Published in: The Promise of Something and Nothing
01 Aug 2015, Los Angeles, Tiny Splendor Press

Launched parallel to: The Promise of Something and Nothing
Sonce Alexander Gallery, Los Angeles, 01 Aug - 30 Aug 2015

Klaus Dauven | Chris Engman | Fatherless | Heyward Hart | Anne Guro Larsmon | Kevin Cooley & Phillip Andrew Lewis | neverhitsend | Emily Shanahan | Colin Patrick Smith | They Are Here | Samira Yamin | Curated by Ann Harezlak

Invited as response for publication: Lily Hall & Mette Kjærgaard Præst, Jenna Yuanyuan Bao, neverhitsend, Kirsten Cooke, They Are Here, Ellen Greig and Una Hamilton Helle. Publication design by Kelly Bullard.


Five Storey Projects:
A collective look at a curatorial collaboration

Ann Harezlak, Una Hamilton Helle and Ellen Greig

Then and Now

Five Storey Projects’ (FSP) status as an entity isn’t quite clear. Despite its founders’ continuous efforts to define, configure and analyze it, it never really seemed to be.

As a collective unit, three of the founding members of FSP hereby respond to the supposed ‘archive’ of their practice, held in disparate places publicly and privately. Commencing with their first group email, they are reminded that FSP in its infancy was comprised of six members. Their exchange re-opens years of stored emails with numerous ideas for exhibitions, shared texts, jokes, questions about how to purchase display units, electrician contact details and images of artists’ works enjoyed; the dialogue which culminated in FSP’s collective program of realized and unrealized projects. The public remnants of FSP’s program currently only exist on a basic website for the easy navigation of the various projects and is limited to press releases, a downloadable publication, installation shots and the inevitable ‘about us’ section. Ephemera produced and gathered by FSP throughout the years also includes printed invitation cards, artists’ business cards, scribbled meeting minutes and receipts for works production - all kept in domestic spaces in London and Los Angeles. More important now are the friendships and conversations that, over time, have progressed into new ways of working - both collectively and outside of the framework of FSP. Individually, this has formed curators, academics, producers, writers and artists.

The following account is the recorded conversation between three previous members of FSP who, for whatever reason, still share an ongoing dialogue. Perhaps this is, again, an effort to officially close a chapter, make some sense of what was and is and - who knows - possibly draw up new collaborative plans.

2008 - Storytelling
The first FSP email thread in 2008 is an endless attempt of trying to meet up at various private views to talk about a project proposal. We have trouble aligning schedules and try hard to multi-task meetings with exhibition openings. This challenge of needing everyone to be in the same space together characterizes FSP’s history, just like any other collaborative group. We were so focused on everyone having their equal say that we would only organise a meeting if everyone could come. Despite this relentless-consensus-ethic, we managed to pull off our first exhibition within a few months.

We came from a very self-organised space. In response to all working in small East London commercial galleries, where many of us were working for free, or for very little, we were looking for an alternative way of working with each other and with artists. We sought a way of working that was without hierarchical management systems or rigid financial overheads. Quoting one of our previous notes concerning our first, fully self-initiated project and subsequent ‘manifesto’ in 2008, we described ourselves as: “a young collective of 5 who are all involved with art through either making it, curating it or writing about it. We all met through our background in the commercial gallery sector, where dialogue and the exchange and development of ideas about art is the main objective. We are interested in incorporating an element of fluidity to our exhibitions in terms of events, interventions, critical thinking and an engagement with the environment within which the work is set in. All our projects will be operated as not-for-profit. This will be our first project together.”
Quite a bold statement for commencement of our first project together. We might also mention that we came together out of a shared interest but also from distinctly different cultural backgrounds. This was never a topic or crutch for our collaboration, however it did provide the collective with a diverse voice and would have potentially helped when completing applications for funding!
I think we all, idealistically, agreed that art shouldn't function as a legitimiser for essentially commercial goods through intellectualisation. In its simplest form, we thought it should be about exploring ideas that don’t necessarily have a forum or function in other areas. The idea that there would be six curators (one member left the group shortly after its formation) curating one exhibition didn’t strike us as difficult as we were so used to negotiation in the galleries we then worked within. Our first exhibition, Matter Of Time, was in response to the space it was exhibited in, a grand Victorian warehouse in East London, already regulated for an inevitable future of luxury flats. We invited seventeen artists, who we encouraged to actively engage with “spatiality, its raw material state, its history and its location”. Although pertinent themes, the brief of the exhibition was unequivocally loose. The curator’s statement said: “Arrogantly, or perhaps naively, we chose to work with almost totally unexpected and potentially thoroughly non-relatable outcomes”.
In looking back objectively, I notice how much of our initial conversations and ideas were in reaction to a real shift in market value, professionalisation and regeneration of East London. And I think we were trying to resist this shift, as well as acknowledge our inherent role within it. Artists Julia Cabtree and William Evans had recently started living in this warehouse, with the hope of forming an artist-lead project space (which, after our inaugural show, they did so very successfully). This site became the backbone of our exhibitions concerns and allowed us to experiment and work closely with a community of artists, some of whom were fairly underrepresented at the time. We continued to work with many of these artists in other capacities and projects as our careers grew. For example, They Are Here, whose practice and response is included in The Promise of Something and Nothing, also occupied a space - reproduced an imminent ideal construction - as artists in Matter of Time in 2008.

