Gasworks is part of an international network of independent studios around the globe.
All artists’ studios have their own peculiar character. Some have been more successful than others, though, in carving out a niche for themselves around a particular strength or specialism. Building on the networks and past achievements of its founder Robert Loder, Gasworks studios and gallery has earned a reputation as one of the UK’s most internationally proactive visual arts organisations.
This profile forms part of a portfolio of material around studios including the studios toolkit - designed especially for artists thinking of setting up some kind of workspace facility - case studies of studio organisations at different stages of development and more.
Located in the shadow of the Oval cricket ground in Vauxhall, South East London, Gasworks which comprises thirteen artists studios and a gallery space is the London base of the Triangle Arts Trust. The trust, a UK registered charity established by Robert Loder and Anthony Caro in 1982, initiates and facilitates artist-led activity and promotes the exchange of ideas and practice between international artists. It has four main areas of activity: studio provision, exhibitions, residencies, and an ongoing programme of international artists workshops. Triangles workshop open days, open studios events and exhibitions give audiences an opportunity to see a wide range of international work and gain insights into the processes of art making. Since 1982, more than 2,500 artists have participated in over ninety workshops held in twenty-eight different countries.
Ten of the studios at Gasworks are rented to London-based artists and three are reserved for an International Residency Programme which enables non-UK based artists to live and work in London for a period up to three months. Since Gasworks was set up, in 1994, it has hosted over 100 artists from fifty different countries including: Cuba, India, China, Mexico, Venezuela, Taiwan, South Africa, Zimbabwe, USA, France, Canada, Brazil and Colombia. All Gasworks residencies include an education and outreach programme and culminate in an open studio event where members of the public are invited to view work made during the residency. On occasions, the residency programme teams up with Gasworks Gallery for collaborative projects and exhibitions.
Gasworks Gallery hosts up to seven exhibitions a year and profiles emerging or mid-career international or UK artists whose practice is of outstanding quality and who have limited previous exposure in London. The gallery is committed to the professional development of artists and offers a strong level of curatorial, administrative and practical support. The exhibitions are complemented by a programme of education and off-site activities which aim to introduce and discuss themes and ideas of contemporary international art practice to both a younger and a professional audience.
Gasworks started out in 1994 as an artist-run project, with a group of studio-based artists running both the gallery space and the international residency programme. By this time, Triangle had been running international workshops for twelve years, so there was a wealth of international experience and contacts for Gasworks to draw upon. The Gasworks model was, in fact, imported from South Africa where, in 1990, Triangle had set up studios at a former bag factory in Johannesburg for local artists to run themselves. The Bag Factory too included studios set aside for visiting international artists. The studio artists at Gasworks had taken part previously in Triangle workshops and residencies in various countries, so the principles and benefits of international exchange were embedded in Gasworks from the start.
Gasworks is committed to profiling the diversity of London and diversity of the international art scene. While it remains responsive and connected to the European and American contemporary art mainstream, Gasworks, uniquely amongst UK studio organisations, embraces an expanded notion of internationalism. It does not have to rely, as others often do, on large international Biennale-type events to locate new artists to work with. Through its association with Triangle, it is able to link directly with networks of artists in many countries outside of the international cultural mainstream countries which may have limited arts infrastructure and exposure and, in doing so, is able to break down the geographical boundaries which tend to delimit the contemporary art world.
Through its residency programme, Gasworks has been able to offer an entry point to the international mainstream to many artists who have had limited previous international exposure, and who may not previously have experienced a residency in (or even travelled to) a different country. It sees its mission as bridging the gap; allowing visiting artists to use their time in London to create links with other artists and curators which can help open doors to other opportunities for both further down the line.
Gasworks tries where possible to arrange for international artists to collaborate with UK-based artists while they are over here. In 2004, for example, it set up a project with the Latin American Housing Co-op in Lambeth in which a UK-based Uruguayan artist, Ana Laura Lopez de la Torre, teamed up with residency artist Inti Hernandez from Cuba, to work with local residents whose origins were in Latin America. Conversely, there have been a number of occasions where, following a residency, visiting artists have invited artists based at Gasworks and in other London studios to participate in events back in their own country.
Artists are invited to develop new work at Gasworks. At the same time, they are encouraged and helped to use London as a resource, whilst they themselves become a resource for London-based artists. Each artist who comes in brings with them their own series of contacts that they are able to promote and exchange. The residency programme also introduces new processes and new ways of working, which benefits both the artists and the communities that Gasworks serves.
To keep things fresh, visiting artists are identified and chosen by a variety of approaches. The Gasworks website advertises an open submission procedure, where applications are considered every three months by a panel which includes Gasworks studio artists. Recommendations also come from other members of the Triangle network. Sometimes the choice of artists is strategic: it may provide access to a network in a new part of the world; it may bring over an artist whose skills and background will help Gasworks to realise a particular kind of project, or work with a particular target community.
For the last ten years, Gasworks has managed to maintain a steady flow of between twelve and fifteen international artists per year through its doors. The programme is sustained through a number of different funding sources. Gasworks gets some core funding from Arts Council England, but it also has to fundraise for individual residencies from sources such as Visiting Arts, UK-based trusts and foundations and, where possible, from agencies in the artists countries of origin.
Because of its experience of co-ordinating international exchange and its contacts in many unconventional locations, Gasworks currently organises residencies for UK artists in countries such as Cuba, Kenya, Bangladesh, and China as part of the Arts Council Englands International Fellowships Programme. Talks are then arranged at Gasworks by the returning artists. The dialogue is often about the logistical and cultural challenges of working overseas the practicalities as well as the practice.
Gasworks is part of a wider network of independent studios around the globe including Greatmore studios, Cape Town; Khoj studios, Delhi; Contemporary Caribbean Art in Port of Spain, Trinidad; Kuona Trust, Nairobi which have an affiliation to Triangle. Although each remains responsive to its local circumstances and needs, they are united by a common way of thinking about international exchange.
Paul Glinkowski is a freelance arts writer.
First published: a-n.co.uk March 2005
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