The Rise of The Self Exhibition


Essay by Wes Foster

Photography by Matt Leeves




 Over the past few years we have seen a huge resurgence in photography, arguably mainly through the growth of being able to self publish work which is no longer constrained by marketable needs: this freedom, as probably explored best by Bruno Ceshel and Self Publish Be Happy with their forays into design and the physical importance of the book as a piece of the work – these details of design and physicality are things which previously the very standardised would have ignored; two such works are Melinda Gibson’s SPBH BOOK CLUB VOL VI and Matthew Connor’s Fire in Cairo, which push the idea of design and physicality beyond what has really been explored before. The zine has also made a resurgence – and though none of this is absolutely new, it has been a while since there was a true outlet for it – an institution which supports it directly, and pushes for these boundaries to be twisted and extended.


This is a much harder task when it comes to the use of the exhibition: the exhibition is inherently set within an institution for the most part – whether that be the colossal size of time honoured institutions like the Tate, or that be smaller, more independent institutions like Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool. Either way, because a specific space is required, the institution is a much more inherent a part of the means of distribution of work within a gallery setting because it requires that space – the photobook or zine is in this regard a phantom – it can be produced anywhere by anyone to then be thrust into existence, stocked and bought (as a gross simplification of process).


With photographic shows accessible to the upcoming artist somewhat few and far between and with galleries, as institutions that have to reflect their audiences work looking to reflect themes and trends within the art world and solo shows even rarer, where is the outlet for showing work as a practitioner? The answer lies in the ever more popular self exhibition, which can take many forms and allows for the artist, any artist, to have an outlet.


As the ever more popular house show has shown, any space is perfectly adequate for an exhibition, though the most important thing for any exhibition space is that the curating is tailored towards the work being in a space that suits it. To exhibit is now an instantaneous act: yes self exhibition isn’t the Tate, and will ever replace it, but it offers a physical means to getting work out there and having people interact with the work, which is key within anything outward facing. More and more bars and cafes, pubs and public spaces are beginning to exhibit work, and again, this may not be the perfect space, but it is a way to instantly be seen.


The most common however (like with Post Silver) seems to be the coalition of artists coming together to use a space somewhat like a gallery, and through this method create your own traditional gallery space. Much of the time these spaces are empty, used for exhibitions and meetings, offices without workers during the process of changing hands, or buildings due for demolition. These spaces, that take the place of the reified gallery, are in the somewhat strange and rare position of being nothing despite being within the city – something that is almost a crime as every inch is filled with working, living or gym spaces.


One of the greatest cons of using a space like this is footfall: unlike the traditional gallery, the changing space does not, and can not have an audience natural to the space, and can not have a natural footfall in this way. It is limbo, attended by many across a multitude of different reasons but never often. This in turn though can work in the favour of the exhibition: rather than it being about passively seeing artworks, it becomes an event. By being an event there is spectacle: the the consumption is therefore no longer passive, because it is so limited in the amount of days and the use of the space.


Unlike in the grandeur of the absolute gallery, the work is immediately accessible. Though it still retains the physicality that only work seen in person can have. This isn’t the same as the dissociated grandeur of work in galleries can have – which pushes the work to have a hagiology to it, removed from the audience and creating a presence which is larger than the viewing public. What it has instead is a way for the artist to have complete control of the space and the work. And this is what it comes down to: the ultimate control allows for work to be viewed as intended but also, and far more importantly, it rids the need for there to be institutions that have to be there to disseminate the works of art: meaning that the consumer of art is one step closer to the maker of art, which can only be a good thing.









The Rise of The Self Exhibition


Words by Wes Foster

Photography by Matt Leeves


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