Number Nine Guildhall Road is an arresting four storey building, poised in the middle of Northampton's Cultural Quarter. It's red-brick exterior houses a Gallery, a Project Space, Artist Studios and an artistic community under the umbrella name of NN Contemporary Art Northampton (NN). As part of AirSpace Gallery's Organisational Development, I visited NN to learn about its development and transition from artist-led to NPO.
This was my first journey to Northampton – located between Rugby and Milton Keynes it's an hour and a half train journey from Stoke-on-Trent. Admittedly, I knew very little about its history or narrative, but I'm quickly informed by the NN team that it's known for its shoemaking and leather industries heritage. In speaking with Emer, Laura and Freddy, I learn that Northampton is not so dissimilar to Stoke-on-Trent – a place which also grabbles with narratives of industrial nostalgia. Like Stoke-on-Trent, Northampton exists in proximity to larger conurbations – notably, its big-city neighbour, London.
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The gallery, somewhat like a city, is a transitory arena: both, too, have the potential to become agents for unwieldily dreaming in the hands of the architect, artist or urban developers. Stripped back to its bare components, the gallery is divided into two 'pre-fab' domains – or rather, allotments – in graduate resident Harley Kuyck-Cohen's inaugural solo exhibition. But what comes to mind with the title Allotment – bustling stacks of squash in a makeshift Eden – is exchanged for two domestic scenes, paved with chipboard and newspaper pages. These allotments are platforms for the rustic assemblages which Kuyck-Cohen has nurtured throughout his residency at AirSpace Gallery.
Ignazio Mortellaro is an artist, curator and co-founder of Radiceterna - a collective which visually, audibly and literarily explores notions of botany. Ignazio, a Palermitan practitioner, exhibits work predominantly in his home country, Italy. His practice is an intriguing one; his studio is a cavernous, basement space, hidden from prying eyes behind wooden doors. Inside, it's an orderly box of curiosities, something that he describes as a laboratory. Tools are placed in quantifying symphonies: patterns emerge from height-ordered utensils; visual rhythms arise in the tones and textures that echo back-and-forth between natural and metal surfaces. Iron is a recurrent material - nature, then iron. "But what is iron?" Ignazio asks rhetorically, "it's the stuff of nature."
Ignazio is generous with his time: he's someone who reads a lot, thinks a lot, collects a lot and, as per his architectural and engineer-training, measures - both mathematically and visually - a lot. His studio, deep in the depths of an age-old palazzo, is spotless but rustic. Ignazio admits that he has been away from his studio, installing work in Turin, and so the space is abnormally tidy - but normal for him to a certain extent. He speaks quietly but enthusiastically about elemental matter: we return to iron, one of his favourite materials, which, he describes, contains within it a plethora of Earth-based connotations. Iron, he says, is found at the Earth's core: its production of magnetic fields is what keeps us physically grounded.