Situated in between a Pound shop and a Greggs bakery on Trongate, there is in truth far more to this deceivingly banal backstreet than initially meets the eye. My previous attempt to attend an event held on Old Wynd Lane had been hindered by time: an installation (event title and time were all I had to go by) that began at 8pm had come to end by the time I’d managed to locate the unremarkable venue (which was at approximately 8.07pm). The last of the viewers emerged from out of the alley and within a few seconds it was entirely deserted. I was struck by the fleetingness and mystery of the whole set up, and found it only increased when I undertook to find out about who (or what) was behind it all.
Defining itself as a curatorial venture, the concept of HAUNT is run by a committee that prioritises anonymity (both their own and that of the artists to whom they offer exhibition space). They further define their purpose “to remain out with the confines of institutional borders. [HAUNT] is an experimental collaborative project that uses an outdoor space to present exhibitions, performances and events within the city of Glasgow.” They exchanged contact with me under a collective pen name and provided fittingly mysterious (yet nonetheless insightful) answers to my questions.
I begin (predictably) by asking how HAUNT first came into being.
Glasgow Guardian: “Firstly, how did HAUNT get started up? Tell us Haunt’s history and inspirations.”
HAUNT spokesperson Karen Eliot: Haunt was conceived through a failed act of corruption in London and born in a pub in Glasgow. HAUNT started at the final exhibition of the Dirty Square Gallery in London. The Dirty Square Gallery was an artist-run project set up to provide free exhibition space for emerging artists. It was founded by two artists who ran the Gallery under the auspices of a fictitious character by the name of Stella Koons-Manet, who will have a book out next year. The Dirty Square was located on a wall in Rivington Street, Shoreditch which lies but a few yards from the White Cube Gallery. This allowed the Dirty Square to act as a catalyst for discourse exploring the politics and ideologies of display and the gallery system. In December 2010 ‘Ms X’, a Glasgow based artist who will remain unnamed, went to visit some friends in London who had been involved with the recently closed Dirty Square Gallery. The final exhibition by the Dirty Square coincided with an exhibition opening at the Woodmill Gallery in South London. (The exhibition Parallax was a group show displaying works that had been shown previously in the original location in Shoreditch). During the opening Ms X met the founders of the Dirty Square Gallery who informed her that they were planning to give the gallery away in a game of pass the parcel and as Ms X was from Glasgow, they thought it would be funny if she won. They attempted to rig the game, however they had been drinking and forgot how many sheets of paper they had wrapped around the prize (a rotten wooden square frame that they had liberated from the gallery wall). This lead to the prize being won by a rather confused looking gentleman who unwrapped the final layer and, holding it up, asked what it was. He was informed he had won a gallery. This didn’t seem to impress him much and he wondered off into the night. When Ms X returned home she decided she would like to open the Dirty Square in Glasgow but had no way of contacting the new owner so she asked one of the founders if they would consent to her opening a street gallery based on their original idea, which they did. Ms X went on to recruit committee members for the new Gallery, Ms Y an artist and a writer Mr Z. The first committee meeting took place in a local pub which has continued to act as a meeting room/office space for HAUNT. Ms Y further developed the idea into a name, visual identity and online presence by introducing elements of her own art practice including her interest in performance art and the Neoist movement. Mr Z suggested the idea of complete anonymity not only for the committee -as was the practice of the Dirty Square- but for the artists too. Thus HAUNT was born. (Ms X and Ms Y are now the core members of HAUNT as Mr Z has backstreet businesses to run but remains an occasional informer).
GG: “The lists of events that HAUNT has exhibited is rapidly becoming longer. How would you define HAUNT’s vision?”
KE: We try to hold one event per month and, as is the convention of London galleries, we holiday in August. In terms of defining a vision we don’t have an end goal. Haunt offers artists complete creative freedom. We invite artists to work with us if we find them to be either interesting or sexually attractive. We don’t ask them to run anything past us. So far, we have allowed HAUNT to grow into itself, we don’t know what it might become but it’s fascinating to watch the capricious beast grow.
GG: “What is HAUNT’s significance within the context of Glasgow’s art scene?”
KE: HAUNT is building on the history of Glasgow’s DIY ethos. The location of Haunt Space is intentionally in the vicinity of several major art institutions and organizations including publicly funded and privately owned galleries which have brought a great deal of international attention to Glasgow. Haunt receives no public or private investment and does not seek any. We have in the past applied for funding, requesting £0, which we were refused. We are the cuckoo in the nest of art institutions/systems. For us to imply anonymity, to not use artist names or identities gives detachment from this world. We are not criticizing these institutions (some of which founded the Glasgow art scene) but I believe our existence and presence offers a healthy critique. Our relationship with the people involved in the Glasgow art scene has been truly inspiring. So far we have been given a great deal of encouragement and support from fellow artists and curators, some of whom are very well established. This support outside the capricious art market is one of the positive sides of the Glasgow art scene, which may not be as prevalent in other art capitals.
GG: “An extract from the manifesto on your website reads: ‘The use of this space, located between several art galleries is in itself an artwork.’ What makes HAUNT an artwork?”
KE: Ahhhh……….what is art? Why is the sky blue? Where are my shoes? When a tree falls, do squirrels drink brandy? There is not enough word count to say…