Charlotte Cornish is the director of The Honeymoon Suite, a young not-for-profit gallery space in Melbourne. Opened this year on the first floor of a vacant building, the gallery is providing a fresh perspective and a valuable platform in a city where funding cuts to creative organisations are making it increasingly difficult for artists to survive. What's exceptional about The Honeymoon Suite is that they genuinely support their artists: they allow artists to show work without an emphasis on its sale, they don't charge artists a fee and if work is sold, the artist receives 100% of the sale. In this way, The Honeymoon Suite is helping to open up a meaningful dialogue about the value of art and its transaction in a community.
Charlotte is an emerging curator and gallery manager who earned her stripes working for one of the city's most exciting art projects—the now closed Utopian Slumps. In its time Utopian Slumps successfully transitioned from a space at the back of a Collingwood warehouse to a commercial city gallery, helping many promising emerging artists start significant careers in the process.
With their second exhibition underway, we spoke to Charlotte about sustaining what sounds like the perfect gallery model and her future plans.
i-D: The Honeymoon Suite is such a great space. How did the gallery come about?
Charlotte: I previously worked under Melissa Loughnan at Utopian Slumps and we'd discussed the possibility of working together again in the future after the gallery closed in 2014. This project began when Melissa contacted me at the end of last year because property developers had reached out to her with an opportunity to run a temporary gallery in a space connected to a display suite with the promise it would be rent-free for a year.
And that's how you'd be able to offer exhibiting artists such incredible terms. In the end you didn't work with the developers on this gallery though, right?
After initial conversations with the developers, I decided that this project was going to work better if I did it independently. I still wanted to open a gallery with the same structure, so I began to figure out how to do it on my own. I came across the Sydney Road space where we are now, which had a lot of character and potential, and its size was ideal because I could rent out a portion of the space as artist studios. So, The Honeymoon Suite gallery, board of directors and space is certainly not arbitrary, it just took a bit of time to become what it is today.
It's interesting that you have a board of directors.
My proposal for the gallery was a temporary, idealised space. I wanted the gallery to acknowledge the context of operating within the same premises as a display suite, and to be non-profit due to it being partially funded. I registered the project as an incorporated association with Consumer Affairs Victoria, under which there must legally be a board of at least five. Melissa and I had discussed that she could be my mentor for the project, so I asked her. The others are people I've studied or worked with who have interesting ideas and engage in constructive dialogues about art.
Photography Christo Crocker
How will future exhibitions be planned?
The gallery's board will plan future exhibitions. We'll invite artists to exhibit - there isn't currently a formal application process and we don't ask artists to pay a fee to exhibit in the space. This doesn't mean we all curate the exhibitions together - sometimes it will be one or two of us - but we regularly share ideas and give advice with a relaxed approach. I think that the board has a shared understanding of what the gallery intends to be, which is a platform for experimentation and to facilitate the exhibition of emerging artists alongside established artists, and our dialogue is open.
Sounds very reasonable. What's showing at the moment?
It's a group exhibition called Floating Ground, including Grace Anderson, Adam John Cullen, Alice McIntosh, Joshua Petherick, Marian Tubbs and Isadora Vaughan, which opened on 8 September and runs until until 8 October. It explores materiality, in particular, the re-use or transformation of existing materials within sculptural and spatial practices.
I think that an underlying premise or theme can assist to give group exhibitions a unifying context, but it needs to be a natural, flexible or open one to ensure it gives the artists and artworks room to breathe and be their own within the exhibition framework. I don't believe a premise or theme is always necessary, but a consistency that I hope to maintain is working with artists to produce meaningful exhibitions. Every person is different so each situation will be too.
How will the gallery operate without taking commissions?
We have a fundraising campaign running with the Australian Cultural Fund, which enables people to make tax-deductible donations to the gallery's project page through their website until the end of 2016. I had a meeting with the ACF early in the year about my project, as I wanted to run a fundraising campaign for a longer period of time through a support page on my website, and they were very cooperative and encouraging. There are also four spaces within the building that I have turned into studios, which are currently rented out to artists and assist to pay off part of the lease. The gallery charges for alcohol at exhibition openings and operates with unpaid volunteers. I have contributed my own savings to the project and, of course, grant applications, however the Federal Government's funding cuts to the Australia Council for the Arts has made the highly competitive process even more competitive.
Photography Christo Crocker
The shows you have planned so far have an impressive gender balance, was this something that was considered?
Gender balance is certainly considered, but not rigorously so. My process of working with artists is influenced mostly by their work, and sometimes their gender will be part of or addressed in their work, but a person's gender is not always the first thing I see or process when I come into contact with their work. Group exhibitions offer the ability to explore a range of works that enable different ideas to coexist, so it's interesting to have a range of work and perspectives. For example, the last exhibition Rose Coloured Glass included work by Alex Martinis Roe whose current projects focus on feminist genealogies and seek to foster specific and productive relations between different generations, as a way of participating in the construction of feminist histories and futures. The way her work creates conditions and frameworks for addressing feminist trajectories is interesting and there is a connection to gender.
I am a woman and I've worked with some incredible women in the industry, so I think my perspective and work is in part influenced by my experiences with these people.
Being a temporary space, do you have a plan for how long it'll continue to operate?
I have the option to run it for up to seven years if I have the ideas, interest and feasibility to continue operating within this space. I have approached the project with a temporary mindset, which affects how I plan ahead. There are so many ways in which artists and curators are working outside the parameters of month-or-so long exhibitions in bricks and mortar permanent spaces, so the gallery's temporary nature is certainly not unprecedented. I'm excited to have a consistent platform to engage with artists' work and organise exhibitions that I've been wanting to do for a while.
Text Jessie French
Photography Kate Ballis