Space, support and belonging

Below is an abridged version of a previous text I’d written. This version was included as part of the Manner of Flying exhibition.

Space implies an absence, emptiness, and lack of something. Literally an empty area that only becomes real when there is a purpose or activity for it to ‘attach’ to. It becomes a gallery space, rehearsal room, meeting place, classroom etc. System is a pluralistic space in this sense. Or perhaps, more accurately it is one of many functions of the space. When the space is occupied by other groups for different activities, for example by cellists to rehearse, it does not stop being System in my mind. However, to others it is perhaps a room above a bar where they come to learn Spanish or dance salsa, and that room is sometimes used as a gallery. To the bar owners it is perhaps a rentable space that they can use to bring in additional revenue or customers, such as when they offer us the space to use as a gallery.

This is different to many other spaces within Newcastle that offer studios and exhibition opportunities. Even when someone has a wedding in the BALTIC, they are guests having a wedding in a gallery space. BALTIC never periodically ceases to be a gallery in the same way as System does.

Until an incident a couple of months ago, I had always thought of System as ‘being’ the physical space. This changed when on the day of setting up for an exhibition there was a large immovable table in the space. I had never seen this table before in my life. It filled half the room and was bright fucking red. It was quite revealing the amount of irritation and stress that this table caused. There was an element of it partially ‘not belonging here’, with the artist and other curator both commenting on the fact it had built-in ports for laptops and resembled a table from a university library. The implication of this is that it was not a table which you would choose to have in an art gallery.

Those and I connected to System are aware that the space is used for other purposes. I am certainly used to walking into the gallery and there being rows of chairs set-up from some movie screening the night before or decks from a party. I think what was most offensive about this was the impossibility of moving it and taking it out of the space. It was something alien that had pierced the sanctity of the space. It didn’t belong and the lack of consideration of how this would affect us was a reminder that we were only guests in this space. I could no longer offer the full space to the artist. After having been promised the whole space the artist was now having to share it with this other object. This other object which was not part of the gallery. It didn’t belong, or maybe it was a reminder that we didn’t belong.

This physical and symbolic encroachment of space led me to think about the provision of space as a form of care or support. Care has been described as a “risky act empowered by the need of the other, yet not based on secure knowledge or competence, and therefore without a clear mandate, an impossible promise always bearing the risk of exhaustion”[1]. Much like space, care thought of in isolation is an empty abstraction. In order to exist it is reliant on there being a perceived need for it to exist. The same is true again of support; its existence reliant on the presence of something for which to bear or hold-up.

The provision of space, care and support is inconsistent within System. This is partly a matter of practicality. A lack of finance means that System is significantly short on time and resources and is completely reliant on voluntary labour and reactive ways of working. In this sense, I am an accomplice in the exploitation of my own labour and that of others. Apart from a couple of attempts at writing an ACE bid, I have done little to remedy this situation. This is partially due to a lack of the non-retrospectively billable time or energy required to put together another application. But also, a genuine concern over sacrificing System’s autonomy and way of working in exchange for getting paid doing something that I would do for free.

Much like space, care and support, System is an empty abstraction. It only becomes real when it has an activity, purpose or need for it to ‘attach’ to. In this sense, System is the provision of space, care and support far more than the physical space it sits in. If I were successful in being awarded project funding for System, it would mean having to promise the delivery of a number of ‘measurable’ outcomes. Plenty of valuable work is funded and done in this way, but it does have its drawbacks. My view as a slight outsider to funded individuals and members of institutions, is that the reduced autonomy to how they work means that they often appear/act in ways which are not personal but institutional. I think that there is something uniquely valuable in someone giving themselves to help someone for free. That’s not to say that System doesn’t have its limitations. I have had to apologise to artists because we can’t access the space for me to show them around as I wasn’t aware that the Newcastle Marxist Societyhas it booked for a meeting. However, these are not conditions which are created by System as an organisation, rather they are put upon us as a group of individuals with the artist. We are in the same position as they are.

