Arcadia Missa

The Peckham guerrilla gallerist-researchers on opening art's most vital conversation

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A_M Gallery Installation shot, Courtesy of Arcadia Missa

Arcadia Missa is a gallery, research and publishing project run by Rozsa Farkas and Tom Clark, started in 2011, but building out of work the pair were carrying out as students at Central St Martins, surrounding institutional critique and self-education. They opened the gallery in February 2011 showing Lucky PDF and Warren Garland. Since then they’ve gone on to work with artists as various as Marlie Mul, Harry Sanderson, Clunie Reid, Hannah Perry, Jesse Darling, Katja Novitskova and Amalia Ulman. They work around presenting new and collaborative modes of art-making, in particular those that often situate digital culture within a wider conversation on the socio-political context of everyday life.

The gallery has been defined by their collaborative and conversational approach to showing artists, often overflowing into their programme of published works. So far entailing three issues of their in-house journal How To Sleep Faster, two ejournals, and their recently published first Anthology, a record of the Open Office project that ran through the second half of 2012. An attempt to address precarity as experienced by immaterial labourers working today, how ideological formations such as neoliberalism, democracy as consumer choice, and ‘instant’ communication have come to define the ways in which we work and create. Avoiding the fetishisation of the object and social relations of precarity itself.

When did you meet and decide to start Arcadia?
Rozsa: Tom and I had started working together running the 10th Floor Group at Central St Martins with a few other people, we got people like John Cunningham, Stewart Home and BASSO to come speak to a group of about seven of us, in a tiny room at the top of the college that I think used to be a lift shaft. Then after graduation Tom went on tour with his band, when he got back I’d set up in a railway arch. We built the studios in late 2010 and opened as a gallery space at the end of February 2011. 

Tom: I think as soon as we realised we were talking about the same things, we probably realised we were going to be working together for a long time. 

Where does the name come from?
R: When we were looking for somewhere to set up Arcadia Missa all the buildings were commercial-industrial spaces. I was really into Brian O’Doherty’s Inside the White Cube, as lots of art students are, and I thought the transcendental insinuation with the name fitted with the religious use of similar buildings. We don’t get the same business rates relief as the churches. You could take that as evidence that art isn’t as helpful as religion. 

Was there an initial impetus behind starting Arcadia?
R: At the time there weren’t any art spaces in Peckham committed to digital-performative practices. 

T: We didn’t really feel like anywhere was dealing, as an institution, with what it was like to experience and make work in the moment where Web 2.0 was really kicking off and the most of the western economies were imploding.  

Why did you decide on Peckham?
R: Because I’m from Peckham and I knew if I didn’t do it at that time I wouldn’t be able to afford to. It’s increasingly gentrified and feels less like a hometown - still I know that art is complicit within this process, even if you are trying to critique it.

How do you approach working with artists?
T: Often they are people we admire and are having conversations with, then there are certain things that you want to highlight or speak about more directly, so the exhibition can be just the front end of a long period of working together. 

R: Many artists are now termed ‘post internet’ or ‘net artists’ or are ‘exploring the digital’, but amongst those there are very few that are really interrogating this. This is why the publications are important, it’s not just the surface of the work we admire, it’s that they have something vital to say. 

The Open Office project has been the biggest series of exhibitions you’ve done.
T - It was an attempt to deal with some of the issues we, and the artists around us, were thinking about; precarity, immaterial labour and production, and speed. It needed to be as big as it was to be able to look at how this is not just about specific artworks or things in the world, but about how they are connected and fuel and overlap each other.

You’ve moved into publications more and more during the lifespan of the gallery - what was the reason for starting HTSF?
T: I think its always been really important for us to show that we’re committed to establishing a written discourse around what we’re doing, not just show that we knew what was going on, but that we are invested in taking the conversation somewhere.

R: You kind of have to put your money where your mouth is and actually voice an opinion or position, which you aren’t obliged to do in the same way when presenting an exhibition.

Does the anthology feel like the culmination in your work with publications? A starting off point for larger publications? Explain it in a bit of detail.
R: It’s a new strand of our publication series. HTSF and the ejournals were never intended to be catalogues of the gallery programme, they were supposed to contextualise or reveal some of our research/curation. The anthology is definitely not a ‘catalogue’ but it is very much a marker and consolidation of the whole Open Office programme.

T: It feels like a step up in terms of what we can achieve with publishing as part of our whole programme, and it’s going to be a regular feature. We hope to also bring in some new publication series’ in the future.

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