Neolocalism? the Glasgow effect, the Condo Complex and the zero-kilometres art

Maria do Carmo M. P. de Pontes

When Ellie Harrison got a £15,000.00 award from Creative Scotland in January 2016 to fund her ‘The Glasgow Effect’ project, the internet went on fire. Intending to ‘test the limits of a “sustainable practice” and to challenge the demand-to-travel placed upon the “successful” artist/ academic’, the project outlines that the artist shouldn’t leave the confines of Glasgow – a city noted for its low life expectation within the European context, a phenomenon often referred to as the ‘Glasgow effect’ – for the period of one year. Harrison’s idea has been accused of being artistically hollow, patronising and self-indulgent – among many other things – with several Glaswegians pointing out that they rarely leave the city anyway. So why an artist deserves public money to do so?

The idea of producing and consuming something locally has found passionate advocates in the food industry over the past few decades. Noma, one of the best ranked restaurants in the world, prides itself for using only seasonal ingredients that can be found within a small ratio from the restaurant’s headquarters in Copenhagen (noteworthy, its name is an abbreviated form of ‘nordic food’ [‘nordisk mad’, in Danish]). Aiming to experiment even further with seasonality, the restaurant had at times opened pop-up branches in different places – in the UK, Japan and currently in Australia – and going yet further, they plan to close their venue by the end of this year and open it with an urban farm close to Copenhagen in 2017. Although other great restaurants may follow this quest for seasonality to different extents, unchangeable dark leather menus became increasingly rare, and particularly among young chefs, locality is a motto to cook for. Is Harrison’s project perhaps offering us a clue towards a new emphasis on the local within the art world, borrowing an ethos which proved itself popular in the gastronomic realm?

Emerging markets, cheap fares, growing purchase power… Many factors contributed to the internationalisation of art as we now know it. Between 2012 and 2014 alone, several leading art galleries – such as Almine Rech, David Zwirner, Dominique Lévy, Marian Goodman, Michael Werner and Rodeo – inaugurated an additional space in London. Currently, if a collector wants to buy a piece by Oscar Murillo on the primary market, they can either go to Carlos/ Ishikawa, in the East End, or to Dover Street’s David Zwirner, in a very different part of town. Rumours have it that more high profile dealers will expand their activities to London in the years to come. The scale of these businesses allow them to have a permanent outpost in different locations – in addition to their temporary presence in various cities during art fairs – but by same internationalisation token, big collectors are also constantly on the move. Is it then really necessary for major dealers to establish themselves in several localities?

A clever development on the idea of local is Condo Complex, currently on show throughout eight commercial venues around London. For the period of a month, Arcadia Missa, Carlos/ Ishikawa, Chewday’s, Project Native Informant, Rodeo, Southard Reid, Supplement and The Sunday Painter are hosting 24 emerging galleries from Britain, mainland Europe, Asia and the Americas, each of which brought one or two of their artists to these spaces. Carlos/ Ishikawa’s Vanessa Carlos, the mastermind behind the idea, explained in an interview for the frieze blog that the experiment evolved from A Petite Fair, a miniature art fair promoted by Jeanine Hofland since 2012. She continues, ‘I wanted to replicate that generosity and that sense of collaboration, but I knew what wouldn’t work in London was another art fair’. So it came the idea of exchange, allowing international galleries to have a presence in London for a longer period of time than they would during an art fair, yet for a briefer period than if they were to actually open a venue, and either way at a much cheaper cost. By aiming to create ‘a situation where galleries and artists actually have the freedom to experiment’, Condo Complex enables a temporary local, a midway between Harrison’s radical experiment and blue chip dealers Risk-like expansion towards new lands. Galleries have successfully exchanged locations on a one-to-one basis in the past, but the scale and scope of this initiative is unprecedented. It would be interesting to see its model replicated in other localities.

January 15, 2018