Jennie Guy


A Platform for Possibility

During the Art 08 Artfair at the RDS, Dublin 15 – 18 May, Jennie Guy talked to Aideen Darcy and Jessamyn Fiore – The directors of Thisisnotashop, a not-for-profit exhibition / project space based in the Smithfield area of Dublin.

Published in the Visual Artists’ News Sheet Issue 4, 2008.

* * *

Jennie Guy: When did thisisnotashop open its doors and how did it evolve?

Aideen Darcy: thisisnotashop came into being in January 2006 – when a friend of mine asked me if I wanted a space in a premises on Benburb Street – in Dublin’s Smithfield area. He said that he would live in the back room; and that I could use the front room as a studio – as I was planning to go to art college. What he wanted was “an interesting living room” – that’s how he described it! He wanted to come home in the evening and find people talking, discussing things and for plans to evolve from that. Then there were a few artists that we knew, who wanted to exhibit their work, so we worked towards that gradually doing exhibitions and installations over the first year.

Jennie Guy: So you span the private and public domains?

Aideen Darcy: Yes – that’s initially where we came from. And when I started the IADT MAVis course, my friend decided to move away – so I phoned another friend – Jessamyn Fiore – who was living in New York at the time, found out that she was moving back to Dublin and didn’t have particular plans – so three days later we shook hands and decided let’s do this 50 / 50 and see where this goes.

At the time there was nothing really happening on the street. But once we’d spent some time there and opened up the shutters it changed. People who had known it as a newsagent that had been there for 60 years started knocking on the windows, calling in and asking us what we were going to do and what was going to happen? They were delighted that it was going to be an exhibition space but again the space was still evolving into that.

JG: Was there an official first show?

AD: There was. It was Will St. Leger who is a stencil artist. I met him on a festival I was working on. He was walking through Temple Bar one day with a bin liner with something inside it and I asked him what it was. He had a stencil of Michael Collins carrying two shopping bags, called Duty Free State and I said that it would look really good in the gallery I was thinking of opening.

JG: When did the writer’s workshop evolve?

Jessamyn Fiore: I’ve been writing plays since I was thirteen and studied writing. I loved the idea of thisisnotashop being a place of creation as well as exhibition. It’s really a meeting point for a community of artists to come, see the shows and have a chat, but also it can be a space where people can create new work, where they can collaborate with other artists.

I moved back from New York in March 2007. My history is that I grew up in the New York city art world – particularly with the artists of the 1970’s, the ones who moved into Soho and started converting empty factory spaces into artist run galleries and studios. I saw thisisnotashop in that same vein.

AD: I thought it would interesting to bring writers and writing into thisisnotashop, I had met Jessica Foley -a writer – who was at the time finishing a NCAD ‘Art in the Contemporary World’ MA. We rather than it being a workshop where you teach writing, instead we talked about it being a forum for artists and writers who work with text – to meet, collaborate, exchange ideas, share work and get feedback. The writers workshop has been meeting on a bi-weekly basis since July 2007. At the end of February 2008 we had a week-long show where the writers each night presented their work. It was in various forms, sound pieces, performances, interactive installations and readings.

JG: Can you explain your decision to set up as not-for-profit?

AD: At the time people seemed to be consuming a lot – hence the name thisisnotashop came to us immediately. We are concerned with experimentation and value of interaction. It is about people looking at work, less about selling things – and more about platforming. The space is presented to artists as a ‘gift’ – and as a space that won’t confine them. I think if an artist is given that extra bit of freedom they can ‘release’ a bit more – I think that that’s where the buzz comes from.

JF: It’s an important step for artists to know that there is a space there that will support their work without the pressure of ‘can we sell this? – which is such a huge question nowadays, particularly with the art market having exploded in the last few years. There is something lost in the whole process of being an artist if at the end of the day it’s just the dollar sign. We’d rather invite them into the space and say “this is your blank canvas- what do you want to do?”

JG: It’s interesting that the context for this interview is Art 08 – where all of the other galleries participating are commercial. It seems like a generous gesture and an acknowledgement of the way you have decided to go.

