captcha – New Artist Run Space Interview

We are always interested to hear about new artist run spaces so we sent Jerome Ngan-Kee from the new space captcha a series of questions.  captcha has recently opened with their first show Starfish by Brittany French which runs until June 17th, located at 112 Newton Road, Auckland. Here is Jerome’s response.

Artists Alliance: Why the name ‘captcha’?

Jerome Ngan-Kee: A CAPTCHA is a device that adds an assurance to websites, specifically ones that demand user-accuracies, wherein those engaging with the content are in fact ‘real people’ e.g. purchases, logins or surveys. The most primitive CAPTCHAs are those familiar instances that require a typing of two words from image references (‘Artists’-‘Alliance’). And what is interesting about these little devices is that they are not simply gates to by-pass: interwoven within their existence is a recursive (and perverse) machine-learning (see Wiki).

What one is actually looking at are two random words from two random books that have been scanned, placed within the internet and seen. The user’s input is to assist in manually troubleshooting words (images) that cause fallibility in the pre-existing computer-text recognition. So a CAPTCHA is a simplistic algorithm that requires human input to be reworked towards a universal standard for digital recognition (e.g. ‘word searches’ upon books that predate computerised inscription). This inevitably has produced questions surrounding the ‘free micro-labour’ that is unknowingly done by users;  such ‘labours’ that in turn benefit the utility and therefore monopoly of a given search engine (unsurprisingly Google).

The draw of the word ‘captcha’ in not really centred upon those latter, exploitative, associations or what have you (that of course have parallels in art). It is rather upon the logistics of operation: having two things severed from their origins placed next to each other in anachronistic relations, from information to data to a complex system. And in choosing a word to function as a name vis-a-vis an ‘artist-run space’ (or more broadly anything) it is with hope that it can act as a condensed point in which manifesting, facilitating and infiltrating movements are hinged (see below). An example of this hinging, implicit in our understanding of CAPTCHA, is our interests in publications or other ‘extracurricular show sustenance’. As a final note, it would be an oversight to underplay the attraction of the word ‘captcha’ to its close phonetic semblance with ‘capture’, both in the sense of an image and a prey.

AA: Who are the people behind it and how did you come to collaborate?

J N-K:
Jerome Ngan-Kee, Loulou Callister-Baker, Maxi Quy and Grant Priest. Very briefly, we all have various ‘creative practices’ that hold different properties of thinking around presentation (art, writing, illustration and design).

It would be a little bit odd to frame what our relationships are, or how they came to fruition, as ‘collaboration’, since most of us met within our flat. It’s more of a happy coincidence that we all have shared (overarching) interests and are housed within a space that has the capacities it does. The gallery however did come into existence via the encouragement of myself (Jerome) and my relations to display being centred emphatically upon exhibitions. A good property of exhibitions is their enablement for those often abstract interests or desires to be able to gravitate around a very material and agential presence. And the hope is that the site can act as a stable infrastructure from which we can all find intrigue.


AA: Describe the space and why you chose it?

J N-K: There is an interesting history behind the building, some of which probably contributes to it’s extremely odd architectural features. At the turn of the 19th century it was used as a Pigeon Post Office between the mainland and Great Barrier (the first in New Zealand; see Wiki: ‘Pigeon Post Office’). None of us are really sure how much of the building’s architecture is from this period, but there is clear evidence (with the floorboards, for example) of antiquated use and hodgepodge repairs. We also have a plaque on the road side that states it was where the ‘New Zealand Draughtsmen’ association was formed 51 years ago (hmm). AND there are also fantastic rumours of it once being a button shop! The downstairs (where we ‘live’) is much out of sync with the quaint ‘gallery’ space, as it was converted to offices prior it becoming a domestic site. And as with any flat, as is hopefully clear, we didn’t really ‘chose it’, but rather found ourselves within it, and within its budding potential for continued lineages of polyvalence!

