by Meredith Sellers
Day Space is an alternative gallery space run by two recent Tyler MFA grads, Alex Echevarria and Moira Connelly, in the backyard of their row house in Kensington at 2519 Tilton Street. They have put on shows there seasonally in the summer and fall, weather permitting, for the past two years. Works are typically hung on a red wooden fence that borders the yard. Artists install the morning of, and take work down after the opening. I spoke with Alex and Moira about the unusual nature of their space, their programming, and running a gallery in Philadelphia.
Day Space’s next show is Tessa Perutz and Jessica Hans, on Sep 2, 3pm – 7pm. You can view their past exhibitions here: www.dayspace.info
Jamie Gray Wiliams and Ajay Leister at Day Space, October 23, 2016
Meredith Sellers: There are many galleries in Philadelphia, but none that really function in such a temporal, DIY manner as Day Space. Why did you decide to start a gallery?
Moira Connelly: The decision to start Day Space came out of conversations we were having with a group of friends after finishing graduate school about establishing a space in the city. These conversations were super exciting and really started us thinking about the variety of possibilities for a space, as well as appreciating the rich array of artist run spaces already operating in and outside of Philadelphia. As the conversations evolved the possibility of starting a gallery and the financial burden of this endeavor became increasingly discouraging. The decision to start Day Space came out of these conversations as well as this frustration. In some ways it was a very practical decision- to use the space we had available: our backyard. Day Space has developed pretty organically and is really a way for us to host our friends, and offer a new space to see and think about work. We’ll also add that we’re reluctant to call Day Space a gallery as the temporality and flexibility of the project are its most important traits. But we’re committed to taking the presentation of work seriously within this space, so gallery may be an apt term.
Alex Echevarria: We both wanted to do something that necessitated working with other artists although we weren’t exactly sure what that would be. We had some conversations with other friends who we thought might be interested in starting a space and for a little while it seemed like maybe we would try to start something that was in a more traditional, at least for Philadelphia, kind of setting like a studio building. I think those were good conversations to have because they got us thinking about the spaces that are available to us right now. Having recently finished graduate school we were looking for a way to satisfy our own desire for something social and creative as opposed to solitary studio work, which we are both still invested in. I think now that we have done a handful of shows we have been able to consider the specificity of the space but it’s all very short term and immediate.
Seneca Weintraut at Day Space, August 5, 2017
MS: Alternatives galleries have been increasingly popular in places like Los Angeles and New York, and exhibitions have been happening in sheds, shipping containers, stairwells, closets, barns, fire escapes, among other unconventional spaces. Were you inspired by any other alternative gallery spaces?
AE: There are projects that we are both familiar with that have been around for much longer than ours and have more visibility that we find inspiring. No matter the scope of the audience for the project I like learning about spaces like those you described because there is such a range and all of them present very specific limitations and possibilities. I also think that both of us drew inspiration from our own experience as artists. Before I ever lived in Philadelphia I staged some apartment shows here with friends and Moira has also been involved with shows and projects in alternative spaces in New York and Chicago. We are also both interested in music and have attended lots of house shows. I always wondered why people didn’t treat art more in this way. Unlike with art, it’s such a common experience to see a great musical performance in someone’s domestic space. So even before I became familiar with other projects that are doing something similar it just seemed very natural and possible to me to use the space that is at our disposal. There are some galleries in LA that make use of domestic spaces that neither of us have been to but find interesting, such as Secret Recipe and Chin’s Push. In the case of Day Space, there aren’t any trappings to suggest that the space is a place for art exhibitions, other than what is taking place in the space. In other words, there is nothing about it that looks like a gallery, it just looks like a bricked over backyard and its status as a place for art is conferred by what happens there. The change that is enacted on both the space and the art through that relationship seems important.
MC: Yea, absolutely! I think both of us get really excited by the possibility of art occupying unconventional places and are curious about the possibility for serious art looking/experiences within these spaces. I’m from Chicago which has a rich history of apartment galleries. The activity of people clearing out a room in their home to host an art show feels very natural. And, again, participating in DIY music scenes where you drive to a stranger’s house and see a band play in the living room are formative experiences for both of us. Our experiences are rooted in showing and organizing shows in unconventional spaces because, again, it’s what’s available. There is some novelty for sure, but it’s also a very pragmatic and necessary decision. When I moved here I was surprised and impressed by how the artist-run galleries were presenting work in clean well-lit rooms. As someone who makes paintings I totally appreciate a space where you can focus solely on the art. On the other hand, when I first saw documentation of Zoe Strauss’ exhibition under I-95, I thought, damn, that’s such an excellent exhibition space. In terms of inspiration a few alternative galleries and art-minded spaces that are always exciting are Thomas Kong’s Kim’s Corner Foods, Quimbys, The Finley, and Bread and Puppet Theatre.
Molly Metz at Day Space, June 25, 2017
MS: Your backyard is a somewhat strange place to show art. The fence that paintings are typically hung on is a sort of brick red color, and you have plant beds partially obscuring some of the walls, and a garden hose, in addition to some other elements that might be peculiar for a gallery. How do you work with the limitations of the space? What kinds of gestures have artists made that specifically responded to your space?
