Monday, 22 August 2016

Bright Designs for MAP’s Latin American Exhibition in London

By Caitlin Dover, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

As the curators prepared to bring the Guggenheim UBS MAP exhibition Under theSame Sun: Art from Latin America Today to the South London Gallery, they considered how the powerfully eclectic exhibition, presented in its third venue, might best be framed for a new audience. Enter designers Oliver Knight and Rory McGrath of London-based studio OK-RM, who worked with the MAP team and the South London Gallery to devise an identity system that would convey the ideas and aesthetics of Under the Same Sun within and beyond the gallery.

As MAP curator Pablo León de la Barra notes, “Part of what is exciting about the UBS MAP initiative is that we have been able to connect with local talent in the places where the exhibition has toured: for Under the Same Sun’s presentation in Mexico, we worked with Maricris Herrera, who did the graphic design, and Frida Escobedo, who created the interior architecture; in London, we collaborated with OK-RM.

Their approach took into account the history of concrete poetry and geometric abstraction in Latin America, which has deep resonances with the artists in the exhibition. The urban presence of their graphic identity (on the hoarding outside the new South London Gallery space, and on billboards and bus ads) contributed to extending the energy of the show into the fabric of the city, and ultimately brought some sun to London!”

We spoke with Knight and Dewi Pinatih (OK-RM’s project manager) about how they developed the concept for this unusual project.

What were some of your first impressions of Under the Same Sun when you received the brief to create an identity for the exhibition? What about it informed your work from the start? 
We were interested in the Latin American focus of the exhibition having worked closely on previous occasions with several of the featured artists, and as we became more familiar with the curatorial selection we were impressed by the diversity of works [on view]. Rather than taking cues from any specific works, we responded to what we understood to be the spirit of the collection of works and Latin American culture on a broader level.

Spread from gallery guide to the exhibition. Photo: Courtesy OK-RM

Can you tell us about some of the specific inspirations for your concept? 
A key aspect of the visual identity is a typographic articulation of the title within the lineage of concrete poetry, a postwar artistic movement with roots in São Paolo and Rio de Janeiro. As well as [incorporating] this direct link to Latin American art and poetry, this approach was inspired by the visual nature of the title itself. This typographic treatment is flanked by a vibrant color palette of geometric blocks and shapes, which at once references the language of national flags and also the colorful street culture present throughout Latin American cities. The result is not so direct as to evoke a clear association with nationality, but more of an abstract reflection of Latin America’s unique relationship to the modernist canon.

Printed materials for Under the Same Sun. Photo: Courtesy OK-RM

What were the primary challenges you faced in this project? 
One of the biggest challenges was working on the identity for an exhibition that was in its third iteration, having already been installed and communicated on two separate occasions in New York and Mexico City. We felt it was appropriate to create an identity which would add a fresh perspective in the new London context and also offer an opportunity for collaboration between us, curator Pablo León de la Barra, and the teams at the Guggenheim and the South London Gallery.

Can you talk a bit more about the collaboration with León de la Barra? How did your conversations with him shape the identity you created? 
Pablo was very supportive throughout and encouraged us to challenge the way that the design had been approached in the previous iterations of the exhibition. Having lived and worked in London, he had strong opinions about what he thought would and wouldn’t work in the London context, whilst also helping us to navigate any potential South American clichés.

What has been the response to the new identity?
The response has been good. It’s been circulated a lot on social networks, which is usually a good sign that people are reacting and connecting to it positively. Color and geometry as abstract entities have a universal appeal . . . People tend to react well to the things that they understand. It of course also helps that the content is excellent and that the exhibition it is being hosted by two very popular art institutions.

Under the Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today is on view at the South London Gallery until 11 September.

An ad for Under the Same Sun in the London Underground. Photo: Courtesy OK-RM

Friday, 5 August 2016

Workshops, Artist Projects, and Outreach Help Build Community Engagement

By Rachel Moss, Head of Education (Maternity) at the South London Gallery

“I learnt about the correlation between art and freedom of expression.”
(parent at a family workshop)

As part of the opening weekend of Under the Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today at the South London Gallery (SLG) in early June 2016, Argentinean artist Amalia Pica’s performance Asamble (2015) took place in Peckham Square, featuring participants invited from the local area. The performers brought their own chairs along, processed with them from the gallery to the square, and then congregated in a choreographed circle that never closed. This formation of circles was repeated several times. Ahead of the event we worked closely with Amalia to connect with a wide range of participants from different cultures, interests, backgrounds and ages, and that are representative of the community local to the South London Gallery. Some of them were already regular visitors and others were new audience members, having heard about the opportunity to work with Amalia by word of mouth. Amalia’s practice is about communication and collaboration, and for me Asamble epitomises the way the education team at the SLG works with its local residents.

Amalia Pica, Asamble, Peckham Square. Photo Mark Blower

Hosting the exhibition Under the Same Sun, the second exhibition of the Guggenheim UBS Map Global Art Initiative, has enabled us to open up the former Peckham Road Fire Station for the first time giving a taste of what will be possible when we expand into the renovated fire station in 2018. This building is the earliest surviving example of a purpose-built fire station in London, dating from 1867, and was gifted to the SLG by an anonymous donor. During January to March this year we carried out a community consultation for the building which generated lots of local interest from existing and potential audiences, some of who took part in the performance of Asamble.
Under the Same Sun has also enabled us to create an expanded education programme. The exhibition was initiated at the Guggenheim in New York, travelling then to the Museo Jumex in Mexico, and then finally here to the South London Gallery. Members of the SLG education team have been in regular dialogue with education staff at the Guggenheim and a travel exchange was also set up between staff here and in Mexico. This has enabled us to learn from their experiences of hosting the exhibition and their community engagement, leading to us focusing on the Latin American community located in the nearby Elephant and Castle area.
In particular we have been supported by Latin Elephant in our community outreach. They are a charity that promotes alternative and innovative ways of engaging and incorporating migrant and ethnic groups in urban regeneration processes in London, particularly relevant at present with the redevelopment of the shopping centre at Elephant and Castle. One example of working with the local Latin American community was at Plaza Latina, a Latin American festival based in Nursery Row Park near Elephant and Castle. Here we worked with Argentinean artist Laura X Carle and over 100 participants, to create a wooden structure covered in brightly coloured tissue paper and culminating in a grand finale where the families burst through the paper, representing the breaking down of borders.

 Plaza Latina 2016, Zoe Tynan-Campbell

Other highlights of our education work taking place during the exhibition include Costa Rican artist Federico Herrero’s residency on Pelican housing estate, Peruvian artist Andrea Frank working with the Art Assassins (a group of young people aged 14-20), Spanish language tours of the exhibition, projects with Comber Grove and Oliver Goldsmith’s Primary Schools, weekly Sunday Spot workshops for families featuring artists such as Jose Campos from El Salvador, and Play Day on Sceaux Gardens estate, as a national celebration of children’s right to play and the importance of play in children’s lives.

The exhibition has been an interesting way to engage with people within the local Latin American community, including new families who now attend our Shop of Possibilities (the SLG’s social space for play for residents on nearby Sceaux Gardens estate) and an elderly person who has lived in a street nearby who has visited the SLG for the first time in 53 years! Under the Same Sun has been a fantastic opportunity to build on relationships with existing and new audiences at the SLG, which we plan to develop further moving forward towards opening our Fire Station Annexe in 2018 when partnership working will be at the heart of our approach to programming, underpinned by a commitment to working with local residents.

 Sunday Spot. Photo Jose Campos