Víctor Santamarina,  Equivocal morning installation view, May 2021. Photo by Erika Roux, courtesy LIFE.

A home for artist’s objects: 

a talk with Ash Kilmartin of LIFE

Issue no4
aug - sep 2021
Onbeperkt toegankelijk & Eindexamens 2021

Ash Kilmartin runs LIFE, both gallery, shop and presentation space all in one showing and selling portative works by contemporary artists. On a hot spring day, Pernilla Ellens meets Kilmartin in the versatile space at the Keileweg in Rotterdam West, an upcoming area, to talk about the foundations and motivations of LIFE. ‘’Just a minute’’, Ash Kilmartin says as she is putting together some foldable vintage furniture. ‘’I’ll set up this table and chair by Víctor Santamarina for you. ‘’The work I show in the space are objects you can use, like you would in your home. Take a seat!’’

LIFE exists for one year in a space of approximately 9 square metres located in an old villa at Keileweg, in the west of Rotterdam. In the same building next to the space the gallery Wilfried Lentz is situated. The sculpture garden and the AVL Mundo terrain by Joep van Lieshout and the studio building Kunst & Complex are just a few steps down the street. A mural from David Maroto graces one of the neighbouring garage doors. There are plans to open more clubs and galleries at Keileweg, giving the worn down buildings a new destination and an impulse of creativity to the city. Keileweg and the area around it is up and running, and the sound of workers making new roads form the background for our conversation.

Víctor Santamarina,  Equivocal morning installation view, May 2021. Photo by Erika Roux, courtesy LIFE.

—Pernilla Ellens Thanks for making me this furniture set-up. I was wondering, what made you start LIFE?

—Ash Kilmartin ‘I had the idea for a long time of having a shop of books and wearable things by artists. I worked in galleries for many years in New Zealand and Australia, alongside my own practice. Wilfried Lentz knew I had the idea for a shop and he found it quite charming. When he moved to this location, he had a spare room and asked, “why don’t you start the shop here?’’ Such an opportunity doesn’t come along very often. Wilfried and I agreed to try it for a few months to see how it worked. And it worked really well! This show Equivocal Morning by Víctor Santamarina is the seventh show since I LIFE started one year ago.’

''We miss out if we see commercial galleries and museums as the only options to engage with art.''

—Pernilla Ellens How would you explain the title for the space?

—Ash Kilmartin‘The name helps to explain the concept of the shop: things to adopt into your daily life. It’s a space for the objects that artists make for themselves, when they have spare time. That might be things for a household, like ceramics to be used in the kitchen, or textiles, or jewellery. I wanted to find a way to present these intimate works for an audience. The works are always priced very affordably, it’s a key distinction from being a gallery. I don’t "represent" artists and I’m not attempting to build up or sustain market prices for them. I’m trying to make their work accessible to people like myself. In collaboration with the exhibitors, I have to balance what an object is "worth" with what our audience can afford. Right now, we’re sitting on chairs by Víctor Santamarina. I love the idea of a home or workspace that is made up entirely of stuff made by artists. It’s one way of looking at and making and being with art that doesn't seem to have a place in other art venues in the city. We miss out if we see commercial galleries and museums as the only options to engage with art. For the same reason, I really admire artist-run spaces that inhabit domestic spaces, like Peach (run by Ghislain Amar) and Available & the Rat (by Lili Huston-Herterich), both here in Rotterdam. Those venues are necessarily about the interpersonal, about our relationships to art and to each other.’

Víctor Santamarina, unfolding 1098 (Wassily chair) from Equivocal morning, May 2021. Photo by Erika Roux, courtesy LIFE.

—Pernilla Ellens The works you show in the space are portative. Could you explain why you made this choice?

—Ash Kilmartin ‘Moving several times from one country to another, and working in galleries, I could see the impact of constantly transporting things. When you work everyday with the material conditions of packing, shipping and storing large artworks, you begin to think of other ways of doing it. The longer I worked for other artists, the less material my own work became. The idea that I could wear an artwork, or carry it in my pocket, or pack it in a small lightweight box and post it, became very appealing to me. At such a scale, you can share the work more easily. That was the impulse to show things that are portative.’

WATER SAUS installation view. Photo by Lili Huston-Herterich, courtesy LIFE. Works by Lili Huston-Herterich, Ash Kilmartin, Christina Ayo, Silvia Arenas, Katrein Breukers, Bobby Sayers and Bernd Krauss.

WATER SAUS installation view. Photo by Lili Huston-Herterich, courtesy LIFE

—Pernilla Ellens Is your own practice as an artist related to the work in the shop?

—Ash Kilmartin ‘Both share a concern for small details, and for the found, discarded or adapted. I think both are interested with what we might pick up off the road, study closely, take with us. With life as it goes on living around us. There is always a concern of not taking up too much physical space, or finding a way to give small things a lot of attention: to render them special. At LIFE you often see materials being given another turn. At the moment, my own practice is mostly with live voice and radio production, and I make small bronze works. Those are all very portable.’

Opening of Eigen Weg, Bernd Krauß and Petter Dahlström Persson. Photo courtesy LIFE.

—Pernilla Elens I get the idea that the shop is quite appealing for the art scene in Rotterdam. Why do you think that is?

—Ash Kilmartin ‘In general, people over the past year have been hungry to see art whenever they could. Because this is officially a shop rather than a museum, I was allowed to open with time slots and safety measures - in fact, given the size and location, it works best that way. It stays personal and inviting. LIFE is also an expression of a community. For the first season, I invited artists that were part of a Rotterdam-based network, thanks to support from CBK Rotterdam. The shows came forth from a specific scene, artists I knew, whose work I already had in mind when I was planning the space. I’m really happy that for the next season of LIFE, the program continues with artists who have come to me with their ideas, many of whom I didn’t know before. It’s become a meeting place, that’s really valuable to me.’

''It’s very exciting to me when people come up with a collective idea, to really work together for the first time. That’s one of the motivations for the space: to be a site where artists do something together that they otherwise wouldn’t.''

Víctor Santamarina,  Equivocal morning installation view, May 2021. Photo by Erika Roux, courtesy LIFE.

—Pernilla Ellens What does the future of LIFE look like?

—Ash Kilmartin ‘Now that people know the space, they start to think of how they could use it. How we deal with the household situation is still a common thread throughout the program. How artists like to enrich their private space and also take habits from their domestic life into their practice. The next show in June, by Annastate studio collective from The Hague, is based on the informal assemblages of objects that are constantly taking shape in their collective kitchen. In September, Liza Wolters and Katrein Breukers are revisiting their childhood homes, and looking at reproducing the interior space of memory. Both shows are insights into shared personal worlds. It’s very exciting to me when people come up with a collective idea, to really work together for the first time. That’s another of the motivations for the space: to be a site where artists do something together that they otherwise wouldn’t.’

LIFE, Keileweg 14A, Rotterdam. More info here 

Pernilla Ellens
is onder meer curator en momenteel stagiaire bij Metropolis M

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