It’s been decades since postmodernists freed painting from the canvas and sculpture from the pedestal, but the tradition of displaying works of art like sacred icons against the backdrop of sterile white walls remains the standard. Even the most progressive galleries largely stick to the formula of transposable artworks in pristine, anonymous mausoleums.
But a team of artists operating out of a former textile mill in West Kensington is dismantling the barriers between artist’s process and audience’s experience built by that decades of gallery snobbery. FLUXspace, which calls itself a “contemporary cultural space that provides a platform for unrestricted intellectual and creative inquiry,” wants to free the gallery from, well, the gallery.
A graffiti-covered building at the end of North Hope Street houses both an exhibition space and the ateliers of many of its exhibitors. Art Making Machine Studios, the cluster of 26 leasable workshops that occupies the second floor, is nominally different from FLUXspace, due to the gallery’s nonprofit status, but the physical boundaries between the two are nearly indistinguishable. The art on display is more than likely to spill out into the cluttered, unfinished anteroom that the studios encircle. The visitor is continually reminded that this is a place where art is made, not just shown off.
The space’s name invites associations with 1960s radical art collective Fluxus, whose collaborative, participatory, experiential work seems to have inspired the FLUXspace team. Since opening in 2007, the gallery has hosted several of video and performance artist Oliver Herring’s TASK parties, at which attendees act out written assignments drawn from a box and make their own contributions to the task pool, which always end in a chaos of creation, a whirlwind of people of all ages running around gleefully erecting cardboard cities and gardens of paper flowers out of the piles of materials.
Likewise, FLUXspace’s own exhibitions don’t take well to being observed from a distance; they demand participation, often consisting of environments that viewers must navigate, like “Adventures in the Land of Smoke and Mirrors,” a 2009 journey through an interactive mock sideshow.
This summer, FLUXspace’s “Kat Culchur,” parts of which just returned from being on exhibition at the Tate Modern in London, is a mock-anthropological look at modern society’s feline fascination from the viewpoint of a hypothetical future in which domestic cats have become extinct. Pieces are displayed like fossils in a natural history museum: A shelf lined with kitschy cat-related tchotchkes, a drawer that pulls out of the wall to reveal a cat skeleton (found on the street), an armchair set up in front of a creepy cat-massage instructional video, with an accompanying plush cat on which the viewer can practice. The food dish of Xerxes, FLUXspace’s resident kitty, on the floor near the bathrooms, initially doesn’t appear to be part of the exhibit, but as kibble disappears, a video at the bottom of the bowl emerges. The exhibit’s crowning glory, “Cat Moon Bounce,” is exactly what it sounds like.
But the most intriguing aspect of FLUXspace isn’t its ethos or bona fides, but its unheard-of level of intimacy. One evening, the gallery hosted a rooftop movie night, showing a documentary entitled Cat Ladies, a tie-in with the exhibition. Nike Desis (a founding member) casually invited the dozen or so attendees to help themselves the contents of the fridge—popsicles, frozen bananas and Lionshead beer. At FLUXspace, where the audience is integral to the art, we’re simply allowed to make ourselves at home.
Philly Weekly's Fall Guide 2015
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