AA: Jerome, you were doing your summer research scholarship project at Elam, UoA around artists run spaces, how did this inform the way you wanted to run captcha? Did you take inspiration from any local or other artist run spaces?

J N-K: I guess what can be said about the scholarship is there was a nominal correlation (of project) with inadvertent causation (forming of the space), as many plans for the space were anterior to this period. I don’t want to sound overly flippant or anything, but it was the few expectations placed upon me with the ease of not ‘having’ to make art, work for money or work for work, that were the most useful thing I could have been afforded by the scholarship opportunity. I did not want to take this privilege lightly, as a time to ‘to work on myself’ alone, but the game plan remained to use this money (5,500NZD) for productive and broader ends (captcha). Such freedoms (that which one rarely has) of space and time gave me a sense of clarity and the ability to figure fairly boring logistical things out: organising a house (material tidying), talking about potential shows, stress, writing, coming up with a name, making a sign, making furniture, waiting, empathy, eating well, futurity etc. etc.

This good fortune assisted in catalysing our ambitions and possibly even in making their idealisms (of starting a space) less so. A little ‘creative-bureaucracy’, a bit of ‘productive-indolence’, and a few dollars left over for gallery beer. And despite that all this could retroactively claimed as institutional research (in the name of art), I think that would be beside the point.

Inspiration as always from: Cuckoo, Hapori, Terror Internationale, Canapé Canopy, Artspace and St Paul’s Street. And wider afield: Badlands Unlimited, The Showroom, Glass Bead and the New Centre.

AA: An artist run space can be difficult to run with financial, time and other limitations- how are you making captcha happen? And do you pay your artists?

J N-K: A flat in certain regards has helped to circumvent surplus expenditure, as, well, we are paying the rent regardless! This has of course had impingements upon the qualities of living but I think due to our luck with such a large (and beautiful) communal space this sacrifice isn’t at all unjustifiable. There are also benefits here around not having pressures to have a tight and consistent exhibition calendar – that is, we can easily take breaks when needed. We have also selected to have few opening times (Friday and Saturday 12-6 + appointments), in order to give a majority of the week for ad hoc lounge set-ups. The shows will run for a duration of 5-weeks, this generally being quite long, but it’ll provide us time to properly adapt; such adaptation can hopefully provide productive relationships to the shows that are on.

In regards to paying our artists, and somewhat in relation to the above questions, I think this is a little out of our current pragmatic reach. We will hopefully be able to circumvent such difficulties by finding forms of ‘captcha-specific’ income (e.g. CNZ or gofundme). We are also comfortable (close-to advocates) with the idea of selling work, which could relate to the the prior two points.

AA: What are your future plans or goals for the space?

J N-K: I guess most straightforwardly: we would like to keep having shows on a fairly regular basis; curatorial roles (or curators themselves) are also something we would like to be involved with; as well as seeing what other possibilities can be housed within the space vis. differing relations to creative presentation.

But any insight forwards also has to be concerned with longevity, you know, I don’t think we want to tire ourselves out too quickly (physically, conceptually or emotionally) so taking things piece by piece, month by month, and just seeing what drivers are actually healthy commitments, for us, the artists and the space.

And maybe a more general outlook is figuring out methods that can add a bit of sustenance to shows, to figure out ways in which to keep them alive or to utilize the fact that there is this art, there is this show, and it is on for a fairly long time. The most simple methods for this is via things like screenings, readings, talks, discussions. Another route is figuring out how to extend the shows beyond their intramural life. A nice synthesis here is in methods of artists books, which could almost become a constraint – say ‘after an artists has a show there will be a book that comes out within 2 months of the exhibition’. And the great things about artist books is that they need not simply function as a site for theoretical insight, but can be much stranger, and difficult to deal with (see ‘onestar press’).

AA: How are you promoting or supporting diversity within the space?

J N-K: I think ‘diversity’ is an essential question for any artist working today. I am also cautious of its vagaries. As far as I see it, there are 3 different senses in which diversity as a word can be used. Though not totally unconnected, they all have (to my mind) found insubstantial application within much contemporary art.

