ON THE POTION ROOM: A DISCUSSION BETWEEN NATALIA GONZÁLEZ MARTÍN, NINA SILVERBERG AND GEORGIA STEPHENSON 

February 2020

Subsidiary Projects collaborated with independent curator Georgia Stephenson for their first exhibition of the decade. Comprising sculptural work by 46 artists, The Potion Room responds to the architectural properties of the gallery’s latest space - up a winding staircase to the top of the tower. The exhibition showcases all manner of mythical sculptural works from emerging international, regional and London-based artists. 

Installation view of The Potion Room. Photo by Natalia Janula. Courtesy of Subsidiary Projects. 

How did you all meet? 
 
Natalia González Martín: Nina and I studied Fine Art together at City & Guilds, we both came from Italy and Spain respectively and did not know anyone in the city so it only made sense that we’d join forces. Georgia contacted us via Instagram in 2017 with an exhibition idea; we worked together on that project which ended up being included in Art Night! We really enjoyed working with her so we naturally kept in touch sharing artists and ideas…

Georgia Stephenson: As Natalia has said – I was lucky enough that Subsidiary Projects took a leap of faith on one of my proposals, given that I cold-DM’d them! The exhibition was titled The Floor is Lava and it sort of snowballed in as much as it was a tiny idea, that was selected for Art Night 2018, that was then featured in FRIEZE online. It has been lovely to work on another project like this with Natalia and Nina - knowing already how far a small concept can go. 

Nina Silverberg: Natalia invited me to join her in Subsidiary in 2019 and we did one show together before working on The Potion Room. We studied Fine Art at the same time and always have worked well together so it seemed like the perfect fit. I met Georgia through Natalia and got to know her better during the past few months. It has been a real privilege to work with such talented and focused women like Georgia and Natalia!
 

Installation view of The Potion Room. Left: Naomi Gilon. Right: Yambe Tam.

Photo by Natalia Janula. Courtesy of Subsidiary Projects. 

Where did the idea for The Potion Room come from?

 

GS: When Natalia showed me around Subsidiary’s new space we began to chat about all its potential and ended up having a bit of a social at the pub. Natalia asked me what is it that I would want from another project together – which is the best question EVER to hear – Natalia is super generous with her time and energy like that. We felt it was important for the show to respond to the change of location. Where Subsidiary used to be ground floor, domestic and very accessible, it is now in a more private location, almost like a sealed vault with many doors and stairs to navigate before you reach the gallery space. We also chatted about hosting an open call to expose ourselves to art and artists we didn’t know of (I really enjoyed this element; I’ve never seen the inside of an open call before and the results were fascinating). As well as this, I was also excited to explore a curatorial theme that was broad enough to invite lots of artists in, but still felt personal in some way.

 

All of this was swirling around in our brains for a few weeks as we carried on with our lives. Then I caught a cold and found myself at home watching Shrek 2 for the first time in a very long time. I cried my eyes out because Fiona and Shrek had to give up so much for each other etc. But also, it got me thinking about being locked away in a tower for a long time and transforming yourself with a potion...and basically The Potion Room began there. 

Installation view of The Potion Room. Front: Megan Elliott, Richard Phoenix, Charlotte Osborne, Kara Chin. Back: Ted Le Swer, Chris Cawkwell.

Photo by Natalia Janula. Courtesy of Subsidiary Projects. 

Tell us more about Subsidiary Projects -- past, present, future
 

NGM: Subsidiary Projects was initially created as a way for my friends and I to exhibit our work - at the time I had a large living room where most meetings for the exhibition took place and we decided to use it as the exhibition space, the result was fantastic and we decided to continue doing so. We have organised many exhibitions with invited curators and collectives. Last year, we decided to move spaces and become more nomadic, this is when Nina joined. 
 
We are very keen to continue developing ambitious group shows such as The Potion Room, but we also want to put a focus on giving individual artists a space to tell their stories. 
 
In March, we will be hosting an exhibition featuring Ellie Barrett’s new work; she will take over the space with her salt dough sculptures. Next June we will take over San Mei Gallery as part of their curatorial Open Call in collaboration with London Based curator, Jeanette Gunnarsson. We are also in discussion about a show of emerging UK based artists in New York for the end of the year - it’s all really exciting!

Georgia – can you tell us more about what it’s like working as an independent curator?
 

