Having lived in Willesden Green for over three years now I am beginning to think of myself as a local. Potentially as only locals would, there was therefore a great deal of excitement in my household when ‘The Library at Willesden Green’ (as it has been branded) was reopened in August after a long period of closure and refurbishment. Completely unrecognisable from its previous eighties green-house like structure, the new three storey library with books and reading spaces, collective work spaces, gallery and performance spaces, archive and an interactive museum was worth the wait.
Still in awe of this magnificent piece of council provision, when I accidently stumbled across an advert for the inaugural exhibition of the library’s gallery space I decided it would be worth a visit. Indeed, entitled ‘Making Space’, as a design historian, turned historical geographer, I could hardly resist.
‘Making Space’ is described as a photographic exhibition, organised by a new collective of London photographers (W.A.L.PH), that reflects on the process of making space. The exhibition’s blurb identifies three themes that are explored within the exhibition: private space, public space and the landscape of creative imagination. And the images included demonstrate a whole range of production technologies, including pinhole photography, wet plate collodion tintypes and more conventional digital and analogue images.
Walking around the exhibition a few images particularly caught my attention. Nikita Shergill’s work focuses on public spaces, particularly mundane spaces such as empty projection screens, sports hall floors and photocopiers. These images seem to highlight the banality of spaces that become incredibly important within human activities.
Sebnem Ugural uses pinhole photography to make incredibly intimate reflections on her personal space. Always orientated around the central focus on a bed, her self-portraits provide a glimpse into her personal world, while keeping much of the fine detail hidden and misty.
Nicolas Laborie’s wet plat collodion tintypes adopt a nineteenth-century technique to explore imaginary landscapes. Harking back to Victorian imagery as a result of their materiality, these images cleverly draw on Pre-Raphaelite imagery, but pull it into a twenty-first-century context; paper crowns disturbing the otherwise authenticity of these historically inspired images.
However, what I was most struck by was not the individual images, but how they worked together as a collective. Positioned in the libraries new airy exhibition space on the building’s ground floor, the location of the exhibition has a direct and obvious impact on how the exhibition is viewed. Situated behind a large glass screen perforated by two wide doors, the exhibition room is obviously intended to be inviting and open (and indeed many people floated through the space while I was in there).
The other side of the exhibition space is equally open, comprising of large windows that extend the space beyond its four walls and create a porous barrier between the library and the pedestrianized street that runs outside.
It is not only the surrounding landscape of Willesden Green that is invited into this room. Located on the same floor as the library’s children’s area although the exhibition space is nestled in a corner of library’s ground floor it cannot escape the noise of the post-school buzz.
Undoubtedly, this context will have an interesting impact on all of the exhibitions that will be shown in this space. However, this location is especially pertinent for this particular exhibition. Reflecting on space as a private, public and imagined thing all of these photographs comment on the ‘inbetweeness’ of space, its ‘not-yet-ness’, or its ever becoming. While each of the individual photographs in the exhibition has settled on a specific, fixed space to focus on (as a result of photography’s necessarily static character), collectively these photographs and the location in which they are positioned tell a different story.
The location is never static, it is constantly affected and re-made by what is going on beyond it: the shouts of excited children, the weary faces of smoking office workers and the intrigued glances of passing library visitors. Similarly, when considered as a collective the meaning and poignancy of these individual photographs also begins to shift. As one moves through the gallery space, different combinations of photographs emerge. By shifting the context of each image their statements on privacy, publicity and imagination begin to merge. It becomes unclear which theme the photograph is speaking to and it becomes more obvious that space is never singularly private, public or imagined, it is always and necessarily a combination of all three.
© Ruth Slatter (nee Mason), 2015