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Deptford: How APT Gallery is set to be filled with artists’ collaborative experiments

Co-curator Nicola Rae talks science, art and why she’s not completely sure yet what will go on display

Nicola Rae is reflected in a mirror from a telescope

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If you think this article is going to explain exactly what will fill the Art In Perpetuity Trust Gallery from February 16 to March 5, you’re in for a disappointment.

But sit with Space Lab co-curator and artist Nicola Rae for a chat about the exhibition and you can’t help but feel a little awed by its ambition.

Her studio space at the creative enclave on the banks of Deptford Creek is currently festooned with tripods as part of her collaboration with the Gravity Laboratory at the University Of Nottingham

These await various pieces of equipment that will focus on a series of fluid vortices, part of an investigation into gravity, water and acoustic waves. 

Magnets will spin, stirring liquids in tubular glass vases, while a camera is used to capture something called schlieren distortions.

Quite how it will all come together is still a work in progress.

This is just one of seven co-creative experiments conceived for Space Lab by Nicola and co-curator Ulrike Kuchner, an artist, astrophysicist and creative producer.

“We have spent more than a year on this show,” said Nicola.

“We put in an application for grant funding to the Science And Technology Facilities Council and were amazed that we got everything we asked for.

“In a way we shouldn’t have been surprised, because Space Lab is an incredibly exciting project.

“Ulrike, as a post-doc researcher at Nottingham, has a lot of connections and she feels strongly that often collaborations are not as in-depth as they could be, focusing instead on public engagement or the dissemination of research by scientists.

“So we set off with the idea of going deeper. We also wanted the artists and scientists to have a really big space for the work they create.

“We call Space Lab an expanded field of experiments –  it is the idea of going beyond limits, outside the remit of scientific experimentation.

“Everyone involved is very interested in process. I haven’t seen all the finished work yet, including my own, but we have set really ambitious targets.

“Some of it will work and some of it won’t. Some will change in curation from how it appears in the studio when it’s placed in the gallery.

“We want all those elements to be free flowing, allowing things to happen.”

While the experiments are too complex to list comprehensively here, one to watch out for is bio-designer Anshuman Gupta’s BioBorgs – biocomputers that imagine a reality where organisms can act autonomously, based on environmental threats. 

These respond to the research of collaborator and exoplanetary astronomer, Amaury Triaud, into the Trappist-1 system.

Its planets are most optimal for evidence of life beyond our solar system.

“We wanted to set this ambition that the artists would contribute meaningfully to the science,” said Nicola, who has been based at APT’s studios since 1995 and has taught at the Univeristy Of The Arts London since 2006.

“My work will be a series of experiments working with liquid vortices and I’m making the scientific equipment myself.

Nicola will be creating liquid vorticies as part of her collaborative experiment

“I’ll be working with quinine and coconut oil in the water to create different densities.

“There will also be magnifying glasses and different equipment on tripods and there will probably be a performative element as well.

“At the heart of it, we’re trying to communicate a fascination with phenomena and the scientific process – something that’s so often seen in labs but less so outside them.”

Aside from the seven collaborative experiments, there’s another strand to Space Lab. 

As part of the process of putting the exhibition together, the curators have been working with Tech Yard creative technologist Jazmin Morris to create a series of workshops for young people.

Titled Space Labs: Stars In Your Eyes, these have seen astrophysicists going into Lewisham schools to explore the themes of the exhibition and have a go at creating their own pieces. 

“The big surprise for us was how enthusiastic the children were, particularly when talking about science questions, and there’d be a big sea of hands going up, asking really good questions,” said Nicola.

“We thought there might be a lack of interest, but not at all.

“We will be featuring some of the students’ work on screen at the exhibition and we’ll be inviting their families and friends to see that on the last weekend of the show.

“I hope anyone who comes down to see Space Lab feels really intrigued and excited.

“Astrophysics is seen as quite elitist but this is all about reaching out to people who might feel they could go into this field.

“With new telescopes generating a huge amount of data, this is really an expanding area.

“It’s not just about the children, but also changing the minds of parents.

