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  • Writer's picturematilde tomat

before nothing /a critical review

I write this after being back home for just a day. I feel the need of writing this now, in order to critically review the experience before I start forgetting details.


From the very first exchange of emails, their documentation and their website, I could see that things were not up to a professional standard, or at least a standard I am used to, hopeful for, and that I would definitely offer should I be the curator / manager of a gallery. And a professional standard I would demand from now on. I always think that you don’t need much to make a good impression and I didn’t have that feeling. When I finally met – very late – with the person in charge, she complained to me about her situation, the running of the place, the fittings, the lights, the age of the location, etc. I did not find that professional. The ad for the event, on their website, was uploaded only on Saturday when the event instead started on Friday. When I was already working on Friday, they still brought people in, walking all over what I was creating, intruding in my physical and emotional space. If they did not like, or approve, of my submitted plan, I would have liked to know, instead of having to change plans there and then, while I had publicly committed to potential visitors. I was made to feel very uncomfortable.



As much as the gallery was “in town” if you consider the size of London, it was a crypt: cold, damp, with no fittings, no railing, no safety, no cleanliness, no person supervising, no invigilation, no even floor, no heating, … I have expressed in details in my proposal what I was looking for and what I needed and what I would be doing: I talked about a 10 m long piece of paper (there was no 10 m long wall) to be hung on the wall (there were no fittings, no fixtures, no screws, nothing) and I would expect that since I am working on paper not to find that level of dampness and not one even and smooth wall: there were just bricks. I refer back to my previous post for the system I used (all alone) to fix the paper on the wall here. I have to admit that I felt discouraged, angry, and almost close to tears because managing an expensive 10 m roll of paper, 200 gsm, all alone, when your hands are cold and everything around you is dusty and dirty, is not one of the best experiences I had. And that’s a shame since that place could easily be turned into an incredible and elegant gallery, with just a few changes…


documentations and emails

Since the documentation and emails I exchanged with The Crypt contain sensitive data and monetary agreement, I will not post them on here but could be shown if requested. Those documents were: 1. Terms and Condition for the hire of The Crypt and 2. Holding Deposit Form. Copies of my questionnaires, signage, etc can be found here following.

questionnaire: before nothing - questionnaire
A3 signage: before nothing signage
ads: already posted on here
event ad from The Crypt: on here


I found myself limited, constrained and contained and caged into a situation I didn’t want to find myself in. I imagined (naively?!) that because I was dealing with an art gallery in London, things would have been different and more professional. I wasn’t allowed to perform the way that I wanted, I wasn’t allowed to carry out the research I wanted and needed. The whole process was badly organised and provided. Also, on top of this – thank you Mercury retrograde! – the recording of the videos on my camera failed miserably due to some settings I could not change, and the videos I recorded from my phone, instead, have been either partially muted or fully blocked (WFT!) because I was listening to music… this means that I cannot watch my own movie of myself I took myself! And that pisses me off tremendously!


resolution of issues

I could have gone back home straight away, was it closer. But I was in London and I paid for my trip and hostel, and I gave my word online, hence I wanted to stay there and make the most of it. I wanted to be reliable. Hence, I managed to:

  1. sort the paper and the way to hang it on the wall;

  2. cover the floor using some old cardboard and some plastic sheet since it was too damp and cold to stand on it;

  3. move three old tables and some tatty chairs around in a way that could have looked inviting and cosy if someone got in;

  4. despite all the plans and drawings I sent, I managed to work site-responsive and turn the setting around;

  5. find an old folding A-board, clean it, and use it to advertise the event;

  6. sort the lights;

  7. find a small heater;

  8. dress in layers and more layers to protect me;

  9. find two large stores where to buy food, coffee and supplies since I had to stay in the crypt, alone, for two whole days (Saturday and Sunday);

  10. find some emotional support from a friend back home in Italy;

  11. find a smile for the three people who came in on Sunday and with whom I discussed my work and who were so kind as to fill in the questionnaires.


ethical consideration

As I was writing above, I could have gone home and to be honest on Sunday morning I was feeling so tired and emotionally exhausted I was dreading going in there, for 6 hours all alone, and then having to pack, leave, go all the way to the coach station, to wait for a night-coach and to get back home at 7am. But that wouldn’t have sat right with me. That’s not me, that is not my own professional ethics. On top of this, I have considered the following since I was requesting/inviting people to fill in a questionnaire:

  1. Viewers, visitors, and participants should not be subjected to harm in any ways whatsoever: I made also clear that they had to pay attention to the steep stairs, the uneven floor, and that the questionnaires were free, not compulsory, but very kindly welcomed; in this sense, they would have consented verbally to such exercise;

  2. The protection of the privacy of participants has to be ensured at all times: for this reason, I did not ask for their names, or addresses, or emails. They cannot be recognised by third parties in any way; hence, full anonymity was ensured;

  3. Since I was video-recording, there was a very clear note at the entrance that people were potentially being video-recorded;

  4. All types and forms of communication in relation to the residency was honest and transparent and truthful;

  5. Since the crypt and the location were on sacred grounds, I made every effort to avoid any form of potentially offensive, discriminatory, and unacceptable language, behaviour, and music;

  6. I was conscious of my role as a student, but also my presence there as an artist and my background as a therapist. Multiple roles aren’t unethical – but I wanted to be aware of any potential adverse effect or misleading perception, and to have clear boundaries in place;

  7. I checked in at the end of every day, with me, to make sure all ethical considerations were taken care of;

  8. At the same time, I was aware that I did not want these good practices to potentially get in the way of my art-making, which still stayed the main focus of my staying in London;

  9. I also made sure that everything was clean and what needed to be thrown was disposed of properly when I left, that lights were off, and everything was stored in a safe way and safe place.

