Caitlin Mavroleon you are the founder, organiser, and curator of Office Sessions, what is your background?
My background is as a creative director, curator, stylist, and artist.
Why call the exhibition ‘Office Sessions’?
Because the first Office Sessions was founded in a space in East London which was a disused office building. It had seven floors, a hundred thousand square feet of empty office space. There was an ‘office’ ritual. You were greeted with a security guard behind a desk, required to sign in at the desk and get a plastic key card in order to gain access to the exhibition. The first three exhibitions [Office Sessions] where there.
Our behaviour when we go into an office is slightly different than when we are going into a gallery, there are certain rules you have to follow. I considered giving it another name, then I thought about it over time and thought ‘well actually the name is perfect for the space’. In both buildings the ‘offices’ provided opportunities for artists to either do a solo within an office, which is their space and, quite rightly, they can call it a solo within the platform of the Session. Or they could take the bigger areas and collaborate and curate, so that’s how it [the name] came about.
When did the first Office Session take place?
In 2014, I’ve done four [Office Sessions] in a year and a half.
Forty two day installations, it’s very intense, very dynamic.
When do you have time to sleep and rest!
I don’t get much rest during installation and de-installation but collectively as a group we just push on. It is true that it is very challenging.
This exhibition is called ‘Office Sessions 4’, Iam assuming its the 4th edition within the platform?
And the previous three, were they in different spaces or in the same building?
The first three took place in Eastern India Docks, this [40 Beak street in Soho] is the second building and we have more in the pipeline.
This space specifically, how did you come across it? I still have to pinch myself that a curator and 80+ artists were allowed to take over a building in Soho, it’s insane.
I was asked to take on this site because I am a creative director and curator. When I am commissioned to put in an exhibition I feel its been ‘gifted’ to me. This building in particular was in a fantastic position in Central London with a very exciting history — it was once a police station before being turned into offices. Squatters had to be physically removed by the Police and there is some incredible news coverage of that time. When I first looked at the site I understood that the graffiti that was left could really add to the way artist would interact with the space and respond to it. Each artist was invited by me — 86 of them!- and its a huge responsibility to not only be responsible for the building during the occupation but also the artists and visitors. That said, its a huge team effort. We all roll up our sleeves and make it happen.
That’s amazing. Was it the developers approaching you then, or did it just happen?
Well I think that people who have buildings like this, they are approached by people all the time. But, funnily enough, every Office Sessions, I’ve been asked to do it, I haven’t sought out the venue, I’ve been asked. Im also the creative director of Art for Youth London and curator of the gallery Get Up, Stand Up and do private projects for families and foundations.
What are the main curatorial and organisational challenges to coordinate and organise an exhibition with 80+ artists?
Well I think this is really the secret to Office Sessions, I have no assistant I do it all myself, so it absolutely starts to be a filter with who should be on the project and who shouldn’t. If there’s somebody who can’t deal with having to wait sometimes to get a response from my emails, or who doesn’t understand the demands of my being on site and being a single mother of a seven year old, then no matter how much I love their work, it’s probably not the right place to work with me. They can work with me on a different project, but not this one.
The challenges here were huge. Every artist comes in and many of the conceptual artists have responded to the space, used found objects within the space, responded to the graffiti on the walls that was left historically from the squatters, but since we’ve had the site we have had electrical issues, so people who had projection pieces or lights in their room have to accept that nobody is more important than the whole and maybe their floor, maybe the lights at the end went out and not everybody could see their work but the visitors could still engage on the different floors of Office Sessions and still be part of it.
In terms of your question about curating it — its a bit complicated to answer. Obviously as I am looking over proposals and accepting work, issuing an invitation, and then allocating the space I could technically say I’ve curated the whole space so in that sense I am ‘the curator’ of Office Sessions. But part of what I loved about having so much space — especially at the first three Office Sessions’s was that I could challenge artists to reach for more and so there were places — sometimes whole floors — given to an artist to ‘curate’.
So the other question, and extension of your question about the challenges, I have curators in the building like Vanya Balogh, who have decided to just be an artist again, even though there’s many people in the building that he has curated for and I think that that’s the other aspect of Office Sessions, is that there is that fluidity, there is a dynamic platform where we take decisions up front about what role an artist is going to play and it’s so far been successful, but it is challenging.
This wasn’t the question I was going to ask, but I feel that people might start asking me that. The artists, how do you come across them, how do you find them, how do you start working with them?
I have a huge number of artists that I’ve worked with over the years and they in turn have artists that they introduce me to. I also keep my eye out constantly. And of course people write to me — a lot!
Visitors to exhibitions are always forthcoming with someone they want to introduce me to, too. Finding artists is not a problem, finding the ones that are right for this kind of platform takes some discernment and luck. I’ve been very lucky — always. Putting a good group together makes for a very energetic space while still feeling warm and welcoming. At every turn a visitor will run into a participating artist. The atmosphere created due to the work and the mix of artists at every stage of their career is conducive to shedding snobbishness, self importance, any sense of entitlement and enjoy being part of something bigger than just their allocated space. It is very much a functioning community by the end.
Touching on a more commercial aspect, I know there is no pressure to sell the works, but do any sell?
Yes they do. We just met the buyer this morning through an artist.
Is all work available for sale?
It’s not a requirement that work has to be sellable to be in the space. As you can see a lot of the work around you cannot be titled ‘commercial’. But when suggest that the artist that has work for sale shouldn’t be making a sale, I just think they’re stupid. There were many things in this exhibition in particular that I wish I could have bought. Its a great place to buy art directly from artists.
I collect art, so I agree. Everything should be available. Do you collect art yourself? Or do you collect anything?
Yes, I did before I became a single mother. Ha!
What is your favourite book that you would recommend every curator or artist to read?
Gosh, it wouldn’t be an art book.
My favourite one, I think, off the top of my head, Willa Cather — My Antonia — is an American author and as a child I was given this book. As a teenager I used to skip these long descriptives of her looking out the window on a journey because I wanted to get to the good stuff and I think that’s the whole point now of being in the position that I’m in, that actually those long beautiful descriptions now mean so much to me and you can go back and revisit things.
I think you’ve created something amazing here.
Thank you! It’s been an honour to host the artists and wonderful to have so much positive feedback.