Ormston House is a meeting place for the arts in the heart of Limerick City, Ireland. First opened in 2011 as a Cultural Resource Centre to welcome audiences seeking more maverick and experimental projects. However, recent history has come fringed with obstacles, as the organisation may face losing their space as the property was unexpectedly put on the open market. In the summer of 2018, following a tweet displaying the window sign advertising the space as for sale, the already crucial part of Limerick's cultural and social life gained great support off and online – sparking new hope for the space’s future. We spoke to Niamh Brown, the Co-Director of Ormston House about the threat to the space, future plans and of course this year’s Supermarket.
For SUPERMARKET 2019, Ormston House present works by Joy Gerrard. Drawing on themes of protest and urban space, Gerrard remakes media-borne crowd images from around the world. Recent work documents Brexit protests in the UK and the Repeal the 8th movement in Ireland.
2018 was a particularly difficult year for Ormston House. Would you say that you entered survival mode at some point during that turbulent period? Has it affected your work in any way?
2018 was a difficult year, but it was great to see the situation become part of the public discourse and create an urgency in securing our home, both with citizens and public figures alike. We have been working on long-term tenancy since 2015 and it can be disheartening to have the situation drag on. What has kept us going is the incredible outpouring of support from the local communities in Limerick and further afield. Having that kind of validation means so much to a small grassroots organisation.
I don’t know if we would call it ‘survival mode’, we had already been quietly working towards solutions for almost a year, but last summer it became very public. There is an element of self-care needed in those situations, we were very aware of that and (as always) needed to support each other as a team. We also have a responsibility to the artists and communities we work with and we had to make sure they felt supported by us.
Has it changed your approach to future projects?
Our tenancy situation has changed our approach to projects in the short-term. Until our tenancy has been resolved we are focusing on the professional development and training aspect to our programme, as well as international projects. During this time, we will not be running an exhibition programme and are only hosting a small number of one-off events. This will allow us to focus on securing long-term tenancy, which is key for our future sustainability.
What are you most looking forward to at Supermarket 2019?
We are most looking forward to working with Joy Gerrard for Supermarket this year. She is an incredible Irish artist, who has been documenting and recreating protest crowds from key global events for the last number of years. We will be showing new and archival works with a focus on Brexit protests and marches during the campaign for abortion rights in Ireland. Both are hugely relevant and important issues globally, but especially for Ireland.
We are also just looking forward to being back at Supermarket in 2019! We really missed it last year – it has become such important part of our calendar.
Given your recent experience, do you think that Supermarket, as an artist-run intersection, can help bridge some of the financial hardships that many of our exhibitors face? For example by facilitating new contacts and possibilities for international collaborations?
That is a good question and I think every exhibitor would have a different answer. We have certainly made incredible connections through Supermarket and look forward to making more. Supermarket Meetings can be a great place to discuss funding opportunities in other countries and gain advice from other organisations who have gone through similar struggles. Depending on the funding structures in each country, international collaborations can be difficult to realise. Public funding rarely covers the full cost of projects and artist-run initiatives seldom have the reserves to fund that type of activity. Personally, I think that real collaborations form better over time, and with a longer period of time dedicated to new projects it can be easier to apply for funding to cover costs.
Supermarket 2019 revolves around the theme of ’Temporary Moratorium’ and subjects shrouded in taboo. What do you see as controversial or taboo in contemporary art? Perhaps even forbidden?
That is a big question! I think every artist and arts worker will answer differently depending on their own beliefs and/or background. It also depends on ethics, as well as the social and political views of individuals and countries.
Leading up to the abortion rights referendum in Ireland last year, some artists and arts organisations felt that their voices could not be heard or they had to remain neutral or silent on the subject. This questioned not only the role of art during political and social movements in Ireland, but also highlighted the possibility of censorship and threats to those in receipt of public funding. This was a hugely emotive and divisive issue in Ireland, and for some, making art about abortion and bodily autonomy was taboo.
Patara (meaning 'small' in Georgian) is an artist-run gallery in a tiny shop window beneath one of Tbilisi's many underpasses, surrounded by small kiosks and Persian night clubs. In 2017 Gvantsa Jishkariani and Nata Kipiani turned one such underpass shop into a space for experimental art that searches for the real: honest or political, sweet or rude, cheerful or unconventional, stupid or wild, they give artists the chance to create installations that people can stumble upon. We spoke to them about the consequences of establishing the gallery space in the underground, controversies in art, and their participation in Supermarket 2019.
What can we look forward to seeing in your exhibition stand at Supermarket 2019?
We are going to bring all the freedom we give to artists back home to Stockholm too! Each of our four artists will have their own wall and floor space where they will make installations of their work – so each side of our booth will be extremely different (as the artists are) – a big-big party from Patara gallery!
Supermarket 2019 revolves around the theme ’Temporary moratorium: all allowed’ and subjects shrouded in taboo. What is controversial or taboo in contemporary art, or perhaps even forbidden?
Mistakes are forbidden. Feels like you, as an artist, have neither the right nor the time; no opportunity and no money to make mistakes. ‘Doing nothing’ or ‘being bored’ is also a NO-NO in contemporary era where we all ‘should’ be busy and entertained all the time.
