On the 11th of March Nolia's Gallery turned one year old and in that time many students and graduates from London´s art schools have ground their teeth with the difficult task of curating and organising their own shows at the Thomas a Becket on the Old Kent Road. This gallery is one of the few affordable spaces available to students. It is a 1000 square foot exhibition space, with café and bar facilities and previously hosting a boxing club, the space has a great sense of history including the fact that David Bowie wrote Ziggy Stardust in an upstairs room. Nolia Devlin, director of the gallery, is very enthusiastic and keen to give undergraduates and up and coming artists the chance to exhibit their work. She is an artist herself, originally from Malaysia, now in semi retirement, and spending her time establishing opportunities for new artists. She describes her gallery as a 'project or opportunity space' providing young artists with the chance to learn to curate a show outside of their university studies. The gallery space offers an opportunirty rarely found and much appreciated by aspiring artists.
Since April 2005, when the gallery opened, Nolia has offered the exhibition space to many students and graduates and the gallery now has exhibitions planned throughout 2006.


Boxing and Glam Rock

Glamourhammer was the first exhibition held at the Thomas a Becket even before it became Nolias Gallery. This was March 2001 and the project took off when David Lock was introduced to the rich historical background of the most famous boxing venue in South London.
After doing some research of his own Lock was inspired by stories of gangsters, boxers, the swinging 60's and David Bowie's glam rock. Nolia Devlin offered the premises to Lock, then studying an MA in Fine Art at Goldsmiths, to stage an exhibition about the colourful cultural background of the Becket. Boxing and glam rock were fused into the title Glamourhammer. The exhibition featured works by fellow Goldsmiths Fine Art students.
The pieces were bombastic works exhibited in the boxing gym above the bar where the ring and other boxing props such as punching bags and gym equipment became part of the display. The aim was to maintain the feel of the old days when fights were staged there. The exhibition was a big hit, Time Out listed the show and even published images. It is unusual for a student exhibition to receive such attention. Furthermore Brit-art sponsored the students with £1000 and to cap it all Mr Saatchi himself made an appearance and purchased one of Kirsten Glass' pieces.
A number of artists who were involved in Glamourhammer have done quite well for themselves. Video artist Anthony Gross has curated Biennale! International Artist Film & Video, currently touring China, Dian Bauer was recently commissioned to create a large installation on display at the Showroon gallery under the title Bludgeonerator, and Kirsten Glass is currently exhibiting her large collage paintings at the Hales gallery.
This exhibition took place well before the Becket was transformed into the project space it is today. You could say that Glamourhammer was the prehistory of Nolias Gallery. This extremely positive initial experience was the spark that inspired Nolia to turn the Becket into a gallery devoted to students and recent graduates.
After running this project for one year and witnessing and being inspired by the students' talent and enthusiasm, Nolia is determined to carry on with her artistic projects, she now has a new gallery in Great Suffolk Street is an effort to reach a wider public and give more exposure to future undergraduate and young artists' shows in London.


Curating for beginners

The task of curating, organising and setting up one's own show can be a daunting one when it is done for the first time. Dealing with the practical aspects of exhibiting such as budgets, logistics, schedules, advertising and so on don't come easy to artistic temperaments. They are not necessarily difficult tasks in themselves once you have the experience but they can be confusing when you haven't done anything like it before.
The first thing you should think about is the space. Finding an affordable exhibition space in London can be difficult, and you must book well in advance. It is a good idea to organise group shows to spread the renting costs.
I find that the main problem in curating a show is deciding what the aim or message of the exhibition will be, especially when the work of various artists is shown together. The job of the curator is to make sense of every different approach from each artist involved and come up with a unifying discourse that will bind different styles, mediums and subjects into a coherent whole. A single artist can stick to an idea right from the start of his artistic production for a given show, or even a group of artists can decide that they will produce works to put a show together with a single idea in mind, but things can get rather more complicated when a curator faces the task of selecting works by different artists who have produced their pieces independently. In this case the curator must strive to understand the work of each artist, their backgrounds, interests and discourses and try to distill from all these different elements a kind of unifying glue that will make sense of it all and give the exhibition a direction and purpose.
Funding, logistics and advertising can become a nightmare if they are not planned in a feasible and realistic way. A number of institutions can be approached for funding such as the Arts Council, local councils, your college or university, or even private businesses that may be interested in sponsoring an exhibition in exchange for advertising and having their name associated with the arts, but all this will require a detailed project proposal. It can be a big effort but the reward is the experience and satisfaction you will get from being capable of making your exhibition happen.

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