and Odense Film Festival. Previous events were hosted by galleries like Brooklyn’s norte maar (2014), Detroit’s Butter Projects (2016) and artists like Berlin’s Kunstomerservice(2018).
In addition to these international events and publications, Sluice also organises the non-profit Sluice Biennial in London. This event merges the visions of galleries and projects from around the world with emerging and artist/creator-run galleries from London to form a collaborative platform with a busy programme of exhibitions, screenings, talks and performances.
Sluice founder and director Karl England explains, “Sluice has always tried to dodge definition. We’ve been an anti-art fair, an international peripatetic expo, a biennial, a gallery, a residency and a magazine. A platform for art and an artwork in its own right. We are all these things in order to inhabit self-organised art activity as an expanded art practice, not as something removed from the act of creation, but rather as a continuation.”
“Crucially, because of this we’ve been able to manifest in different forms to suit the context we find ourselves in. So now, in the midst of a pandemic we’re just focusing on the elements of our practice that don’t require face-to-face socialising. In practical terms this means we’re working hard on our biannual magazine, and online content; interviews and so on.”
For an organisation whose primary objective is to challenge its own definition, a year of widespread reimagination is just another stimulus prompting response, creation and growth. That said, a second Sluice goal – to advance emergent discourse via increased interaction on a local, national and international level – may need to be put on the back-burner until social interactions are once again safe.
England adds, “I think the artist-led sector has agility and adaptability on its side, whereas many institutional and commercial enterprises are compromised by the very things that serve them in more financially stable times. Being beholden to stakeholders, institutional backers and sustainability models that require public spending has suddenly made them very precarious. A state the artist-led sector occupies as a matter of course.
“I feel the artist-led sector operates in a hostile environment at the best of times so this current situation is perhaps not so unsettling.”
While it is not necessarily a good thing that UK artists are so used to adverse working conditions and insecurity that a pandemic becomes business as usual, it’s certainly true that many artists and arts organisations have a great deal of experience in finding ways to work around barriers and justifying and re-justifying their work to funding bodies. The art world is no stranger to finding alternative routes.
Regarding the growth of virtual exhibitions as a result of lockdown, England comments that “I wonder if now that all art is virtual, i.e. now that all art is experienced via virtual means, whether there will be a re-engagement with analogue art… The Net Gallery is providing a simulation of a physical art experience, and it’s interesting to see how galleries are engaging with it.”
“I do think that context is crucial to the mediation of an artwork, so a virtual art experience will be perfect for some work and death for other work. I also think the sociability of the art world shouldn’t be overlooked, it’s absolutely integral which is why the gallery scene will come roaring back as soon as it can.”
Like everyone, The Net Gallery is looking forward to seeing more physical exhibitions and spaces reopen to the public, and to be able to share those exhibitions with remote audiences, as well as archiving them for people to enjoy in the future. Going forwards, this mixing of physical and virtual platforms, and – as England says – allowing art to shine in the right context, is likely to be key.
In the meantime, you can continue to experience an array of art through The Net Gallery’s scans, as well as through Sluice’s social media platforms and Magazine. The most recent issue of Sluice Magazine was published in July, and focuses on the commons as both a place and a state of mind. It features content from London publishing initiative SWAP Editions, virtual project space SKELF, artist Matthew de Kersaint Giraudeau and a number of other artists and initiatives from around the country. Sluice are now working on their 2020 event, The Commoning, which will focus on projects and artists that embody this idea of culture as an integrated social organism.
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