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The Guerilla Art Lab

21 June 17 interview: Ruby Butcher

The Guerilla Art Lab, also known as GAL, is an artist collective and studio space based on Broad Street. We had a word with founder Rachel Parry, and collective member Sarah Todino, to dig a little deeper into the group’s philosophies...

illustration: Natalie Owen

What is GAL?
Rachel: It’s a space for creative people to come together, explore and experiment. We developed GAL as a continual support structure for local artists, and also to be a flexible, safe space to bring new artists to the city.

As most of us are performance or live artists, we’re bridging the gap between fine art and theatre. In a fine art studio, you can have your paints and equipment, but you don’t have the room to move like we need to as performance artists. We wanted somewhere that we could have private, explorational practice, but also for the collective to meet up.

Usually, people only hear about really shocking performance art, but it’s actually grounded by meditation, body awareness and mindfulness. It’s about knowing yourself on a deeper level; that inward journey coming out. That’s why live performance art is so powerful. We’re intersectional feminists and support the LGBTQA+ community; we have the art collective Shady Cow in here all the time, and open the studio for people to get dressed up in for Pride.

How did this all come about?
Rachel: I founded GAL last year, and we’ve spent that time figuring out how to programme stuff. We’ve been really lucky in that the callouts in our circles have brought new members. It’s even brought people from the USA and Australia here to do workshops; they were on tour and came to use the space. We’re in the process of creating something a bit more fine tuned this year. It’s not a very big space, but it’s got a heart. It’s a labour of love.

Why do you think having a space and collective like GAL is important to Nottingham?
Rachel: It can only be positive that there’s another space and more support for artists. Nottingham is really lucky in that we have such a busy art scene, and we’re building on it by enabling other artists and collectives. The GAL tagline is “Because art is worth fighting for.” I want to be able to support the next generation of artists who don’t know where their place is.

If you don’t have a product in art, people don’t always understand the value of it. I chose to pursue performance art because it was something that felt more immediate. The integrity and well-being that I gain is so much more than feeling like I’m on a production line. GAL acts as an open resource for local artists who have a goal but aren’t sure how to reach it. We all work cooperatively, so it becomes like a family.  

Why is being part of a collective beneficial to an artist?
Rachel: It’s about somebody having your back. When I started out, I was constantly looking for who that would be. People have commented on how bizarre it is that we’ve become so subliminally connected, but the main thing is about everyone leaving this process having built confidence. Artists have ideas that they want to experiment with, but it’s about looking after them during that process.

Sarah: The collective is made up of people with different levels of experience, but we congregate as equals. We have people with over ten years experience as professional artists alongside people who are fresh out of university. Everyone has something they can bring, and everyone can learn from each other. We’ve had musicians, dancers, noise artists, experimental theatre...

Rachel: I did an MA in Performance, but my undergrad is in Fine Art. We have people who create costumes, as well as illustrators and graphic designers. It’s about sharing knowledge and experience; I’ve learned a lot from working with other artists. If you’re looking for opportunities, knowing where to start can be difficult, and we’ve been building a resource area, so when artists have an application for something, there’s a group of people who can help.

What’s a Howl event?
Sarah: It’s our weekly workshop programme that we’ve dedicated to the creative development of local artists. We have quite an informal, relaxed environment. If people want to share work, we take turns, observe, make notes and then have a discussion centered around what we felt in response. Then the individual can ask specific questions.

You recently took over the Attenborough Arts Centre. What went down?
Sarah: The Attenborough Arts Centre ran a programme whereby the gallery space was in use by different, back-to-back artist groups, so we took it over for a weekend.

Rachel: We built up material through the Howl workshops. One week I would teach, another week it would be Annette Foster, and we even had a guest teacher from Chicago. It was mainly holistics, movement and dance, but we’d share ideas too. I took an element of a previous performance I’d done where I had everybody perform en masse, and offered it up as a way for us to create something we call “performance alchemy”.

Sarah: We performed both individually and en masse, with different areas set up for us to work. My work involved duration; I unravelled some yarn by pacing across the room and wrapping it around two posts. Throughout the two days, I’d go upstairs, do a session of pacing, then leave it and work with the group.

For the exhibition, there were quite a few objects displayed in the space which were then activated and used within the performances. When I wasn’t using my thread, it was positioned within the space as an installation. We also had huge rolls of paper in one corner, so we experimented performing with that, and then we saved the material to be used again or developed later.

Rachel: There were pictures in the gallery from performances as documentation, and we had all these objects and writings from what’d been generated in other performances, so they became particular areas of installation. It was the live element that really activated everything, making it like our playground and exploring what could be done in those spaces. There was artwork that people could interact with as well; one piece used copper wire that, when touched, activated sounds.

What’s in store for the GAL collective this year?
Rachel: We’re going to have some open taster sessions so people can see what we’re about. We’re really hoping that more people want to join in this community we’ve got. We’ve also got some exhibitions coming up, and we’re working on our art as a collective; hopefully evolving. We’ve learned quite a lot from putting the three shows together.

We want to be more accessible, so it doesn’t matter if someone doesn’t have experience; it’s a chance to explore things. If anyone wants to get involved, drop us an email or Facebook message and come along to a Howl event.

Guerilla Art Lab on Facebook

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