In 2017, David Dale Gallery took the decision that annual programmes would be structured around a theme, taking a title as a position from which to start. These selected themes and titles will develop from a built aspect of David Dale Gallery’s available property, highlighting a space or feature to dictate the tone of the year. Not that all the areas available to us are part of the same agreement. Our main building housing the gallery, office and studios is on a long term lease; the external warehouse is on a different lease, now of equal length to the main building, but with an imposed sub-let of half the building now in place; the outdoor courtyard space is through a short term license, available until an incentive is in place for the landlord to build on it; and all other space is unofficially occupied, nothing committed that is too permanent, too visible – a seat here or there, some studio artists’ discarded work etc. The owner of all these spaces, and our landlord for the ones we rent, is our next door neighbour, Clow Group Ltd.
Last year, we started this series of named programmes with Annex. A publication has now been produced which expands on the ideas and exhibitions within it, so I won’t elaborate on the programme in much detail. But the premise of Annex was that five solo exhibitions, plus associated projects with the exception of our annual offsite exhibition, were presented between two spaces – the gallery and an external warehouse. This is the format to be repeated (4 exhibitions in 2018 as it’s a GI year), with 2018 incorporating an external courtyard as the additional venue and title, 2019 will bring focus back to the gallery, with our institutional and organisational practices as the site for exhibitions, and in 2020 we will celebrate our tenth anniversary programming around themes brought up by this, 2021 is a while away so we’ll get to that.
The premise behind this format is to offer the audience a continuity that can be engaged with, and a context to position the programming of a year. It is also an opportunity and provocation to the artists involved within the project, to possibly bring forward opposing practices, to be challenged by scale or conditions, or simply work with a different approach. However, each exhibition within the programme remains autonomous and comes from the artist. The programme is a framing device which can be engaged with or not, it can be explicit or not, but is there regardless.
As previously stated, each year’s programming is characterised by a space available to the organisation. This year, 2018, it is an external courtyard adjacent to the organisation’s main building. I say courtyard, but that may not be correct term. The space is the same size as the gallery, give or take a couple of centimetres, and located parallel to the gallery to the west. Apart from this space only having two columns in the middle, as opposed to the gallery’s three, it is a mirror image of it. But it is not a courtyard really, there was once a building there. A while ago, this was 161 Broad Street, the address our building inherited – or took. The building stood there at least a hundred years, most likely longer, and incorporated part of the David Dale College, which our building was constructed to facilitate in the 1940s. Once our building was erected, this one lost its front door, and was subject to numerous alterations over the following sixty years, until it was sold to Clow Group Ltd who demolished the interior. So, its not clear how to term it, it is not a courtyard by design nor a building anymore, or at least its construction does not fulfil its original intent – a room without a roof.
The title which has now been applied to the space, and by extension, this years programme, Garden, is a speculative one. It is a title as an aspiration, or a goal to work towards. The intention for the space is that it is developed over the course of the year, that the space is an activity, production is its thought. The space will become populated, by artworks, plants and people, and develop towards becoming a garden. That is, an outdoor space, which engages with nature and is inviting for people to spend time in.
A garden is not a static or neutral space. It is a space in constant growth and decline, linked to the weather it is either cold, wet, or briefly pleasant. But it is not a space that can stand still, or one which can recede to foreground visitors – objects and people entering the garden need to relate on its terms. In this manner, it is the opposite to the gallery. The gallery is unchanging and unyielding – the works which enter it may alter it, but after a period of time all traces that they were there will be erased, and the gallery structure will remain. The gallery is intended to be neutral, though many will claim its oppressive and subsuming nature inhibits this – but the idea underpinning it is that, although permanent and omnipotent, it recedes to the background to amplify or isolate an artwork and an audiences engagement with that. The garden is different, and within the constant shift and growth of the space, artworks will remain beyond the duration of their initial exhibition. The works will be anchors within this changing space, but once out of the reified confines of the exhibition, the garden will be quick to claim them – objects will become weathered and covered in growth, unless its possible to repurpose as a seat or surface – its use dictating the care afforded to it.
The garden is a social space, and this version is produced with this in mind. A garden must be a welcoming and inviting place, encouraging people to spend an extended, calming, time there – weather permitting. But if its nice, that’s where you want to be. By extension, the garden, cannot be a place where we deal with anything unduly taxing, overly dark, or generally weighty – a space for leisure, relaxation, a bit of contemplation, and enjoyment. This is the provocation that artists will engage with throughout the programme, that there is this space – and its conceptual architecture – to navigate in addition to the gallery. The organisation will also work to activate this space socially throughout the year, presenting events within it, and making it available to people for their use.
The space has seen many iterations over it’s life – a paper merchants, a welfare office, a college, an extension to an art gallery. This version of the space inherits aspects of this history, and becomes part of this line. Developing the space temporarily, before it’s next version whenever that may be. Certain aspects are perennial, whereas some are annual.
The exhibitions for Garden are: