Spaces to watch
Arcadia Missa is located in capitalism’s world capital. And, as you mention on your website, in “austerity Britain”. What does it mean for you to be located in South London? And as a “small” alternative space, how do you deal with competition in the city?
Being located in South London means a lot to me, personally, as it is the area I grew up in. Belonging is important, and although I, like many of my peers, feel more and more alienated in London (and specifically under a now Tory majority), the act of trying to create space under these conditions does also provide some kind of collective coping mechanism and solidarity, or understanding, that you are not isolated in your feeling of discontent. I started Arcadia Missa in 2011 straight after graduating from BA, when the Tory-Lib Dem coalition had recently come in, and I felt like there was nothing really available to me in terms of a real job, so instead of trying to get one I set up a space instead. Since then London has got harder - the cost of living has risen, wages haven't moved, anti-squatting laws have been introduced and implemented, and this and more has made me more committed to running a space where we can say and do what we want in our programme. So I wouldn't say I have to 'deal with' or even think about 'competition', in particular a lot of the small art spaces here are all friends, it's more how to deal with the context of a city that is more and more antagonistic to anyone without a huge wallet. I guess what we are in competition with is an increasingly pervasive and violent ideology, that impacts the arts in forms of cuts to public funding and so on, and I would say that this is probably true for a lot of people in Europe right now.
Arcadia Missa is a self-declared organisation of three parts: projects, the gallery, and publishing. Why did you choose these fields? Is there a specific overall strategy?
It just kind of happened like this, we started doing more and more stuff and so had to clarify it. The space was started as a curatorial project, and this developed into Arcadia Missa curated projects in other spaces; additionally the space is sometimes a platform for the curatorial projects of others (such as the Preteen show). The gallery element is through working consistently with certain artists since the beginning of their careers (such as Jesse Darling, Amalia Ulman and Harry Sanderson), and having a commitment to them as well as a focus on the gallery primarily as a space for artists and their work, rather than any clear curatorial endeavour. The publications is just that, we produced publications since we began in 2011, and have three series: our journal How to Sleep Faster, our anthology series (which is our bastardised version of a catalogue and documents, for example, a six month programme), and our artist/writer novella series - which is for individual (or duo) artists/writers to take on the novella form. Recent novellas have been by Holly Childs and Hannah Quinlan Anderson & Rosie Hastings, and our upcoming one (launching at the ICA London on the 7th of August) is by Jaakko Pallasvuo, entitled Scorched Earth.
Are there government funds available for projects like yours in the UK? Do you receive any? Or do you have investors?
There is, but as I said these have been heavily cut here. Particularly hard hit for public funding is London because there are so many spaces and only a small pot of money. We have had some Grants for the Arts Funding (Arts Council of England) for specific projects, but we have never had regular funding for the space itself. No investors, no-one has offered! A year ago we began to partially support the running of the programme by selling some editions and work, but everything is still always precarious - it's London and we are a small space, so stress and precarity are normal.
After a couple of years with a space like yours, you basically have three options: close down and become a myth, become a gallery, or become some other kind of institute. What’s your plan?
We've been around since 2011 and have just passed the 4 year mark. Since I started it when I was 22/23 I have learnt so much, and was so inexperienced when beginning that I feel that if Arcadia Missa has survived the first 4 years, we should be fine for awhile longer, as at least I actually know something about running a space now. I don't see us becoming an institute simply because the funding structure in the UK is so shattered - if I had opened five years earlier than it would have been very likely that becoming a publicly funded small institution would have been Arcadia Missa's trajectory, but I just can't see it as even feasible (and I'm not sure if it is desirable) in the current climate. As for gallery, well we already have part of our programme and activity in gallery mode, which I am happy with - my main concern is that I don't want to have to fully be a gallery, or follow the traditional models of galleries - we do so many other things with the projects and publications that go from small talks with ten people and a BBQ, to huge symposiums and performance events (such as The Posthuman Era Became a Girl, with Goldsmith's Digital Culture Unit and South London Gallery), that becoming a traditional gallery wouldn't fit. So can I say none of the above? If we are a product of austerity Britain, then maybe we can grow up into something that doesn't replicate one of the only three options that were tailored before the crash. Does that make sense? I was talking to a friend the other day, they told me how they were thinking of our generation's identity as being very informed by New Labour and events such as the Iraq war, and they said that it gave them hope, because it meant that the generation after us would be informed by Tory austerity, and potentially go against it. As in - if we can go to the right, then we can also move to the left.
Arcadia Missa as a space is too informed by Tory austerity, the challenge is to find a way to go against that under the material realities of not having many options for state funding etc.
But it is a challenge that we are always aware of and thinking about, that is very much forming our identity. So I'm hopeful too, maybe that's why I stayed in London.
What is your next exhibition about?
pindul's rewards by Carlos Reyes with Pier Paolo Pasolini just closed, and our upcoming exhibition Asymmetric Grief opens on the 17th July. This is the 'projects' part of our programme, giving over the space to other curatorial projects. This show is curated by Binghao Wong, and comes from his research and projects that aim to critically pluralise queer life and its representations. The show features Raisa Kabir, Adam Saad, Jennifer Mehigan and Bhenji Ra & Justin Shoulder. I'll quote from the press release to give a concise note as to the focus of Asymmetric Grief: "Through technotopic representations, Asymmetric Grief attempts to articulate the tensions of intersectional queer subjects who actively formulate the terms of their own visibility and agency."
Bellenden Road Business Centre
(Entrance on Lyndhurst Way)
Thursday - Saturday, 12pm - 5pm