How is the situation for non-governmental artist-run art spaces in Georgia?
A year ago, there were only a couple of such spaces in Georgia except us, but this year few new ones have started. That makes us feel that art life will be booming soon in Tbilisi!
First established in 2017, your space interacts with a certain mix of ‘unpleasantness’, furthermore laying the groundwork for reality-seeking art. How would you describe the ‘reality-forged’ art resulting from your location?
Because it is not a regular gallery space, the work is inevitably shaped by the space – a box that is being viewed from one side, its size, location and audience. That means that art needs to communicate from behind a glass door, and with a specific and quite random audience – anyone who passes by. Because of that, some of the artworks try to engage with the viewer, interact and involve them in the process and thus become interested in the art.
But also as much as it is ‘reality-forged’, the art shown in Patara gallery is also more straightforward and does not compromise on being misunderstood or not seen as art. It tries to be pure and honest with the people who might not yet recognise it as art. It appears there as it is, and all that is left for the viewer is to accept its existence.
Being situated in such a dynamic location, was that something you actively looked for when starting out? Or would you say your current focus grew from the more or less unexpected consequences of establishing your space where you did?
When we decided to open a gallery, we wanted to find a non-traditional place that would be more open to public. Something transparent, so that people would not have to go in to see the shows. The underground passage where we are located at the moment is in the very centre of the city, though with a bad reputation because of local Arabian night clubs and bad smell. But that was no kind of obstacle for us to open our gallery right there. On the contrary, we liked it more being empty, so that the only shiny and clean place you focus on while crossing is Patara. We also did not expect to have such an impact on the shop owners – ladies who run one small shop in the underpass. At first, they were opposing our presence as they could not understand what we were doing and why (without having any income from it). So that was a challenge for us to continue running the gallery and change their mindset towards us. I believe we succeeded after some three or four shows. Now they look forward to each new exhibition.
Pay them a visit during Supermarket 2019, 4–7 April, and read more about Patara Gallery here.
Centrala from Birmingham, UK is the only publicly funded gallery for Central and Eastern European art in the UK, and the only such space outside London with a national and international reach. We spoke to Alicja Kaczmarek, the founder and director of Centrala, about the space’s main concepts and her expectations of SUPERMARKET 2019. We also inquired about the collaborative exhibition that they are bringing to Stockholm in April which features a mix of artists from the UK and Sweden, working together with one of this year’s associate galleries, Studio44 from Stockholm.
Could you tell us a little bit about your space?
Centrala is a unique, multi-functional space consisting of a gallery, event space, café and meeting rooms. We are space for people to come together, be creative and engage with the arts, culture, history and social politics of Central and Eastern Europe.
We are the only organisation of our kind in Arts Council England's National Portfolio and the only gallery to focus on socially-engaged art and artists from Central and Eastern Europe. We are open and accessible to a wide range of audiences, providing opportunities to engage with Central and Eastern European culture as well as an eclectic array of art, music, talks and events.
What is your exhibition project The Digital Diaspora about?
The Digital Diaspora is an international exchange exhibition organised in collaboration with Short Circuit* and Studio44 from Stockholm. The exhibition is based on the topics of unity and division and the project lays particular emphasis on Europe as its arrival marks thirty years of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent overthrow of Communist rule. Providing an opportunity to reflect on the collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening up of Eastern Europe, the exhibition also takes place during the British Exit from the European Union. Through performative action and immersive and interactive measures, the artworks directly respond to the current socio-political climate of the continent by addressing key issues of migration, borders, territory, cultural identity, belonging and isolation. Most artists in the exhibition reveal a deeply personal connection to their work through direct associations with their cultural backgrounds, personal histories or relationships cultivated over many years of ethnographic research. Mirroring the physical movement of the diasporic communities, the artworks will also migrate in an attempt to bypass physical boundaries and establish more human and digital connections. This innovative structure requires artworks to arrive at each exhibition venue independently using the internet as a conduit.
Artists working with digital media and moving image have been selected as their interdisciplinary mode of practice produces work in a pre-digitised format. Artworks will be transported via the internet to re-materialise at the Studio44 exhibition space in Stockholm. This process aims to provide aesthetic cloning of the same grouping of works as they are received at both venues. It proposes a fluid, experimental approach of exhibition-making that allows the artworks to continually ebb and flow between physical and virtual forms and thresholds. This method enables the sharing of new ideas, draws connections between artists across geographical boundaries, attracts new audiences and allows for the diffusion of knowledge and local cultures. It meanwhile opens up a continued international dialogue between artists and curators and ultimately promotes transnational partnership and mobility.
You are participating in SUPERMARKET for the first time. What do you look forward to the most?
SUPERMARKET is an excellent opportunity to meet curators from galleries, project spaces and artists’ initiatives from all over the world. We are looking forward to building new networks on Central and Eastern Europe art scene, exchange our ideas and perception of today’s reality with people who are engaged in art. Now the most critical issue for us is socio-political climate, especially contemporary issues of migration, borders, territory, cultural identity, belonging and isolation. Taking part in Supermarket 2019 – Stockholm Independent Art Fair, we want to pay attention to all these issues, which play a vital role in social life.
