DMYCC at roaming projects
“DMYCC,” the first UK exhibition of New York based artist Sean Vegezzi, took place at a former railway archway situated at 11 Bohemia Place Hackney in London – which also served as one venue in the recent artist-led biennale Sluice. Organized by roaming projects, an artist-run space that exhibits emerging artists in different dis-used spaces across the city, the exhibition feels particularly significant – more than another showcase of work but a fundamental statement about artist-led activity, the politics of space in a major urban environment, and the struggle to sustain a creative practice.
roaming projects are following in a long legacy of artist-led spaces that have faced a similar lack of space and funding, and notably, have always brought a conceptual ambition to the exhibition programme. Previous examples including Sasha Litvintseva and Graeme Arnfield exploration of legacy of asbestos as a failed promise quickly becoming a metaphor for ideas of progress, or their presentation at Sluice Biennale of Isabel Ogden, who created a scenario in which temporal systems compete.
As an exhibition, “DMYCC” stands out as a particularly strident and poignant statement. Starting in 2005, Vegezzi began documenting when he and his friends gained access to a vast underground space in Chinatown in New York. They began to use the space to party, to socialise and run an ad hoc gallery, but despite the regeneration of this long abandoned, disused space, it was shut down by municipal workers once discovered. Through photography, video and a range of archiving processes such as a diary and a book published by Loose Joints, Vegezzi captures these experiences while reflecting on the role of the artist and the politics of space.
The central work in “DMYCC” was a larger than life video projection, but the exhibition begins with a smaller, more intimate series of photographs depicting architectural details, quiet moments between people, and abstracted close-ups on materials such as cement and gravel. The video suggests a documentary; there is a loose narrative structure that chronologically follows the group from the point of discovering the space through extensive preparation and eventual exploration, repair and burst of activity. Like most contemporary art that borrows from the documentary format, it is resolutely abstract – there are no voice overs or other documentary tropes that create an authorial presence. This portrays an atmospheric, poetic resonances between individuals in this group situation in this particular place in New York.
In several of the photographs and scenes in the video, Vegezzi and friends can be seen working – initially attempting to enter the space, and then later to repair it. In practical terms, they painted over graffiti, created a working drainage system, repaired electricity lines, built storage areas, installed lighting and improved the air quality with dust control chemicals. The visual stylings of this process are never far – a timestamp on grainy footage from a party, a HD zoom on a bolt being unscrewed by people wearing hi-vis jackets, a group of guys nerding out about rope knots and support mechanisms, receipts, log books with extensive times and dates. When Vegezzi and friends had control of this vast, underground space they repaired and restored it. Each date chronicled or particular screw documented isn’t important, what is offered is the aesthetic of attention being generously invested.
Like DMYCC, roaming projects’ roaming gallery model is common for artist-led spaces as a strategy to reduce overhead and often emerges out of challenging operational realities, but the model also opens up new possibilities and contexts for the presentation of artworks. The best itinerant gallery projects have embraced this, seeing each new space as an opportunity to establish links with the location and taking bigger risks with each exhibition.
DMYCC was on view at roaming projects in London December 10, 2017 – January 7, 2018.
Images courtesy of the artist and roaming projects. Photos: Harry Mitchell