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Bella Kerr: Keeper at Mission Gallery in Swansea

The traditional white cube gallery space comes with a cultural set of definitions and rules, it’s a set interaction between viewer and art object, with the object presented for the viewer to contemplate, there is a predetermined level of participation, which often makes it hard to negotiate, both from the experienced and casual gallery visitor. Keeper(s) investigates the gallery space, the role of the artist and the participation of the viewer. When we enter the space we are given the opportunity to interact, with the exhibition becoming a malleable object which shifts and changes with each encounter.

The work is expressed through two main elements, ‘tables’ and ‘towers’, that are physically placed within the gallery context, and the ‘keepers’, arts practitioners who are present within the gallery space for the duration of the exhibition. The keepers act as guides to the space, witnessing, interacting or directing. Alongside Bella Kerr, other keepers include Kathryn Faulkner, Karen Ingham and Jane Rendell.

The tables and chairs form a changing landscape in the room, domestic and working structures are de-constructed and re-formed. The structures are broken down, but the original form is noticeable and references the home, work space and educational institute. The towers are modelled on the ‘childrens quarters’ of literature, a communal space, warm in colour often situated at the top of the house.

The keepers offer the viewer a rare interaction between artist and the gallery, offering new interpretations and chance interaction within this space. With each visit, there is the chance for the space to be redefined and reinterpretated. The exhibition is offered up as an evolving space through the guidance of the keeper. Each keeper offers an intervention into the exhibition reconfiguring the space.

Karen Ingham explored the table as a writing tool and palimpset. Carbon paper placed on the table allowed a layering of words and drawings from gallery visitors and willing participants to form a trace of these interactions. Alongside this, a polished table was transformed from horizontal to vertical, exploring the optical qualities of the polished wood. Kathryn Faulkner offered a prescriptive reading or biblioscription inviting readers and artists to generate a personal bibliography. Each reading was documented through a pinhole camera, creating a layering of time to the document of the event.

The series of events that forms part of the exhibition is vital to the exhibitions framework inviting collaboration and interaction between the public and the gallery space. This acts to break down any barriers that might have formed between visitors and the gallery space.

The space is more reminiscent of the artists studio, rather than the white cube, books, photocopies, drawings, pens, paper, small sculptures and many other things adorn the multitude of tables and walls. We are invited to pick up a book, read a few pages, write or draw and contribute to the working materials. The exhibition invites interaction and collaboration through a box of working materials. The working materials contains texts and images from collaborative artists developed prior and during the event, creating a document of the process.  This then becomes a vehicle for response which is added to the gallery space, but equally as important taken away and considered, extending the artworks past their institutional space.

The art works are not presented for us to view, but to interact with, breaking down the traditional relationship between viewer and art object. Whilst working within the traditional gallery institution, Keeper(s) subverts it, bring in new ways of interacting, exploring relationships between art and place, teaching, documentation and the gallery space.

Rory Duckhouse

Bella Kerr: Keeper, 2 April until 12 May, Mission Gallery, Gloucester Place, Maritime Quarter, Swansea, SA1 1TY www.missiongallery.co.uk

Images courtesy of the gallery.

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