2009 - Call and Response
Until an art critic categorised us as a ‘curatorial collective’ in late 2008 I don’t think we were collectively projecting what we were doing as ‘curating’, rather, we were making exhibitions, facilitating events, etc. This categorisation and subsequent shift in the way we spoke about what we did, led to a type of programming that was essentially centered around response to an influx of invitations from organisations and institutions. In the same way, that ideas for a project would form directly from an interest in a particular artist’s practice, calling us to respond. These next steps for FSP were a fluid, if hectic, process, both in relation to FSP and how art practices were coping with an increasingly sped-up version of the world, an overload of references, opinions, information. Our next exhibition addressed this: It’s a Mess and Most Probably Irreversible features artists who are unrestrained by the boundaries of medium for they engage in analogous methods of practice where flexible parameters create outcomes that are not immediately classifiable. Again, our programming was about addressing an ensuing void rather than a particular substance - it was all about trying to make sense of the mess! This sentiment was shared with the artists we were working with. Ellie Harrison’s project Know Your Thinkers & Theorists, translated a year-long effort to learn the history of philosophy into classifying charts. Similarly, FSP made a website to host our activities, to find order in themes and to identify links that were appearing in our practices. We also lost a member of the group to her PhD.

Facilitated perhaps by the diversity of our collective voice, we began to recognize the importance of live art events within our programming. Our two exhibitions to date had included live sound performances as well as performative video talks and historical walks. The interdisciplinary nature of our thinking (and within this a comment on hierarchical categories of supposed high/low culture) was brought into subsequent projects. The Object of the Attack was a series of events at the David Roberts Art Foundation that took their cue from JG Ballard’s short story by the same name. The origin of the differing events note the inclusion of a slightly esoteric manifesto in Ballard's text, charged with concepts that function within an alternative perception of reality and question how artistic practice may be an illustration of the idea of alternative universes...the artist as the spiritual transmitter of imagination. Art is thus regarded as its own belief–system, one where behaviour can border on worship, where objects are regarded with reverie and where the existence of an intricate set of rules and symbols can create new systems of value and produce a catalyst for change. ...Creating passage into a 'parallel universe'. This was how we spoke about the project, which included a video portrait of a poltergeist hunter, lectures on conspiracy theories and the transcendental qualities of noise music and manipulative language.

2010 - Remote Voices
Our voices became the tool for programming a day of Charlie Wooley’s Radio Show at London’s SPACE in Are You Experienced (?). The radio show now sits on Soundcloud and begins with another statement defining FSP. It was a program beginning again with the idea of change. We exchanged conversation with Jacqui McIntosh and Susan MacWilliam while inviting pieces such as Matthew MacKisack’s ‘Arguing in Tongues’. We first played Ride My See-Saw by the Moody Blues, alongside Mongolian throat singing. This, for me, also highlights the beginning of my work in ephemera archives and understanding the ‘value’ of the material. We had two projects this year and they both centered around response and events. MO·VE·MENT** invited three artists to occupy a space and question a conclusive event and an environment that acknowledges challenging sites of historic inquiry and hauntingly displaced declarations in time. This exhibition is monumental but ultimately momentary. Here we were again at the Victorian warehouse from 2008, now called James Taylor Gallery, and our events program was part of a much larger installation of exhibitions and events. Instead of the entire warehouse we were given the large entry space to play with. Our press release became instead a poetic definitive discussion on moment and movement. Each of the three invited artists occupied the gallery for a week each and changed how we understood and interacted with the space as well as the discourse they brought within their work itself.

