Last Days of System

After 10 years of our gallery being based above Bar Loco, 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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