An exhibit celebrating artist-run spaces and DIY galleries launches its own after-life, so to speak, with an intriguing project to document independent artist-run spaces across the globe.
Organized by and presented at the gallery run by artist collective ICOSA, the exhibit “Tiger Strikes Austin,” on view through Jan. 6, is celebration of artist-run spaces — the result of ICOSA reaching out to two Los Angeles groups that share the same self-determining philosophy, Tiger Strikes Asteroid and Monte Vista Projects.
But an open-ended research project launched with the exhibit may have lasting impact for cultural historians.
“Left of the Dial” is a zine-style printed directory of artist-run, DIY and noncommercial spaces in North and Central America. And an accompanying wiki even more widely extends the chance for continued cataloging of present and past artist-run spaces around the world.
The directory and wiki were spearheaded by Austin artist and ICOSA member Jenn Wilson.
“I think (artist-run spaces) are important in creating community, allowing artists on the fringes to be seen and providing a way to experiment,” Wilson said.
“And I think artist-run spaces are so much more important in Austin than in other cities. In Austin, it sometimes feels like they’re only places for artists to show.”
Such independent and often ephemeral venues are critically important to understanding the range of art made and exhibited beyond the often well-documented museums and commercially-oriented galleries. Yet the rogue nature of artist-run spaces often makes them allusive to art historians.
Wilson scoured previous directories, plumed alternative arts media and leveraged the knowledge of every artist she knew to assemble the printed edition list which lists dozens of artist-run spaces from Montreal to Guatemala City.
For the online version Wilson chose a wiki platform specifically for its flexibility and openness. “Wikis are community-driven. Anyone can login, create an account and add or edit information,” she said. Wilson hopes people will pick up the charge and add information.
Though ICOSA received some funding from the city of Austin for the exhibit and for the printed directory, Wilson funded the wiki herself anteing up for the cost of keeping the site up for 10 years.
The spotlight on artist-run spaces and their importance gained an unexpected urgency when two weeks before the exhibit opened news broke that the owner of the building in which ICOSA is housed had decided to put the property up for sale in 2018.
The yellow wood-beamed warehouse in East Austin is leased to Pump Project which maintains a gallery and subleases studio space to more than 40 artists as well as to ICOSA. It’s just the latest in a string of disappearing Austin arts spaces.
I asked Wilson if that timing made the wiki project feel more urgent to her.
“Yes, urgent but hopeful,” she said. “We can really learn from other scenes — how they adapt, survive and thrive. Lots of these places I researched had three or four addresses in the past.”
Wilson filled the printed directory with writings and images contributed by several artists. And she included “Instructions for Running a DIY Art Space,” a 12-step list put out by a now-closed Chicago project.
The final step reads: “Decide to keep the shows happening in whatever way possible.”