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How much energy does it take to run an art space?


03 April 2023
This month's topic: EnergyResident Editor: Àngels Miralda

How much energy does it take to run an art space?

 Alma Saladin and Marco Rountree Cruz from guadalajara90210

Guadalajara90210 is a project dedicated to contemporary art with offices in CDMX and Guadalajara (MX) that explores new exhibition formats through the organization of projects adapted to specific sites. Founded in 2017, guadalajara90210 was founded with the desire to experiment and establish a close dialogue with architecture. Parallel to the programming in the permanent venues, guadalajara90210 has a “nomadic” methodology for the organization of various projects in atypical places (rooftops, buildings under construction, parking lots) and institutions (arts centers, museums, exhibition spaces, universities) in various Mexican cities and internationally.

Àngels Miralda: Hello Alma and Marco, thank you for accepting our invitation. I thought we could talk first about how energy is defined in broad terms (such as the energy we need for everything, to live) but also how this concept can be applied to cultural workers and how we use it in cultural production.

Alma Saladin: There are many energies that intersect. There is the human energy to achieve a project, which takes a lot of energy, spirit and the desire to collaborate, an energy to get things done. There is also the physical energy generated by the world of art that includes transportation, packaging, and painting the space white. Then, sometimes, there is energy in works, such as, for example, in Rodrigo Sandoval’s show hacía al cielo más abajo (towards the lowest sky) (2023). His installation is connected to gas and I really like how he thinks about making a figure and using energy within a project.

Marco Rountree Cruz: Energy is everywhere. Alma and I are the main organizers of this project, but in the end, it all works thanks to our collaboration with others. So, the exhibitions we do, and things in general, have to do with a collective energy, a collective effort. We offer guidance, organization, and production, but whenever we create a project and invite an artist, we know that we are not an institution. Rather, we are very few people making this certain way of working possible. It is thanks to the fact that everyone participates that it is possible to have giant exhibitions or several at the same time. In the end, when you first talk with the two of us, it seems like it’s a gigantic project of many people, but once you get to know us, you realize it’s a very collective thing.

View of the exhibition by Christian Camacho, Alex Romero, temporary spaces in CDMX. Pabellón de las espacelas. Courtesy guadalajara90210 and the artists. Photo: Ruben Garay.

AM: How much energy is required to run a space or an art project?

AS: A lot, because there are many different energies, but it also has to do with where you direct them. In our case, we are aware that we cannot do everything, so we have to prioritize. Where you decide to focus your energy defines the nature of the project. In our case, the most important thing is the experience of how the exhibition is experienced. We care a lot about museography and how the pieces are placed in the space for the public to see them, and to have a good and impeccable documentation. The documentation is an important part of how it is presented to the public, and as this is important to us, we enjoy directing energy towards these purposes, and I think this is an important point.

MRC: Another important point is that it has to be very natural. In Mexico, adaptation is important. In the end, I feel that one of the advantages of Mexico is that it is a country with many organizational failures. I feel that the government has many flaws, but that means that people have always known how to adapt to situations. In fact, since there are not many formal rules, it is very common that, for example, the informal economy, like vendors in the street, became a very important force that is not well regulated.

And this is where we want to go, it’s something very important in what we do, to adapt all the time, every hour, to everything. We start with an idea to do a project, an exhibition, but it always changes. In the end, the original idea never winds up as it was at the beginning. Many times the place cancels, or there is a problem with dates. In other words, a lot of the project is trying to adapt to what happens without getting discouraged.

AS: And that is connected to negative energy.

MRC: We try to do the best we can with the resources available and not force an idea that we had. We are very open to the final result being be very different. Basically, we can’t control anything.

AS: As the current art world is very much about relationships between living people, unlike working with modern art, for example, we have to take care of relationships and adapt, adapt so as not to end up fighting. This is very important, because since it is a small structure, it depends on every person involved. The things we do have a certain degree of difficulty and are obviously linked to an economy that allows us to live, to survive, but most of all it is important to enjoy the things we do, because otherwise they lose their meaning.

Rodrigo Red Sandoval. Hacia un cielo más bajo. (Permanent spaces in CDMX) Courtesy guadalajara90210 and the artist. Photo Ruben Garay


AM: So, is guadalajara90210 a project space or a commercial gallery?

AS: The idea is that the art work is always for sale and sometimes there are very strange works that we think can never be sold but then we are often surprised at how people buy the strangest things. If we have to define it in two words, it would be an experimental gallery.

We don’t think it’s necessary to define ourselves because we don’t do these shows with the intention of selling, we just do them in order to exist. We don’t do an experimental exhibition and then a commercial one. Our priority is experimentation, ideas, forms, and art work. Later, the idea of the gallery arose because it reflects an economy that affects the whole world. We all have to pay the rent, expenses, so we do go to some art fairs, one or two a year, because sales are also important to us.

AM: There are natural energy resources but also economic resources, like going to fairs to raise money to be able to continue.

AS: The way in which we manage the economic part of the project in order to continue to exist is to think a lot about fixed expenses more than anything else. We have two spaces. The space in CDMX is inside our house. The ground floor is the exhibition space, so it’s an expense that we already have because we have to live somewhere.

