Deep in the streets of South East London there is a cultural phenomenon occurring, with the Hannah Barry Gallery being widely publicised in the press as the epicentre of the change. Usually synonymous with gang violence and a helping of knife crime, Peckham is fast becoming recognised as the new arts hub of London, overtaking the now trendy Hoxton Hackney east end. Barry, however is unconcerned with the location of her gallery, commenting “I’m very grateful that it’s possible to have a gallery however and wherever it’s happening”.
Hannah Barry and Sven Munder have achieved an impressive amount since starting out three years ago in a crumbling squat in Lyndhurst Way, Peckham. Working with 10 unknown young artists in 2006, they have gone from a squat to the Venice Biennale with the Peckham Pavilion in just three years.
Hannah and Sven, both Cambridge History of Art graduates are now considered two of the most important figures in British contemporary art. The shows range from an annual sculpture show, Bold Tendencies, regular double shows with two juxtaposing artists, and shows focusing on one artist’s current work. Hannah commented, the Peckham Pavilion “doesn’t stand for Peckham, or anything that comes from it. In a funny way, you could assimilate Peckham with progress.”
I meet the pair in their warehouse gallery located in an industrial estate next to a gospel church and a garage after numerous coffees in a nearby greasy spoon cafe. Sven talks me through the current exhibition of Viktor Timofeev, a 26 year old Latvian American. As an avid skateboarder, Viktor’s intricate spatial drawings and paintings are very much an amalgamation of this interest, “I explore forms found from the street on paper, going the lineage of fantastical, hypothetical and quasi-utopian architectural structure. With time, street objects were expanded to include all aspects of design that a normal inhabitant of a metropolis is confronted with on a daily basis, recycled and juggled in a non-scenically, humorous way.”
On her page at the Peckham Pavilion site, Hannah quotes Gertrude Stein, “Young artists do not need criticism, what they need is praise. They know well enough what is wrong with their work, what they don’t know is what is right with it.” Hannah sees this as an important quote for the ethos of the gallery, “In a funny way it’s a motto of some sort. It’s precisely what you should do, but of course, you have to be critical absolutely, if you don’t have the courage to be critical, how are you going to make progress?”
When asked about maintaining a relationship with the young artists, Hannah comments: “That comes from looking after people and them feeling loved and cared for. It’s a very difficult relationship to be involved with, which of course is immensely rewarding if the bi-product of that relationship is great art.” The Peckham Pavilion at the Biennale is very important to the pair’s burgeoning success and media coverage, and they both recognise it as seminal to propelling what they are doing into the international field. “It was an interesting project. However, we are going to try to change the nature of the project completely. To be able to set up an infrastructure to facilitate and promote the idea of progress in new art is far more important or has an equal importance to representing art in a commercial gallery.”
Art is a witness to its time, a companion to its time, and that is why what Hannah and Sven are doing is so important. “It reflects something about the world that we all share, in a way perhaps we wouldn’t have thought to find it expressed. Artists are not politicians and politicians are not artists, they all have different responsibilities, we all have different responsibilities, and artists are like any other human person who suffers, who is full of pain and who is anxious. You and I express ourselves in a particular way, we go about our work with a certain sense of responsibility as does an artist, maybe it’s just not so conscious but these things are here because they are expressions of something. That’s why scene contemporary art and being involved with it is important, the nature of it means it can’t do it on its own. No message can go out on its own, unless it’s a message in a bottle, and a message in a bottle never arrives.”
With their focus on progress, and their innate ability to facilitate the growth of the young talent, Barry and Munder are sure to become fixed names on the Brit art scene. They are not simply putting Peckham on the map, but also, and far more importantly, giving some exceptional young artists the opportunity to flourish.iktor Timofeev is showing at the Hannah Barry Gallery, Jan 15th – Feb 11th 2010.