I’ve been in situations where I’ve negotiated payment as the person using the space has received external funding. I believe that in the past this has caused the dynamic to shift considerably. It has turned System into a bookable space and that interaction into a transaction. On one such occasion, I offered the space for a group show, and when I arrived on install day everything was in progress. Everyone was working and the work already mostly up without any sort of discussion with myself. In fact, things were being done with the fabric of the building which I wouldn’t had allowed, however by this point it was too late. I wondered around a bit and tried to engage with it, but just thought “fuck it” and left. I was around for the preview out of a sense of duty to sell beers to pay for the upkeep of the space. There was little engagement from the artists and I had felt like I was at a party that I wasn’t invited to. For me they had missed the point of the space completely. Maybe they got what they wanted from the experience. I don’t know.

When accepting the responsibility to manage System[2], I was thinking of the range of possibilities and opportunities that managing a space would offer. However, I had not considered that the more embedded I would become within System the more that I would become bound by it. As System’s artistic director[3], I have received a lot of help with this from various members who have mostly come and gone. However, as the one regular member of System I have not had the luxury of the same mobility as others involved, and ultimately am the one responsible for the delivery of monthly exhibitions, maintaining positive relations with exhibiting artists, and ensuring exhibitions are promoted. This combined with several jobs has resulted in a poor work/life balance and much additional stress. However, I have also continued to work on exhibitions whilst severely sick (later resulting in a trip to the hospital) despite insistence from the artist and co-curator to “go home and rest” and “I didn’t need to be there”. I knew that they were right, I think that I stayed out of a need to feel connected and contribute to something. To ‘give back’ maybe.

When first taking over System I was aware of how privileged I was to ‘have’ a space and the possibilities that that presented. From the start I knew that I wanted it to be a space that I could offer to others. The first exhibition that System had with me as curator was a group show called Dishwasher Safe. This came about through first being introduced to one of the artists at a preview by a mutual friend. We then agreed for him to send some more details of what he wanted to propose by email and then at a later point meet for a pint to plan further. What was a revelation for me about this show, was how much more fascinated I was by the group’s dynamic rather than the artwork and concept behind the show[4]. All of the exhibitors were friends who upon graduating will be split up as some of them return to their home town or move elsewhere to study/work etc. I saw the exhibition as a way of them reconciling their feelings towards this significant change and the marking of an ‘end-of-an-era’. The exhibition was a huge success with an incredible turnout at the preview and the exhibiting artists spoke highly of their experience. I felt elated to be a part of it.

Just like all groups need symbols and rituals in order to survive, so does an art community. To exhibit, is to make something public. An exhibition is the process of making something public but also of ‘forming’ publics through engaging individuals in the collective sharing of ideas and values. To support this statement, the success of Dishwasher Safe formed the basis of a number of friendships between myself and the exhibiting artists which would extend well beyond the duration of the exhibition. In this regard System is far from a selfless pursuit. By voluntarily giving my time, I get the same back. It connects me with people that value the same things that I do, contributing to my own sense of belonging to an arts community and self-definition as a curator/artist. It is a practice of care and self-care, both of which sustain the other. It provided a great antidote for some personal issues that I was battling through 2017, but equally, it can be a pain-in-the-fucking-arse.

MANNER OF FLYING is the first of a series attempting to understand what System is and what it means to myself, collaborators and exhibiting artists. Through this I hope to shed some light on ways in which space can constrain and enable the giving and receiving of care, support, and belonging.


[1] Verwoert, J. (2009) ‘Personal support: How to care’, in Condorelli, C., Wade, G. and Langdon, J. (eds.) Support structures. Sternberg Press, pp. 165-177.

[2] The previous curators, Egle Dubinkaite and Jacob Zoob, offered me the space as they were moving down south

[3] Self-appointed title

[4] No offense.

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Thoughts on Art, Curating, Space, and Time

Time is singular. Space is plural.

Art is idiosyncratic. Curating is heterogeneous.

Time is sequential. Space is omnidirectional.

Art is iterative. Curating is divergent.

Time occurs. Space is formed.

Art conceives. Curating is administered.

Time marches on. Space is transitory.

Art is sequential. Curating is fluid.

Time erodes. Space regenerates.

Art organises. Curating interrelates.

Time is eternal. Space is ever-changing.

Art is enduring. Curating is transient.

Curating places art in space.

Curating places art in time.

