Denne uken har vi kontaktet Blank Space, ved Liz Ramsey.
All photo: Liz Ramsey
What is your project and where is it?
Blank Space is a multi-purpose creative space in Oslo that was founded in 2013 by me, American artist Liz Ramsey and my partner, Norwegian artist Martin Hvattum. We were founded to help fill the many gaps found in the art world, specifically those in Oslo and Norway, Blank Space works within three categories: Gallery, Workshops, and Studio. We are currently at Turbinveien 3, at Kværnerbyen in Oslo.
Our gallery hosts world renowned artists, such as Sterling Hundley, Cliff Wallace, Mingjue Helen Chen, Martin Whatson and more to bring attention to otherwise unrecognized fields of art such as illustration, animation, comic books, street art, and special effects design. We also offer art to anyone regardless of income; Each show we host features a wide range of prices, we’ve had pieces on display between 200kr to 120,000kr during certain shows, so that all audiences can support the arts.
Our workshops teach fundamental skills to visual artists of all mediums and help to bring competence to otherwise untaught fields in Oslo. We focus on cooperation, collaboration, and healthy competition to answer all questions from our students and help give them the tools that they weren’t given elsewhere to create beautiful work. We also work with international artists to host special, high quality workshops, lectures, and demonstrations in specific areas of interest so artists can diversify their visual language.
In our studio, which is currently under development, we will offer full printmaking (ie: grafikk) capabilities. Within Oslo there are very few opportunities to print, and even fewer that have the ability to teach. With the inclusion of our studio, we will be able to support the arts from every angle – education, production, and curation.
Can you explain what made you to start this project and what inspired you to go though with it?
I always knew I wanted to run a visual art house even when I was studying art at university in San Francisco. I always thrived being around productive artists, those who not only wanted to get better but really wanted to understand everything about the world – the really hungry, passionate people that were never satisfied. This first hit me when I visited the now defunct Safehouse Atelier, which was a gallery and studio space for realistic contemporary artists.
It was really painful for me to see so many disconnects between these worlds, between artists and gallery
I’ve also worked in most fields of art, from artist model to teacher, from studio technician to journalist, from gallery assistant to working artist. It was really painful for me to see so many disconnects between these worlds, between artists and gallery, between art and audience, and it became my mission to use my unique experience to help integrate all fields of art and make it more understandable.
This is particularly true in Oslo, where there is a lot of disconnect between the arts that leads to a lot of dissatisfied artists and alienated audiences.
How was the process of starting up? Was it difficult?
Well, it was. Especially since I had absolutely no experience whatsoever with business, and was really unfamiliar with Norway and the network here. I started Blank Space in May 2013, which was about 3 months after I moved here from San Francisco. I’ve always had this horrible trait of being super ambitious and not knowing my own limitations, but it has always worked out due to sheer stubbornness and hard work (not to mention a very supportive husband). Blank Space was no exception – taking on all the personal problems with transitioning to a new country on top of the hardships of starting a new business in an unfamiliar network was really the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
What is the determining factor behind your existence today?
I don’t think there is just one factor to why we’re still here – life doesn’t work that way. It’s a random, crazy, unpredictable string of events that you can’t really pull apart. I have an incredibly supportive family who has been my backbone when my own two legs couldn’t carry me, and knowing there was a devoted fan base who openly acknowledged how beneficial we’ve been to them has been enough to keep me fighting.
What are you most proud of?
Again, I can’t just say one thing. If I had to choose, it’d be the small resource we’ve been able to offer “alternative” artists in Oslo. They come up to us all the time and tell us how we’re their only source for education, inspiration, social interaction etc. They’ll tell us how grateful they are for what we offer, our workshops and critique sessions, and how much they enjoy having a group of people who are as passionate as they are. That will never get old, knowing you’ve helped people.
It would also be my personal evolution. I’ve really had to grow emotionally to handle a project this size practically alone, and I’m proud of who I’ve come out being in the end. I’ve always prided myself on being spontaneous and passionate and it has worked well for me so far, but those aren’t always traits that help the long term. I’ve developed a sense of intelligence, of knowing which battles to pick and when to back down to rethink things.
It has also been really cool to hang out with some artists that I was inspired by in youth. We recently hosted an exhibition with Sterling Hundley (October-November 2014) and he was an artist I really admired for years in school, both for his illustrations and concepts but also for his outlook on creativity. It was a real epiphany moment for me that I not only put this show on successfully, but that I was also kind of able to “play with the big dogs”. No one ever tells you if you are ready to do something, so I just kind of jumped in and tried my best, so it was a great feeling to see that I was capable of tackling the challenge.