* Short Circuit is an international platform for collaborative practices in digital art and moving image, developed and directed by curator and producer Aly Grimes.
During Supermarket 2018, Oree Holban’s colourful toy store ‘Boys “R” Girls’ lit up Nulobaz cooperative gallery’s exhibition booth, displaying the delicate balance between playfulness and austerity in gender transgressive art. For Supermarket 2019 (4–7 April), Nulobaz cooperative gallery once more presents a strong narrative with featured artists Elyasaf Kowner, Avi Levin and Rakefet Viner Omer who is returning again after having contributed to ‘Boys “R” Girls’ in 2018. This time they are joining together in the spirit of Josef Kowner (b. 1895) a prolific painter and holocaust survivor, who immigrated to Sweden after WWII.
While exploring Israel this winter, our press officer Felicia Gränd had breakfast with Oree Holban and Elyasaf Kowner on a sunny November morning in Tel Aviv – and seized the opportunity to ask a few questions.
1. Having taken part in Supermarket nearly a year ago now, what are your reflections today?
I think it was a wonderful opportunity to exhibit a project I had been dreaming of for a long time. I love the fact that it was in Sweden; it feels like a perfect place to initiate the first transgender toy store! But most of all I feel grateful to have had generous, funny and moving encounters with people – be it the staff at Supermarket, the participants, the visitors or just random people in the city of Stockholm.
2. Do you have any general thoughts on the format of the art fair? As a means for personal exposure, but also as an important artistic hub?
Perhaps more site-specific installations, or works that ‘take over’, spread across or in-between the various spaces, so that it is more like one big continuous immersive artwork, rather than the typical art fair white cube ‘boxes’.
3. Tel Aviv is a city that has a lot to offer to those looking to indulge in cultural activities. Are there any highlights especially relevant for art lovers that you would like to pinpoint?
Well, I guess I can not beat social media to that. But I would try to look at museums, galleries and music shows that are outside of Tel Aviv, because it's cool to travel and discover rural areas. Sure it can be fun to indulge and consume art in the city, but best is if one can combine it with some invaluable fresh air in nature.
4. Finally, the next edition of Supermarket revolves around the theme of ’Temporary Moratorium’ and subjects shrouded in taboo. What do you think is controversial in contemporary art? If anything?
Delivering a message without falling into self-judgment, sarcasm or fake ‘new age’ smiles. It might even be about being happy, peaceful and innocent. :)
1. Your artistic practice centers around concepts such as transformation and the impact of creativity across the globe. With that in mind do you think there are more or less successful recipes for cultural exchange?
People tend to be very judgemental and I think that the basic ingredients in the recipe for cultural exchange are trust, kindness and respect for others. I have created art in NYC, The Hague, Tokyo and Munich but making art together with a fellow artist from Beirut and exhibiting it in Israel made a real difference in the scope of my existence and made me a better person.
2. Josef Kowner was not only a holocaust survivor and productive painter, but also your great-uncle. Has he served as an inspiration for your own art practice to some extent?
The question of what I leave after I'm gone has been following me my whole life. It is only now, sitting with Maya in Zorik café that I understand the connection between this question and my great uncle Josef. I've never met him because he passed away in 1967 which was three years before I was born. My parents named me after my grandfather, Eljasz Kowner, and his brother, Josef Kowner. They found a biblical name from the book of Numbers that contains both names within it. My grandfather did not survive the holocaust whereas his brother did survive. At my parents house hangs a self portrait that Josef painted during the time of Lodz ghetto. This portrait inspired me to become an artist. With the joy of art comes a deep sense of guilt and a strange notion of absence – what is art all about? What is the meaning of human interaction?
3. What are your expectations as we are slowly moving closer to Supermarket 2019?
I turned to art because I was seeking answers to questions related to human existence. In reality, creating art and living this sort of life can become a burden instead of a solution. I expect to represent Nulobaz gallery together with my artist peers. Hoping to find a flow of energy, meet beautiful people and experience bonding and connection between other souls that chose to walk the path of creativity. Let’s drink a toast to this wonderful celebration of art.
4. Finally, the next edition of Supermarket revolves around the theme of ’Temporary Moratorium’ and subjects shrouded in taboo. What do you think is controversial in contemporary art? If anything?
Anything and any subject could be controversial once we depart from shallow stereotypes and instead dig deep. The fuss around celebrities in mainstream media creates false identities. Let's accept that all of us are celebrities and at the same time observe the human facets in famous people's lives. Accepting yourself as celebrity even if nobody cares or knows about you, even if you are not hip or just an artist whose work is all over the place. Yes, it's true – the taboo is inside me and I must release it.
🍂Supermarket Autumn Newsletter 2018 is here!🍂
Updates on our autumn activities featuring Finlandsinstitutet Stockholm, BiteVilnius and The Others Art Fair, presentation of our new team member Lucie Gottlieb, upcoming opportunities, interviews with Alma Marfa (before Alma Martha/Kalashnikovv Gallery) and Ideas Block LT from Vilnius and much more.
Read it right here!