Chalton Gallery is a not-for-profit project space in Somers Town, London. Their programme is dedicated to showcasing contemporary art from the UK and Mexico.
M: Could you share an introduction of Chalton Gallery, and how you chose this location and space?
J: I have been working with Mexican artists for about the last 6 to 7 years. Finding a space to do so is always difficult, and I was lucky to find this one which is property of Camden Council; slightly cheaper than private land. You go through a process where you have to tell the council what you are going to do with the space. I’ve been promoting British artists or artists based in the UK and in Mexico as well. The idea was to open a space here with an intention of creating more of a platform.
The important thing about small galleries is that we should link the artists to bigger institutions, potential collectors, but here we have tried to create this exchange on an international level. That is one of the principal objectives of the gallery.
M: Has the gallery always focused on working with artists and creating a platform for them?
J: We have mainly been showing artists early on in their careers: recent graduates who have been working only for the last 2-3 years. These artists are also constantly doing other things like being part of separate collectives, having residencies and engagements. I think it is quite important to show their work here and in Mexico. I was invited to Glasgow most recently and to Paris in August, where I will be showcasing video art created by artists who have also been showcased in this space. It might seem boring at first because you’re showcasing the same artist multiple times, but it is very important to do so on the formal level, because that is when an exchange can happen.
M: So Somers Town as a location seems more of a logistical and business decision, but has the locality played a role in the narrative of the gallery and its objectives?
J: No, not Somers Town specifically (in the international narrative exchange). The important thing about Somers Town has been the response of the locals who have shown a huge interest in the gallery. Sometimes I meet children who remember the first exhibition and can share about their favourite exhibition of the past.
The important thing about art institutions (including small galleries like this one) is not necessarily sharing knowledge but fostering a state of mind. Let’s say the Tate Modern on a Saturday is visited by 25,000 to 30,000 people. That is huge, but it is not that they are learning about the new artists and their works, it is that it puts them in a new state of mind. Somers Town was a forgotten area between the busy stations of Kings Cross, St Pancras and Euston. Drug abuse and prostitution are some of the problems historically plaguing the area. People have been stimulated in a different way because of the gallery, according to my observations.
M: And these are probably people who are not familiar with art in a gallery context, are they?
J: That is right, they are always surprised or amazed at the works and activities. The collections in the area are so accessible. The British Museum is in fact a nice 20-25 minute walk away. These collections are unfortunately taken for granted by the people in Somers Town. However, many times these same people will glance at the work in Chalton Gallery and have a new experience, thought or idea. The potential impact that small moment has on their individual states of mind is tremendous.
M: Indeed, that is one of the greatest things to celebrate about art. Do you think this potential is unique to art, or can something other than an art gallery possibly achieve the same outcome?
J: I think it sometimes has to do with aesthetics. A beautiful coffee shop can also motivate and encourage people. There is someone whom I met who hates living here 'because it's Somers Town’. I think if the street can have a different level of aesthetics, that feeling can change. Community centres do not really qualify for this. They are seen as a last resort, although they are an enterprise that can help create a local area or neighbourhood.
M: Have you been able to measure this impact on the community?
J: I tend to always ask for responses from visitors or passers-by. This gallery always has small groups of attendees, whom you are likely to encounter at another art event the very next day. When i see newcomers, I ask how they came to know about the gallery and what their thoughts are.
There is a lady that submitted a complaint to Camden Council about the artwork being offensive. Never assume that everybody has the same morals and philosophy. Once she informed me that she had complained about the work’s offensiveness, I asked others if they felt the same way. Some shared that the gallery and works make Chalton Street more vibrant and interesting, including for their children. Others are confused. I try to research people’s thoughts and responses.
M: That reminds me of street art, which sometimes evokes strong and diversified responses from people of the same local community
J: Yes, the gallery tries to engage people but tries not to be offensive. We have invited people to come for a coffee later this week to have a discussion about the matter. It is wrong to ask people to change their mind, but a discussion can be constructive. That is the problem sometimes; we do not have the space and opportunity to have an exchange in a rational way. This is something Chalton Gallery does aim to have.
Chalton Gallery is located on 96 Chalton Street, Camden, London. Check out their website http://www.chaltongallery.org/ for latest exhibitions and events.