Is this initiative transferable to other places?
Hrm. This is a difficult question. I hope that other people take up the “Art for All” mentality to help break down the barriers of the art world, and that others begin shedding light on alternative art as real art. But, Norway is a small country and there isn’t a lot of interest to go around for projects of a similar vein – it happens a lot with conceptual galleries, that they are ran with a small group and a tight budget, but their concept is so similar with other galleries that they end up “fighting” for people’s attention and energy and end up only getting 5-10 people for an opening, and that tends to be friends and others in the direct network. Its not the same as it was in the US where you could hope to get hundreds of people for an opening just because of sheer population difference – networks are smaller and more intimate in Norway. So as much as a lot of our concepts grow stronger with an overall acceptance and sharing of ideas, there isn’t enough room in the network for two identical organizations.
I know this sounds harsh, but I say this because we’ve recently (in the last few months) had to tackle this ourselves. I’ve always wanted to offer art studios and I was sure people would want to make work with us, but there just wasn’t enough room in the market to have us be able to offer it competitively Along with a few other reasons, we had to cancel that project and it really broke my heart. I still look forward to offering that productive environment for groups of artists, but it will have to wait until the market slows down, or better yet expands to offer room enough for everyone, or we have a really strong (or wealthy) network supporting us.
Would you recommend others to start a similar project? Why?
I push everyone to do what they want to do – if its animation, then do an animation. If its comic books, make a comic book. If its a gallery, represent art. Don’t ever wait for someone to give you permission to do what you want to do in life. A lot of people don’t get into a school and think that means they have to wait to make art and that is just ridiculous.
In terms of starting up a business in Oslo, however, I’d recommend doing some research first. Make sure what you are doing is new and fresh in some way (really, actually new and fresh – don’t get stuck in your own sense of importance), and if it isn’t 100% in a new direction try and see if it wouldn’t be better suited being implemented with another organization instead of a brand new project. Maybe a school would be interested in collaborating? Maybe a gallery would be interested in taking you on or a co-working space is in need of a new project, etc. This streamlines a lot of the work and makes it much interesting. Collaboration is good – we can’t all be lone wolves thinking we have something special to offer. I think that is happening a lot in the App world now – where you end up with 10,000 similar apps that are all just Facebook with one defining feature to separate them, where they could have just sold their idea to FB and saved a lot of effort, made money, and actually been successful.
How is a normal day for you?
We don’t have normal days!
What is your favourite event in connection with the project?
I think my favorite part is our Tuesday workshops. We have these drawing workshops every Tuesday from 18:00 – 20:00 that cost only 50kr and they are kind of the highlight of my week. It’s the only time in my job / life that I really get to feel that productive energy that got me into doing this in the first place. Its also most people’s favorite part of Blank Space, so it is always a really good time. We have every type of person come, from the person who hasn’t drawn since they were 6 years old to the working professional. The only thing we ask is that people have an interest to be there and to want to improve, and the rest is just magic. It is also the only time I really get to make art anymore, so it’s a relief for me on another level.
How does the future look? Do you exist in 10 to 20 years?
We will absolutely be here for the indefinite future. Our first two years have been a big eye opener for what we can accomplish and how many people we can help, and my intentions are to expand that to reach even more people in a variety of ways. In the next 10 years I’d love to create a concept similar to Literatur Huset except for visual art. Have the gallery, classrooms, and studio spaces for rent (both coworking spaces, private studios, desks for rent, etc), fully equipped equipment rooms for production, like silkscreen studios, 3D printers, laser cutters, oversize printers, canvas stretchers and whatever else artists would need / want for production, a lecture hall, library, art supply store, and café. We want to be an entry point for anyone interested in art, so whatever level you are comfortable you can support – maybe its just having a cup of coffee in our café, maybe its taking a weekend class, maybe teaching a weekend class, maybe its having a full exhibition at the gallery.
Is there someone you would like to thank?
I try to be thankful every day and let people know how much I appreciate them, so they know who they are.
Is there something you need to get out to the people?!
I think the biggest thing right now was just to let people know we exist. As we are a non-profit organization, our advertising budget is zero. We’ve gotten pretty far with word of mouth up until this point, but now we need to transition to the next level and that takes more outside publicity. So, thanks to KOTE for giving us this opportunity.
I’d love for anyone even mildly interested in the arts to get in touch with us, I’m confident in Blank Space’s ability to help anyone!
“Send gjerne inn forslag til oss og tips oss om lokale initiativ dere ønsker skal belyses.”