Chris Lane, Jill Doherty and Harriet Jones are three art students who decided to set up their own gallery, TOandFOR, in an empty shop space in Archway, north London. One year later, we speak to Harriet (pictured above, left, with Jill) about book-binding workshops and crashing the Venice Biennale…
I had spent two years applying for admin jobs in art companies. Then I thought, why not do it myself? At first, we thought it could be a pop-up gallery. By chance, a very nice bloke said we could use his shop for free for 10 days. We kept pushing it forward, and forward, and we ended up being there for three months. These days, we rent a different shop space at 720 Holloway Road [pictured below].
We scraped through with donations. Some artists paid a contribution of about £5 to display their work. One artist, William Alexander, made a cardboard ice-cream van and distributed ice-cream sculptures to people. He’s now taken that exhibition to New York, and it’s getting a lot of kudos. It’s nice to think it had its genesis in good old Archway. He’s coming back to TOandFOR to build a Gondola out of cardboard. Local kids will help him. We’re going to test it on Regent’s Canal, and then it’s going to next year’s Venice Biennale as a guerrilla intervention, because we’re not invited.
The response has been amazing. The number of people coming in keeps increasing. We do workshops in book-binding, animation, paper-making, lino… It brings people who wouldn’t usually come to an exhibition. We theme the workshop around the show, so people become curious, start looking around.
On Saturday our workshop will make four characters out of found materials. Then we are going to put them up in unexpected places around Archway, like on top of bus stops. We’re hoping it will become a “thing”. Putting contemporary art somewhere unexpected encourages curiosity. I think that is the whole point of art.
After we held an exhibition for 10 local artists, we were granted £5000 funding. Although our kindly new landlord has given us a reduced rate, 90% of it goes on rent. It will be a struggle to get more. We’re going to sell badges and canvas bags, and we might start charging artists to display. But if we could do this without money, we would. If a premises and promotion could all be donated, we would take it. It’s all about using wasted space. We let other people use the gallery for rehearsals for theatre and things, to get the most out of it.
What we’re trying to do is quite ambitious. It’s hard work, and takes up a lot of time. But we all feel strongly that it’s worth it. A lot of galleries are set up for business reasons. We’ve set up to bring art to the community. It’s here to provide a platform for emerging artists and a place where they can meet each other, create an inviting gallery, and bring art where it’s currently lacking.
I think people should be taxed for art. I’d rather be taxed for art than for weapons. You would agree if you saw the difference that it makes. Funding should be increased, not cut. We’re doing this voluntarily; we are the “Big Society”, if you like. But if we don’t end up getting more funding, it is enough to have done this small intervention. We’ve shown that it is possible. For now, we’re safe.
Harriet Jones was talking to Naomi O’Leary.