Exhibitions place artists and curators in space.

Exhibitions place artists and curators in time.

To exhibit is to make public.

Exhibitions form publics.

Constellations of similar publics reoccur

Over space

Over time

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BIAA Residential School 2019

This is a text which I produced and performed at the British Institute at Anakara as part of their 2019 residential school. The structure and a lot of the language in this text heavily borrows from the prologue of the seminal text ‘Non-places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity’ by the French anthropologist Marc Augé. Augé coined the term ‘non-place’ to refer spaces where concerns of social relations, history, and identity are erased, including, many functional spaces such as airports, taxis, supermarkets and hotels.

It was a trouble-free taxi ride, the trip to the airport from Byker presented no problems at 3.30am. I had left plenty of time between arriving and when my flight was due to leave. I handed my passport and flight info in order to receive my boarding pass. After doing this and passing security without incident, I enjoyed the relative freedom imparted by the certainty with my ID registered and boarding pass in my bum bag, that I had nothing to do but wait for the sequence of events. Just like everybody else there. All of us simultaneously aware and unaware of one another.

I boarded the KLM952 5.30am flight to Amsterdam without incident. Once sat in the plane I went over in my mind the imagined route of my journey. My appalling knowledge of place names and geography meant that I didn’t get very far. I re-read the flight information and mentally planned out the series of connections and actions that I would need to perform:

  • Leave Newcastle at 6:00 to arrive in Amsterdam at 8:25
  • Stopover: 4 hours 5 minutes
  • Leave Amsterdam at 12:30 to arrive in Istanbul at 17:05
  • Stopover: 3 hours 0 minutes
  • Leave Istanbul at 20:05 to arrive in Ankara at 21:10
  • Grab shuttle bus at 21:40 (look for guy with a sign)
  • Arrive at hotel at 10ish

Despite some confusion with the shuttle bus things went largely without incident, however it wasn’t until eleven that I made it to my room. I was fucking knackered.

I double-checked where I needed to be tomorrow. Cool, ten at the BIAA place just a short two-minute walk away.

I woke at about seven, showered and had a coffee in my room from one of those tiny mugs you only ever see in hotels. I went for breakfast at about eight. I had left plenty of time before eating and when I would need to leave the hotel to make tracks for the institute. After eating breakfast, I checked the route and gathered my things. I enjoyed the relative freedom imparted by the certainty that I had everything, and I knew where I was going. After arriving at the institute, I had nothing to do but wait for the sequence of events. Just like everybody else there. Many of us simultaneously aware and unaware of one another.

We received a very warm welcome from our hosts, and we were guided to a boardroom laid out with tables and chairs. I found a place to sit without incident. Once sat I went over the itinerary for the day. My appalling ability to retain people’s names as well as times meant that I wasn’t able to absorb much. I am sure that the previous days’ travel didn’t help. However, I re-read the information and mentally planned out the series of talks and events that I would need to attend:

  • Registration & Welcome to the programme starts at 9:30 and finishes at 10:00
  • Session one ‘Introduction to the BIAA’ and ‘The BIAA digital repository and collections’ starts at 10:00 and finishes at 13:00
  • BIAA Mezze buffet starts at 13:00 and finishes at 14:00
  • Sessions two ‘Stable isotopes and bioarchaeology in Anatolia’ starts at 14:00 and finishes at 17:00
  • ‘Getting to know each other’ starts at 17:00 and finishes at 18:30
  • Dinner at BIAA starts at 19:00 and finishes at 21:00

After the meal a group of us left and got drinks in the city. After having been transported and detained in a variety of non-places, including, taxis, airports, planes, hotels and boardrooms – I felt like I had finally arrived in Ankara.

Total travel time: Newcastle to Ankara 39 hours 30 minutes

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Last Days of System

After 10 years of our gallery being based above Bar Loco for the past 10 years or so, we were rather cruelly coolly told that we could no longer use the space for exhibitions. This text conversation went as follows:

??? : Hi Dan it’s ???. Just checking when you’ll be picking stuff up from the last show?

Received 9 Sep, 13:22

Me: Hey man. On Wednesday I’ve got a van booked around 3 but some people will be picking up before and some people by 7 after work. Is that okay?

