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Issue Date: September 2010 Issue


Work in Progress

Spaces Gallery allows artists to revel in the journey.
Kristen Hampshire
The thrill of any experiment is the surprise ending. Spaces Gallery embraces this with its residency-based programming: Artists are invited to explore, examine, challenge, create and then present.

What will the audience get to see? That's the catch.

You know you're going to get contemporary art that pushes the limits — the type of really progressive stuff that traditional galleries see as high-risk. But don't expect the norm: art hanging on the walls. Spaces is more incubator than gallery.

"We tend to not curate objects so much, but to create artists," explains executive director Christopher Lynn, who took the helm in 2008 and has led the charge on converting the gallery's exhibits into experiences. "We find artists who are doing interesting work. We don't ask them to bring that work; we ask them to bring themselves and some ideas and figure out what they want to do and how we can facilitate that."

Spaces exhibits are born from artist residencies, where the gallery works more as a resource than a place to hang stuff. "We spend time building our connections so artists have this lexicon of Cleveland resources to draw from," Lynn says.

For instance, to prepare for Nandipha Mntambo's four-month residency that began in August, Spaces reached out to taxidermists because Mntambo, of Cape Town, South Africa, incorporates cowhide into her work. She often uses her own body as the subject of her art or as inspiration to communicate issues of identity and conflict.

Lynn discovered Mntambo's work during an artist scouting visit to South Africa, thanks to a grant from the Cleveland Foundation as part of its Creative Fusion artist-in-residency initiative. "We saw this as a great opportunity to move into countries we haven't explored before," says Lynn, noting the Eurocentricity of Spaces' international artist population. (Spaces provides shorter residencies to regional artists through its SPACELab program.)

While in Cleveland, Mntambo will produce an exhibit for Spaces that runs Nov. 19 to Jan. 21, using cowhide as one of her media. Meanwhile, Spaces will connect her with other opportunities to display her work through partners such as Cuyahoga Community College.

But what her works will actually look like is still up in the air. "It's not a prepared package," Lynn says of the participatory environment Spaces provides. "It's like Christmas. You're going to be getting something cool; you just don't know what it is."

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