Sunday, 3 November 2013

Coming Up at AirSpace - Small Change curated by Sevie Tsampalla

This Friday, AirSpace Gallery opens its doors to a new exhibition - Small Change, based on the seminal work of the same name by architect, development practitioner and academic, Nabeel Hamdi.

The basic principle behind Small Change is a simple one - Through a place and people-based approach large-scale change can best be achieved by starting with something small and starting where it counts.

Hamdi identifies a series of Small Change "rules" in his work which characterise the Small Change methodology.

Small Change 
Code of Conduct 

Ignorance is liberating 
Start where you can: never say can’t 
Imagine first: reason later
Be reflective: waste time
Embrace serendipity: get muddled
Play games, serious games
Challenge consensus
Look for multipliers
Work backwards: move forwards
Feel good

Nabeel Hamdi, Small Change  (2004)

The ethics behind Small Change have been inspiring works and approaches at AirSpace for a while now - it was written nearly a decade ago -  and with the city of Stoke-on-Trent at a point of most need in terms of re-development, the time to look again at Hamdi's ideas has never been more pertinent.

So in light of this, it seemed an ideal theme around which to issue the Gallery's first open call for curators. Whilst open calls are relatively common for individual artists, there are very few calls of this sort for the independent curator, and the Gallery was really pleased with the volume and moreover the quality of the responses.

The selected curator is  Sevie Tsampalla, an independent curator, originating from Kos but now resident in Manchester. Sevie has a clear interest in art in the public realm, collaborative processes and site-responsive projects which fit right in to the subject are of the book, and this exhibition provides Sevie with a chance to further a rapidly growing curatorial CV.

Before the exhibiton opens, Sevie was interviewed by gallery associate Zo Maltby Baker 

Q & A with Sevie Tsampalla, to introduce the curator of the new exhibition ‘Small Change’
ZLMB: First off I wanted to ask what it was that attracted you to AirSpace and Stoke for this exhibition. Well, it was the call that attracted my attention. I read about it online and I found it very interesting to work around the ideas that the book is about: how you can actually achieve something bigger by beginning small and make a positive contribution to the community you are part of.   The book goes beyond a conventional idea of urban planning, one that starts with improvisation - or even ignorance, instead of big schemes, involving people and using the existing resources of a place in the process of planning.  I believe in the power of the arts or grassroots groups have to influence their environment....It is another way of bottom-up building cities, but at the same as a different way of governance and coming together in the public realm. When I started looking closer at what AirSpace gallery  does in Stoke, I was very glad to see that they are very active themselves in the city,  with initiatives that reveal the capacity of the people and the place, like the bird yarden project for example. There are many artist led spaces, but I have the impression that AirSpace gallery are one of the few that are so actively engaged with their city and do so in a collective/collaborative way. I am based in the UK since January, so that's just a few months... so I wasn't that familiar with Stoke. When I started reading more about it, I was intrigued by its past as a former pottery industry centre and its structure of six cities in one. I m still in the process of getting to know it better and I hope to meet more of its people with the occasion of the exhibition. A personal interest in how economic shifts can provoke radical changes in the identity of a place lies also behind my interest in Stoke. I come from a Greek island, whose economy shifted within a few years from being primarily an agricultural one to that of massive tourism. Having experienced such an abrupt change ultimately as one of urban surroundings, I was intrigued by the case of Stoke-on-Trent. Being a locale, but at the same time, it seems to be what it represents: a city made up of cities, a glorious industrial past and in the process of change at the moment, with all the works in the centre and the mandate for change. As someone who is an outsider, I probably bring with me a significant amount of ignorance; an ignorance which I though hope to translate into something liberating, to echo Hamdi’s code of conduct.  
 ZLMB: what is the idea behind the Small Change exhibition?
 One central idea of the exhibition is that place making is not just about the hard facts, what the numbers tell us about a place, the statistics and the graphs, but also about people, their emotions, fears, illusions of the city. This actually draws more from the book Soft City, by Jonathan Raban. My idea is to bring this element in the exhibition space...  But it's not that there's a confrontation between works and projects that are about the hard city and then other works who embody the idea of the soft city. It is rather so, that these two elements are both present in the works and projects invited.
 The notion of displacement is also quite present. Relating it to what I wrote in your previous question..... it is something traumatic going back to a place and not being able to recognise it because it has undergone such a change. In my view it is some kind of a displacement. Like, you see the street, the new buildings, but somehow there's this mental image of a place that persists, of your experience of it, which is no longer supported by what you see. And in the exhibition, there's works and projects who deal with such issues -physical and mental displacements.  Some elements coming from my personal itinerary are in a way brought into the physical space of the exhibition. it is especially the focus on certain cities-Athens, Brussels-Manchester.So the exhibition proposes a combination that is based upon an individual's experience in this way, while at the same time it is a lot about collective action.   

ZLMB: What are the most challenging aspects of being a curator.
I think that at this point for me is the balancing between the very practical/organisational aspects of the role and allowing enough time to research .... and at the same time being able to communicate, to build up a real relation to the people you are working with -artists, galleries, anyone you come across along the process. Especially when you work as an independent, you need to combine many roles. It is a challenging process, because you are constantly confronted with your own strengths and limitations. If you put this in a different cultural context each time, as it has happened with me with changing cities and countries, it means that you need to be able to adapt to different cultural codes each time. All this ...and probably much more.....:-) make it a challenging process.  In terms of curatorial practice, I think one of the main challenges relates to my intention of working not only with artworks sensu stricto, but with cultural products. To explore, or rather, to challenge the boundaries between art and broader modes of cultural production.  To use an example form the exhibition: a poster appearing in Brussels as part of a workshop involving artists and residents, next to an artwork created by an individual artist...what does this give when juxtaposed to each other?    
ZLMB: What do you think is the key factor of a successful exhibition? I definitely don t think there is a formula there, especially because there are so many different formats of exhibitions and ways of curating....and I guess it is hard to measure 'success' , but I would say that there are certain factors that I consider important. hmmm.., not in a hierarchical order, here's a few providing a good framework, giving space and liberty to the artists to realise this that makes sense for their own practice and not forcing things, when you are commissioning new work.  I like to use this mediating role I have as a curator, to make new connections between people, so an exhibition for me is successful when it involves this aspect too, when it leads to new relations In terms of the exhibition as a medium of communicating something, I'd say again this opening up to broader modes of cultural production and not just artworks. If an exhibition has the possibility to do that, explore the dynamics of such a dialectic, I would consider it successful And thinking of the public, which is probably the hardest to do, I would think of the exhibition as a means of changing the way people previously thought about a exhibition that challenges stereotypes and fixed ideas when talking about what goes on 'behind the scenes',  i'd say taking good care of the logistics, think about risks, make good general a good management of your resources. Especially when , like now with AirSpace, someone trusts you to realise this,  it is a big responsibility and you need to be aware of that .

Sevie is a Castlefield Gallery Associate and her last exhibition, Some Misunderstanding was a Castlefield Gallery Launch Pad exhibition and was also selected through open submission.

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