Dilston Grove, Sneak Preview

Art Licks met up with David Allen, one of the artists who runs CGP London and the new Dilston Grove space, which reopens on Thursday after a two year renovation project.

I met David Allen at CGP before walking over to Dilston Grove, which seemed fitting as this is the site where it all started. In 1984 the Bermondsey Artists’ Group, fed up with submitting work for exhibitions with open submissions, decided to host their own group exhibition. All with studios in South London, they started scouting around for a space to exhibit and put their hopes on the derelict café next to the lido in Southwark Park. A concrete wreck, the council were happy for them to use it as long as they did it up themselves. After exhibiting in the space for several years, they eventually knocked it down to rebuild what is a pristine, white walled gallery, and so twenty six years on, they are still there. It was during the two years of rebuilding CGP that the Bermondsey group nosed about for another temporary space to use; their gaze rested merely minutes away, on the disused Clare College Mission Church on Dilston Grove.

Except for a brief year when Richard Wentworth used the space as a studio, the church had been derelict since the sixties. First up was a group show, with some big names involved, which put Dilston Grove firmly on the map. From this starting point came other exciting exhibitions such as Ackroyd & Harvey, who grew grass up the interior wall space of the building. Following this was Michael Cross’ Bridge, where the space was flooded and the public had to walk across stepping stones that rose up out of the water as you made your way across. David tells the tale when one art critic fell in to the dark murky water in their new Diesel jeans! I could go on about all the fantastic exhibitions this initially temporary space held, but it is the renovation that I went to find out about.

Whilst David took me over to the site, he explained the changes that have been made to the space and their intentions with these. The rebuild of CGP created a stark, white gallery environment, whereas the concept for Dilston Grove couldn’t be more different. Those who loved the raw, disused quality of the space before can rest assured that the renovators felt the same, and so have gone out of their way to make sure it maintains this raw edge.

Dilston Grove is a listed building, for the wonderful reason that it is a very early example of poured concrete. And so not only did the project need an architect, it also needed a heritage architect – so this is very much a collaboration between the history of the building, and its new function. David points out that the main problem was the roof. Before the renovation they would have to get the buckets out if it looked like it was going to rain. The first chunk of the funding therefore went towards restoring the roof – using as many of the old slates as could be reasonably rescued to keep the look of the place as it had been beforehand.

Those who visited Dilston Grove before its makeover will remember having to scramble round the back of the building by the neighbours’ gardens to get to the entrance. The building is much more accessible now, with disabled access and a reception area, (that had been the blacked-out side room, used for showing films). Now don’t be alarmed, this reception is out to trick you. As you enter through the enormous glass walled entrance and find yourself in a perfectly white plastered room, with under-floor heating and varnished floorboards, your heart may sink – but fret not, they haven’t transformed Dilston Grove in to a modernised white cube. A large unobtrusive heavy door to the right will automatically open for you, inviting you ethereally in to the original space.

A wonderful surprise is how best I would describe this entrance; the Dilston Grove church is undeniably impressive. Large cracks in the walls, old white peeling paint, battered windows, dusty floorboards all within a vast open space—and it is beautiful. There is character good enough to charm the most OCD of gallery-goers. David rushes me round in enthusiasm. All the floorboards have been taken up, the new electrics put in, and the old floorboards put back down – every detail in this renovation has been sensitive to the original personality of this building. With the exception of some very discreet bars to light the roof if needed, there is no gallery lighting as the space will rely on the natural light. The nave is still raised and the balcony above it watches over the builders scaffolding.

The relaunch of Dilston Grove will open with the exhibition, Mémoire by Congolese artist, Sammy Baloji. Photographs documenting the exact place of Patrice Lumumba’s assassination in January 1961 will be projected. Whilst down by the nave, the abstract video, Mémoire wil be shown, which was shot in collaboration with the Congolese performance artist Faustin Linyekula. This building is very apt for the film; shot in derelict Congolese factories and now shown in this once derelict building.

David explains that Dilston Grove will hold three shows a year, but hopes that this will expand if they manage to secure more funding. The exhibitions will focus on work that is site specific; work that plays off the environment of this building and works at its best within it. In between exhibitions, the space will be used to hold artist performances, and considering the dramatic size and atmosphere of Dilston Grove, I think it will lend itself naturally to this.

So next Thursday there is one place I would recommend you all make your way to. With the new East London line there really is no excuse to get yourself to Southwark Park and wonder and gawp at the new Dilston Grove. The inspiring and exciting exhibitions it hosted previously to its renovation, can only promise great things for 2010.

CGP & Dilston Grove

Preview and Relaunch: 27 May 2010, 6.30-8.30pm

Exhibition: 2 June – 4 July 2010

Ackroyd & Harvey. 13 Apr - 13 Jun 2003, Dilston Grove.Ackroyd & Harvey. 13 Apr - 13 Jun 2003, Dilston Grove.Ackroyd & Harvey. 13 Apr - 13 Jun 2003, Dilston Grove.Michael Cross, Bridge. 20 Sep - 29 Oct 2006, Dilston Grove.Sammy Baloji, MEMOIRE. 2010.Dilston Grove, RenovationDilston Grove, RenovationSammy Baloji, MEMOIRE. 2010.Dilston Grove.