The Koppel Project

By: Naomi Ellis | Date 15.12.2016
From Mexico to London and in between… We take a look at the expanded gallery The Koppel Project and their current show ‘Fish Out of Water’ by Mexican artist José Nava.
The Hive Studio
The Koppel Project was opened earlier this year by artist, writer and curator Gabriella Sonabend and backer Gabriel Gherscovic. The space is currently located in a dis-used bank vault on Baker Street, perhaps not the run of the mill choice for an art gallery! The Koppel Project takes on the form of an expanded art space. On the ground floor, visitors can enjoy the relaxed environment of the coffee shop and Phaidon Book store. And, if it takes their fancy, they are invited to journey down to the art gallery in the undercrofts below.

Opening the doors of a bank vault, The Koppel Project intends to break away from the often elitist and exclusive atmosphere associated with some of London’s contemporary art galleries. Co-Director Gabriella Sonabend feels strongly that an art space should be accessible and inclusive, reflecting the needs of the local and international community. She stresses that everyone is welcome and encourages visitors to engage with the artworks at their own pace. Wishing to further provide a diverse and cohesive environment, the space also houses a number of creative workspaces and a program dedicated to getting people back into work. The Koppel Project has hosted a variety of exhibitions in its first year including paintings, large-scale sculptures, video works, performances and socially engaged projects.

With a space that can visually relate to the structure of a story, much of the gallery space is framed around narrative. Viewers are invited on a journey through the various rooms and passageways. The Koppel Project borrows elements of theatre, enabling each visitor to leave the outside world behind upon entering in. Taking inspiration from the experience of walking through the doors of the theatre, the space aims to recreate some of these transition points within the art space. The first point of entry into the gallery is ‘The Decompression Room’ which provides a moment of preparation for viewers before entering the world of the artists. The bank vault itself has the possibility to transform from a womb to prison cell, where as the larger space acts as a central auditorium. Additionally, for every exhibition there has been a writer in residence commissioned to make a publication responding to the current show.

Sonabend is keen for the space to remain completely flexible stressing the importance of seizing the moment and of taking risks as both a Gallerist and an Artist. The ever-evolving nature of The Koppel Project reflects the fluidity of the rapidly changing economic and social conditions of London. Artists and Galleries are often faced with problems of pricing themselves out of an area through gentrification. To help combat some of these challenges, they recently opened a new space in Holborn called ‘The Hive’, hosting 40 subsidized artist studios, along with residencies and an events program. The Hive seeks to infiltrate creativity into the otherwise corporate environment of Holborn through fostering a culture of artistic activity. There is a sense that The Koppel Project is striving to create real social change alongside its focus on entrepreneurial and collaborative projects. As an artist herself Sonabend tells us how “everything becomes a material” when it comes to running the space.

Currently on exhibition in The Koppel Project, Baker Street is 79 year old self-taught artist José Nava’s very first exhibition. His work exemplifies all the enchanting elements of story telling that the Koppel Project embodies so well. The walls are covered in his brightly coloured paintings some torn from his many sketchbooks. Curious artefacts, including a large stuffed fish, along with other sculptural objects also fill the space. The show takes you on a trip through the artist’s vibrant life growing up in in the barrios of Acapulco on the pacific coast of Mexico. His mother worked in a morgue and his father was a cobbler, who was murdered when José was a young man. José went on to become a fisherman and later moved to London with his English wife. In the bank vault is projected a film made by his son, chronicling the extraordinary and sometimes surreal occurrences of his life both in Mexico and ‘this cold land.’ The exhibition title ‘ Fish Out of Water’ feels particularly poignant in light of the mass feelings of displacement present globally within the current social and political climate. However, the show is somehow uplifting in it’s tone and provides a celebration of the perseverance of a creative spirit when confronted with adversities.

Currently on at ‘The Koppel Project Hive’ is ‘16 Artists 16 Days’ curated by Alice Bonnot. For this first edition, 16 of the studio artists will be exhibiting works displaying a diverse range of media. Each artist will have one day in which they will occupy the entire gallery space as a way to introduce their practice to the public. Expect a wide range of workshops, talks, performances and other artistic experimentation presented from this international and multidisciplinary group of studio residents. Check out The Koppel Project website for the full calendar of events.


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