Sent 9 Sep, 13:24

???: Sounds good! Thanks mate

Received 9 Sep, 13:25

Me: No worries. Is the space going to be okay to use for the first Thurs of October?

Sent 9 Sep, 13:25

??? : Unfortunately not, we’re changing the way the room is used so it won’t be available in October

Received 9 Sep, 13:29

Me: Does that mean that I won’t be able to have exhibitions there anymore?

Sent 9 Sep, 13:29

??? : That’s correct

Received 9 Sep, 13:30

The story that the somewhat insensitive ‘booting’ tells is not of someone who is necessarily unsympathetic, but of someone who perhaps doesn’t appreciate the symbolic value that space held and the emotional impact of their actions to those attached to it. In a previous essay I wrote, I described how I always thought of that space above Bar Loco as being System whereas in fact it was just one function of that space. To us that space was System, but to the Spanish classes, drama groups, musicians, and everybody else who used that space it was something else. To the owners it was theirs to do with as they please (quite reasonably maybe as they had bought it), however so much activity contained within that space was ours. Our labour. Our personal connections and friends. Our memories. And not to sound too much like a jilted ex, but for years we had filled that place with people for them to spend money at the bar and to be given the heave-ho with no warning felt a bit of a kick-in-the-teeth.

Even having known the precariousness of System’s situation and suspecting that the new owners weren’t as happy for us to be there as the previous ones, being told we could no longer use that space was a shock. I wondered around the city aimlessly for a good half-hour feeling part angry, part lost, part grief. I could feel my eyes go wet. “That’s correct”. Fuck you.

It took an hour or so of contemplating the opportunities within this new situation and a chat over coffee with a mate to get my head right. There was now a mixture of feeling free and no longer being tied to that space, albeit coupled with a slight guilt/worry of having to let down the artists I had scheduled to show in the coming months.

Shit.

I emailed the artists to let them know and apologise.

Yuck.

I then messaged System’s co-curator over Facebook to let her know…

“So I’ve just been told that we can no longer use the space above Bar Loco. Forget every time I’ve defended them, they’re fucking shits[1]. Not sure what the plan is yet, whether I want to bother finding another permanent space or to have pop-up shows. We should probably meet to discuss what’s next at some point…”

She responds pretty quickly…

“Ah shit, that’s so so shit

Yes let’s meet up and discuss

First thought: CLOSING PARTY!

Trash the place!!

LOL. That made me feel a bit better.

A few days later…

It was time to start working on a ‘statement’ to let System’s audience know about the situation and that the gallery in a state of transition. Hmm. I remember Transmission releasing an open letter when its funding from Creative Scotland was withdrawn. That strikes a good tone. Ctrl+C. Ctrl+V. I can tweak that a bit and put this in. Cool. Oh yeah, I can take this bit from the last exhibition’s text[2].

Hmm…this is quite cathartic. What do I want to say?

I finish up and reformat.

Quick proof read.

Save as PDF.

Save as Jpeg.

Post to System’s Instagram.

That felt a bit weird. It feels very ‘proper’. Like I am a ‘proper’ curator and System a ‘proper’ gallery.

The response to the post was surprising and better than anything I’d ever posted by a long way. Not only were the ‘likes’ flooding in but so were the comments with words of condolence and encouragement. My phone starts vibrating with much of the same where people had messaged me, like I’d announced someone close to me had died or something.

For two-rooms above a pub it meant a lot to people, and meant a lot for them to show appreciation for our efforts. It is perhaps somehow ironic that it took losing the gallery space for me to feel most comfortable in my role as a curator.

What this situation presented was the chance for me to put my money where my mouth is. After talking and writing about the difference between System as a physical space and it as a place is a location for the network of social relations of a particular public[3]. Then surely it’s as simple as taking those people and putting them somewhere else to do the same thing?

Going back to the space above Bar Loco, if as Massey states, place is a “location of the intersection of disparate trajectories”[4], then what is System when it doesn’t share its space with Spanish classes, drama groups, musicians, and whatever else?

What happens to it when it shares another space with various other groups and people?

Or when it is not in a purpose-built gallery space?

Or has its own space which it doesn’t share with anybody?

