Interview with Ella Fleck & Tabitha Steinberg, founders of the gallery 650mAh in Hove
You wouldn’t expect to come across a gallery for contemporary art inside a vape shop. Yet that is what you find in the back room of Mist Vape Shop in Hove, East Sussex, England. By settling in an existing commercial business, the directors of 650mAh, Ella Fleck and Tabitha Steinberg, are challenging the traditional gallery model. Far from the usual art epicenters, they welcome a diverse public and add something really new to the local scene.
Let’s start with the name of the gallery, what does it mean?
mAh: milliamp Hour, a unit measuring (electric) power over time. 650mAh is the charge of an entry level vape battery. It should last 4 – 6 hours. Imagine your battery as a fuel tank in a car, the mAh is the measure of how much fuel the battery can hold. The higher mAh rating the more fuel the battery can store inside. The more fuel, the longer the journey lasts. An experienced vaper will need more mAh to last them while they are out (e.g 2200mAh lasts 18-22 hours), an inexperienced/part-time vaper can get away with 650mAh.
Who are the founders of the gallery and what is your background?
Ella Fleck & Tabitha Steinberg, we met in school when we were 13 or 14. We are not really sure how to describe our backgrounds other than we like the same memes and art. We curated freelance together before deciding to open a space, which was more of an accidental opportunity than a planned endeavour.
What kind of art do you represent? Can you please make examples?
At present, we do not represent artists. We put on shows with artists we like and admire. We say that we programme artists from a range of points in their career whose work is critical, engaged and experimental.
Exhibitions include: Sorry I haven’t been with Jack Lavender; Counter Quality with LIFE SPORT, May Hands & Tenant of Culture; Film Without Film with Dalibor Martinis; Moral Support with Stephen G. Rhodes & Keston Sutherland
Please tell us about your location and how it challenges the traditional gallery model
We are situated in the back room of a vape shop in Hove, UK. Our location is exemplus of today’s evolving gallery model that utilises untraditional spaces in reaction to the difficulties in running a traditional gallery (such as rising rents).
We actively acknowledge and embrace our position within a commercial business. In tandem with the exhibition programme, we develop ongoing projects that examine and engage with vape culture. This year, we launched 650mErch with a ‘Vape God/Cloud Chaser’ t-shirt. Later this year, 650mErch will release a custom e-liquid in collaboration with invited artists and MIST.
What are the challenges of an art gallery today?
What is the correct ratio of propylene glycol to vegetable glycerine for the perfect throat hit/vapour production?
What does it mean to run a contemporary art gallery from a small town and not being in an important art center such as London or Berlin?
We can move slower. We don’t get as many visitors as if we were somewhere like London but a wider mix of people come in for sure. It’s important to be engaging with contemporary art outside of the saturated epicentres. We like that we’re not just another London space – what would we really be adding? There isn’t much competition when it comes to diary clashes for our openings too.
Is there someone who influenced you in your work as a gallerist?
We are influenced by most galleries we see. 650mAh is a combination of aspects of many different spaces we respect (and some we don’t) pieced and patched together.
How do you see the future of the art gallery?
A small cloud on a cold, flat surface, lingers, floats and spills.
MIST Vape Shop
41 Western Road
Hove, BN3 1JD
Mon to Sun, 10am to 6pm