Emalin: Emalin is turning three years old in September, and Angelina and I have the tenth anniversary of our friendship also coming up. Emalin started off as a nomadic series of exhibitions. Straight after getting our undergraduate degrees in Scotland (in 2013) we moved to London and decided that the best and fastest way to immerse ourselves in this new reality would be to organize ambitious projects together with artists we care about. These projects took us from an abandoned early nineteenth-century school house in Switzerland and an office complex in Milan, to the beach of Bahia and a baroque church in Naples—to name just a few of the places that have hosted our ventures.
Two years, nine exhibitions and one master’s degree in art history later, we realized that the next logical step in the equation would be to open a permanent space. Despite being enthusiastic about our traveling exhibitions, the artists, friends and collectors we were working with sort of expected us to settle down, take a stance, and develop our activity into a gallery program.
Having a permanent space obviously came with new challenges, but also allowed us to engage a wider audience and work with a set of physical limitations that we are still trying to challenge every time we organize an exhibition.
How did everything start for you? We see your location in Milan is a train arch unit. That’s funny because pretty much anyone in London who wanted to start a project space at some point will have looked at renting one of those—there are so many empty ones here, and I immediately associate them with the London scene. Why did you choose Milan?
Fanta: Thank you for sharing your history, Leopold and Angelina, we actually have many things in common. The three of us met in 2013 in Milan, while we were all working at the gallery Zero… We became really good friends and even when we ended up working in different places we stayed in close contact. In 2015 we opened Fanta Spazio together, which for three years run as a non-profit space. Back then we all held different positions at other galleries in Milan, but we felt the need to experiment and collaborate with a generation of artists that we admired and that was closer to our own. In our three years as a project space, we organized nine exhibitions, most of them solo shows of Italian artists we had a long-term dialogue with. After three years the landscape in Milan had changed a lot—several project spaces had opened—and especially because of these ongoing dialogues with the artists, we felt the need for a change and a long-term commitment. And so in the summer of 2018 we closed our activity as a non-profit space and in October 2018 Fanta-MLN opened as a gallery, with the aim of engaging more consistently in the artistic discourse we had already started, and opening it up to new dialogues. We decided to stay in Milan, since it is the city we chose from the beginning and we feel part of a community here. At the same time, as we mentioned, in the past few years the artistic scene has developed a lot in the city and we want to keep contributing to it, in part by introducing Milan to certain artistic positions from abroad that we strongly believe in.
Unlike you, we had a permanent space from the beginning, a former warehouse under the railway, where we have been since we opened in 2015. As you say, the space looks quite similar to those of some galleries in London, but for Milan it is a quite unusual location, which has ended up shaping our program and our identity quite a lot. When we found it we immediately fell in love with the possibilities it could give us. Being so different from a white cube, it has always been quite exciting for both us and the artists to engage with the challenges that a space like this could offer. We’ve always kept it quite rough but over the years the space has changed quite a lot, and we’ve always tried to keep the traces of these changes whenever possible. The most ambitious project in this sense was Margherita Raso’s first solo exhibition in 2017, for which she asked us to completely remove the wooden mezzanine that we had for the first two years.
After one year as a gallery we are now working on the program for next year, and will start participating in some art fairs and projects in collaboration with other galleries, both in Italy and internationally. After Art-O-Rama in Marseille, we did Condo in Athens in September, and in November we will do Artissima. Although we want to keep the focus on the exhibitions we organize, which are often the result of several months of dialogue with the artists, we think it is important to start doing projects outside of our space, as a way to engage with different contexts, reach a broader public and, most importantly, build relationships with peer galleries, creating a community that goes beyond our local scene. It seems you have been taking part in fairs since the very beginning; how has your experience been so far? How do you balance the program at the gallery with your participation in these international events?
Emalin: Indeed, how did Marseille and Athens go? Hot Wheels Projects, where you are being hosted, holds a special significance for us: the person who started it with Hugo Wheeler is Julia Gardener, our very first assistant when we opened the gallery, who was crucial to get Emalin going. She then left for Athens and started something by herself. Its nice to see how new things are born in different contexts but with similar philosophies.
It is indeed a bit of an unusual development that we participated in our first fair before we even started the gallery as a permanent space. It came out of an invitation of a dear friend who was curating the emergent section, and as Angelina and I had limited experience in the gallery world it was a nice way to be thrown into the deep end and get to know peers and collectors much faster. Our goal was and is to create interesting projects and exhibitions, which by all means can also be realized in an art fair context.
This year at Artissima we are even participating with two booths: one in the Present Future section with a large scale installation by Augustas Serapinas, and one in the Emergent section with Athena Papadopoulos’s latest works. In both cases the works have been shown in the UK before, but either only for a short period of time (Augustas’s installation Blue Bread was shown during Glasgow International) or in a regional context (Athena’s sculptures were exhibited this summer at the Humber Street Gallery in Hull). This way the fair becomes a vehicle to bring the work back into circulation, reimagine it in a different geographical context, and in both cases bring it to an audience that most likely won’t have seen it when first exhibited. Both booths require a large logistical effort, which we are happy to undertake, as in both cases they represent seminal works in the artist’s career so far. We also believe that Italian collectors are more willing to take risks, and appreciate and understand works that at first glance might not be the easiest to collect. What is your experience with Turin and with Italian collectors at large? How far in advance did you choose the artist you are showing and why did you think that Artissima was the right context for the project you’ll show in November?
Fanta: Both Athens and Marseille have been good experiences! We had the chance to meet some very interesting people, and to spend some time with peer galleries we respect a lot. It is so great to hear you know Hugo and Julia! With the group show opening next week they will also transition from being a project space into a gallery. What you are saying about your experience with art fairs, especially the fact that they can be seen as a context in which to develop interesting projects, makes complete sense. In particular, for us having such an architecturally specific space means that sometimes the artists we work with think of projects that they would like to present in a more “neutral” space. This was the case for example with the new body of works by Alessandro Agudio that we showed in Marseille, for which the context of the fair was much closer to the “domestic” environment they reflect on and want to be in dialogue with.
For Artissima we will present a dialogue between Noah Barker and Lorenza Longhi. As soon as we decided to participate in the fair, we thought this would be the perfect situation in which to present their works together, including some that already exist and some that will be shown for the first time. Specifically, having closed a solo show by Noah Barker in the summer in which the main “performance” was the process of translating and republishing Manfredo Tafuri’s text “Lavoro intellettuale e sviluppo capitalistico,” we thought that Artissima would be the perfect context—both spatially and temporally— to show its final outcome. Lorenza Longhi will present a work that was shown earlier this year in a group show at Museum im Bellpark in Kriens, and a new piece that is part of the body of work she is producing for her exhibition at the gallery.
We are very excited to participate in our first fair in Italy, and we think it will be an important step for us. Unlike you, we have all worked in galleries before and are therefore quite familiar with the Italian public, but being in the fair alongside all the other exhibitors will be our first “official” opportunity to present ourselves as a gallery to many of them. Turin has a long and exciting history, thanks in part to the efforts of the local scene and its institutions, and Artissima is an appointment that most Italian collectors wouldn’t miss for the world. We are very much looking forward to being part of this context!