If we rebuild it will they come?

These are the challenges and questions I think me and System need to ask ourselves before making any longer-term plans. What initially felt like a bit-of-a-blow is a blessing in disguise as we are longer trapped in that cycle of show goes up then show comes down (rinse, repeat). Which as great as that was and as grateful as I am for the amount that I learnt and developed during that time, the breathing-space this offers to critical evaluate things is much welcomed.


[1] My feelings at the time. I’ve calmed down a bit since.

[2] Manner of Flying, System Gallery, September 2019

[3] Massey, D. (1991) ‘A global sense of place’, Marxism Today, pp. 28.

[4] Massey, D. (1991) ‘A global sense of place’, Marxism Today, pp. 29.

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Help Sheet for Curating System Gallery

MANNER OF FLYING was the first output of my PhD researching the social worlds and tacit forms of value generated within artist-run initiatives. The exhibition worked as a test-bed for developing a new practice which would bring the background work of artist-run spaces to the forefront. It marked a turning point with my thinking and as such I wanted to define parameters over what it is my practice. To aide me in this I produced a ‘help sheet’ of sorts which would act as a set of guidelines over how to curate the space going forward.

Help Sheet for Curating System   //    Daniel Goodman    //    09/09/2019

Both artists and curators work with space, materials and ideas to organise and make sense of our lives. Often this is done in various intangible ways.

It doesn’t matter if you are fully committed to the previous statement.

Sometimes your role within a project will be more pronounced. Sometimes it will be more supportive. Either way, trying to define what is an artist or a curator is boring.

Many artists will want to present work in a way which denies its context and they will instinctively need there to be clear defined boundaries between what is and isn’t art.

For you the physical space of the gallery is integral to your practice and is part of the work.

Your practice is a socio-political one. The things that you make are interpretive tools to make the socio-spatial conditions that you work with/within more pronounced. These interpretive tools are secondary to the socio-spatial context that you work with/within and create.

This is your medium.

You are interested in space and place.

Space is how things are placed in relation to another. It’s about boundaries and links. You can utilise it to ‘map’ things out, including relations between people and ideas.

Place is different to space, though it does involve space. As Doreen Massey states, places are “…articulated moments in networks of social relations and understandings.”[1]

You will create space/s which act against the work in order to draw attention to the socio-spatial conditions in which it is produced and displayed.  Through this you will gain insight into how space/s can constrain and enable the giving and receiving of care, support, and belonging.

You must simultaneously create places which work for the artist through fostering a sense of community, co-support, and self-definition as an artist/curator/person.


[1] Massey, D. (1991) ‘A global sense of place’, Marxism Today, pp. 24-29.

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System: Space or Spaces?

“… what gives a place its specificity is not some long internalized history but the face that it is constructed out of a particular constellation of social relations, meeting and weaving together at a particular locus. […] Instead then, of thinking of places as areas with boundaries around, they can be imagined as articulated moments in networks of social relations and understandings, but where a larger proportion of those relations, experiences and understandings are constructed on a far larger scale than what we happen to define for that moment as the place itself, whether that be a street, or a region or even a continent.” (Massey, 1991, p. 28)


If as Massey states, place is a “location of the intersection of disparate trajectories”, then surely it is never fixed (Massey, 1991, p. 29). System occupies ( or possibly occupied by) with not only its rolling programme of exhibitions but also is periodically reinvented as a Spanish classroom, a theatre rehearsal space, or a rave. With each of these events bringing a new public and space being the product of social networks, do these all feed into one ‘place’ or do they produce multiple ‘places’ each defined by the social relations of its particular public?

Massey, D. (1991) ‘A global sense of place’, Marxism Today, pp. 24-29.

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Work pictured by Ella Louise Jones

Some thoughts on space, care, support and belonging

Space implies an absence, emptiness, and lack of something. Literally an empty area that only becomes real when there is a purpose or activity for it to ‘attach’ to. It becomes a gallery space, rehearsal room, meeting place, classroom etc. System is a pluralistic space in this sense. Or perhaps, more accurately it is one of many functions of the space. When the space is occupied by other groups for different activities, for example by cellists to rehearse, it does not stop being System in my mind. However, to others it is perhaps a room above a bar where they come to learn Spanish or dance salsa, and that room is sometimes used as a gallery. To the bar owners it is perhaps a rentable space that they can use to bring in additional revenue or customers, such as when they offer us the space to use as a gallery.

