Nowadays, galleries and museums can occupy any kind of space and are not rigidly bound to exist within specifically designed buildings or rooms. The artistic community Team Willow in Halifax, Canada, have taken this to heart and from 2005-07 opened a gallery in the attic of their otherwise privately inhabited house. When the contemporary art journal Ctrl-P was preparing a special issue on World Portable Galleries, the creators Francesca Tallone and Paul Hammond were asked to contribute a piece about the project, Gallery Deluxe Gallery. They chatted about it and pondered in what ways they attic gallery was a portable art space, and what it meant for their home to become a public art space. Instead of writing a piece on it, they just handed in the transcript of their gmail chat.
12:12:09 PM Francesca: hellooo?
12:13:05 PM Paul: heyyyy. sorry. i was waiting for you to get back. but i realize now that i didn’t SAY that.
12:13:26 PM Francesca: haha. ok so how should we start?
12:34:27 PM Paul: yeah… so…. i guess that the question on the table is “what does the portable arise from?”
12:35:47 PM Francesca: yeah. which we can’t like, exactly speak to, because it [Gallery Deluxe Gallery] wasn’t portable at all, but we can talk about what it was like to have it in our living space.
12:35:49 PM Paul: right. to me, it’s a really great question, but maybe a little tricky, in terms of what we’ve done together.. although i think that GDG sort of fits within the term portable, if you allow that to mean alternative, or pop-up, or makeshift. or temporary
12:36:05 PM Francesca: yeah, exactly.
12:36:34 PM Paul: because it lasted two years, but it was definitely always temporary, considering that we were renting, and it was in our attic, and always sort of.. just on the edge of being allowed.
12:36:44 PM Francesca: haha true. contraband art gallery.
12:37:11 PM Paul: haha. yeah. or that you could consider it sort of.. a transformable space.. although that’s basically what a gallery is anyway.
12:39:57 PM Francesca: right.
12:42:36 PM Paul: well, i think a lot of what i liked about GDG, and a lot of what i like about portable/alt art spaces in general is that because they exist outside of any form of institution or funding, or anything, they basically don’t have any of the limits that those things do.. they can sort of be as insane, or even as small and modest as you want.. and it’s always appropriate. and i like the intimate nature.. it’s sort of like going to visit a friend who wants to show you something special.
12:43:47 PM Francesca: yeah exactly! i liked that i sort of thought about it in terms of this variable in a constant. the constant being our house, our household, and that it was a variable that we had the power and creativity to change every month. and that the people coming to see it were also part of the variable, and could become a bigger part of it and DID, when they got into the space.
12:46:23 PM Paul: definitely. also because the house was an apartment, filled with artists and students, it was somewhat of a transient space itself.. so it was always changing, but the gallery sort of stayed there amidst all that.
12:47:00 PM Francesca: yeah.
12:47:18 PM Paul: so… should we just say that we’ve already started? or should we like.. go with this idea, and start now?
12:47:27 PM Francesca: i think we already started.
12:47:33 PM Paul: haha. ok. you pranked me! you old so and so!
12:47:59 PM Francesca: ahahaha!
12:48:24 PM Paul: you were like “we’ll get our bearings, and then start in a second.. PRANKED! it’s already on!!! everything you already said is ON RECORD!!!”
12:48:31 PM Francesca: ahahahaha. NEVER!
12:48:35 PM Paul: haha. ok. so… back on topic..
12:48:57 PM Francesca: ok. so i was going to say we could talk a bit about what it was like to have a gallery in our house, and how the house changed or was affected by it.
12:49:40 PM Paul: yeah, definitely. it definitely transformed the house in a lot of ways. and i think that it sort of gave the house a feeling that sort of relates to the nature of portable spaces. mostly in the way that it basically involved us taking our home, which is by nature a private space.. and purposely transforming it into a public space.
12:51:25 PM Francesca: and actively inviting both friends and often strangers into it.
12:51:36 PM Paul: in some ways, i think that’s slightly akin to kind of making the space portable. it’s opening it up, and inviting.. yeah, friends and strangers.
12:52:23 PM Francesca: and portable in the way that it was always changing. in a way that’s totally different from a traditional gallery space.
12:55:24 PM Paul: yeah. i was thinking about that. because traditional gallery spaces actually do always change too.. it’s sort of what galleries do. i mean, i think that’s the point of the “white box” approach is that it’s a blank canvas that can be completely transformed when it needs to be. but i do think there’s something different about putting that in a domestic setting.
12:56:01 PM Francesca: but i mean like by virtue of it being in our house, and having its occupants be transient, and not even always involved with the gallery. because at an art gallery, everyone is there for one specific reason: to work at the gallery in some capacity.
12:56:37 PM Paul: exactly. because the living space itself is completely active outside of the gallery, and it’s constantly changing and re-arranging, and that sort of creates a portable feeling. that no matter who lives there, and no matter what else goes on around it..
12:56:44 PM Francesca: yeah. at a regular gallery no one is there hiding in their room during an opening. or making dinner in the kitchen.
12:57:50 PM Paul: hahaha… yeah like making dinner, or in some cases writing essays for classes, or going to bed so you can work early in the morning.. the gallery is always still brought with us into whatever transient state the house is in. and visitors have no choice but to move through that changing, domestic space, and sometimes maybe feel like they’re interrupting (they weren’t) in order to get to the gallery.
12:58:56 PM Francesca: yeah. that basically is the opposite of what i was saying earlier about how the house is a strange constant and the gallery is the strange variable, but they both make total sense.
1:00:12 PM Francesca: yeah. i think there’s lots of ways to look at it.
1:00:21 PM Francesca: which is a really nice way to have a gallery. it’s such an amorphic space.
1:05:08 PM Paul: yep. i also think that having the space exist in the context of a house.. where you have to walk through the kitchen and stuff, really sort of gave every exhibit a very magical quality.
1:07:04 PM Francesca: yeah for sure. i think of gdg as an oasis in a desert of transient detritus.
1:07:35 PM Paul: because when you went up that (admittedly rickety) ladder, you were completely transported to something totally unexpected. no matter what it was.. a polaroid camera snapping your photo as you poked your head up through the door; or a pink world of puffy clouds, or a sea of milk.. it was always completely out of place and unexpected. i mean, nobody expects to walk up someone’s front stairs, through their living room and kitchen, up a weird ladder, and suddenly be surrounded by milk, and ambient light, and “My Heart Will Go On” playing softly. i always felt like that was sort of the best feature of our gallery—the most magical element.
1:16:08 PM Francesca: yeah, i agree. climbing into it was definitely a huge part of its magic.
1:18:09 PM Paul: for sure. in some ways, i feel like the ladder gave it a slightly “portable” quality. not in the traditional sense, but in the way that it felt sort of secret and as though it could have just been left behind by someone.
1:18:41 PM Francesca: yeah! or like, just thoughtlessly leaned against a wall.
1:18:59 PM Paul: haha. yeah. “Hey, I left my gallery at your house, can you keep your eye on it? Just don’t let more than 5 people in there at a time. I’m not positive, but it doesn’t seem safe.”
1:26:02 PM Paul: i think that at the end of the day, that is what i like about the whole idea of portable, and alternative art spaces.. the magical qualities. the ability to bring something to someone, or bring someone to something completely unexpected, and disconnected from reality. it’s great. and to have that element in our actual house was something that i really loved.
This interview has been reproduced from the Ctrl+P art journal, the original conversation can be found in Issue 17, published in September 2012. For more information on portable art spaces and alternative exhibition practices, check out this article on Visual Arts News.