Alessio Antoniolli

Alessio Antoniolli is the Director of Gasworks and Triangle Network, a non-profit contemporary visual art organisation working at the intersection between UK and international practices and debates, offering studios to artists and presenting exhibitions with a physical space based in South London. Gasworks is also the hub of the Triangle Network, an international network of over thirty arts organisations, mostly based in Africa, Asia and South America. Triangle Network regularly develops and facilitates artists’ residencies and workshops as well as peer-to-peer exchanges, both between the UK and the rest of the world or within a specific region.

Alessio started as a volunteer at Gasworks in 1998 to be named its Director in 2005. His responsibilities involve curation, seeking funding, and artistic programming. He talks to Art is Alive about his main challenges, his personal tastes in contemporary art and what the public can expect to see in 2018 at Gasworks.

As Director of Gasworks, what’s your biggest challenge: curating exhibitions, finding artists for the residency or making sure people come to the space?

As a director of a non-profit organisation, the biggest challenge is to be able to offer artists enough funding to realise their ambition. I am happy to say that we are never short of ideas for exhibitions and the number of artists applying to take part in residencies continues to increase. Similarly, I feel that we have built a strong identity over the years, which in turn is attracting many visitors. Saying this, we see ourselves as a space that both nurtures and supports artists at earlier stages in their careers. We spend a lot of time with artists, talking about their research and working with them to produce new work. To find financial support for our kind of programmes requires funders to take a more visionary approach and embrace risk, trusting that – together – we can enable the research and production of work that challenges and enriches the art scene and, in doing so, launches artists’ careers.

Tell us something we don’t know about Gasworks? How much does Gasworks rely on private support?

Gasworks is the hub of the Triangle Network, a network of like-minded arts organisations with partners in nearly every continent around the world. When it started in 1994 it was an artist-run space which adopted its structure from the Bag Factory, in Johannesburg, South Africa. Since 1998 we have received funding from Arts Council England. These days we receive approximately half of our funding from Arts Council while the rest is contributed by trusts and foundations and generous patrons.

How do you maintain the growing network of alumni / past residents? Would you ever consider an exhibition with works from all the artists who have stayed at Gasworks before?

We have worked with over 400 artists from more than 70 countries around the world. We’d need a pretty large space to exhibit all their work. I also think it would be a rather disjointed exhibition; but I wouldn’t say no to a reunion dinner! Many of our alumni have become global art stars or are teaching younger generations, while others have started artist-run spaces. The luxury of hosting artists is that we get to spend several months together with them and often develop great friendships. The rest is very organic, with some we stay in closer contact while others go their own separate way. While we were in the process of purchasing and refurbishing Gasworks I organised an auction with Christie’s and asked some of our alumni for a significant artwork to sell to ensure Gasworks can continue to exist for future generation of artists. I was touched and humbled by the immediate and generous answer by so many of our alumni. In my mind this speaks volumes about how Gasworks is valued by artists.

Tell us about Zach Blas’ show? Why is Zach’s work so relevant today and how did you approach the making of this exhibition?

We are dominated by the internet and virtual communication but seldom stop to critically question how this seemingly democratic tool is defining us as well as shaping our behaviour, allegiances and views. Zach questions this passive acceptance of it by presenting an alternative narrative for the future of internet, one that ‘queers’ its structures and collapses it, possibly the only way to gain true freedom from governmental and corporate surveillance.

Our curator, Robert Leckie worked closely with Zach for over a year to develop the exhibition. Working so closely with artists like Zach is such a privilege and an ever-learning experience. The process and endless conversations were incredibly exciting and essential to realising the show, ensuring that Zach’s clear vision and ambition were respected while lending a curatorial view on the work and managing tight budgets. I could not be happier with the result.

Is Gasworks building a permanent collection as well?

We don’t have a permanent collection, but I am happy to say we have made ourselves permanent by purchasing and renovating our home of over 20 years. For a small organisation housing a gallery and artists’ studios in a regeneration area it’s quite a relief to know we are not going to be threatened with massive rent increases or watch our building become a luxury apartment complex.

What’s the most important thing when curating and how do you envisage the role of curators in the future?

There are so many different curatorial approaches, and each come with its own specific priorities. This plurality is fundamental for challenging hegemonic discourses and creating exhibitions that encompass the diversity of ideas, practices, artists and public. I guess the rule for me is to respect the artwork. Similarly it is important to provide curators with the opportunity to spend time with artists, understand their work in depth and conduct serious research. It saddens me when I see exhibitions where artists’ work is instrumentalised in order to fit a rather superficial curatorial idea.

Your tastes in contemporary art, who do you look at and like? Recent exhibitions you’ve seen and liked?

My taste is all over the place! I tend to think about the ideas and consider the context that instigated the work so that it’s less about what I am projecting onto the artwork and more about letting it speak to me. I am opened to being seduced, puzzled, challenged and upset by art. I loved Soul of a Nation at Tate Modern, Arthur Jafa’s show at Serpentine, Gianfranco Baruchello at Raven Row and the current exhibition of Michael Armitage’s at South London Gallery. Lubaina Himid’s show at Spike Island last year was also a fantastic highlight. I am also very much looking forward to Anthea Hamilton’s Duveen Commission at Tate Britain later this year.

Your favourite memory in curating recent exhibitions?

Candice Lin’s exhibition “A Body Reduced to Brilliant Colour” was an exceptional piece of work that we all remember with huge fondness although it was logistically tricky. It involved a series of installations including a tank of live Madagascar hissing cockroaches high on sugar and another one silk worms. There was also a pool of sludgy tea, sugar, and cochineal that would regularly spew its content onto the gallery floor. On top of this, Candice invited artist and psychic Asher Hartman to lead a tour of the exhibition based on psychometry (the art of channelling extrasensory perception to read the histories, energies and associations attached to objects). I think this was one of my favourite gallery tours ever!

What can we expect in the programme in 2018?

We are currently installing a new commissioned work by Nottingham-based artist Rachal Bradley. Amongst other pieces she has devised a series of ‘sculptures’ for the exterior of our buildings that function like a prosthesis, transforming the organisation into a negative ion generator, something that is normally produced in nature by waterfalls and thunderstorms, said to improve wellbeing. The show opens at the end of January and will go on until mid -March. Following Rachal’s show we have commissioned Argentinian performance and installation artist Osias Yanov to produce new work during his residency at Gasworks, which will be shown from late April. London-based sound and video artist Evan Ifekoya will follow and for the autumn we are working with US-based artist James Kienitz Wilkins. Alongside this we will have 16 artists in residence from countries including Philippines, India, Brazil, Chile and New Zealand. We will also show two films developed by London-based Seth Pimlott during a year-long residency at Gasworks where he worked with the local Latin American and Polish communities.