SE8 Gallery is the embodiment of an idea about exhibition-making devised by its directors and curators Nicolas de Oliveira and Nicola Oxley that is borne out of experimental spaces such as Unit 7 Gallery, the Museum of Installation, and Notice. It is arguable then that SE8 is the present iteration of a project that began several decades ago. Although many aspects were altered over the years, what remains is a commitment to the production and presentation of new works, and to close working relationships with artists. Debate and discussion between the curators and artists is fundamental in shaping each exhibition and this process also results in pocket-sized publications produced by the in-house imprint Mulberry Tree Press, that widens the collaborative approach.
Moreover, SE8 and its precursors highlight an exhibition policy based largely on the notion of the extended studio. Given the prolonged installation periods for exhibitions, SE8’s position seesaws between a research station, a studio, a residency, and a gallery; the exhibitions are space-invasions of sorts, brought about by the shift from individual objects to spaces and subjects engendered by Installation art, which made a significant contribution to how we understand the more fluid relationship between studio and gallery today.
Installation, as a practice to be curated, does not only mean the staging of work but also creates the conditions in which work will happen. Or rather, it aims not to cease having work happening. Spaces that are never finished or are never definitive are important to all this – spaces that are working land; planted, harvested, and turned over to maintain their fertility. Even at the moment of their lying fallow they remain working, doing the work of preparing themselves for more work. The gallery space is never inert; it is always waiting for new work to show itself as a new guest. A gallery space must give the work space to breathe, but also some space to hide. The objective of a gallery space is not to present works in hypothesis, but in context.1
That said, there are several larger group exhibitions present in these pages that develop key themes of display, archives, and narratives close to de Oliveira and Oxley’s practice. Their anthological exhibition, A Book of Burning Matches: Collecting Installation Art Documents, for example, held at the Olbricht Foundation, Berlin, summarises the exhibitions devised from 1986-2015 in an archival format that seeks to transcend the borders of documentation by turning the museum space into an unbroken, immersive installation. Moreover, it was accompanied by a publication devised jointly by the curators and the artist and novelist David Edward Price in which authorship becomes a shared responsibility.
1 David Edward Price, A Book of Burning Matches: Collecting Installation Art Documents, Olbricht Foundation/Mulberry Tree Press, 2015.