Interview: Elena Chimonas from heart of Camden

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Camden Image Gallery is a hire space gallery with 4 rooms over 2 floors situated in Camden Town, in central London. Camden Image Gallery has four rooms all with light walnut laminate flooring and clean white walls, perfect for displaying artwork; one large and one small room on the ground floor, and one large and one small room in the basement. The large room on the ground floor is fitted with adjustable LED spotlights, great for sculpture and installations. All 4 rooms have a fully adjustable hanging system with a variety of different lengths of rods to suit any artwork.

On the 5th of December until the 11th of December of 2015, Camden Image Gallery will celebrate its second year of success with a very interesting exhibition based on Mixed Media. On the 5th of December there will be a live performance by Periscope View at 7pm. The exhibition will continue from 12-7pm daily.

Let’s meet Elena Chimonas the gallery owner of this interesting hire space gallery.

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1. Camden Image Gallery is situated in the heart of Camden Town, Camden Road. Is there a reason why you chose the gallery to be situated in an area like Camden Town? Do you think the area plays a role when artists choose a gallery to showcase their artwork?

Definitely. The location is definitely important. Camden Town used to be a very creative, artistic area, it still is, but it is more focused on music now. So I wanted to help bring back the artistic vibe in the area. A lot of people thanked me for it. I believe that it is important to welcome everybody, no matter on what stage his or her career is. So for me, it doesn’t matter if an artist is studying, or [has been] in the industry for the last 50 or 60 years. If they are passionate in what they do, then I don’t think age or experience matters at all, as long as they are passionate. In terms of artists choosing a space, for me it is very important to have a space next to a station for mobility and accessibility reasons. A space that is welcoming and friendly. I am very lucky to have found this place. It was perfect for what I was looking for.

2. What brought you here? What is your background?

My background is photography. I finished my degree and took full time and part time jobs and entered this space you see here into a gallery. I was very lucky to find this space. It took me a lot of time and work to turn this place into Camden Image Gallery. Initially, I found it in very poor condition, the staircases were not safe to walk down, there were no plugs in the space so I had to strip everything down and rebuild it from the beginning. The walls and the ceilings came down, the floors were renovated and we retouched the two floors. I was very lucky when I found out that there was a large space downstairs that didn’t exist when I took the property. The gallery originally had just two spaces – one upstairs and one downstairs – but then we realised that there was another trapdoor, which led to two separate hidden rooms downstairs as well. One of them was made by clay and concrete and it took us almost 4 months to renovate. We made the two rooms into one. It is actually my favourite room. It is a very long elongated room and works wonderfully for projections on the wall, great for sculptures in the middle of the room. I also have the same hanging system so artists can exhibit there as well. As it is a hire space gallery, the artist can choose either to hire the ground floor or the gallery as a whole, which includes the basement. In terms of Camden Image Gallery, as I said, it is a hire space gallery so people can hire the gallery for as many days as they wish. The gallery is open every single day, including bank holidays and weekends, especially during exhibition dates. I wanted to open a space that has this consistency otherwise it is very complicated to keep up with which galleries are open on which days – some of them are closed on Mondays, some of them on Sundays. I wanted Camden Image Gallery to be open 7 days a week, so people would know that they could always walk in.

3. Are there a lot of hire space galleries in London?
There are lots of hire space galleries and then there are other galleries that represent artists. Those galleries are the galleries that artists sign a contract for a specific time and then the gallery will sell their work through websites perhaps. Then you have hire space galleries, such as myself, where we welcome all artists. Camden Image Gallery for example, charges one fee for set-up, installation help, flyer designs, promotion, invigilating, take down. It all comes together. I wanted to open up a space that welcomes all genres of art. So I have photography, illustration, graphic design, fashion design, and painting – everything that comes under the arts. It is my job to support it. We also have poetry evenings and performance evenings so it is nice to have a space that welcomes anybody.