AE: There are aspects of the space that you mentioned, such as the red color of the walls and the materials and construction of the walls themselves, which include one cinder block wall and two wooden fences, that are hard to ignore when installing work in the space. We’ve also hung paintings on the white vinyl siding of the house. And like you mentioned there are the plants. And the sun. And squirrels and cats. These aspects and circumstances of the space are part of its character as a definitively domestic space and an outdoor space. I think those things really create a situation that alters your experience of the work in several ways and that goes beyond novelty. However, I also think there are things about this specific space that allow us to highlight the work as well. For one thing, it is fairly large- about 15 x 20 feet- so we can show several artworks that range in size without the show feeling too crowded. Once we corral all the plants on one side of the yard and do some weeding and general tidying up I think you can see and consider the work on its own terms. This was important to me because I wanted the work and the space to be in relative balance with each other and that the space wouldn’t constantly be encroaching on your experience of the work.
There have been some gestures that directly respond to the space but I think most of the time the artists are trying to tow this line as well. For instance, in the last show we did with Matt Carrieri and Seneca Weintraut, both artists were messing around with where the plants were in the space and in some cases moving them to partially obscure their work. And in our upcoming show featuring work by Jessica Hans and Tessa Perutz, both artists will be showing work that relates to the space. The paintings Tessa is showing depict landscapes and plants and Jessica will be creating flower arrangements in some of her ceramic work. We aren’t necessarily thinking about that when figuring out who to work with. Ultimately, I don’t think anyone has come in and done anything that responds to the space too drastically or overtly because I think most of the artists are trying to feature their work first and foremost. All the work we have shown is very strong visually and has an intensity of making that I think always really comes through and keeps the space from becoming just a novel setting.
MC: Day Space is really defined by its limitations. The conditions for looking at work aren’t ideal by conventional standards. As you mentioned the walls are a brick red, the light is constantly changing, wind is blowing, we have a small garden that occupies a corner of the space, and we sometimes have to reschedule due to inclement weather. Because of all of these limitations there is an affective relationship between the work and the space through context and presence. Artists have responded to the space in different ways, mainly through the consideration and adaptation that is necessary in the installation. We have yet to have anyone do something that is site specific but we welcome any proposals!
Laure-Helene Oakes-Caseau at Day Space, July 17, 2016
MS: Do your backgrounds as painters reflect the kind of work you show? How do you select the artists you show?
MC: As people that make paintings we’re both really into painting! So this bias is definitely reflected in what’s been shown so far. The artists who have shown work at Day Space are all a part of our community of artist friends and peers. This is not meant to be insular but rather supportive and hopefully nourishing. We are committed to showing artists without gallery representation. The artists we show are often friends that we’re in conversation with. The artists are also self-selecting. The conditions of Day Space are super particular and not everyone is into or okay with the fact that their work is exposed and outdoors with bugs crawling on it.
AE: We have shown mostly painters although we have also paired painters with artists who are making sculpture and other kinds of objects. The focus is on the objects people are making. I think this relates to how I answered your last question about the nature of the space. I want the space to be a platform for the work. I’m interested in being able to really look at how the paintings or objects are made and what they are showing and some of that probably comes from being a painter.
David Aipperspach at Day Space, September 17, 2016
MS: What are your future goals for the space?
MC: That’s a good question! And honestly one I have never asked myself. Most immediately I’m excited for Tessa Perutz and Jessica Hans’ show on September 2. I’d like to simply continue to present work for as long as we live in this house. I have some dreams of hosting meals made of stuff we’ve grown in the yard in conjunction with the shows and am interested in the possibility of presenting more music and performance within the space. We’ve also fantasized about Day Space becoming an imprint! When we leave 2519 Tilton, I suppose Day Space could potentially adapt and become mobile, landing in a different location or format, but that has yet to be seen.
AE: This is an interesting question in light of the fact that we are renting this place and will probably not live at this address for an extended period of time. We both have lots of other things we are interested in and I think from the beginning we have both operated under the assumption that we could stop doing this at any time. I think it has given us both a lot to consider moving forward regardless of the longevity of the space. It’s not necessarily a model but something that we were able to do with what we have right now and we have been fortunate to work with artists who have made it feel really exciting.
Jamie Gray Wiliams and Ajay Leister at Day Space, October 23, 2016
Matt Carrieri at Day Space, August 5, 2017
Meredith Sellers is an artist and writer living and working in Philadelphia. She received her MFA from University of Pennsylvania in Interdisciplinary Fine Arts, and her BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Painting and Art History. She is an editor for Title Magazine, writes regularly for Hyperallergic, and has had her writing appear in ArtsJournal, Pelican Bomb, The Artblog, The St. Claire, and Daily Serving. She has exhibited her work at ICA Philadelphia, Lord Ludd, the Icebox Project Space, and Delaware County Community College, and Vox Populi.