Back Yard, David Dale Gallery, 2019.

Site, Max Slaven (Programme Director, David Dale Gallery)

2019 is the 3rd year that David Dale Gallery have created a thematic framework to position our exhibitions programme. Leading up to our 10th anniversary in 2020, these themes have utilised areas of the organisation’s estate as a proposition for both the artists we work with, and for audiences. The themes have existed as an anchor for the programme, and are intended to offer an insight into the threads and commonalities underpinning the programme. In 2017 the theme was Annex, 2018 was Garden, and 2019 was Site. The intention of Site was to take a broad view of what the gallery is and what it can be. By taking the entirety of the gallery as inspiration, we were not only looking at the space we use, and which constitutes the organisation – the gallery, kitchen, toilets, store rooms – but also the organisation’s practices, capacities, our non-physical space. This has focussed on the gallery, as metonym for the organisation, but has tried to encompass more than that – a single image of the organisation, to look at where we are and where we can go / what we are and what we can become.

In previous years these annuals have had a similar format, they collate the exhibitions of the year into one place, so that they can be read sequentially. And to sit between them, we have commissioned texts, which are intended to occupy the conceptual space between them – to link them, and draw out threads that connect them. This year follows a similar pattern, however, for the commissioned texts, writers were asked to offer thoughts on the direction of the gallery for the coming ten years, and what they would like to see.

These texts were commissioned in a very different world to the one I write this introduction in. When approaching the writers the country had just elected a conservative government by a landslide majority. This would mean that Brexit was now inevitable, and both these things were much to the dismay of the cultural sector in the UK. This informed the tone of much of the writing within the publication. Now, as I write the introduction, the same Prime Minister is in intensive care, suffering from Covid-19, a virus which has changed much of how we live. This pandemic has necessitated a worldwide shutdown of pretty much everything, our gallery being no exception.[1] So, as the gallery is closed, I am writing about a space which is inaccessible, it is a building that has shut before, but we’ll re-open as it has done in the past.

The building at 161 Broad Street was built in 1936 as a welfare office[2], as welfare approaches changed and requirements became different the building was closed and reopened as a college post-war. Firstly, as David Dale College, then as the College of Building and Printing. As the college consolidated its campus, the building closed and sat empty for a further ten years until it was taken over as the gallery and studios, moving round the corner from Rev. Watson’s hall.[3] We have taken a piece of each of these histories on, welfare and education, in what we do and hopefully they can inform us further as we go forward.

There have been five exhibitions within the Site programme, and all have engaged with the year’s theme in a different capacity. The themes aren’t prescriptive, they’re a guide. So their connections are also left open to interpretation. The programme began in February in Milan, with Lauren Gault’s exhibition[4], an exhibition which developed from an organisational exchange, and which had to negotiate a new space in a new context, with its own distinct histories. Our first exhibition of the programme in our gallery was by Rolf Nowotny[5]. The transformative installation created a new imagined space within the gallery. A twilight landscape disjointed from any previous physical aspects of the space. Next, floors became walls and we hosted Morgan Quaintance’s exhibition[6], a reimagining of an exhibition held in two other venues previously, and a new exercise for the organisation in working through previously commissioned work, and maintaining and supporting an ongoing dialogue. KRM Mooney’s exhibition[7] followed the opposite logic to Nowotny’s exhibition, foregrounding the gallery, its supposed neutrality and in the process reducing it to elements, in focus, but diffuse. And to end the year we began a new exchange, hosting Robertas Narkus on behalf of Rupert, Vilnius[8].

Towards the end of the year we began to renovate the front hallway, a previously relatively neglected space, considering the on going work elsewhere in the building over the past seven years. The slow process became something of a metaphor for how we work. Revealing historical elements and fitting new pieces amongst it – attempting to be sympathetic to our histories, complimenting it, though not obscuring or fetishizing. And no longer attempting to appear neutral, or vacant. In the process of renovation, a tiled coat of arms was uncovered, produced presumably by students for the College of Building and Printing. The coat of arms, based on Glasgow’s is inscribed with the motto Edificare et Communicare – Building & Communication, as good a motto as any for us to inherit.

This annual is a review, but is intended to offer some suggestions for the future. Initially, this was intended to be through the texts that were written to accompany the publication. However, this necessity has been brought into sharp focus by both the Covid pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement of 2020, and it is clear that we cannot work the same as we previously have. And that doesn’t just apply to us. The outcomes of this aren’t ones that can become apparent quickly, or can necessarily be accomplished, but I hope that this marks a change moving forward in how we work, and with whom we work. That this can be more thoughtful, equitable and beneficial.

[1] The gallery and studio closed on 16th March 2020, a couple of days before being mandated to by the government. The studios reopened 29th June 2020, with no exhibitions or events planned until 2021
[2] The building was built as divisional office 2 for Glasgow Corporation’s welfare Department, during a relatively brief period that Local Authorities were responsible for health and welfare, and before the formation of the NHS.
[3] See text for Rolf Nowotny’s exhibition Dementia
[4] Lauren Gault, O-n, The Workbench, Milan, 22.02 – 31.02.19
[5] Rolf Nowotny, Dementia, 05.04 – 11.05.19
[6] Morgan Quaintance, Hysteresis, 15.06 – 20.07.19
[7] K.R.M Mooney, Ores, 20.09 – 26.10.19
[8] Robertas Narkus, Prospect Revenge, Curated by Rupert, Vilnius, 09.11 – 14.12.19

Four more texts will be issued over the coming weeks in response to the 2019 Site programme by Cheryl Jones (Director, Grand Union), Michael White (Director, Celine and Artist), Morgan Quaintance (Artist) and Caitlin Merrett King (Programme Coordinator, David Dale Gallery).