Something I have been grateful for this year is to discover the innumerable initiatives to survive the pandemic: helping vulnerable people, offering alternative employment, and finding new ways to reach virtual audiences. This has been crucial for the arts, which, without an audience, cannot fulfil their purpose. Art Gate is one example, its goal being to establish an online community of art lovers, whether with an academic interest or simply curious, frequent contributors or casual readers. Art Gate enables us to connect with similar initiatives and we recently learned of an exciting and rapidly growing London-based startup, which we briefly introduced last week. SKT Spaces, or SKATTERED, is run by an international team of talent scouters including Brioni, Ottavia Galatà, Ambra Badalamenti, Sophie Butterfield and Stefani Zaharieva. Born during lockdown, it is a radical exhibition platform which aims to offer an alternative to commercial galleries.
I visited their first physical exhibition ‘Art is Why I Wake Up in The Morning’ at Paper Dress Vintage in Hackney, London. At the (sold out) opening night event, I spoke to gallery manager Francesca Brigandi about the origins of SKT, the surprising venue (a vintage store-slash-bar-slash-yoga studio), and the ideas behind the exhibition.
The exhibition itself consists of fine art (paintings, prints and assemblage) by fifteen different artists with an eclectic mix of nationalities and backgrounds. It is hung snugly in an angular side room of the store and makes optimal use of the peculiar shape of the space to create contrasts and dialogues between the works. There are abstract works by Seema Suasik, a portrait by Cathy Cheyne and prints of mixed media work by Veera Pajula. A personal favourite – judiciously hung in the window to speak for the whole exhibition – are two powerful paintings by Billy Bagilhole which suggest a gritty, dark urban reality. Through clever composition and use of colour, he creates striking images of a distorted world and relates to a feeling of anxiety which we all have become familiar with this year.
The atmosphere of the evening is enhanced by a spoken word performance by Princess Stephanoké (@stephkleanthous) and interviews with various members of SKT’s team. There is an unmistakable energy in the air from the exhibits, but undoubtedly also because exhibition openings have been few and far between this year, and this is a rare occasion to go out and engage with London’s young art scene.
What truly came across is SKT’s ambition to offer a much open, democratic, and transparent talent management and exhibition platform. In their exhibitions, as well as in the way they operate, SKT’s staff adopt an intensely personal approach fitting their belief in approachability and communication. As Brigandi explains, artists are vulnerable when they entrust you with their work, which represents their personal experiences. It is therefore crucial to build positive relationships with artists – only then can their work effectively be shared with the public, and can visitors connect to the work on the wall. At first SKT organised purely virtual exhibitions (a tool/mechanism many museums and galleries have resorted to since the start of the pandemic) but quickly found that real-world experience of art was irreplaceable. They then brainstormed novel, pandemic-friendly ways to introduce emerging artists to the world. This amounted to SKT’s concept of a ‘scattered gallery’ or a gallery without borders, meaning it has both a virtual and physical presence, and is not fixed in one place. Rather, it will exist in several places simultaneously, initially in locations across London, then possibly across the world. These locations, like Paper Dress Vintage, are not traditional gallery spaces but intimate and unusual venues with limited footfall. This allows SKT to reach multiple diverse audiences at once, and encourages visitors to get closer – to feel they have the artworks to themselves. Upcoming events include ‘Fake Space’, a virtual exhibition starting November 4th, and ‘Restart the Planet’, SKT’s first scattered exhibition which will open in multiple locations on 27th November.
British creatives were recently told to ‘Rethink. Reskill. Reboot.’ to get through the economic fallout of the pandemic in a controversial government ad campaign. Unsurprisingly, people were quick to respond and vehemently defended creative jobs, causing British politicians to publicly distance themselves from the campaign. It since been taken down. The truth is, the arts represent billion-dollar industries which enrich and stimulate our society, contribute to the economy, encourage tourism, reach out and engage local communities, have the power to educate, entertain and inspire – from which we all benefit in too many ways to list. To cast creatives as somehow superfluous is not only false but problematic, as it contributes to an existing system which does not adequately value or reward creative work (especially from freelance and/or independent professionals).
SKT’s press release for ‘Art is Why I Wake Up in The Morning’ emphasizes that they are engaged to continue to support artists post lockdown. Now, as London has fallen under Tier 2 partial-lockdown restrictions again, that statement/ambition is more important than ever. This exhibition is about the essentialness of art. For some this is quite literal, art practice or appreciation being a daily necessity without which they might not get out of bed. The title refers both to artists and art lovers, but also to everyone who streams music all day, watches movies and tv to relax, goes to museums, concerts or the theatre, loves online shopping or reading novels – and it refers to everyone else because they use products which have been developed by teams of designers, are influenced by creative marketing campaigns or create and share content with the world on social media. Art IS why we all get up in the morning. Confined to our homes with nowhere to be for months on end, a platform such as SKT is exactly what we need right now.
The full list of artists included in the exhibition is as follows:
Billy Bagilhole (www.billybagilhole.com)
Bolli Blas (@bolliblas)
Cathy Cheyne (www.cathycheyne.com/)
Elena Chukhlebova (@elenachukphotography)
Ellie Hansen (@elliehansen)
Eva Yates (@evayates_art)
Gregorio Funes (@aus_grec)
Herbert Pulese Aulehla (@nicoladianna)
Julia Maier (www.juliamaiberlin.de)
Kyo Kayamoto (www.kyokyamoto.com/)
Polina Christyakova (www.pochilly.com/)
Rosie Lonsdale (www.rosielonsdale.com/)
Seema Kaushik (www.paintingsbyseema.com)
Veera Pajula (@veerapajula)
Xavier Bellante (www.xavierbellante.com/)
You can find more information about their practice, and about SKT’s upcoming events at sktgallery.com.
[The image used in the preview of this article is by Billy Bagilhole]