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Submit Response is a weblog by Jack Mottram, a journalist who lives in Glasgow, Scotland. There are 1308 posts in the archives. You can subscribe to a feed. This post was made on and belongs in the art, interviews category. The previous post was , and the next post is .

Sorcha Dallas

It’s been a while since I’ve posted an interview, so here’s a brief chat with gallerist Sorcha Dallas, just in time for the opening of Cathy Wilkes’ show at 116 Sword Street tonight.

The interview also marks the end of Switchspace, an organisation founded in 1999 by Sorcha and fellow Glasgow School of Art graduate Marianne Greated to explore alternative spaces for exhibiting art.

So, we might as well start at the beginning - what prompted you and Marianne to set up Switchspace?

We were in our fourth year, and were thinking about setting up a studio and gallery complex, to solve some of the logistical problems we were facing, and that our peer group was having too. That proved very difficult, whether it was in terms of getting a space to use from the City Council or arranging funding for the project. Then, around that time, we were given a talk by Cathy Wilkes, as part of our professional practice course, and she spoke about how she converted her flat for a period and did six shows in it, and that just really struck a chord with us. We were both keen to get something up and running instantly, and we liked that DIY attitude of being resourceful and being in full control of starting up and running a project. That was the main reason we set it up. Originally we just had a couple of shows confirmed, and we just set it up like that to see what the response would be, to see if people thought that what we were doing was a relevant thing, to see if people would support it. It really grew and developed from there, because we had such a lot of interest, and such a lot of people supporting us and wanting to show in that unusual space.

It was in your own flat initially?

Yes. We converted my front room, and showed artists there. It was quite intense actually, we were showing one or two artists each month, and ended up showing 15 artists in the flat over 15 months. It was very intense, but amazing for me personally - it altered my whole career development. I came out of art school and had my own studio and was making my own work, but working in such close proximity with other artists - some of them were practically living with me - was such an intense working experience, and I felt really privileged to have all this going on right in my front room. As a result of that, I really got the bug for working with people, and for sort of supporting artists in that way. So for me it really had an impact on what I wanted to do.

And when did things shift up a gear from being in your front room to being in other locations around the city?

From the beginning, we had the idea for there never to be a fixed gallery space. Obviously it was great to start things out in my flat, and during that time it gave us a chance to move the organisation on and develop, but after 15 shows in the flat, we began to feel that it had become a fixed space, and to live up to our name we needed to move things on. We were looking at various options, and we felt that because we’d had such an intense period of exhibiting, that we needed a bit of time getting ourselves kind of constituted, trying to fundraise in some sort of way, because it has been a self-funded project, up until last year, really. So we took a bit of time out to do that, and were approached by Fab Flats, a property agency who’d seen a feature on us in Artists’ Newsletter. They saw that and approached us, and we brokered a deal with them whereby, in exchange for labour clearing out spaces for them, we’d get to use the spaces on a temporary basis to show artists’ work. That’s been the main programme, since 2001, but during that time we also took over the basement space in Offshore Café, focussing more on current students and recent graduates, and we’ve always done one-off projects alongside everything, like setting up The Chateau, or using the Project Rooms, or being involved in RAW, or the Art Fair. So we’ve always been interested in not being completely fixed to one programme, but I guess the project we’ve been running with Fab Flats is the one that’s been closest to the aims of what Switchspace is about - moving around between different communities, and also the education programme we’ve been running alongside the shows, bringing people from the local community and engage them with the work.

So, as well as the idea of using alternative spaces, I guess a big part of Switchspace is the idea of seeing how the artists you worked with responded to those spaces, as opposed to showing in a straight gallery, so to speak?

Yeah, totally. As a result of that it wasn’t about our curatorial vision, it was much more open, a way to offer a range of artists the opportunity to show work in unusual contexts, and as a result for their work to… well, what we wanted them to do was experiment with it, to really push their practice, so that the experience would ultimately be really beneficial to their work at that time, or in terms of their future development. As a result of that, there wasn’t really the pressure to do something really final and really fixes, it was more about using the opportunity to push their practice. So, yeah, that’s really what we wanted to achieve from it all, really.

Obviously there’s tons and tons to choose from, but can you think of a particular artist or artists who really took to those ideas, who really had their practice nudged along in a particular direction?

That’s hard. I mean, I hope that all of them enjoyed the experience, and gained something from it. One show that was really important to us, in all sorts of ways, was Ian Balloch’s show. He was the first artist to show as part of the Fab Flats partnership, and he really did enter into the spirit of coming into this large space, and using a lot of found objects and materials that were left within that space. Also, one of my dreams has always been to work with Cathy and I think the way she works really lends itself to being shown in an alternative or unusual situation, and recently she’s been showing a lot internationally, in more institutional or white cube spaces, so I think this show has come at a really good time for her, to show in the shop unit we’re using.

And it’s a nice neat circle, having her as your last artist when she inspired you in the first place…

Oh yeah, absolutely. We really felt that it’s very important that there’s fixed artist-run spaces like Transmission or whatever, but it’s also really exciting to have a sort of cyclical or regenerating aspect to artist-run activity here. Obviously Transmission have that in place naturally thanks to their committee structure, but for us it’s something we’ve been involved in now for five years, and we felt that since already in that time there were other artist-run spaces starting to come through, and approaching us for advice - places like Mary Mary, who I really feel are the next generation in terms of what we’ve been doing. So, it feels natural for us to wind things up while the project still feels relevant, and while we’ve been able to achieve as much as we’d hoped to. It just seems to have happened at a nice time, and also matched up with the two of us now being busy with our own things. And, yeah, that cyclical thing with Cathy showing as our last artist after she inspired us is a nice way to finish things off.

So to finish up, what’s Cathy up to in the space?

Well, the way Cathy works, she has a very personal response and method of working, and she’s developed that in response to the space. There’s sculptural works, and also paintings - it’s quite an intimate installation.

Posted at 4pm on 08/12/04 by Jack Mottram to the art, interviews category.
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  1. Art? In my street? Jings. I thought this was a typo then I saw yer piece in the Sunday Herald. I’ve been up and down the street a few times this week and never noticed a thing. Too busy dodging the neds and trying not to slip on the dog shit.

    Must. pay. more. attention.

    Posted by c0NZ at 11pm on 12.12.04

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