In this series on London's art districts, Jessica Shepherd takes us on a tour of the Art Spots you need to know about. Each article examines a different area, from Vyner Street to Bermondsey. Read on to find out what makes them worth a trip...
Deptford is the hot spot of the art scene in London right now. There are no less than 35 galleries in the area. Visiting Deptford is a strategic exercise of art consumption. It is best to choose from a menu of galleries before you go, and to plan your visit carefully. The South London Art Map, otherwise known as the ‘SLAM’, is essential if you want to find some of the galleries that are tucked away. And there are ethical choices to take into consideration before tucking into your visual feast. Unlike Vyner Street, Deptford is not about free booze and showing off your latest American Apparel purchase - hipsters be warned, you may need to go in disguise. Think Berlin circa 1990 - a place dedicated to honest, thought-provoking art in the midst of social and economic changes.
There is perhaps always a sense of temporality at the heart of the art world, and it is the awareness of this by the curators of the Deptford galleries that generates a feeling of vitality. Combined with the complex dynamics inherent in the regeneration of the area, it means that artists and curators have a pivotal role in the growing desirability of local properties, although perhaps ultimately to their own detriment as they risk being 'priced out' of the area. In the first place, the galleries emerged from shared studios and pop-up exhibitions, but many have been given financial support from building development companies and property insurance companies. This has enabled the galleries to flourish, and non-commercial project spaces are blooming from empty buildings and new-builds. Utrophia, a gallery based in an old ice cream factory, features film and music nights along with interactive workshops, as well as selling zines and small-run print publications. And commercial galleries such as Bearspace seek to champion emerging artists and new graduates.
But there is a long term strategy underway. As the area becomes a culture hub, more people are investing in local properties, driving up the value of real estate and increasing the business potential of the high street. Gentrification is a process we are familiar with, but the galleries and project-spaces of Deptford fulfill their role within in it knowingly and sensitively. They showcase daring and experimental art, some of which directly engages with its social environment. Artist and curator Iavor Lubomirov, of The Artist-Led Initiatives Support Network (ALISN)'s and its new gallery space Lubomirov-Easton, stated, “I think artists, as people and citizens, should be aware of their contribution to change, but I think it is in the remit of art organisers to engage in these questions and to try and find positive solutions, as opposed to simply automatically denigrating gentrification and setting up entirely in opposition to profit-driven social change. I think it's about finding a balance and building opportunities for conversation.” This sentiment also appears to be at the heart of Enclave Projects, the new 'art infrastrucure' on Resolution Way, run by Temporarycontemporary.
Temporarycontemporary is an independent art organisation managed by Anthony Gross, Mário Pires Cordeiro and Lucy Sames. Based at The Old Police Station in Deptford, the group both curate the space and invite artists and guest curators to use the gallery. The Old Police Station is therefore amorphous, constantly changing and adapting; a self-professed ‘Frankenstein creation’. Time Out declared it "the official watering hole for south London’s new afterhours gallery gatherings" and the Guardian voted it in their top ten galleries in south London. Now the temporarycontemporary team have raised their profile even higher with the launch of the ambitious ‘Enclave Projects’, including the Enclave gallery space.
The opening of Enclave at the start of June saw the start of a new network featuring international organizations, collectives and curators. Divus is a project space dedicated to post-punk art and publications based in the Czech republic, such as Umělec, which is read from Europe across to China. Enclave gallery’s current and inaugural exhibition, entitled Artist Urban Action, has been curated by David Thorp, former director of the South London Gallery and member of the Turner Prize jury in 2004 (the year Jeremy Deller won the award). There are residency programmes for artists and writers; Art Review’s Oliver Basciano is the current writer in residence, along with artist Jean Christophe Nicolas. There is so much going on, and Enclave is opening doors to opportunities further afield, confidently placing Deptford on the global art map.
So it’s no longer just about East London's First Thursdays - the real art party is now South London's Last Fridays. Armed with my SLAM, I know where I'll be heading on the last Friday of each month and hope that on July 27th, you’ll be tempted to take the ten minute train ride from London Bridge to join the party and share in the banquet of art. It might not last forever…