4. How hard is it for a gallery manager to choose the artists that will display?
It is a hire space gallery. So if the work is of a good standard and it is suitable for the space I accept them.

5. Do you have any restrictions to being exhibited in the gallery?
Generally no. But, I wouldn’t allow anything pornographic in the gallery. That is a genre that I wouldn’t allow. No matter how fantastic or talented an artist is – that is something I wouldn’t want in the space. But everything else is welcome. I have open shutters every day, so I wouldn’t want any children passing by and seeing something like that so I don’t want to accept that kind of genre. The quality has to be good.

6. What do you mean by “quality?”
I mean standard – Anything that has effort in it. Something unusual. Artists like Robin Lee; for me he is a great example of quality. He focuses on the expression of the eye. We had an exhibition a few weeks ago and I am very privileged to have worked with him. He is a great person and a great artist. I understand that it is a contested term and curators don’t tend to agree on what quality means, but in Camden Image Gallery, I stick with “standard”.

7. This leads me to my next question – were there any times when you had to differentiate between your personal likes and what the audience prefers?
Obviously, not everybody will like absolutely everything. If the artist is passionate then it all goes back to the main motto I have as a gallery owner to support artists. I opened up a space because I am passionate about the arts. There were not enough hire spaces to support artists. For example, performance art is not allowed in many galleries – but why not? If a dancer is good enough then why not give them the opportunity to showcase their work? If that is the way they express their art. I want to help. That is the main idea. I don’t differentiate. I just support. Because of that, I don’t target a specific audience; anyone can come into the gallery space. It is absolutely fine for one gallery to welcome just photography, I don’t criticise that. However, Camden Image Gallery has a different approach: to help everybody.

8. What was the hardest thing you came across as a gallery manager?
The hardest thing I came across is the lack of sleep (laughter). Generally, I am a positive person, there is nothing specific that made my life hard during these three years that I started this business.

9. What do you think is the role of art in society? Is there a role?
Of course there is a role. It is the only thing that can keep individuals creative – to keep creative minds buzzing. There are 10% of artists in the world – poets, musicians, and painters. They are the ones that keep the world more interesting. It is lovely that there are arts in the world. What would the world be without images? Imagine walking down the street without images. How boring that would be? It is fantastic to have creative things that people could view.

10. How do you think gallery owners contribute to this role?
By putting up exhibitions and by organising events. Not just that, our job is to draw [in] and engage people to contribute to exhibitions that they wouldn’t normally be subjected to.

11. Generally, the word “art industry” is contested – especially artists cannot accept that sort of label. Since you are an artist yourself, and a gallery owner, do you think art is an industry? Is it easy for you to be both? There is that general idea that the industry “exploits” the artists and it is rarely the opposite. What do you think about that?
It is very difficult to be both indeed. I am a gallery manager 7 days a week and I am a photographer occasionally. So it is difficult to be both. I have always wanted to open up a gallery that is open for everyone. A gallery that will give the voice to every artist regardless of background and experience. Camden Image Gallery is here to help and support artists, as the nature of the gallery promotes all types of genres. Unfortunately, not every artist has the ability to work as full-time artists to be able to support themselves. It is still a very hard industry to get into. That is why it is great that there are many galleries open. They make artists cater to their needs. There are curators and gallery managers that can help set out an artist. Unfortunately not many artists make their living out of art – that is why gallery managers are here to help.

12. Are there any current or future shows that you believe the public should not miss?
The Saturday of the 5th of December from 6 until 8pm will have the opening of an exhibition that celebrates these two fantastic years of Camden Image Gallery. It will be a great celebration and I believe it should not be missed. Periscope View will also be performing a live performance at 7pm. The exhibition will continue from the 6th until the 11th of December, from 12pm until 7pm, daily. Also, for the first time ever, the Camden Image Gallery is organising a charity exhibition – this will be from the 7th until the 13th of January. The gallery will raise money for Solace Women’s Aid.

 

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