Walking down Coldharbour Lane in south London can amount to a sensory overload. Jostle through the overspill of markets from Electric Avenue; and you’re caught up in a whirl of fresh fish odours and reverberations of dubstep. Whatever you’re looking for, be it God or ganja, chances are you’ll find it among the urban hubbub. Now add more stimulations of the contemporary art variety, with the opening of Coldharbour London.
Previously a 1960s print factory, complete with marks from its former use on the floor, the 15,000 square foot space is the latest addition to south London’s increasingly burgeoning art scene. As well as a gallery, it doubles as a studio space for the city’s up and coming talents.
Already open for less than a month and the building has so far housed two exhibitions and is residence to more than 30 artists, including sculptor Molly Symth and well-known painter Dan McDermott. Not bad going for a formerly dilapidated building.
The latest exhibition, Instinct for the Actual, sees Guy Robertson of Peckham’s Son Gallery curate a fascinating installation, drawing on cultural anxieties surrounding digital reproductions.
Tom Saunderson’s photography exhibit is particularly intriguing, displaying the same image in a multiple of styles. There’s an unnerving feeling once this repetitive device is realised, as it makes the viewer aware of how easily their senses are manipulated to first notice the forms of the work rather than their content.
Guy Gormley’s work is equally beguiling. At first his digital image looks like any cheap, throw-away shot taken from a smartphone. But get closer and you realise it has an old-fashioned quality, hand-printed in a darkroom. Other highlights include Rob Sherwood’s use of decaying film footage as a palette for his two-channel video projection displayed on both sides of a suspended canvas; and Edwin Burdis’ wonderfully bizarre box installation based around the sound of a purring cat.
Guy Robertson explains the artists’ rationale behind some of the works in the installation. ‘There is an element of wanting to control things, a definite interest in the processes behind the glitz,’ he says.
For Robertson joining the dots between both galleries through this exhibition was an obvious decision. ‘It’s a great place to connect with and put on the south London art map. Galleries in this area are still off the beaten track compared to Shoreditch but they are getting more accessible.’
Of course, there’s always been a strong artistic presence in this part of the city. William Blake, Anthony Gormley and Damien Hirst, to name just a few, all have connections with the area. But now there’s a fresh element to the art scene here based around what’s happening in Peckham, says Robertson.
But is there a danger that Coldharbour London will just sit in a bubble having little connection to its surrounding areas of Brixton and Camberwell, other than the cheap rent it affords?
Founders of the space, Lucy Baxter and Aretha Campbell, don’t think so. ‘I really believe that art shouldn’t be elitist and should be available for everyone, not just for art history students. Anyone can walk off the street and look at what we’re doing,’ says Campbell. As such Campbell is putting her money where her mouth is and running a free curating course for young adults in the area. ‘We really wanted to involve the community and bring them in. Of course we recognise some of the impoverishment around us, and that this is one of the worst districts for gangs in the UK,’ adds Baxter.
Speaking to all involved in the gallery, it’s hard not to get swept up in their enthusiasm. The whole project has an intoxicating youth and vibrancy to it, adding another layer to the already diverse landscape of this part of the city.
Instinct for the Actual will be showing until July 31 at:
26 – 34 Southwell Road
Tel: 0783 463 6497