Interview with 24/7 Gallery, London, UK

Monday, March 1st, 2004

LONDON: In their own words “24/7 is a mobile and mutant low budget gallery. 24/7 now exhibits whatever, whenever, wherever.” sits down with the directors of this space to talk shop.

Donna Conwell: When you first launched 24/7 you began by stating that the project would focus on “young contemporary Latin American artists living in London and abroad whose work questions the conventional clichés and representations of cultural production from Latin America.” 24/7 has subsequently become a far more all-encompassing practice, but would you stay that the project developed as a response to a perceived lack of representation or misrepresentation of artists from Latin America in London?

Pablo León de la Barra: 24/7 evolved due to two factors: firstly, because of the difficulties of getting into the London art scene, which is very hermetic and very British centered, and secondly, the Latin American issue, which was practically an accident. In the beginning we were not thinking about focusing specifically on Latin American artists. It just happened that gradually and naturally, thinking about artists whose work we were interested in, it became clear that there was a Latin American emphasis.

Juan Sebastián Ramírez: The statement refers to the fact that we are against the exoticism of artists from Latin America. We are against the idea that if you are from Latin America you should be producing a certain type of art. As Pablo said, Latin American artists tend to fit more with the way we think and work. They are not used to being invited by galleries to show work. They don’t have extensive resources. This kind of informal, do-it-yourself attitude in the way that they work, suits the way that we work too. However, we have considered that we shouldn’t only work with Latin American artists because we don’t want to be classified in that way. We want to be free to create, employing whatever artists or spaces may fit in with our strategies.

PLB: In terms of production, we are interested in letting things happen, or things getting solved in a much more natural way. We have found that the artists or work that interests us relates to the socio-cultural-political context in a very specific way. This might be through irony or political strategies or dealing with the popular. As 24/7 has developed, we have realized that we are open to work with artists whose work focuses on real life and the everyday regardless of their nationality.

DC: Some of the curatorial strategies that you have employed with 24/7 have been very unconventional and have incorporated diverse publics. Could you talk about your two main projects: the Wall Gallery and the Traveling Gallery?

Beatriz López: Our first exhibition was the Wall Gallery, featuring the work of Stefan Brüggemann. We used an existing house wall located at the corner of Club Row and Redchurch Street in London’s East End to exhibit his text piece, Against International Standards. It was a fantastic experience because someone stole the work. I called Pablo to tell him that the work was missing and he went to look for it. He found it discarded in a corner. When I turned up it was back on the wall. I think it was a great comment on exactly where we were. We were in the street with all its inconvenient coincidences. It was a dialogue with the space.

PLB: It demonstrated that our public was not an arts public.

JSR: I liked Independent State, which was a project where we inhabited a temporary autonomous zone within the space of the Five Years Gallery for three days. We didn’t want to be too serious or pretentious so we thought we should have every day events and create a space that was more like a place to hang out than a white cube with precious things.

BL: We decided that if we were going to be there for three days we should enjoy ourselves. I was really interested in the atmosphere. There were kids there. There was a mad dog called Olive. We had beer. It certainly wasn’t a safe and sanitized museum space.

JSR: Our approach was to transform the gallery space into a living room but we didn’t want this to translate into bringing furniture, etc. It was more about creating a relaxed mood.

PLB: I think the change of space really benefited us and opened us up to new possibilities. If we had stayed with exhibiting things on the wall I think it would have become formulaic. When the owner of the wall came back and didn’t like what we were doing, that opened us up to new possibilities and to thinking about different practices and different spaces. I think we have become much more flexible in terms of occupying different places, sometimes with permanent things, sometimes with guerrilla style events – certain time, certain place. I think 24/7 has the potential to evolve into other things too.

DC: Can you tell us about the Guacamole Pub/Gallery?

BL: It takes place every Monday at the George and Dragon, the pub where Pablo, Sebastián and I work. We invite different artists/chefs to create their own versions of guacamole.

PLB: The development of this project happened at a time when we had no money to produce any other shows. It was a collaborative effort: the landlord supported us, the corner shop donated tortillas. As with the creation of guacamole, when you mix tomato and other ingredients together, the guacamole night mixes different people, places, and different disciplines. It raises interesting questions because, as with most food, guacamole looks as though it has an origin (Mexico) but actually because of the mix of ingredients and how they are incorporated, or not, its origin becomes problematic. Guacamole becomes a very interesting metaphor about how art is produced, questioning the idea of locality, originality and identity. So it looks like a simple night but it is not.

DC: We know of the mainstreamsí­ ability to co-opt the initiatives of peripheral, alternative or independent spaces, actions or projects. What is interesting in recent times is the way that commercial dealers, galleries, and established institutions are now taking an active role in employing alternative curatorial strategies and mounting shows of emerging, even fledgling artists. Given this trend what do you consider to be the role of alternative spaces? In what way can you say that 24/7 is alternative?

JSR: I think we can consider ourselves alternative because we work in a very different manner from institutionalized spaces. We have no site; we have no obligations. We doní­t have to worry about the same kind of concerns that galleries and museums have. We doní­t have a budget so there is no dynamic of exchange between the artist and us. There is no relationship of power.

PLB: In the last 10 years arts institutions have been appropriating the techniques of alternative spaces and integrating them into their programs. I think that this presents a tremendous challenge for the artists who work with us. It becomes more exciting than working with a space that has a lot of resources. For example, we presented a one-day event by Carlos Amorales (a main-stream artist and one of the most successful Mexican artists abroad) who, given his art world status, is very used to big budgets. However, I think that working with us with no budget became an invigorating challenge to him.

DC: Because artists have to think more creatively when they have limited funds?

PLB: Yes. I think it brings them back to earth. To some extent our practice is about working with artists passing through London and really putting them to work.

BL: When you become established you can find yourself becoming separate and the work can become less vital.

PLB: I think because we have no fixed program we can be flexible. We can negotiate with the margins and with the center. Going back to the Latin American issue, I think this is related to being considered as the periphery and negotiating with the center. Not being exactly in the center but also not exactly on the outside. I think that gives us a flexibility of movement and the ability to establish dialogues that become very interesting.

DC: Can you talk about the importance of spontaneity, and mobility as a model of alternative practice in reference to 24/7?

BL: 24/7 is a continual experimentation, evolving all the time.

JSR: We never wanted 24/7 to have a fixed structure. How the project has evolved has depended upon what we have been able to do. The informal structure has given us a lot of flexibility.

PLB: 24/7 is a developing project. We have no short term or medium term plan. We do it because we enjoy it. We think about artists who we would like to work with and we invite them. I think it gives us an amazing freedom to create. We are not be bound by a formalized or institutionalized structure.

JSR: We have ideas all the time. We don’­t program. We could have another show in a month or three months from now we might not have done anything.

PLB: The shows we really plan never happen. Perhaps people think that most of our ideas are ridiculous but we pursue them just to see what will happen. In most cases they work and if we make a mistake we can always say it was art.

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