2011 - Independent and Collective
Five Storey Projects is a collaborative curatorial organisation that investigates contemporary art and curatorial practice as a singular aesthetic within the exhibition and event format. Established in 2008 as a source for active debate amongst its four members’ differing practices, Five Storey Projects' practice develops ideas and curatorial programmes through open engagement and sustained dialogue that hopes to comingle and question the porous boundaries between art and other discourses.
Set about by a set of action guidelines, whose catalyst was our previous member still underway with her PhD, was the exhibition and publication: For Inclusion in the Syllabi — a body of research that reflects our individual concerns and thus extends our collaborative and individual practices. In relation to the constraints of communication and translation, alternative models of social and political discourse will develop within the basis of our investigation into modes of collaborative practice. Our working practices were here shown publicly as a diagram, an image that developed over the course of our project during that year. Accompanied by copious text, some more explanatory than others, it was a different way of defining who FSP was. We had a discussion about art speak and obfuscation (itself an impenetrable word) in relation to the publication text. How direct do we want to be? What hierarchies are at play in the way we write and how can we speak of engaging socially and politically when language so obviously demarcates us as part of a certain societal segment - our texts seemingly inaccessible to some. Entrenched in the often commercial world of curating and fairs, I found it a safe haven to stretch my wings and further my own interests in the archival organism. Elements of my tangential research were kept on a hidden web link, only found on the printed press release. This link is now accessed by trawling through downloaded text on the site. Though, not an intentional distancing, it does still question accessibility. What and who the diagram represented was never spelled out publicly, even though it was so integral to the exhibition. It outlined the devised curatorial method. Our initial ‘void’ -our organisation of the mess- had gone full circle (literally) into this diagram. We aimed to interrogate our perceived passiveness by devising a curatorial structure that gave both individual authorship to each member of FSP but also relinquished control over the process by assigning a curatorial function to each of the invited artists, asking them to invite a contributor of their choosing for an accompanying publication. Four writers were also chosen collectively by the four members of FSP. This system was also a means to explore how, and if, our curatorial practices still aligned. And in one very tangible outcome, one member of the group, maybe tellingly, subsequently left FSP for work/life commitments.

2012 - Drifting
At the end of 2011 and the start of 2012, Una started to think about how we could address alternative ways of distributing and mediating what we do, suggesting that we work with artists on online/digital commissions, which would be hosted on our website. This marked a beginning of thinking around ways of communicating our previous work and thinking about an online presence, rather than actively working on new projects. We discussed not using our press releases and organising our research differently. We wrote a grant proposal for the first time titled ‘Beyond this Horizon’ but for various reasons it was never followed up after completion. Living in Oslo that year and even with the supposed ease of communication technologies available, I found it hard to exchange ideas that weren’t related to a specific project or deadline. FSP had always worked best for me when we were sharing the same city. We were all content that FSP was moving forward in our minds. We still came up with unpublished versions for our uncertain future: Five Storey Projects is a three-person strong collaborative curatorial organisation that investigates contemporary art and curatorial practice as a singular aesthetic within the exhibition and event format.

2013 - The End to the Beginning
Ellen suggests that Five Storey Projects change to FSP. However, the idea of changing Five Storey Projects’ identity - facilitated by a name change - happened without re-evaluation. I also suggested that FSP might even be put to rest, yet still be in circulation - movement - through an online archiving/evaluation process. We constantly gave each other homework ,homework that was never completed. Ellen wrote: Website: An expanding archive of our work. This is a space that does not really expand upon or explain our way of working, our interests or our projects very well. It seems like a gallery with press releases with no space to anchor them in. I think we need to interrogate the way we preserve these projects, the way we learn from them and their continuing relevance/irrelevance to us now. Around this time I scribbled down ‘If FSP is dead does that make our website a graveyard?’
I looked back at emails that addressed the future of the collective. Much discussion was on how to change the way we recorded/presented our history online and how it was accessed/organized. We were reflecting on five years of collective work but now looking backwards at the process. Do we again transition our name and even our logo? How would this be understood online and how could additional elements be integrated? It was now not so much a promotional tool but instead a documentation that needed to be readdressed within the limitations of the medium chosen. We wrote in 2013: Alternative modes of dissemination are not alternative anymore; part of current structure and systematized such as the symposium, panel debates, talks etc. Always in flux, we tried to redefine. How can this be represented through our documentation? From 2008, the idea of the practice as nomadic had followed course. We also wrote in 2013: FSP’s links and parallels to Nomadic cultures: Where are FSP's histories recorded? As opposed to the cultural depository of museum. Nomadic as a characteristic element of economy and society. Look at elevated female status in nomadic cultures. We were often debating the necessity of addressing the fact that we were all women - at the same time trying to resist it. Nomadic peoples were historically responsible for transmitting technologies between cultures...their attacks induced change on societies that could have remained static otherwise. With the different geographies we have been based in - London, Liverpool, Sydney, Oslo and Los Angeles - we have had to adapt ourselves technologically. How to keep a dialogue going through time zones and different economic and social environments as well as personal careers? We looked at burying the project, but everything that is buried can be exhumed. We spoke of a viking-style burning boat sacrifice to pass it on to the afterlife: maybe just as a .gif, but still, this would leave no confusion as to whether FSP was over or not. No conclusion to this was made.

2014-15 - Present Voice
We talked about ourselves in past tense. Since 2011 nothing tangible had happened to publicly address. Although as a working group and forum for exchanging ideas, or even support, we were still active. Still, the ‘public’ time lapse seemed too wide to justify. And then I offered a collective way to open communication (through our documentation) and readdress the probable mess that is, was and could be FSP. Ideas between us continue to germinate. For example, an online journal is in the making. We seem unable to not work together, but the consensus is that our next endeavour will not be as FSP. See you in our next incarnation.