This is different to many other spaces within Newcastle that offer studios and exhibition opportunities. Even when someone has a wedding in the BALTIC, they are guests having a wedding in a gallery space. BALTIC never periodically ceases to be a gallery in the same way as System does.

Until an incident a couple of months ago, I had always thought of System as ‘being’ the physical space. This changed when on the day of setting up for an exhibition there was a large immovable table in the space. I had never seen this table before in my life. It filled half the room and was bright fucking red. It was quite revealing the amount of irritation and stress that this table caused. There was an element of it partially ‘not belonging here’, with the artist and other curator both commenting on the fact it had built-in ports for laptops and resembled a table from a university library. The implication of this is that it was not a table which you would choose to have in an art gallery.

Those and I connected to System are aware that the space is used for other purposes. I am certainly used to walking into the gallery and there being rows of chairs set-up from some movie screening the night before or decks from a party. I think what was most offensive about this was the impossibility of moving it and taking it out of the space. It was something alien that had pierced the sanctity of the space. It didn’t belong and the lack of consideration of how this would affect us was a reminder that we were only guests in this space. I could no longer offer the full space to the artist. After having been promised the whole space the artist was now having to share it with this other object. This other object which was not part of the gallery. It didn’t belong, or maybe it was a reminder that we didn’t belong.

This physical and symbolic encroachment of space led me to think about the provision of space as a form of care or support. Care has been described as a “risky act empowered by the need of the other, yet not based on secure knowledge or competence, and therefore without a clear mandate, an impossible promise always bearing the risk of exhaustion”[1]. Much like space, care thought of in isolation is an empty abstraction. In order to exist it is reliant on there being a perceived need for it to exist. The same is true again of support; its existence reliant on the presence of something for which to bear or hold-up.

The provision of space, care and support is inconsistent within System. This is partly a matter of practicality. A lack of finance means that System is significantly short on time and resources and is completely reliant on voluntary labour and reactive ways of working. In this sense, I am an accomplice in the exploitation of my own labour and that of others. Apart from a couple of attempts at writing an ACE bid, I have done little to remedy this situation. This is partially due to a lack of the non-retrospectively billable time or energy required to put together another application. But also, a genuine concern over sacrificing System’s autonomy and way of working in exchange for getting paid doing something that I would do for free.

Much like space, care and support, System is an empty abstraction. It only becomes real when it has an activity, purpose or need for it to ‘attach’ to. In this sense, System is the provision of space, care and support far more than the physical space it sits in. If I were successful in being awarded project funding for System, it would mean having to promise the delivery of a number of ‘measurable’ outcomes. Plenty of valuable work is funded and done in this way, but it does have its drawbacks. My view as a slight outsider to funded individuals and members of institutions, is that the reduced autonomy to how they work means that they often appear/act in ways which are not personal but institutional. I think that there is something uniquely valuable in someone giving themselves to help someone for free. That’s not to say that System doesn’t have its limitations. I have had to apologise to artists because we can’t access the space for me to show them around as I wasn’t aware that the Newcastle Marxist Societyhas it booked for a meeting. However, these are not conditions which are created by System as an organisation, rather they are put upon us as a group of individuals with the artist. We are in the same position as they are.

I’ve been in situations where I’ve negotiated payment as the person using the space has received external funding. I believe that in the past this has caused the dynamic to shift considerably. It has turned System into a bookable space and that interaction into a transaction. On one such occasion, I offered the space for a group show, and when I arrived on install day everything was in progress. Everyone was working and the work already mostly up without any sort of discussion with myself. In fact, things were being done with the fabric of the building which I wouldn’t had allowed, however by this point it was too late. I wondered around a bit and tried to engage with it, but just thought “fuck it” and left. I was around for the preview out of a sense of duty to sell beers to pay for the upkeep of the space. There was little engagement from the artists and I had felt like I was at a party that I wasn’t invited to. For me they had missed the point of the space completely. Maybe they got what they wanted from the experience. I don’t know.

