JVA at Jerwood Space finds newfound purpose with "Now I Gotta Reason" group show

By Mark Sheerin | 09 November 2012
Colour photo of lunchtime diners sat along both sides of a long chipborard table
Lunch Club, "Now I Gotta Reason" exhibition (2012)© all rights reserved. Courtesy Jerwood Visual Art
Exhibition Review: "Now I Gotta Reason", JVA at Jerwood Space, London, until December 9 2012

Everyone knows the value of shops, libraries, restaurants, advice bureaus and print studios; but not everyone recognises the value of art galleries. And as can be seen from a new show in South London, when you put all of the former into one of the latter, a strange tension is the result.

Conceived with an everyday sense of utility, "Now I Gotta Reason" is really not your everyday display. It has been brought to Jerwood Space by Grizedale Arts and artist Marcus Coates, with a supporting cast of more than half a dozen other artists, all of whom have an interest in the social usefulness of art.

In lieu of paintings or sculpture, the team have explored their carpentry skills, building a rough and ready dining table, shelving units for books, a desk for printing and some display shelves for the shop (which runs on a principle of trust).

There is also a padded consultation chamber, to be booked out for life tutorials from Coates. The sometime-shaman promises to divulge nuggets of wisdom with the help of musical instruments, role play and basketball trickery.

Colour photo of a shelf with hand crafter knick knacks on display
Honest Shop, "Now I Gotta Reason" exhibition, 2012© all rights reserved. Courtesy Jerwood Visual Art
Another detail you won’t see at many traditional shows is the full budget, pasted on a wall in the foyer, together with a chalkboard where the team have written an agenda for discussion over lunch on the opening day.

Today’s question is: “Should unpaid labour be reflected in the budget?” So, yes, there is a very real sense this exhibition, for want of a better word, is making it up as it goes along.

“No one wants, needs or asks you to be an artist,” says Coates via email. “I'm not complaining about that, but when art is functional or its role is explicit, it can have the potential to create a demand for itself, rather than a demand for the name of the artist which is the traditional currency in art.”

Coates is no fan of the market: “Money is an influence,” he confirms, “that can lead to stagnation and limit aspects of culture.” But while current systems of commerce sustain the status quo, he also claims that money does have “the capacity to create flexibility and opportunity for change if those systems [of commerce] become obsolete or too narrow.”

Jerwood Encounters, who commissioned "Now I Gotta Reason", have just found so many good ways to use their gallery space. Now the foundation can reach out to local libraries and community centres to bring in new audiences, and see even better ways to engage current visitors, such as the business crowd who use their canteen.

The thought of Nigel from accounts encountering a guitar-slinging Marcus Coates really does sound most enticing. But sadly, it was pointed out, the consultation chamber is soundproof.

  • Open 10am-5pm (3pm Saturday and Sunday). Admission free. Booking required for lunch and life tutorials, telephone 020 7654 0171.

Visit Mark Sheerin's contemporary art blog and follow him on Twitter.

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