I had some thoughts about what my practice, or better: the pursuit of my practice could mean to some people. As much as I would like to think that I could show and hence inspire courage and determination in my fellow colleagues at College, I know that they are young and engrossed in other things and interests at this time. I am more interested in keeping myself self-inspired but also transmit this same level of inspiration to other women and maybe clients, along the way. I believe that if you want something, you can get it. But you have to go out and work every day to get it. I know I can get it, but I also know the number of hours I put in the planning, thinking, bouncing back with friends, reading, writing, pacing up and down while talking to myself, drawing, testing, going, moving, saving money, focusing, being determined, … I know that without all of the above I would still be here, in my living room where I am sitting now writing this, complaining about why I don’t get what I want. ad-lib…


health & safety

Steep stairs, slippery and uneven floor, low doors, massive heavy iron gate, dodgy lights, being alone, door open to the public with anyone going in and out, homeless people coming in just to use the toilets, the smell of weed smoked by workmen repairing the building, extreme noise, rain coming in, me being alone in the dark when taking the work down… these are just some of the considerations I had.

I can add having to manage visitors, having the keys of the place with all the responsibility that comes with it, and having a couple of extension leads floating around but which I needed for the heater and to charge the phone (no signal down there by the way) and the laptop.

I banged my head three times in the dark, slipped and fell once.

When I had to go back in the dark to pick up all my stuff, having to carry my large and heavy suitcase up the steep steps, and I was scared, I called a friend so that I wasn’t alone while doing that. Fortunately enough, there was one of those tactic police vans parked outside and I asked one of the officers to please keep an eye on the gate, the crypt and myself while I was still inside. Before, even if at times I wasn’t, I still left the note about video-recording to discourage any person with bad intention from hurting me or stealing my equipment.

Still, I managed to keep myself safe: I ate good food, I drank water and warm teas, I slept well, I rested. Self-care was paramount.


review of decision-making process

I do not regret any single choice I made. In the end, regardless of the location and the disorganisation, I now know with confidence that my decision-making process is reliable. The choices I made, as consequences of the situation, were thought-out and based on observed and researched options. And also on experience.


review of daily activities and slots

All the slots I have planned and designed in advance have been carried out. Since I knew from the beginning I would have gone to London alone and without the support of a colleague, I designed the slots as 1.5 hours of work followed by 30 min rest. This decision, albeit as a consequence of something else, worked out perfectly due to the location and the lack of invigilation and support. Also, I took the time both on Saturday and Sunday mornings to visit part of London instead of rushing in before 12 pm. At the same time, I made sure that I left the location at 6 pm without staying longer. I knew I needed time for me and to recuperate energy.

The slots of 1.5 hours followed by 30 min break worked perfectly. If I were in a warmer and more comfortable setting, as I did when testing at College, I know I can work for a longer time. Still, if I want to interact with the visitors more, this same time-setting could be tested again.


[some] final considerations

I do have some thoughts floating around my head regarding this experiment, but some of them will need to find a different setting, where I will analyse in detail the experiment in itself; but in order to do this, I need to make more tests and try the work in other places and have more responses from people.

As of now, I have to say that if I put this residency on a scale, with all that’s happened – and I still might have forgotten something – I am still glad I did it.

On Sunday morning, I woke up almost in tears: no one came on Saturday. Regardless of the ads, the Facebook event, the open doors, no one came. I was expecting people to share the event online, and that did not happen. And that made me wonder that maybe I am not cut for this experience, maybe my art is not good enough, maybe people don’t get me, maybe the ones who tell me that I should stop thinking about art and university are right. Maybe I should go back to being the old me, as a therapist, and lead a comfortable and easy life, and retire and focus on the house and the cats. Maybe my art is not good enough. Maybe my art is not art. Maybe my art is not art. Maybe my art is not art.

What I have learned in this endeavour, in the end, is the following:

  1. I can definitely trust myself

  2. I can rely on myself

  3. I am accountable, to my work, to the word given – which to me is still important – and to my professionalism

  4. I am proud of myself

  5. my sense of integrity, if there were any need, is even stronger now

  6. I like the way I planned

  7. I like the way I design the projects

  8. I like my organisational skills

  9. I like the way I behaved

  10. I like the way I processed and got out at the other end

  11. I like what I created

  12. I like how I felt while I was creating

  13. I like me, now.

  14. What I make is art.

To more experiments!

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