Alternative Spaces in London: A review on The Showroom

The Showroom’s name makes one think of a space of repetition and performance. At least for me, my mind wanders to Judith Butler’s writings. However, repetition and performativity are not compatible with the art space’s principles, which have always been to question social, cultural, and institutional norms, not to maintain them. Furthermore, they celebrate emerging forms of creativity and facilitate the production of unconventional art and discourse, being an enabler of social justice. The Showroom’s mission is that of community, confrontation, co-creation, and learning, and has established itself as a key cultural agent for change over the span of 37 years.    

Courtesy of The Showroom

In the first days of autumn, I went to the Church Street area, known for its culturally rich and diverse communities. When I reached The Showroom, I was pleasantly welcomed, before entering the exhibition space, with a unique mural commission by Simnikiwe BuhlunguNotes to Self. The mural is only the tip of the iceberg as this artistic intervention invites pedestrians themselves to record their notes and share them with the Showroom; from there the notes are stored in the project‘s archive, giving participants the potential opportunity of having their intimate local response being added to the facade of the building. A beautiful thought, it serves as a magnifier of the social interrelations between individuals that share a space, geography, or a community. A needed exercise in times of polarising social media echo chambers that numb the sense of social harmony IRL.  

Inside, Affection as Subversive Architecture – Unauthorised Entry Permitted was to be found. To me, it felt like a retrospective exhibition, but in the format of an engaging archive of ‘urban recipes’ produced by the Spanish architecture studio Recetas Urbanas in collaboration with architect Blanca Pujals. Their work is acutely socially motivated and environmentally engaged. The group shares the Showroom‘s main objective of working and co-creating with local communities. The archive presents itself as an honest and transparent recount of their aims, reimaginings of urban reality, and former projects, that span more than 20 years of practice. Interestingly, this mixed media archive of audio, video, text, and images casts a critical light on the variously well-natured mechanisms of the international art worlds.   

In my experience, the Showroom presents itself as a much-needed common ground for various art audiences, whether they be “veterans,” newcomers, or just happen to pass-by and drop-in without any special interest in the arts. The Showroom reflects upon the reality of everyday life through its engagement with the local community but does so whilst still maintaining a critical awareness of the traditions and histories that have been established around arts and culture, in the broader context.   

At the time of writing, the 2nd national lockdown in Britain is in full-force due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. Now more than ever, non-profit and charity spaces of this kind need our support and solidarity. Reversibly, some would argue that we as individuals need art and culture more than ever to feel connected in times of uncertainty and social distancing. To regain our sense of community over this feeling of solitary that so many of us are undeniably experiencing. I encourage all readers to go check out their website and social media platforms to meet both important needs. In doing so, you will encounter the Showroom’s hard work in developing a meaningful digital programme and reinventing themselves without losing their characteristic spirit of conviviality and common growth. Check out the links below to start your journey with them. These are the Showroom’s most recent digital efforts:  

  • Cauleen Smith’s CIRCA MANIFESTO.    
  • The IN·FLO·RES·CENCE digital platform, instagram and vimeo.    
  • Recetas Urbanas‘ project collaborator Blanca Pujal’s article ‘Bodily Cartographies: Pathologizing the Body and the City’.    
  • The Showroom’s Fortnightly Highlights online programming. An initiative that started in the 1st lockdown and enabled an innovative bridging between Showroom’s diverse and multidisciplinary past, present and future collaborators.  

Þórhildur Tinna Sigurðardóttir

Tinna (b. 1995) is a freelance cultural practitioner and writer from Iceland. She has an Honours bachelor’s degree in art theory and history and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Arts and Cultural Management at King’s College, London where she resides and works.