The South London Gallery ‘SLG’ is a contemporary art space situated in an understated borough of South London next to Camberwell College of Arts, on Peckham Road.
The original marquetry floor of the gallery, no longer on display, was designed by Walter Crane, an English artist and book illustrator and bears the inscription, “The source of art is in the life of a people.”
I spent a sunny afternoon at the gallery in late summer. After visiting Chelsea’s Saatchi Gallery, I wanted to explore modern art galleries local to me. SLG is a diamond in the rough. The internationally acclaimed gallery has been free to the public since opening in 1891. In recent years, it has had a particular emphasis on showcasing challenging work by both emerging and established British and international artists.
The beautiful red bricked building has a large, gracious Victorian exhibition room on the ground floor which houses the gallery’s largest instillations and exhibitions, beside this sits a well-stocked book shop. On the day I visited SLG, the exhibition room had been transformed by Swiss artist, Thomas Hirschhorn, into a victim of conflict.
Using low-grade, frugal materials such as cardboard, brown plastic tape, foil ducting and other miscellany, Hirschhorn created an overtly choreographed, cacophony of destruction. The paradox of the orchestrated, almost theatrical, aesthetic presentation of a belligerent implosion is captioned in the graffiti quote of Italian Marxist thinker and politician, Antonia Gramsci. On a torn cloth hanging at the back of the room were the words, ‘Destruction is difficult; indeed, it is as difficult as creation.’ Hirschhorn’s work is often imbued with political content and In-Between explores what remains in the spaces of what was.
Watch SLG's interview with the Artist.
In the upstairs of SLG, the Matsudaria Wing has two further rooms while the Clore Studio, in true artistic style, resides at the bottom of the Fox Garden. The gallery joins on to the cool and quirky No67 Cafe & Restaurant; with seating area outside in the quaint and intimate garden, it’s an idyllic spot to relax in after a tour of the gallery.
Showing on an overhead projector in the Matsudaria Wing were films by Norwegian artist, Ane Hjort Guttu.
Freedom Requires Free People (2011) documents the life of an eight year Swedish boy and his attitude towards his school. The young (and engagingly boisterous) child has an anti-authoritarian attitude towards the school and an almost uncontainable need to question and challenge the rules.
The film almost feels like a black comedy as the school is considered to be a form of imprisonment, imposing rules which infringe on his liberty. His plight is presented as a real freedom struggle – should he not be allowed to roam outside the marked trees on his activity day in the woods, rather than have to follow in line with other pupils behind the teacher who is, ‘the one who gets to read the map’ on a disappointingly, pre-determined trail?
He is instantly likeable and displays the traits of a freedom fighter despite the Scandinavian School system being rooted in egalitarian ideals and situated in a social democratic political system in one of the world's richest countries.
His critical nature of the rules is amusing but as the film goes on, it becomes easy to see that his plight is representative of the struggle for freedom in the wider context. We are governed by rules and abide by etiquette that affect our everyday lives; in our schools, workplaces, communities and institutions. Even if not particularly harmful, these rules may still be perceived as repressive by those who come into contact with them.
SLG is small but stylish; clever architectural design transforms the inside of this traditional Victorian building into an elegant, light and unique contemporary art space. There is an eclectic selections of exhibitions; both inspiring and entertaining.
Five exhibitions each year profile the work of established international figures as well as that by younger and mid-career artists.
The gallery is open from Tuesday – Saturday 11am-6pm and on Wednesday until 9pm. Every day at 1pm there is a free tour of the current shows, screenings, performances and talks.