In September, Andrea Domesle from the curatorial group Videocity and director of riesa efau and Motorenhalle, Frank Eckhardt, visited SET colleagues in London as part of the Tier 1 exchange programme supported by Cultural Bridge. The exchange was initiated by regular video calls, followed by a trip by SET to Dresden in April 2023. The trip supported a better understanding of the large scale of SET studios, the diversity of artistic practices they host and the challenges of operating in London, including gentrification and external circumstances affecting art production and display. The visit to London allowed for Andrea and Frank to gain new perspectives and get to know the art ecosystem in London.

Image: Jemima, Roland and Frank in conversation

SET operates over several sites, all repurposed from their previous usage to artist studios, workshops and exhibition spaces. We started our trip by joining Ellie Dobbs to join an artists open studio invitation at SET Tower Gateway.

The next day, Videocity and SET team organised a PechaKucha event, hosting in-person and pre-recorded introduction by video artists based in London. The participating artists were Hyun Ah Kwon, Olivia Sherlock, Abi Palmer, Garreth Chan, Stephanie Francis-Shanahan, Zongbo Jiang, Maria Marshall, Moi Tran.

The open call was circulated on the SET and Videocity networks, with the aim of bringing artists, curators and their network from both communities together to present and discuss the curatorial concept “Simply Nature”. Not only this was a great opportunity to get to know works being made by artists in London, but it also contributed to Videocity’s research for the next year’s programme. The format of the PechaKucha is often used by riesa efau as a way for artists to share their practices and generate conversations and new encounters. We had also been in the lucky situation, to have a Videocity UK member, Polina Chizhova, fluent in German and English, who was available to lead the organisation of the event within a short timeframe.

The event started with short introductions from all participants. Below is a video example of a recorded contribution by Hyun Ah Kwon, South Korean artist, living in London, previous studio price winner at SET. After the video introduction, we screened an excerpt from Hyun’s video “The Sound Drawing of the Sun”.

Hyun Ah Kwon, PechaKucha – SET x VIDEOCITY from Videocity UK on Vimeo.

Image: PechaKucha event, Frank Eckhardt, introducing riesa efau and Motorenhalle, Dresden.

After the PechaKucha presentations, the guest artists had the opportunity to chat and meet, as well as to find out more about the organisers and the interested audience, including two London based well-known film makers and a gallerist.

After the event, SET team took us on a tour of the SET Woolwich, a very large block with over 250 artist studios. We were introduced to studio holders and had a chance to meet the curator of the School of the Damned exhibition, which featured by coincidence the work of one of the artists from the Videocity exhibition cycle “Utopia Today” – a selection of works from this concept is shown at Motorenhalle Dresden this autumn. It was impressive to see the scale of the building, as well as to be physically faced to the development happening in the local area of Lewisham, which can threaten the meanwhile-use system of occupying buildings, whilst these are often waiting for investment and redevelopment.

Image: Tour of the School of the Damned exhibition at SET Woolwich

Image: Contrasting new developments on the riverside, view from the exhibition floor.

Our visit was also punctuated with exchange with SET colleagues, specially Roland Fischer-Vousden, Ellie Dobbs, Jemima Thomas and Shirley Moore who were very generous of sharing their experience and expertise. We discussed the challenges of connecting with communities, especially when you have a transient space on rolling lease contracts and your beginning is rooted in grassroots activism. We were impressed by our colleagues’ ability to build a network and community rapidly, organise a large number of events that appeal to different audiences, whilst also supporting small initiatives such as the community café.

We are also impressed by the energy that SET team as studio provider put into offering affordable workplaces for artists for relatively short periods of time due to the meanwhile-use format. Their energy to commit to a new location, sometimes for just one year, is enormous. The artists we met are very happy to have secured a studio space. And yet: interim use is also associated with some inconveniences – a difficult situation for artists living in a big city like London.

Images: Studio visits

In addition to SET, we also met with the Czech Centre and Pushkin House, who have been promoting Ukrainian culture since the start of the war. We were interested to see the opportunities offered to artists from Eastern Europe in London, as supporting artists outside Western Europe has been at the heart of Motorenhalle and Videocity work for many years. Colleagues shared their approach to programming and engaging both diaspora and local audiences in their work through strategic planning and communication.

We learned a lot from our exchange and the possibility to get to know SET’s work. Their approach of reinvigorating disused building and supporting artists is remarkable, and their commitment to affordability is very needed in the London environment. The transformation their work has on communities is obvious and their provision of spaces (studios, exhibition spaces, workshops, community café, socials, screening nights and many more) offers possibilities for communities to meet, exchange and to experience art.

Image: Ellie, Jemima and Frank. Photo taken by Andrea.

The trip was completed by a goodbye lunch, where we discussed how we can continue our collaboration and created plans to foster exchange between London and Dresden. We are looking forward to continuing our collaboration and excited to co-create an exchange programme in the future.

Image: Andrea and Polina at the British Museum. Photo taken by Frank.

Photos by Andrea Domesle and Frank Eckhardt