Embracing the counter culture: MA Fine Art students set up Punctum Space Gallery
A new student-run gallery space has opened up at Chelsea College of Arts: Punctum Space has been founded in a portion of the MA Fine Art studios with a mission to “embrace the counter-culture and the next generation” and has already hosted a popular and well publicized exhibition of the work of punk and hip hop photographer Janette Beckman entitled ‘Chelsea Mash Ups’.
All of the students on the MA Fine Art course have a say as to how their studio spaces are used and the gallery is a new outcome for this year. Two students have been designated as curators and organisers of the space: Ed Eustace the Chief Curator, and Natalie Anastasiou, the Creative Director. We caught up with them to find out how Punctum Space was created, their exhibitions and future plans.
How did you meet?
Anastasiou: We met in the Chelsea local pub: the Morpeth.
Eustace: Yes, we met very early on in the course. But we are both from Cambridge. I studied at Jesus College and Nat’s parents owned the main fast food/delicatessen store in Cambridge, which I went to all the time. It’s a small world!
Anastasiou: So, in a way, Ed paid my way through my first BA!
How did this part of the MA studio become a gallery space? What made you choose this space within Chelsea College?
Eustace: It was never a Eureka moment, where we decided: we’re going to do this.
Anastasiou: It was all very organic.
Eustace: Snowballing is how Babak Ghazi (senior lecturer of the Chelsea MA Fine Art course) described it and I think that’s the best description.
It’s the first year the MA Fine Art studios have all been based on one floor at Chelsea and this has been fundamental in this development. We had a four week ‘boot camp’ at the beginning of the course where we had all kinds of deconstructions, looking at what a studio space is, followed by a long project. At the time it was hard, pushing us outside the realms of our usual practice, but looking back retrospectively, it was essential in letting these ideas come to the fore.
Last term the studio space which turned into Punctum was used as a very experimental space. It held a drawing exhibition and Babak led color therapy there, and then there was some demonic conjuring where I summoned a demon. I had been working with a lot with objects before, and I did this performance just to feel something in the space.
How did all the MA Fine Art students reach as consensus on how to use the space? Was it easy?
Anastasiou: Yes. We left it as a project space – that’s what we called it at the beginning – and then a group of five us came together to decide what went in the space. Then, as people’s studio practices took over and people fell out of the group and by the end, it was just me and Ed left. We organised the Christmas party there which was themed “Apoca-Chrimbo”.
Eustace: We made the decision that we were going to destroy the space and refurbish it in the New Year.
What made you decide to call it Punctum?
Eustace: The title was taken from Roland Barthes’s description of what makes good photography: he talks about ‘stadium’ – journalistic photographs – and ‘punctum’ – anomalies that create a personal affect in photography.
Anastasiou: For Barthes, Punctum is the little thing in an image that makes it perfect to you, so that’s why we named it Punctum.
It sounds like the perfect name. How does running the gallery affect your practice?
Anastasiou: I think we both like organising things. I organised the first MA Fine Art show and curated it. We both organised the Christmas party and we put on an exhibition entitled Head/Head right at the beginning of the year, so it was obvious that we were both interested in organisation and getting new people into the space. But I’m actually a painter and Ed makes gold sculptures, so this isn’t either of our practice.
Eustace: Yes, for me I didn’t feel like it was my practice – I was in denial it was practice. I didn’t do a BA in Fine Art, I did I BA in History of Art, so I was involved in organising, writing about and curating shows in Cambridge but I didn’t know what to make materially. What is great here is that the tutorials are guiding me.
So you are figuring out that through the course? Do you feel like you are in a transitional phase in your practice?
Anastasiou: At the moment I’m in that transition phase. I’m hoping to keep some of the practical part of practice alive by releasing a zine alongside the space. We are also releasing a journal at the end of the month, edited by Liberty Sandler. She does journals for the Royal Theatre now, but my zine will be separate from this, which I hope will keep my practical practice alive with drawings and paintings. But mainly, for now, the gallery is our practice. It’s taking up all of our time.
How have your tutors and Brian Chalkley, the MA Fine Art course leader, reacted to Punctum? Have you been supported?
Anastasiou: Yeah, they’re excited about it.
