Rockwell opening and closing
The final exhibition at Rockwell opens this week. Since it opened in 2002, Rockwell has been one of the stand out spaces in London. Artist and co-founder, Alex Gene Morrison, explains why it is and was 'fuckin brilliant'.
ArtRabbit: It is a shame that Rockwell is closing. Time to move on or are you being moved on?
Alex Gene Morrison: It is a shame and we are all obviously feeling a bit apprehensive and weird about what happens next. However, we have been here for 5 years which is what we intended to start with, we have fought the landlord off for most of the last four years of that time and have managed 23 shows with over two hundred artists in total. So in a lot of ways it is as good a time as ever to wrap it up and move on.
We all moved in here straight after our MA's in 2002 which was fantastically exciting and was great to be surrounded by a solid support group of very varied but ideologically similar artists. We have all benefitted hugely from this constant interaction but it is probably time to mix things up again for the sake of our own individual practices. The fact that the landlord is a constant pain in the ass and so eats up huge amounts of time and energy just makes this move easier to swallow. So essentially we are moving on and being moved on.
AR: Is Rockwell an artist run space, or a gallery run by artists? Is there a difference?
AGM: Iím not entirely sure, probably an artist run space i guess. I suppose the difference is that we have never been commercially motivated and have never represented any artists specifically. We have therefore been able to work with anyone we want regardless of their gallery representation, this has hopefully also allowed artists to show work they may not have been able to show elsewhere. The gallery really is just one integral part of the whole, the fact that we work and some of us also live here is just as important to the vibe of the whole project.
AR: You and the Rockwell team do/did a great job with some bloody good shows, did you set out with a plan or did it all just come together?
AGM: We never had a plan as far as the gallery was concerned. Initially we thought we were just building studio and living spaces but we happened to end up with a neutral space in between. So it naturally made sense to start showing work in it. The first show was of all of us who where in the studios at the time and was probably one of the most incoherent shows we actually ever did. However, we did work really hard to build the whole place as well as possible and were determined for it not to seem like just another run down artist run space. We didnít know what we wanted exactly but we did know we wanted people to take us seriously. After a couple of shows, a few of us realised how exciting and rewarding curating could be and just got the bug for it and never looked back. It just became a very important part of what we did as artists. What an amazing opportunity to have a big space to 'play' with and not have to answer to anyone as far as what we put in it. It would have simply been a crime to not make the best use of it and help provide a platform for other artists as well as showcasing ourselves.
AR:Did you have a agenda when you opened? Have you achieved what you set out to do?
AGM: No agenda at all to start with but it soon became obvious that there were strong links between the kind of stuff we were into. There is definitely a Rockwell 'style' of show, its undeniable, but then why shouldn't there be, we have never been funded so we didn't have to justify our decisions to any higher authority. We have also had lots of very healthy arguments between us and have occasionally invited guest curators to keep things mixed up a bit. Also, being forced to live with some work that you think you fucking hate for six weeks is not always a bad thing as an artist. So often, the work I had real problems with at first was the work i was still engaging with as I walked through the space at the end of the show. Having had this luxury of being able to spend so much time with works by so many different artists has been a real eye opener. When you go and see a show a have a quick 'browse' around, you just donít get the true impact. Art is slower and more complex than that. Obviously some work is just crap and stays crap!
AR: Would you recommend the experience to other artists?
AGM: Absolutely 100%. Damn hard work and you have to be prepared to not always get back what you give. But generally it is enriching, exciting and has been a super accelerated learning curve.
AR: Has the experience of running a gallery influenced or affected your work? How has it been running the space and preparing for your solo show at Fishmarket for example?
AGM: Very much so. Living with so many varied works over the last 5 years has been an invaluable asset to my own working practice and general knowledge of what's going on. Meeting other artists is an essential part of making art. Iím not into the whole lock yourself away from the world genius shit.
You have to learn how to manage you time very well. Iíve got pretty good at changing my 'heads' at a moments notice. We have all always generally been working to make cash also. Many of us teach on BA and MA courses but again this all just becomes another integral part of what you do. You just find the time and there has been a good posse of us to share the work around, thatís really important, no one of us could have done it solo
Preparing for my upcoming solo show at The Fishmarket in Northamton in June has been pretty hardcore with searching for a flat and a studio as well as helping sort out the last Rockwell show and teaching all at the same time, but you just get it done. Again, one person takes some of the weight of organising one day and someone else another so it hopefully all works out. Iíll be glad when this particular phase calms down a bit though.
AR: What will Rockwell be doing in the future?
AGM: Who Knows? Iím sure we will use the Rockwell name to do shows in other spaces in the future. Donít think we will be able to resist and definitely donít want all the work we did building up the profile of the name to drift into the ether. I guess it will slowly morph into something else when we feel the need.
AR: Some time in the future when Crackney Council recognise the importance of Rockwell, whose names should be on the Blue Plaque?
AGM: Thats a really tricky one, there has been so many people in and out of Rockwell since its beginning who have contributed in some way to what it is now and Iím sure they know who they are. However I can say who has been mainly involved through the thick of it and so wont potentially upset anyone. Hopefully!
Gavin Nolan, Chris Davies, Kiera Bennett, Isabel Young, Reece Jones, Brian Jones and myself Alex Gene Morrison.
I really hope I havent blanked out and left any off that list or Iíll be in major shit! Thanks to all the artists that have shown here and all the people who have trekked to see the shows. Thanks to all the people who have taken us seriously and written about us and helped us get our name out there. Especially Jessica Lack from the Gaurdian who wrote an article in ArtReview on us when we first opened and has been a legendary supporter ever since.
AR: Favourite show/moment?
AGM: Its gotta be having our living room recreated in Tokyo by a group of Japanese artists who showed at Rockwell. We all went over to Tokyo to do a return group show called 'Fuckin' Brilliant' at Tokyo Wondersite in Shibuya (it was called this because when they unwrapped their work in Rockwell for their show me and Reece just kept saying 'Fuckin Brilliant' , they didnt know much English but they definitely knew what we meant). They loved hanging out in the Rockwell living room so much when they came over for their show they used an image of it for the poster for the Tokyo show and recreated the room in the middle of the gallery space with identical sofas. That was a great feeling, sitting in the gallery bar in the middle of Tokyo with a poster of our living room on the wall behind us. That kind of weirdly summed up what we wanted out of it all along.
All those moments of realising how much people seemed to enjoy hanging out and working at Rockwell were the best, thatís why we kept doing it. Certainly seemed to be a case of right time, right place, right people. Maybe that will come around again, we will have to see.