Intersticio London and its inaugural exhibition, ‘Where Water Rumbles, Metalloids’ (co-curated with SCAN Projects, featuring artists Cristina Mejías, Christian Lagata, Fuentesal & Arenillas and Esther Gatón) allowed curator Cristina Herráiz and responding artist Esther Gatón to “deform the inherited ways of working and showing”. Speaking with Emma O’Brien, their discussion ranged from an analysis of societal discourse impacted by Covid-19, altered normality and the role artists play in rethinking strategies to drive forward changes required for the world at large.
EO: Intersticio is one of the newest creative spaces in London and born in collaboration with SCAN Projects. Sharing two gallery spaces at 469 Bethnal Green Rd and an alternating roster of exhibitions; there is a desire for this partnership to become an intermediary between artists and galleries for emerging talent. Can you elaborate on Intersticio’s beginnings, ambitions and what the future looks like for the space?
CH: London is such a vibrant city for almost everything. Responding to this proliferation of art initiatives, we named our project ‘Intersticio’, Spanish for ‘interstice’. We wanted to indicate our interest in occupying an interval, a space in-between this polyphony of propositions - a space for artists and practices that we feel may not have enough visibility in the city. We understand this ‘intersticio’ as a space for resistance and experimentation.
The name in Spanish is also a statement as we feel the global south, and also the south of Europe (where I am from) are still underrepresented in London - a city that, even with Brexit on the horizon, continues to be a hub for cultural experimentation. I like to think about this format as some kind of micro-representation, which means that we work on giving artists as much support and energy as a gallery would invest in their represented artists.
Another definition of intersticio is the ‘interstice liquid’ that circulates between the cells and the organs, preventing them from collapsing – I thought it was a beautiful metaphor of how I would like to run my space; learn and work together, give space to breathe and grow independently, curate with care.
EO: As construction began and preparations continued for the opening exhibition, ‘Where Water Rumbles, Metalloids’, Covid-19 had become a global pandemic and lockdown restrictions in London put a pause on the usual timeline in the lead up to the show’s opening. How did this affect your overall process?
EG: We began planning this exhibition by mid-February, right before the Covid-19 pandemic was taken seriously across Europe. Our planned opening date, which never happened, was Saturday 21 March. Cristina and I were developing a very fluid process and not surprisingly, such circumstances broke into our discussions in both pragmatic and reflective ways. We debated on whether and how to do a socially distanced opening, how to install without physical interaction; and also, what was essential and what was not, in relation to the circumstances. We soon decided not to do the opening, so I found myself working on a site-specific installation that was not going to be “seen” nor celebrated. I must admit that it felt good to be focused in the making - making against time, indeed, for the sake of the making. Everything was allowing us to deform inherited ways of working and showing. I feel profoundly sorry for what is happening but, as many individuals are claiming, we have an opportunity to evaluate and adjust our practices to other values and aims.
CH: This pandemic has forced us all to slow down, which, in a city like London, is a serious shock. Sometimes, until you do so, you don’t realise the speed at which you were circulating. We are all aware we live under an economic regime of extreme competition and productivity that has forced us to work and function at a rhythm that is far from being healthy, can be alienating and counterproductive.
I think that right when the lockdown started, there was like a week or so of ‘slowness’. My fellows from Scan Projects, Esther and I took that time to enjoy the process (what a luxury!) of giving birth to this show and to this project. As Esther says, we didn’t even get to open the exhibition and, therefore, we didn’t get to officially inaugurate the project space. We used that extra time of ‘living on hold’, to write the text patiently, present both the show and the project as a whole with no rush, reflect on the process more, have conversations with colleagues about this process and listen and learn from their feedback. We enjoyed it so much! In the end, this is why we do this, right?
EO: You mentioned velocity and speed were a driving force in the creation of the show and especially the site-specific responsive piece, ‘Adrenaline Querubín’. On my visit, this second room became one for contemplative thought, especially given the state of the world at this time. Did the space adapt new meanings for the both of you during preparation, install and showing?
EG: I agree; our process has mutated a lot, and I feel its meanings will still evolve. Now, three months after installing, I can see that the shock, agitation, grief, and fright of the moment, slipped through and gave shape to the final installation. I worked in a highly energized mood: spending two whole days in the room. While installing, I was using as much time as possible, because we never knew if lock down would suddenly happen, and if I was going to be able to go back to the space. There was not much time for contemplation nor analysis. While I was working, Bruce and Pedro (from SCAN Projects), and Christian (designer), were finishing the refurbishment works of the space - all of us working against time. The night in between the two days of installation, my grandfather died from side effects of the pandemic in Spain, and it was amazing to find myself working fast among friends, in such pain. Death often brings a big desire to be alive, and my memories of those installation hours are of full joy. I titled the piece two weeks after realisation, while we were all self-isolating at home. I wanted to include the word “adrenaline”, since I would say it had been the main material employed! The second word “Querubín”, means “cherub”, it refers to a type of angel, usually depicted as a chubby, healthy-looking child with wings. I used this word because it speaks of kindness and a bit of nonsense; which is how I was feeling about the whole process by then.
CH: Absolutely! Speed was key, but also the adrenaline part that Esther mentions. Obviously, an intervention of this kind would be difficult to replicate or repeat in the exact same way, but given the situation, I am sure it would have been extremely different under other circumstances. I don’t want to romanticise what has happened, but it brought so many emotions to the surface and “Adrenaline” was definitely one of them. You should have seen Esther working!
EO: As 2020 quickly becomes an important year in history. How critical is the role of the arts within society in order to encourage change?
EG: I think that much of the present segregating attitudes come from the progressive dismantling of the physical structures for democracy - from public education buildings, to public sports and recreation centres. It is in these constructions where different classes, races, motilities, incomes, beliefs, genders, abilities, generations, values, backgrounds etc. can meet and coexist. Such coexistence with otherness generates solidarity and understanding among citizens and non-citizens, laying some of the foundations for an effective democratic administration. However, the urban landscape is being rapidly privatised, and traditionally public institutions have dried up, leaving a vast percentage of the population outside. It seems that, as a reaction, numerous art centres are taking over the responsibility to generate spaces of encounter and accommodate minorities. Even though I fully support the usage of art locations (platforms of symbolic value and visibility) for these aims, I think that is worth considering how ethics can be brought together with art´s concerns (such us irrationality, unlimited imagination, emotional responses, pleasure, joy, fun, waste, etc). To put it bluntly, I feel that reflecting on the role of the arts needs to be critically understood, not assuming that culture or creativity naturally bring any goodness, or that it is their function to do.
CH: I completely agree with Esther about how we need to rethink ‘the role of the arts’. I believe cultural production is political in itself. Therefore, it is important to rethink our role, and what discourses/practices we support as institutions, galleries, curators, artists, critics, writers. We need to understand both the powerful logic involved in our processes, and how we can share or give our space of influence to underrepresented voices, helping them have access to other conversations that may have been previously denied to them. This is part of the problem; it is not about us talking for them, it is about stepping back and giving our spaces of privilege to these discourses to be heard in other contexts.
During the last few months this has been a strong debate: institutions have been forced to review their curatorial lines and internal politics. I think we all need to do a lot of work in listening, learning and rethinking our strategies, making sure we are being part of that change we want to see in the (art) world. I am afraid there are no excuses left.