GS: I’m a bit of a free agent – as well as managing Picnic Gallery in Peckham, I’m also part of Collective Ending HQ in Deptford and Castor Projects too. I’ve been lucky to work with these groups as well as taking on independent projects such as working with Kühle Wampe in Nottingham and Subsidiary Projects in Vauxhall. It means I can be quite nimble about responding to a site’s specifications and get to explore different spaces and networks of artists - selecting works that are usually interacting with a dynamic and non-white cube space. Because of this, I rarely find myself working with paintings and painters. 
 

"I am interested by the performative nature of behaviours on social media and these themes influence the content in my work "

Installation view of The Potion Room. Left: Megan Visser. Right: Kara Chin.

Photo by Natalia Janula. Courtesy of Subsidiary Projects. 

Could you discuss the themes within the show and why they are relevant to a contemporary audience?

 
GS: I suppose the links between art-making and the occult have always been very close, but I think in modern life where we spend more and more time living digitally - and especially in a city like London - there is a sense of reaching for comfort in escapism. Be it childhood or the Neolithic age – there is a clearly a need to abandon the present. There is something exciting about The Potion Room in the way it’s lit with vertical wall mounted fluorescents – it feels like it could be a different universe entirely and these objects are alien to 2020 – evidence of another planet or something.
 
NS: One of the threads we were interested in while organising this show was the link between art objects and objects of magic. All the objects in the exhibition speak to ideas of magic and folklore either through the subject matter or in their material. Every artist interpreted this in a different way and what came out of it was a larger ‘magical’ dialogue between all the artworks in the room. 
 
NGM: I think there is a huge lack of mysticism in our current society and we are clearly longing for some magic! One of the things I love about this exhibition is how approachable it is, there are so many pieces that it’s impossible for someone not to engage with at least a couple of them. Every time I am in the space I keep on finding new connections and narratives between the works, it truly is alive! As the subject is so broad, there is room for each viewer to project their own narratives onto the works. I think it is one of those exhibitions where the more you give the more you take.
 

Installation view of The Potion Room. Chris Thorson.

Photo by Natalia Janula. Courtesy of Subsidiary Projects. 

Which pieces in the show do you feel stand out to you or resonate with you personally?
 
NS: A piece that I was very happy to show was Yambe Tam’s Cultivation II, a work that preserves a slice of a fantasy landscape in brass and gilded cast bronze with one four-leafed clover hidden amongst the patch. 

I believe the piece tied the magic and the folklore element of the show well and it spoke to other pieces in the show like Amanda Möstrom’s ABC and Leon Pozniakow’s Chain Mail piece in interesting ways. 

NGM: I love all of the pieces, and not because I am meant to say so! However, Corsin Billeter’s box holds a special place in my heart; the work consists of a love letter in a handmade metal box. It is an extremely delicate piece which arrived with strict instructions on how to display it (we weren’t meant to read the letter and we had to place it in a specific way), midway through the exhibition we realised the letter had been placed in a different position and we could not understand when this could have happened or who did it! We obviously communicated with the artist who said that had happened to him before - this is still a huge mystery and if this isn’t magic, what is?!

GS: Seconding Natalia – it’s difficult to pick just one! I am particularly pleased with a work from artist Chris Thorson who is based in San Francisco and who we invited to participate. The work is called Nice Days and is a discarded plastic bag – but not really. She made it from beeswax and silk and the printed graphic is hand-painted. It drifted all the way across the Atlantic to be here. 
 

Installation view of The Potion Room. Left: Hugo Lami. Right: Charlotte Osborne.

Photo by Natalia Janula. Courtesy of Subsidiary Projects. 

Were there any surprises during the making of the show?
 
GS: Obviously we hadn’t seen all of the works in one space until we opened all the boxes and displayed them - they had only been all on one pdf. Seeing them meet each other for the first time on the shelving unit was exciting as we began to make connections between them that we hadn’t anticipated on-screen. It was sort of like a party and introducing all your mates to each other. Does that sound crazy? 

NS: I have to agree with my fellow curators on this one. Seeing all the work together was the best surprise. It all looked like it was meant to be with each other and it was all so precious and beautiful, from all parts of the world in our small gallery room! 

NGM: Some artists we handpicked but others we discovered through the Open Call, it was a great surprise to see how each reacted to the theme in a different way. Going back to what Georgia said, the day where we finally had all the pieces in front of us was a bit like Christmas day - unwrapping and seeing all of these wonderful objects in real life was one of the most fun parts of the show.
 
What about the poster - who made it?
 
GS: Natalia made the illustrations of each work and absolutely thrilled everyone. It was really the 47th work of the show! The artists were absolutely delighted to see their work immortalised in the poster.
 

© 2020 by Assemblage Magazine.

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