Hollybush Gardens, London

Over the last ten years Lisa Panting and Malin Ståhl have made their gallery into an incubator for a cross generational group of artists. Hollybush Gardens consider themselves to be a plattform with an intense curatorial approach that operates between communities, interests and geographies.

Hollybush Gardens, London

How did your collaboration as gallerists start? How did you meet?

We met at Milch, a not-for-profit space that Lisa was running at the time. Malin was studying at Goldsmiths in their MA in Curating programme. During one of Milch’s last projects, a solo exhibition with Johanna Billing, we began to formulate the idea for a gallery – very much inspired by Johanna and the fact that we were interested in forging long-term collaborations with artists. Gillian Carnegie told us about a small warehouse in Bethnal Green where she had a studio and suggested her neighbouring space as a start up space. Johanna was in London and she came to look at it with us, and between the three of us we decided it could work as our first space. Neither of us had any previous experience in the gallery or commercial art world.

And then you opened your gallery?

Yes, in September 2005.

Johanna Billing - Pulheim Jam Session, 2015

How would you describe the programme of your gallery?

We put together our first list of artists quite intuitively, we didn’t strategise about who the artists were and who they were connected to. We were looking at works and basing our decision on what we thought were interesting young practices. We were also interested in how artists thought about and related to one another, thinking about this as a connecting principle. We have evolved our list since then and now work with artists that create associations with some of the concerns of artists we have always worked with. We have moved away from working with our peer group only and now also work with older artists who haven’t really been represented by galleries in the contemporary sense and whose work we feel passionately about. Our programme works across all mediums and we are often involved in special projects, such as publishing projects, talks and events.

Which artists did you start with, and how have you expanded your programme?

Our initial list was; Johanna Billing, Knut Henrik Henriksen, Eline McGeorge, Bruno Pacheco and Claire Hooper. These are the artists we showed at Liste in 2006. The expansion of the list of artists happened quite organically, some by artists’ recommendations. When we take on new artists we want this artist to somehow resonate with our interests in some way, but also to add another layer and to expand the discourse that is already going on between the artists in the programme. We now represent a cross generational group of artists, recently adding Joachim Schmid, Lubaina Himid and Anne Tallentire, who were all born in the 1950s to the programme.

What motivated you to open a gallery? Has there been an influential person?

We were motivated by the idea of independence and long term conversation. We are very interested in curatorial practice and writing. More than a single person it was perhaps the context of the time. The art world was taking off in London, Frieze Art Fair had recently opened and Tate Modern had changed the landscape forever. There was a lot of talk about British culture becoming more involved the visual and the contemporary. It was exciting and full of potential and we were interested in this new internationalism coming to London and being part of a broader context outside of the UK. Malin is Swedish so this sense of interconnectedness was definitely part of it.

How would you describe the role of a gallery in the art world today?

The function of the gallery is often misrepresented. People mistakenly think of galleries as shops. Rather, we are platforms that offer and operate at an incredibly complex intersection between communities, interests and geographies. Until you have worked in a gallery or tried to make a gallery, it is impossible to anticipate how you need to be able to talk to museum people, collectors, artists – whilst being a business that makes decisions that are not essentially ‘commercial’. Increasingly you need to take onboard new knowledge, understand how to frame and place art works and your activities and really target what you do at an audience that are going to be receptive. Galleries need to take a stance and protect culture and the production of culture. You need to know what is interesting for the future, as well as the present and not allow the market to dictate what art should be.

How does digitalization affect your work as a gallerist?

Whilst the potential to communicating your programme to an ever increasing audience is positive, there is also an growing number of online platforms that sell art. This implies a process of ‘anonymisation’ of the collector, a distancing between the gallery, artist and collector. As a gallery we have not been immersed in the digital realm or really used these platforms, and we can see the gap between our relationship with internet and many of the very young galleries that are more ‘in’ the digital process. Some artworks communicate well through digital platforms whereas others need to be experienced live, so you need to consider what is best for the work. Much of the work from our programme we feel is better experienced first hand. However, the online platform is here to stay, so at some point we will need to figure out what it really means for us and for the artists we represent and try and work with this in a meaningful way.

Let’s talk about the location. Why did you choose this building and neighbourhood?

We are in Clerkenwell and have been for about two and a half years. We spent a long time finding our current location which needed a lot of work and investment. The building presented such a good opportunity that Clerkenwell in a way chose us. It was worth it and now we have a property we are proud of and can develop further in the future. We’re very happy here, 20 mins walk to Eurostar and close to the East and West-ends of London. The building has an architectural personality that has enabled us to develop both a white cube and an opportunity for artists and work to respond to the old industrial nature of some of the spaces in the building.

Sunil Gupta and Ruth Proctor in ‘If a Circle Meets itself’

Have you ever thought of opening a space in another city?

Yes we have, but we could never settle on exactly where. We are interested in developing peripatetic off site projects and collaborations to test new contexts and networks. We once made a large-scale site specific project in a small town in Sweden with ten new commissions. You can still be in Europe and explore locations on the margins that offer opportunities to try things out.

What are your plans for the future?

The most important thing for us is to continue to grow in a sustainable way and have adventures along the way that keep us engaged and excited – these are about artists, work, curators and about contexts for developing and supporting new work and ideas – it’s always about learning and contributing. We are working on several larger projects with artists that makes it an exciting time.

Falke Pisano - The Value in Mathematics, 2015