Interview: Curator Daniel Pryde-Jarman on turning a city basement into an arts hub

By Mark Sheerin | 12 October 2009
A picture of speakers and art prints inside a gallery

Since being established in a run-down city basement almost four years ago, the Grey Area has become one of Brighton’s most imaginative experimental contemporary art venues. Curator Daniel Pryde-Jarman talks to Mark Sheerin about the gallery’s success…

Daniel Pryde-Jarman is on his way to becoming a doctor of curatorial practice, a leading authority on the concept of heterotopia. "It basically it means other places, spaces of otherness," he explains. "Heterotopia comes from Foucault's concepts of otherness and psychologically different spaces."

Jarman is no stranger to unusual venues. As an art student he put on exhibitions around Portsmouth in settings including a lift, a window and an emergency exit. "That was quite amusing," he says.

"At every opening I had to prove to the Health and Safety Officer that the exhibition could be dismantled in case of fire very quickly and not get in the way."

A picture of people in a gallery

The unusual space Grey Area inhabits has attracted dozens of shows since opening in 2006

Now he demonstrates the value of otherness by running an independent and subterranean gallery in Brighton called Grey Area. The space was opened in March 2006 and, since then, has held more than 30 shows and numerous spoken word events, film screenings, artist talks and discussions.

Jarman looked at various shops and industrial units in the quest for his alternative venue, finally choosing a storage area he discovered by accident.

"It had really fallen into disarray," he recalls. "It literally had a cooker in the main exhibiting space and all these soiled clothes with a kind of hermit's nest in the corner in the back room, so it was pretty different to how it is now."

Despite obvious improvements, the gallery is still intimate. "All the exhibitions we produce have to be tailored to the space and we don't have a lot of it," he says.

"Sometimes it's frustrating to work on a show within those confines, but it's also something that obviously we embrace."

A picture of a man inside a gallery

Daniel Pryde-Jarman

Nevertheless, the long-haired curator balks at the word challenge: "To say it's a challenge almost gives it the wrong tone. It is difficult to work with artists and create something that works. It's a difficult thing to do."

In one recent highlight for the gallery, David Blandy transformed Grey Area into a kind of basement youth club. Jarman describes this relationship with the British pop artist as "symbiotic."

"I guess there are certain similarities or certain threads between the artists we work with," he says.

"A lo-fi kind of aesthetic, a certain kind of immediacy and a lack of facade or pomposity is something we try and explore."

Not content with one "other" space, Jarman is keen to produce more off-site projects in future. He is currently assembling a line up of artists to perform a gig in a deconsecrated church. The December event will take place at the nearby Fabrica gallery, and include 2001 Turner Prize-winner Martin Creed.

Nor is it inconceivable that Grey Area could relocate. Like many Brightonians, Jarman appears to have a love-hate relationship with the city.

"There are a hell of a lot of artists and creative people in Brighton and not a lot of spaces for them to do things outside of pubs," he accepts.

"I think that it's really important to have an independent space which you can approach as an emerging artist or even as an internationally known one, where something can happen without the bureaucracy – a place for ideas rather than legislation."

Where will that be then? No doubt heterotopia.

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