Museum of Installation:
at times quite anarchic

MOI directorsImage 1
everything talks to the three directors of the Museum of Installation: Nicholas de Oliveira (Nd'O); Nicola Oxley (NO); and Michael Petry (MP).

Image 1:
Museum of Installation directors
(left to right) Michael Petry, Nicola Oxley, Nicholas de Oliveira

e: Did this space bring you together or had you worked together previously? Nd'O: Nicola and I used to run a space called Adam Gallery in south London.
In 1986 we founded the Unit 7 Gallery which dealt exlusively with installations and ran until 1990.

MP: I did the first show there and later we jointly ran a small gallery called NO2 . After that we decided that we wanted to break away from this notion of having a gallery in which work was for sale and go completely for a new space solely devoted to installation; calling it a museum gave it a historical, critical connotation as opposed to any commercial aspect.

Nd'O: There were a number of reasons for entitling it Museum of Installation. The first being that the term museum is clearly to do with a western invention which is dealing with heritage, with what is past, and we were interested in putting together a museum which also dealt with the present. So here is a paradox: how is it possible to have a museum of temporary projects? This idea led us to thinking about ways in which this could operate through shows in this space and also projects off site, plus we began, slowly and gingerly, to put together the book on installation, and this led us to think about ways of archiving installation through video, slides, written texts, catalogues, which deal not only with projects on this site but also installation world-wide.

MP: We could have gone about it in one of two ways: we could have spent a lot of time and money getting a building or an endowment for a space in order to build an institution in the traditional sense. Or we could do it the other way round - from the top down. So we said let's take this very flexible space and immediately start commissioning work which goes straight into the archive, rather than making an administration, the function of which was to sustain itself, and which - after achieving that - could get round to making art.

e: How long is the lease on this building?

NO: We have the lease for five years which in our terms is long enough for us to establish what we are doing. We don't need to extend it beyond that because of the nature of what we do. When the lease runs out we will look for another site which would have different possibilities and different variations and which would allow us to expand. One of the limitations of this space is that access to the archive can be a problem. What has been good about this site, however, is that we've stayed within the financial range that we can cope with. When we started, installation was not the buzz word it is now, up until recently people were not interested.

MP: And in the time that we've been here we have had, I think, an effect. Slowly, bigger institutions are at least thinking about having project rooms and realise that there have to be chances taken.

NO: Also people are coming round to the idea that installation is not just a quirky thing which goes back to the 1960s happenings, that it is a serious thing which is not going to go away, that even though it is by its nature temporary it does have a place.

e: How is MOI financed ?

MP: There are moneys which pay the overheads but each project has to be funded by grants - whether it's from the Henry Moore Foundation, LAB, or corporate sponsors, and there are, of course, projects which we can't do because we haven't got the money for them.

NO: But we don't necessarily stop because we don't have the funding. We start a relationship with an artist maybe 18 months before they are due to work here, they present a proposal which we work on together.

Nd'O: We don't draw any salaries, that would be pie in the sky and it's really the other way around - so money has to be flexible, which includes, at certain times, our own. This is one of the sacrifices artists make in terms of their own work and in those terms MOI is itself an installation, a project space and also an ongoing work which continues to grow.
It has been interesting working in this site, given that it is not ideal - but you must bear in mind that installations are always attaching themselves to sites which are problematic.

e: What's coming up in the future?

MP: In March we have a very different kind of project for the museum. Photographs of a wide range of installation projects which have been shot by Edward Woodman. Edward does all the documentation for the museum and has done a lot of photographs for the book.

NO: Edward has spent the last 15 years working with artists and has documented every major project from Rachael Whiteread's "House", Richard Wilson's 20-50, Art in Ruins and an immense body of work.

Nd'O: The interest in showing photographs by someone who shoots other installations is that one begins to talk about what is a document and how does it become possible to retain or retrieve something like an installation. What is often created by a secondary medium such as video, text or photographs is almost a kind of fiction - it relates to the original piece but also takes on a different aspect. They are photographs of installations and thereby fictions or documents of something which at this point becomes remote.

e: Which is again that paradox of a museum of the present. It is something which traditional museums would find difficult to accommodate, however there do seem to be a few more symptoms of galleries realising the importance of "alternative spaces".

Nd'O: Yes, but this raises another question. How long will that scenario persist unless there are positive moves made to keep some of those changes?
An institution such as our own aims to, on the one hand, deal in a language which is common to other museums but at the same time retain an ability to change and an ability to be, at times, anarchic.

NO: Also I have a problem with this term "alternative".

e: It's a funny old word - we normally try to confine it within inverted commas.

NO: Well, I think "Alternative" - what does that mean?

e: It means it's not something else...you've been dubbed an "alternative space"...

MP: It's more pigeon-holing...

e: Here's another one: "independent spaces". Perhaps that's a bit better.

Nd'O: We'll have to wait for "post-independent spaces".

© Steve Rushton 1994elogo