“This is something that’s come up in research again and again – kids listen to their parents and it’s really sad that children who are good at maths are told they shouldn’t go into these areas.

“When you go into these astrophysics departments, you see how varied an environment it is – people from different countries around the world – and that’s very exciting to see. 

“Although we’re artists and creative technologists, one of the lovely things that comes up in the feedback we’ve had is how many of the children participating in the workshops are now considering science as a career.”

Space Lab is set to go on show from February 16 to March 5 at APT Gallery in Creekside.

Entry is free.

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Deptford: Why Art In Perpetuity Trust is seeking up to five new trustees

Charity aims to build resilient organisation for the future to operate studios and gallery space

APT in Deptford is looking for new trustees
APT in Deptford is looking for new trustees

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We are practising ‘artist-led’ as a reality, not just terminology – we are living and breathing creative independence and that’s something we strive for in perpetuity, just as our name says.”

In a nutshell, that’s APT, as described by its administrative director, Sarah Walsh.  

The Art In Perpetuity Trust operates from, and indeed owns outright, a former textile warehouse on the banks of Deptford Creek, a complex that houses 42 artists’ studios, a thriving gallery, a performance space and a working sculpture garden off Creekside. 

But it’s much more than just a landlord, it’s a potent, creative community and, following a period of evaluation and reflection during the pandemic, the charity that runs it is reaching out to recruit new trustees to help it continue to deliver its mission, namely to support creative thought and artistic vision both in the studio and the wider world.

APT administrative director Sarah Walsh
APT administrative director Sarah Walsh

“APT was set up 20 years ago by a group of artists who were looking to find new studios after they were forced to move from their previous home,” said Sarah. 

“They made an arrangement with the guy who was selling the building to slowly purchase the freehold over a period of time and then transformed the legal structure of the organisation into a charity.

“It’s not just a studio complex, it’s a space for interaction, for the exchange of ideas – it’s a community and it’s been created that way purposefully to provide support for those who have left education and want a space that isn’t isolated but alongside their peers.”

Now APT is seeking up to five new trustees to bolster the charity’s board who will work alongside the committees of artists resident on-site that drive its activities and direction.

Sarah said: “We are looking for people who can provide a range of skills and experience in five areas to ensure we remain a resilient organisation for the future.

“We’d like an artist or curator with an excellent industry profile, a legal expert with understanding of charity, property and employment law, someone with public sector experience and knowledge of local communities in south London, a trustee with a background in fundraising and income generation and a financial professional with a knowledge of the charitable sector.

APT owns its own building outright in Deptford
APT owns its own building outright in Deptford

“Trustees bring different voices, skillsets and experiences to the table that we can use to help build partnerships, communicate what we’re doing and maintain our resilience as they govern the charity.

“We have a unique structure here – the committees of artists don’t work independently, we all work in unison to run APT together.”

Trustees meet six times a year in addition to attending the charity’s AGM. Attendance at various private views and events will also be expected.

Sarah said: “As an organisation we’re always thinking about diversity, equality and inclusion and that includes the way in which we recruit trustees. 

“It’s important to us to be accessible and transparent and to reach out as widely as possible to attract a range of people who can represent APT successfully. 

“We’re a little nugget in Deptford with the most wonderful community – anyone coming in as a trustee will experience that.”

  • The deadline for applications to become a trustee is May 30, 2022

WHAT THE TRUSTEES SAY

  • “Being a trustee means you can see the direct impact and valuing of your skills and experience to make a positive difference to the lives of others in the local community. It opens up a whole new world of networks and creative possibilities on your doorstep.”

Jenny White, co-chair, APT Trustee

  • “Being a Trustee allows you to contribute your skills and knowledge to the development of an organic and creative organisation. You gain valuable experience being part of the  contemporary art scene and wider Deptford community. Besides, it’s fascinating to be engaging with artists and their diverse practices.”

Ann Gilmore, co-chair, APT Trustee

APT's gallery space on Creekside in Deptford
APT’s gallery space on Creekside in Deptford

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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