AD: We were invited by the Art 08 committee to participate because they believed it was important to give us a platform as a not-for-profit space.

JF: I think it’s an acknowledgement of the quality of our programming. We work hard to put on great shows of artists working within a variety of mediums from a first show to established masters like Gordon Matta-Clark. So even thought we are not-for-profit space and have a high turnover of events, there is a quality that is being recognized through the invitation.

JG: The turn over of events is something I wanted to discuss.

AD: Things are flexible. For example. At the end of the first year the lease was up and a group called The Projector Collective came in, said that they really liked the space and they wanted to propose something and I said, “well, you’ve got three days at the end of the month of March and then our lease is up, what do you want to do?” It’s amazing what people can do in a matter of days.

Other places have a different style of programming – that’s very forward planning based – whereas we have flexibility, we programme just three months at a time.

JF: It’s simply about trying to do as much with the space as possible – as the demand from artists is there. It is a small space, yet it’s transformed with every show. Even though our durations tend to be short and sweet, they have a high impact. And then we can move on and give somebody else that platform.

JG: What about the practicalities of funding?

AD: We have received some funding this year from the Arts Council in recognition of supporting emerging artists. But mainly we have been funding it ourselves. We’ve established ourselves as a charitable organization – we’re approaching some private financial institutions to increase our options. We want thisisnotashop as ongoing

JF: Yes we see it as a long-term project, we intend to keep working. In terms of funding resources, it is something that will hopefully just snowball – based on the quality of what we’re producing.

JG: Would you consider collaborating with other galleries?

JF: For particular projects, definitely. But we will always stay independent and particularly not-for-profit, that’s a really important element to us.

AD: We have been considering an off-shoot where we will keep the base of thisisnotashop and look at other avenues for when artists become better established, such as bringing their work to another gallery in New York, London or Berlin.

JG: Is there such a thing as a sexy gallery with morals?

JF: Yes. We are the epitome of sexy and moral!

AD: Have you seen my shoes?

JG: Are you surprised by the attention you’ve attracted – both in Ireland and abroad?

AD: We’re absolutely delighted. But we’ve been so busy working at what we were doing that we weren’t necessarily fishing for attention. We want to build a strong reasoning for doing what we’re doing and support the artists. Maybe this has just shone through and people have turned and noticed which is fantastic because what it is doing is upping that profile. But getting recognition is important – it gives the artists we’ve worked with a boost, helping them a step further along the way.

JG: I notice there is a blog on the website and that people can contact you directly. Do you have more-and-more artists approaching you?

JF: Yes, we are approached quite a bit.

AD: We’re very much about meeting artists. People are not afraid to come into us – and we hear about artists through other artists. I think being on the ground level in Dublin and interconnecting with Dublin galleries and Art 08 is great for that. We have a chance to spend time with the other gallerists and discuss individual artists work and also discuss various professional pathways for artists.

JG: What’s coming up in your programme?

AD: In June we’ll have a Spanish month – showing experimental film, and artists are coming over from Spain. Two of them will be exhibiting in the National Gallery and then one of them will exhibit at thisisnotashop. We also have a piece called The Fog which is an outdoor installation.

JF: It’s a movable ‘fog’ that is by a wonderful Spanish artist called Marta Fernandez. Basically you have to invite the fog to a space for a day and then she’ll bring it there. That’s at the end of June.

JF: We love being involved with different events that include the whole city – for example this year thisisnotashop is involved with the Dublin Fringe Festival; Dublin Culture Night; the DEAF Festival and the Darklight Festival. And probably one of the most exciting things we have coming up is a major Fluxus show in October. We’re bringing over one of the original Fluxus performers Larry Miller, who is going to work with 15 – 20 artists to put on a Fluxus concert. We’re also going to show Fluxus films. I’d also like to involve contemporary Irish artists who are influenced by Fluxus to respond and bring all of that into context.

JG: It is really remarkable that given the size of thisisnotashop that you can do so much in terms of bringing art in and out of it!

AD: Thank you. We may be seen as a small space and a very recent space – but we believe anything is possible and we are working to make it happen.