Bargain Bohemia

Stealth arts at Bohemia
Originally published in the Sunday Guardian for September 02, 2012.
Dave Williams, Adele Todd and Richard Rawlins in the gallery space at the Night Gallery during the showing of Police and Tief by Todd. Photography by Mark Lyndersay.

The Night Gallery, a small, funky art space at Murray Street is located around the corner from another, equally unique art space at Alice Yard and is installed in a building long reserved for the pursuit of creative arts and alternative lifestyles.

The space was founded by and drew its early character from Godfrey Sealy in the 1980’s when he added AIDS activist to his already impressive resume as an actor, writer and director. Sealy lived in the space for many years, encouraging a unique entourage of people to set up shop there, lime and, as it’s often described, “fall een.”

“Bohemia has been here for a couple of decades,” explains choreographer Dave Williams who works with artist Richard Rawlins on the Night Gallery.
“It was a community centre for artists and other reprobates.”
The space retains much of the flavour of that time, along with the many decades it’s stood through as an old-style Woodbrook home made of concrete walls with ageing wooden interiors.

Still involved with the space is Cyrus Sylvester, Sealy’s supporter in the 1980’s who is now a bridge to the reinvention of the space as an art gallery.
In 2009, the space was first used as one of the galleries for that year’s Erotic Art Week and functioned as the project’s administrative center.

Once it began available to rent and use, Rawlins and Williams, already familiar with its possibilities, decided to turn it into a gallery with a very public facing focus.
“I got fed-up with seeing the same audience that comes to every show,” says Williams, “and this was an opportunity to engage the public on the Avenue, to invite them to interact with art.”

There have been three shows in the space independent of Erotic Art Week, the group show Postal Art, Marilyn Morrison’s Lil Black Girl and the current show, Adele Todd’s Police and Tief.
“There’s lots of art happening within Woodbrook,” says Richard Rawlins. “This is a space that adds to that activity, it doesn’t compete with it. It really answers the question of what do you add to the cultural landscape. It’s open, it’s free and it’s accessible.”

“You don’t have to be rich, it’s right there, so you can just wander in. It’s clearly not elitist.”
If anything, the Night Gallery challenges the very idea of what an art space is.
The signage looks more like a protest sign than directions to an art gallery, the space looks like somewhere you might settle in for an all-fours game over some hard drinks and the finish of everything is artlessly homey and welcoming.

The gallery’s hours, between 7pm and 10pm, Monday through Friday, encourage folks to drop in on their way to or from the Avenue’s attractions. Rawlins is seriously thinking of putting a standee on the sidewalk on Ariapita Avenue saying “Free art this way” with a bold arrow to direct more passers-by to the gallery’s offerings.

Plans to mount two shows a month have been challenged by real world practicalities, but Rawlins and Williams hope to have enough artists involved in using the space that they can host regular individual as well as group showings.

Both Williams and Rawlins recall fondly moments of serendipity with the public as they meandered by the open gate and drifted in since the gallery’s opening.
“We hope to have people see more art,” says Dave Williams. “Experience it, appreciate it and look for more of it. Art should be a space safe from money, from politicians, so you can say what you want.”

Adele Todd, whose Police and Tief collection of embroidered work on cloth was on show during my visit, notes that, “We have a society that doesn’t believe that art is free. There’s a feeling that it’s for other people. I love the concept here. It’s very forward thinking.”

“Art doesn’t have to be paint, I embroider. It doesn’t have to be in a frame. I want people to experience and engage with the work.”
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