Pop Up, Open Up, Show Up

 

Text of article produced for Cardiff Contemporary supplement by Culture Colony Quarterly Magazine, October 2014

 

New spaces pop up and older spaces pop open in a bid to entice us to connect and to share. Cardiff Contemporary’s Reveal/Conceal temporary structures range across the city in dynamic collaborations between artists, curators, designers and architects. These built or reconfigured spaces aspire to engage visitors with contemporary visual arts practice on their own terms and home turf. 

Some creative teams are modifying existing structures. Goat Major Project’s Free Mountain occupies a vacant unit on Wood Street where dawn, dusk and night skies are expected at unexpected hours. Close by is the Cardiff Contemporary hub, The 'Stute and further down the street, Outcasting:Fourth Wall’s Panopticon presents new commissions and over forty international film screenings in a disused restaurant reconfigured by design practice Ongl.  

Ongl is also collaborating with EMP Projects and the Royal Society of Architects Wales’ Design Circle to create a freestanding structure in The Friary, off Queen St; The Beuys Pavilion will engage visitors in social sculpture and memory mapping. g39 curates a series with Alex Rich that stimulates narratives across historical and newly constructed spaces around shipping and pedestrian routes. 

Other commissions combine approaches. Ffotogallery places a stand-alone structure, designed by architect Rhys Meyrick, inside Cory Chambers on Bute Street. Here, Dylan Thomas’ favourite Greenwich Village pub is virtually recreated through live performances in Bedazzled: A Welshman in New York. Meanwhile, Chapter’s project folds history, design and decoration into a humorous intervention within the existing architecture of Cardiff Castle. 

All the structures are intended for public occupation. Demands on the designers and architects to meet specific conditions in transient environments are restrictive, yet afford opportunities to disrupt the norm and arrest our attention. 

There are intriguing tensions when considering the polarities of intent in our current predilection for pop-up spaces. Coffee shops, fruit stalls, cinemas, universities, galleries and nightclubs pop up and fade away. There’s nothing anthropological about established brands popping up extra retail outlets, but a pop-up community project can be a vehicle for social cohesion. 

An age-old model, pop-up now populates the vernacular. The interesting thing about this resource is its context or, more pertinently, it being out of context. We don’t necessarily expect to see courgettes and an honesty box on a garden wall, or a gig in a car park, or visual art as we shop. Perhaps we should, but we don’t. So we’re more likely to halt in our tracks, take a second look and, as the hopeful pop-up visionary intends, engage. 

Pop-up art spaces can be a catalyst for creative entrepreneurship; Detroit’s artist-run Museum of New Art is a prime example. It popped up in 1996 and has continued to shift location around the depopulating city, “Working outside the system, it remains untouched by hard times”, says the museum's director Jef Bourgeau. Maybe it is owing to hard times that Detroit now boasts this flourishing creative hub that attracts high profile artistic intervention from around the world. 

The structures of Reveal/Conceal are rooted in the local and promise to offer wide-ranging contextualisation. It takes physical effort to produce a pop-up art space, as well as energy, conviction and volunteers. What may define the experiences of the Reveal/Conceal commissions is whether they’re realised with a pedagogic approach or a social spirit.