The Guadalajara space is not just a gallery, either, there are also eight artist studios. There are currently ten artists within these eight studios who pay a very affordable rent. Space and rent are shared in this way, otherwise it would be impossible for us to pay for a space alone. By paying rent collectively we manage to have a larger, shared space. That is the economics of the project, it has to be done in an intelligent way, and we propose projects that we know in advance we can take on, it’s a fundamental part.

MRC: In terms of places where we do exhibitions that are not in our space, like the one you visited a year ago in Mexico City, Yacimientos (Fields) (2022), it is interesting how when the project began, we would hold exhibitions in places of people that we know, which allowed us to use buildings in construction, abandoned buildings or parking lots, any kind of space we found, and the word spread. From time to time people come in who we don’t know at all, or people with friends in common, who offer us spaces to do this type of project. This allows us to experiment and use unusual spaces. We are very interested in adapting exhibitions to different types of places.

AM: Do you take breaks to recharge your batteries? From what I’m hearing, maybe it’s the other way around, that all these activities are giving you energy!

AS: That’s right. Red and Marco recently said that they feel like they’re on permanent vacation because they love what they do and I agree! But to do what we do, we party very little and we don’t drink a lot. We rest to save our energy and to be able to continue with the project. If we party too much, the next day we are useless. We are already a day behind so rest is important. We don’t take many breaks but we’re moving ahead very smoothly. What do you think?

MRC: Yes, we try to ensure that there are limits to what we do with our personal lives, because in the end everything gets mixed up. We try to be calm. The world of visual arts is very much based on relationships, especially with parties and with certain excesses and other things. It’s a lot of fun and that’s not a bad thing, but we are getting older and so it’s okay not to be into this excessive nightlife. This is our situation with the project, for other people it works, for us it works a lot to try to sleep eight or ten hours to feel good and go back to work the next day. This is something important for us, trying to be calm.

AM: Again, it is about the concept of channeling energy, directing it to a certain point. I love what you said at the beginning, about being on permanent vacation, because it is something that we enjoy. I’d like to ask about positive and negative energy. I was thinking about your general concept of energy that includes transportation, personal energy, physical energy, which means it’s not a good or bad thing, it’s something that happens within everything.

AS: I feel that it is not necessary to paint a space white between each exhibition. I feel that filling in holes and painting that part is more than enough. Painting once a year contributes to lowering costs. It’s just a detail, but everything is details. When you don’t have a big budget, you generally consume fewer resources.

AM: That’s true, there are galleries that change the walls every time, and if that’s not possible, it a good practice.

MRC: One thing that we abuse a lot is that we don’t mind recycling and reusing. Not just materials, but art work.

AS: That is an ecology of ideas, I would say, because we live in a society where we always want things to be new and fresh, the latest work produced by the artist. We have included the same art work in many different exhibitions and in the end it doesn’t bother us at all that it is not the latest work of that person.

MRC: Many times we invite artists and they almost always want to do new things. And we are super open to this. But, obviously, due to the production, economy, possibilities, and time, sometimes it can’t be done. So they start by saying “yes, I’m going to do this and this and this and this”, but the date gets closer and it’s not happening, for whatever reason. And so we always tell them “Hey, it’s okay, let’s see what you have available. What’s that you have over there collecting dust.” Since we like their work, there is no problem using something that is already made. Our project has to be like that, we have to adapt to what people can give, we don’t demand or expect anything because there are many things that already exist.

AM: I love the idea of an ecology of ideas, and of course enjoyment as an economic way of thinking about energy, how in situations that you don’t enjoy there is no energy. Why don’t we close with this?

AS: Regarding negative energies, it is important to mention the fragility of human relationships. In our project, we try to take great care and avoid creating frustrations, both for us as well as for the people with whom we work. I think it’s important that the space has a nice energy. People often tell us that there are very nice vibes here. The spaces absorb the energy of happy people having a good time at an inauguration or at events related to the project. That makes people come back. In Guadalajara, at the last inauguration they told us how nice it is that there were a lot of very young and very old people mixed together. People come and stay for hours looking at the exhibitions, drinking beer, gossiping. Gossip is very important! And that is very nice.

AM: Inaugurations also leave a trace in the memory of the space. All spaces have this memory of energies.

AS: Totally.

AM: Thank you both very much!


[Featured Imagen: Alberto López Corcuera, Marco Roundtree, Alma Saladin. guadalajara90210]

Àngels Miralda is a writer and curator based in Amsterdam and Barcelona. Her independent work focuses on the materiality of art production as a working metaphor for contemporary industrial scale production, historical folkloric crafts, climate change, landscape, and natural mythologies. She has organized exhibitions at the Institut d’Estudis Baleàrics (Palma de Mallorca), Tallinn Art Hall (Estonia), Galerija Miroslav Kraljevic (Zagreb), De Appel (Amsterdam), and the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (Santiago de Chile) among others. She is editor at Collecteurs, and a contributing writer for Artforum.
Photograph by Lin Chun Yao, 2022.

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