454 Karangahape Road, Auckland
Nicola Verdon of Rockies, an artist run initiative in Auckland, answers some questions for us in this Gallery Spotlight.
Rockies is a relatively new artist run initiative, starting up in June last year. What was the idea behind starting it up?
Rockies was initially established by Matt Coldicutt, Joseph Griffen and Dylan Scott, and I first came on board in August 2014 once PLAZA, the space I had co-founded with Isobel Dryburgh and Ngahuia Harrison, had run its course. For me, Rockies afforded the means to maintain an art momentum outside my full-time job and I believe it was a similar point of motivation for Matt, Dylan and Joe. The four of us had all studied at ELAM together (though over staggered years) and Joe and Dylan had previously co-founded and run FERARI – a space that had also recently come to an end. So Rockies was about maintaining momentum personally. It was also a case of good timing. The window space had become available for rent and, given its history, it offered a great opportunity for a next curatorial project.
Do you see Rockies, or artist run spaces in general, as playing a particular role?
Yeah definitely! Most importantly, artist run spaces and initiatives offer an alternative to the existing galleries that are public or dealer in outlook. By this I mean they are a more attainable and flexible space for new/emerging/outside artists to exhibit within. They are also a really important learning curve for those involved too. When running a space yourself, you work to, and beyond, your own rules or limits and there is a huge amount of personal investment and drive to really achieve all you can with the shows you’re realising – often to more engaging ends. They are also the space in which we most see a convergence between the artistic and the curatorial – which is a very exciting dynamic, and one that is doing much to push the direction of contemporary art and showing strategies etc. here and worldwide.
The building has a history of housing pretty significant artist run initiatives – Teststrip and Gambia Castle having their home at one time or another out the back or upstairs. Did this influence the choice of space?
In the case of Rockies it was largely a timing opportunity. The boys had been looking for suitable spaces to rent for a while and when the window became available it all fell into place. The window itself is low-maintenance and relatively low rent so that, plus the significant ARI history it brings with it, meant it was an ideal space. It was a hotly contested lease too! The neighbouring alcohol and adult stores were after the space to maximise their display but luckily the landlord was equally supportive of it remaining a creative space and we were able to obtain the lease and reinstate it as a gallery.
Unlike a lot of window spaces Rockies doesn’t seem to be limited by its spatial capacity. Showing projects like Claire Mahoney and Andrew McLeod’s work last year with the accompanying live performances and the D.A.N.C.E. art club’s Guinness World Record Attempt on live stream that seem to work outside of the traditional static window display. Do each of you have shared ideas of what/who you’d like to show or is there a fair amount of disagreement?
Yes, working with limited physical space means we have looked to push/utilise projects that look to expand beyond the window alone. In this, we try to encourage artists to engage as much with the physical space as our Tumblr/website/instagram platforms. This was especially true of the projects you’ve mentioned – Claire Mahoney and Andrew McLeod and D.A.N.C.E, and more recently “Lady in Red” (Feb 2014) – for which we also owe a lot to collaboration with spaces such as ARTSPACE and Stephen Marr. This year’s exhibition programme encompasses a number of these extended projects too, so it’s an exciting time for Rockies! In terms of personal interests/ practices we are all pretty varied, but we share a similar understanding and vision for Rockies so there have been no real disagreements yet. Our upcoming programme is largely the result of our recent call for proposals, for which we received an overwhelming number (thanks everyone!), and selecting exhibitions has proved a seamless exercise (so far)!
Still from the exhibition ‘Lady in Red – Presented by Stephen Marr’.
In collaboration with Karen Inderbitzen-Waller and Veronica Crockford-Pound
Image Credit: Delphine Avril Planquel
Styling: Karen Inderbitzer Waller
As well as being a part of Rockies you’re also one of three curators for Window at The University of Auckland and previously ran Plaza. Are you continuing to work on your own art or other projects in amongst all of this?
Well, this is a well-timed interview as I’m currently the artist exhibiting at Rockies! Which is in fact my first solo show since graduating from ELAM. I’ve participated in a number of group exhibitions in the past but I’d have to say my interest has never been in exhibiting really. I enjoy being part of the production team and not only helping realise others’ projects, but also having the opportunity to push them further – hence my curatorial involvement in PLAZA and WINDOW. I also do a lot of writing for shows/publications – whether it be accompanying texts or artist interviews etc. So, yep I am still doing a lot of my own stuff on the side. It’s hard, but good, to keep busy outside of my paying job.
Has there been a favourite show/exhibition/artist you’ve seen recently?
I really enjoyed seeing David Shrigley’s ‘Life and Life Drawing’ at NVG in Melbourne last year – oh and hearing him speak at the Auckland Art Gallery in March. Amy Potenger and Joseph Nerney’s ‘Critical Caulking’ at WINDOW in February was a recent favourite, but in terms of a standout show it would be hard to go past Luke Willis Thompson’s ‘inthisholeonthisislandwhereiam’ (2012) work – the one he went on to win the Walter’s Prize for in 2014. I hadn’t been affected by a work or show like that in long time, and have yet to since, so it can’t go without mention!
Rockies is a 24/7 artist run initiative by Dylan John Scott, Joseph Griffen, Matt Coldicutt and Nicola Verdon. Another One.
Top Image: Amos Turner, from the exhibition ‘The Kings Keys’. Photo Credit: Joseph Griffen.
Interview by Rosa Gubay.