Eustace: Yes, they’ve said it’s never happened before.
Anastasiou: They’re happy to have this as a performance piece. We’ve got a documentary filmmaker involved who, we hope, is going to document us using the space until the end of the course, so that will become part of our final piece as well.
Eustace: We feel very supported by the course, but not financially. This has been completely self-funded and we’re at breaking point now.
Anastasiou: So we have applied for funding. Sadly we didn’t get the first amount we applied for, but we’re going to keep trying!
Have you found having a studio space as a gallery a challenge? Especially with it being so near to your own studios?
Anastasiou: The location has been a blessing as we’ve had so many people from the Tate come to visit – passers-by who’ve seen the signs and come in – which has been incredible.
The community has been really responsive and they want to get involved. They’re happy that a new space has popped up that they might have the opportunity to get involved in, which I hope will be great for fostering relationships post-university.
You recently closed your 2nd exhibition: ‘Punk Rock Hip Hop Mash-Up’, which showcased Janette Beckman’s photography. How did this come about?
Eustace: It was all very fortuitous. The show was arranged in under a month after a spark of an idea we had just before Christmas. The main ‘mash-ups’ which are the centrepiece, made by iconic artists, have only been made in the last two weeks.
One of the big dilemmas for me when coming to art school was how to merge the professional with student work, which I think is essential when on an MA course, and this just seemed the perfect opportunity.
I knew Stephen Cole Grey through family and he’s a curator of photographic exhibitions like this, about Punk. I mentioned we had a space and his energy was instrumental in getting it going. We then contacted Janette Beckman who was formerly at London College of Communication. As punk started in art school, it all seemed kind of ‘hand in glove’.
Anastasiou: We thought it would be a good launch event to get the gallery started… We did have an MA art show with sculptor John Edgar, Head/Head, as our first show at the beginning of January which we used as a pre-launch, and then this was our main launch to get people from outside of the university interested what we are doing. We wanted to create a platform and that’s why we were thrilled when Beckman agreed to do the show. Furthermore, she spent time talking to students in their studio spaces, giving them tutorials. And we had a workshop with her where other MA Fine Art students made mash ups of her mash ups.
That sounds fantastic. What are your plans for the next few months?
Anastasiou: We’ve got lots of plans! As a result of this exhibition, lots of people have come to see us and given us proposals for new things coming up.
Eustace: After the Janette Backman show, we’ve had two weeks of one day exhibitions created by various MA Fine Art students, which showcases the wide variety of practices in our course.
Anastasiou: And then very excitingly, from the 15-20 February we have an exhibition of archived images of David Bowie, that we’re making into a small, week-long festival. There will be something new every day. We have James Brown, the poet, known for working as security for the late Amy Winehouse – he’s going to be doing a cabaret. And then environmental consultants ‘The Islington Twins’, who use to be mod rockers and fashion icons in the ’80s and were at the ‘Mash Up’ launch party, will be doing a performance piece on monotony where they’ll be counting beans which everyone can get involved with. We also have a couple more people lined up, but you’ll have to come to the show to find out who they are!
Finally, you’re just at the start of setting up this space, but so far, for any other MA Fine Art students out there, would you have any advice for people setting up a space?
Anastasiou: Just go for it.
Eustace: Just do it, don’t even think about it, do it.
Anastasiou: It’s all about self-determination and having drive and being willing to put in the hours.
Eustace: Yes, you have to be willing to get up early!
Anastasiou: Yes, willing to put in the hours – and sometimes the money. But for anyone who wants to set up their own space, I’d say: just go for it. It’s all about advertising: speak to the right people, get the right advertisements out there, contact papers and you’ll be surprised by how many people are willing to work with you.
Eustace: At the beginning the whole networking thing is tough, and you think “oh, where is it all going?”, but then all of a sudden it all starts to pay off.
‘David Bowie Archive Images’ exhibition at Punctum Space Gallery, MA Fine Art Studios, Chelsea College of Arts.
Open 15th – 26th February 2016. Open to students all day. Open to the public Monday – Fri 2pm – 7pm, Sat 11am – 4pm.
PV 17th February at 6pm – 9pm.
Find out more about the Chelsea MA Fine Art course.