Bell Street Project Space
Run by Marita Fraser and Alex Lawler
Bell Street Project Space is an artist run project founded and directed by artists Marita Fraser and Alex Lawler and based in Vienna’s 2nd district.
Since September 2006 Bell Street Project Space has engaged with emerging contemporary artists from Austria, Germany, Australia, Denmark, and elsewhere to produce exhibitions in an `offspace` context. Shows tend to be group shows curated by artists or solo shows.
Many of the artists that have been involved with Bell Street work with a formalistic approach to art, in which an artist relates to the world through a continued dialogue with specific or varied notions of materialty and/or formal and conceptual concerns.
Bell Street has welcomed projects that transform or embrace the space as a physical environment producing a diverse range of possibilities for creating a dialogue between artist, art object and viewer.
Bell Street Project Space has been involved in projects outside of Vienna, taking local artists to participate in projects in Karlsruhe, Düsseldorf, Berlin, Hamburg and Paris.
The project is self funded by the directors and sporadic funding from the BMUKK (the Austrian Arts Council).
MF: The space was originally rented as art studio. We thought the space would be nice to do an exhibition in. The first exhibition was very well received and from then on the space took on a life of its own as an exhibition space. Originally the project was to last six months, but interesting projects have continued to present themselves and so the project has continued on from there.
AL+MF: We are both artists and bell street has become in some way part of our art practice.
AL+MF:The most obvious difference perhaps between our space and more institutional space is that bell street project space is an artist run project. It is self-organised and self-run and very unbureaucratic in how things are done. We can respond quickly to ideas and projects and there is a social apsect to the projects which we hope is more personal than institutional. We have worked and continue to work with a number of international artist run projects, creating an expanding network of spaces and artists as the project continues.
MF: A new u-bahn station opened across the street 12 months ago. This has meant that our rent has increased and this has put a lot more financial pressure on the project. The street in which the project is situated has many empty shops, since the new station opened a number of them are now occupied. Two new studio/exhibition projects have arrived and this is great as it creates a supportive neighbourhood.
AL: I am interested in what the process of gentrification does to the psychological impact of collective consciousness in regards to certain areas. Thinking about the way an area used to be really reminds me of television. Now we can talk about what it was like before all the other offspaces opened up on our street and the rent went up and I am very interested to watch as this history is created. It, like memory generally, has the potential to create itself in a way. And when I think about it, what stands between me and the knowing of what actually occurred is my own memory of it.
AL: It can be both a advantage and a disadvantage depending on each instance, but a major consequence of intervening with the flow of a social dynamic is that one must be prepared to deal with the way people are living around you and through this interaction with the lives of others one hears their stories and problems.
MF: The idea of artfree zones is a rather subjective one. For some people living on our street they are not aware of cultural production and activity happening around them. For others, they are aware. It depends on one’s perception as to whether they are receptive to our project or not. Everyone that lives in the same house as bell street project space, has come into contact with the project in one way or another but what they take away from it varies. This is a different experience to those who come in contact with the project through choice. Certainly within our neighbourhood we have a lot of people who are aware of the project, some are from the art scene and some are not.
AL: I have heard it said that to understand the socio-political character of the urban environment one must come to terms with the idea of archetypes and stereotypes because this process ought to be inclusive of as many people as possible and in understanding the nature of many people there is the danger of not knowing any of them particularly well. It seems to be that the artist as socio-political interventionist is one of these archetypes / stereotypes common to the urban environment.
But what is important is the question of what can art do for the world I suppose. If indeed art has the potential to be a powerful tool then what might also be asked is who is using it and how is it that they arrived at the position of being able to do so. Where social dynamics is in some way reflected through government policy or judicial process its power structure is often dependant on democratic process. When we consider capitalistic strategies, this is reflected through economic rationalism. I am interested in the power structure of social-politically engaged artists.
MF: Artistic production is continually dealing with the social-political character of the urban environment even if it is not always so overt. The use of quotation, mass produced materials, popular culture as well as more direct references to social and community activity and so on are all part of contemporary art practice. Cultural life and social environment are not necessarily two distinct things. The boundaries are much more blured.
As someone “inside” an art system it is difficult to distinguish between art and life. However there are times when one feels “outside” such things and in those times it is possible to distinguish. It is difficult to say how much of an “alternative” art project differs from a “mainstream” project in relation to art and life. Things are perhaps more complicated than that