When accepting the responsibility to manage System[2], I was thinking of the range of possibilities and opportunities that managing a space would offer. However, I had not considered that the more embedded I would become within System the more that I would become bound by it. As System’s artistic director[3], I have received a lot of help with this from various members who have mostly come and gone. However, as the one regular member of System I have not had the luxury of the same mobility as others involved, and ultimately am the one responsible for the delivery of monthly exhibitions, maintaining positive relations with exhibiting artists, and ensuring exhibitions are promoted. This combined with several jobs has resulted in a poor work/life balance and much additional stress. However, I have also continued to work on exhibitions whilst severely sick (later resulting in a trip to the hospital) despite insistence from the artist and co-curator to “go home and rest” and “I didn’t need to be there”. I knew that they were right, so there must have been something else keeping me there.

There have been some good chunks of my life where I have felt socially excluded, for reasons both circumstantial and self-imposed, wallowing in a thick depression pissed off at the world. It wasn’t until university studying Fine Art that this had really begun to change. I had always drawn obsessively and in many ways that was my escape from a lot of things, but it was not until university that I had been given the ‘space’to do this. After having spent so long to go by unnoticed and take up as little space as possible, the emptiness of the studio was an invitation to fill it. I worked endlessly in that space, painting 5 days a week at first, and then 6 or 7 once I quit my weekend job. I poured everything into my painting until I was eventually working on 5 by 6-foot canvases. This consumption with producing work was not only permissible but encouraged, and what I produced was praised by my lecturers and peers. It was an in-road to connecting with others and through this I was able to able to chip away at the walls that I had built around myself.

On reflection, I am able to see the transformative effect that the provision of space had on me. As a graduate I am keenly aware of how few opportunities there can be beyond university to find space. To go back to wondering what stopped me from just going home and resting, I think that it was to out of a need to feel connected and contribute to something. To ‘give back’ maybe.

When first taking over System I was aware of how privileged I was to ‘have’ a space and the possibilities that that presented. From the start I knew that I wanted it to be a space that I could offer to others. The first exhibition that System had with me as curator was a group show called Dishwasher Safe. This came about through first being introduced to one of the artists at a preview by a mutual friend. We then agreed for him to send some more details of what he wanted to propose by email and then at a later point meet for a pint to plan further. What was a revelation for me about this show, was how much more fascinated I was by the group’s dynamic rather than the artwork and concept behind the show[4]. All of the exhibitors were friends who upon graduating will be split up as some of them return to their home town or move elsewhere to study/work etc. I saw the exhibition as a way of them reconciling their feelings towards this significant change and the marking of an ‘end-of-an-era’. The exhibition was a huge success with an incredible turnout at the preview and the exhibiting artists spoke highly of their experience. I felt elated to be a part of it.

Just like all groups need symbols and rituals in order to survive, so does an art community. To exhibit, is to make something public. An exhibition is the process of making something public but also of ‘forming’ publics through engaging individuals in the collective sharing of ideas and values. To support this statement, the success of Dishwasher Safe formed the basis of a number of friendships between myself and the exhibiting artists which would extend well beyond the duration of the exhibition. In this regard System is far from a selfless pursuit. By voluntarily giving my time, I get the same back. It connects me with people that value the same things that I do, contributing to my own sense of belonging to an arts community and self-definition as a curator/artist. It is a practice of care and self-care, both of which sustain the other. It provided a great antidote for some personal issues that I was battling through 2017, but equally, it can be a pain-in-the-fucking-arse.

MANNER OF FLYING is the first of a series attempting to understand what System is and what it means to myself, collaborators and exhibiting artists. Through this I hope to shed some light on ways in which space can constrain and enable the giving and receiving of care, support, and belonging.


All works in the image by Ella Louise Jones, taken by me at System Gallery, Newcastle, June 2019.


[1] Verwoert, J. (2009) ‘Personal support: How to care’, in Condorelli, C., Wade, G. and Langdon, J. (eds.) Support structures. Sternberg Press, pp. 165-177.

[2] The previous curators, Egle Dubinkaite and Jacob Zoob, offered me the space as they were moving down south

[3] Self-appointed title

[4] No offense.

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