In Conversation with Deen Atger

Deen Atger is a curator and creative project manager at Ugly Duck, who provided us with a space for the 'Guts Gallery Opening Exhibition'. We caught up with Deen and discussed issues such as reclaiming and reusing empty and underused space in the UK's current political climate, the importance of having a physical space in our digital era and their personal collaborations with artists and activists.

You have years of experience in the art world working on a variety of different projects, what from your own creative background has influenced your practice at Ugly Duck?

I’ve studied Cultural Mediation in Paris, which is a mix between history & sociology of art and cultural management. The course mainly focused on the impact that art can have in society and what creation means of given time. We also learned how to build bridges between the artistic content and the audience. How to develop tools to make a show more engaging and accessible and how to deliver a message to different types of public. This made me want to focus on how to bring art outside of its classic context of white wall museums.

Rent Prices in London are constantly on the rise, making it harder for independent artists to exhibit. In our digital age, why is it so important for emerging artists to display their work?

There is a clear gap in between when an artist comes out of University and before they potentially access the institution or gallery system. From an environment where they are very nurtured by their University, they are suddenly without opportunity or space to continue their practice. There is even less opportunity for independent or self-taught artists and curators to display their work and therefore make their voices heard. The biggest online gallery is now Instagram, and it’s great that everyone gets to have their page and online display. However having a space to meet an audience, exchange with other artists and potentially with professional remains essential.

Ugly Duck uses empty spaces and gives them a purpose, which benefits both the artists involved and the local community. Why is it so important to utilize these empty spaces whilst most traditional art spaces are overpriced and oversubscribed?

There are more than 20,000 vacant spaces in London. It’s indecent when you think of the housing crisis that the UK is facing. Reclaiming and repurposing empty and underused space allows Ugly Duck to take risks in the choice of art forms, artists and events we put on. We have less economic pressure, and we want to use the spaces that we have while we have them. We don’t have the time to play hard to get, and that creates a much more direct and active relationships with new artists and curators.

Following on from this, how do you think the lack of space in London is affecting the art world, especially emerging artists who are struggling for exposure?

I think it makes the art world very uniform with mainly the same voices being heard. Those voices were the ones from privileges western straight-cis people. There is clearly a two gear economy with selling artists via galleries and fairs and another one where most artists work in bars and cafes being extremely precarious and most of the time obliged to stop their career.

What has been your favourite project to work on with Ugly Duck?

This is a really hard question! I will have to answer with several. Through Ugly Duck I have met so many amazing artists and activists. I felt that I could use my place and my work to give them opportunity and visibility. Working with the Museum of Drug Policy and Release (a charity expertise on drugs and drugs law) has been very powerful. They organized a great event with an exhibition and talks. It was really one of the most successful blends of art and activism. Every year I also have the chance to curate a show entirely, which is one of my favourite experiences. Working with Guts Gallery has also been something I’m really proud of but surely that’s going to sound biased.

The support you provide young artists is invaluable, do you wish there had been more like-minded companies earlier in your creative career?

I am still early in my creative career but I do wish there were more yes of course and I wish even more that those companies had better support to be able to grow, employ more people and help many more artists!

News - The next new media and contemporary art show Deen is curating is EXIT, which will be themed around movement, transition & fluidity.

Edited by Isobel Gorman-Buckley

7th March 2019

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