The Problem with Tiny Galleries
I’m veryyyy interested in the western Tiny Home development. you know, these literal TINY houses with a bed that pulls out of the wall n a toilet that slots away under a sink so you have space to shower. minimum floorspace and absolutely nowhere to put your things, you just *aren’t allowed* to have things, there’s no room. I’ve watched a LOT of tiny house tours on youtube and the person living there always seem to be some skinny weirdo trying to convince viewers that they actually enjoy their set up. They will push all these bonus reasons for living like they do, citing eco friendly! cheaper than a normal house! and some are able to be towed to new places, so isn’t that exciting! no offence but I do not believe grown adults would be forcing themselves to learn 2 enjoy the cramped atmosphere a tiny house provides if bigger houses were not more readily available to everyone on earth right now. This mode of #tinyhouseliving feels symptomatic of capitalism more than anything else - groundbreaking, i know, always is the same culprit. ahhhh I just don’t think people would be as excited if the world wasn’t the way it is. Tiny Homes wouldn’t need to exist. It’s like how I used to think charities were examples of good noble collective organisation until I realised they too wouldn’t even be around if the government did its job. With Tiny Homes, it feels surreal when u compare west coast Americans filming their kinda optional daily routine in an 8 metre squared wheely house, to the living conditions of, for example, the many living in small rooms and even cages surviving under the strain of land sales in Hong Kong. it all feels shit in different measures. And I don’t blame anyone for succumbing to it, whether that is in fact an option for them or not, aaaand I know UK squatting laws were super clamped down on and all that, right. I am just starting my text here in this mess because i think the politics of living space are usefully parallel to what is happening with art spaces right now.
From Tiny Homes to Tiny Galleries, that is my shorthand for all the little alternative art spaces I have seen imagined in recent years. Some might be due to lack of access to space, some might be for novelty purposes, and some balance the two - but all have me wondering about their implications for the arts as a whole. If u dont know what I’m talking about: Tiny Galleries i have come across include: a gallery on a shelf in a cupboard, gallery in a stairwell, gallery on a coffee table and a gallery in a kid’s wendy house. also multiple toilet cubicle gallery spaces which specifically kill me a bit. I include all window galleries in this statement too. I know partly why these spaces exist - because getting a room with four walls and a ceiling is hard enough as it is for full sleep-eat-shagging living, never mind exhibiting stuff people have made. I also know some people are not interested in owning full on galleries, or they are unable to do that work. I used to find the novelty of Tiny Homes a sweet idea, and have at moments been excited about their gallery equivalents also; but because I am a stresshead I am now worried the existence of Tiny Galleries is a sign of us giving into landlords/developers having absolute control of what happens with public space, which in turn is forcing the arts to bend into new shapes just to survive. Ie. We can’t have a proper gallery so we squeeze our art into a shop window, because that’ll do. But that’s like, idk, what’s left surviving is that little ugly voldemort foetus underneath your chair. it’s neither here nor there, but it’s definitely not the real thing. It’s the mask of a gallery strapped to something that isn’t one.
I will hone in on one example so this doesn’t go onto be a mad rant, and we can attach my thoughts n feelings to something material. And againnnn I’m not talking about people here, i’m talking ideas. I know everyone’s nice and mostly has good intentions!!!! thinking of the bigger picture tho, as always, food 4 thought. So, in Liverpool we have something called ‘Art in Windows,’ an ‘organisation’ with 1 window on a little side road next to the Bombed Out Church and another 2 small windows either side of a door way out in the north docks (which is a 25 minute walk out the city centre for context). They show art infrequently, and anyone can request to use it - and then it’s on the artist to pay a small fee to cover the electricity bills the building charges. Now, on their own About page on the website, they write that through their work, ‘Landlords get to increase the commercial value of and interest in, their empty or underuse[d] properties, by re-vitalising the buildings’ physical appearance and providing possible clients with an example of their properties’ potential, by putting it to creative use.’ This makes my bum clench. Firstly, I would like to say: burn all landlords. Secondly, this bowing down to authority and money like this and being grateful for a bare minimum handout is not a good move for arts as a whole in my opinion. It’s telling authorities, funders and the public that they don’t need to worry about us art people - we’ll make do with kinder egg versions of houses and galleries. Give us a gallery in a window or a dollhouse and we’ll make do. Whether or not they are as complicit in driving property value up as Art in Windows are (and come on, rising house prices helps no one but the rich), the whole project of Tiny Galleries undermines the necessity for Actual spaces by shrinking our needs, our demands, and also our respect for the art we are all working to share with one another. Shouldn’t we be putting our foot down? The space the public is allowed to occupy is diminishing in all aspects - like you know in action movies when the hero gets trapped between walls moving in on either side of them and u think they are about to get squished, cant we now throw our arms out and fight for something better / bigger / escape this trend before it’s too late? Anyone I have spoken to about Tiny Galleries just talks about it as this harmless fun thing but i wish they were all dreaming bigger. is now not the time to use our creativity and numbers to lobby for protected space; space all artists can use no matter what level they are at in their careers. Tiny Galleries feel like faff and i dont think we can afford to be faffing. There’s got to be an alternative to this alternative, and we should be talking and making it happen / organise the kind of space we really need. Gallery co-operatives; Help To Buy; Re-activating spaces that aren’t getting used anymore. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Sean Vegezzi’s film DMYCC where he and a group of mates broke into a disused subway tunnel in New York and transformed it into an exhibition space, but I’m missing that kinda energy around me - whatever that might look like in its UK form.
On top of this, and what stings me about Tiny Galleries just as much as their politics, is the experience of them is weird to begin with. Their impact feels flat. Continuing with ‘Art in Windows’ as our example, in terms of engagement, yes, window galleries benefit from not having to struggle with any threshold psychology on the part of the visitor. that is to say, no one’s stressing about having to enter their body into a whole building dedicated to art because with a window gallery, you’ve already arrived. But honestly, you’ve arrived to what? It’s not a destination, it’s not somewhere to sit and think about the art; to learn, engage, have it add something to your life. You can see inside but how meaningful is ‘seeing’? even if the art trapped in the window is good in its own right, the way it is being offered to the viewer feels so offhand, so without care, unable to demand any attention or create the kind of sweet space needed for a one on one with the art. When I come across a Tiny Gallery exhibition, I feel kept outside of them because I am, because I have to be. They can make the best sculpture look like a throwaway thing. They can make very laboured paintings look like part of the novelty of the space even being there. that’s got to be down to the design. in the same way Tiny Homes cannot give that true honey I’m home warmth, Tiny Galleries fail to whisk us off our feet. They don’t give this full-bodied aesthetic experience i, for one, need from art; they dont ripple the surface of my mood at all. This is worrying for art bc we need our culture to have identifiable public value so the public has our backs (and u know, the house of commons gives us funding because they view art as essential). Of course, not all art SHOULD aim to be the treasure at the end of a rainbow-type destination, I know it can be lite and Tiny Galleries do that. And I’m not pushing for all art in the public’s sightline to be hurried inside. But i do reckon leave that mode of working to Public Art and Street Art, which know what they’re doing - you know, anything in the category of art birds can shit on.
Tiny Galleries stay in-between, forgotten and unfunded tbh. But we can do better than that and I hope they are the start of better working, and that all Tiny Gallery owners re-allocate that effort to claiming real space. but u kno, i hope one day the sun comes out and space acquisition is more achievable and there are policies in place to protect and even require they exist - then we can go back to having fun and throwing art down the stairs as we walk up them. we can have Tiny Galleries on windowsills, inside plant pots, at the bus stop and under sinks. until then, i fear in this climate they are unfortunately doing more harm than good.