The first centers around issues of parity: that, within the already refined realm of art – and for us, this is a specific graduate community – there need not be further exacerbation of the intrinsic differences via the oppressive tendencies and biases. I believe to diversify here is not simply to seek numerical equilibrium (‘fair representation’), but something much more demanding that requires a broadminded empathy, the fruit of which is equity.

The second stipulation of ‘diversity’ is around the conglomerate of whom is shown: be it ‘friends showing friends work’, or a more open scheme. The challenge of such expectations, between nepotism and open-arms, and in spite of their benefits when apt, is that they can quickly run into conceptual and economic problems. Often is the case of over-extending capacities: either internally (singular visions come dealer-gallery) or externally (functioning as a pseudo community oriented space). captcha posits that a more focused and multi-modal programme may be a good balance between a point and a hub.

Finally, the third association of ‘diversity’ is neither strictly moralistic nor procedural, but rather how ‘artist-run spaces’ can in fact strive to diversity the field of art itself. I think this comes part-in-parcel with not putting your foot in someone else’s shoe, nor being substantially tailored for (professionalised). Short-fallings may be evidenced where a space acts as a hyperbolic instance of pre-existing and stable institutions (above), which in turn, more than anything else,  reinforce those umbrella logistics (often acting as quickly exhausted fillers to gaps in the market or senses of community). And despite all this, for us it is still a necessity to ensure a conscious engagement towards one’s embeddedness within the domain of art and its associated discourses. That such small and precarious spaces (meaning for us ‘self-sustained’) have unique abilities to parse and create certain motives that are untenable, unseeable and undesirable by larger scale’s entrenched visions for art.

And to come back to us at captcha, working with this ground is both the task and challenge, and as the joke goes: there is nothing pragmatic about praxis.

Sign.jpgAA: How have you been putting together the programme? Will there be a call for proposals in the near future?

J N-K: Both parts of this question are a little difficult to respond to ATM due to us being at such underdeveloped and working on-our-feet stages. The current show-line up has found itself purely through my (Jerome’s) friendship reach. This has made the whole process a lot less daunting and a lot more fun – in saying this I cannot really imagine how else first shows would occur. But beyond mere ease, it is also a very refined nepotism, that I have knowledge of (compassion/passion for) my friends work and where their heads are at in terms of wanting to exhibit. And the benefits of such close relations are of course that we share close theoretical interests (or at least intrigues) that can hopefully allow for constructive dialogues.

We have put consideration into the idea of ‘proposals’ (the ‘diversity’ question can probably shine some light here), and despite it seeming to be the expected etiquette we are most-likely shying away from instituting a process for eliciting these. The rationales behind this decision are: 1. that it seems disingenuous to call for proposals when they may very well accede our abilities to cater for them e.g. in the amount of work that is put into from both artists and those reviewing them seems unnecessary; 2. it is probably more stimulating, interesting and demanding if relationships can develop before any teleological images are within sight (this may mean projects find themselves expressed in manners other than ‘exhibition’).

All this said we are not wanting to close our doors to anyone but rather set up alternatives (reformat) that may be more generative and less laborious (for all involved). Less ‘yes’ or ‘no’ systems for engaging with artists and their work. To be a more illustrative, the conceptual move that seems to be working in our heads runs more along the lines of artists sending us brief summations of their interests, outputs and methodologies, and when suited we can enter into dialogues. And the emphasis being that these texts need not be catered for ‘captcha’ per se, nor even a ‘show’, but can be regurgitated from the recesses of their (every artist’s) computer (be they accepted applications, old proposals, unpublished texts, pictures, bibliographics, illustrations).

AA: How can we keep up with the gallery’s programme or future call for application?

J N-K: Come see the fantastic show Starfish! Last chance Friday June 16th and Saturday 17th, 2017 at 12-6pm

Website in the works, for now:


Images courtesy of captcha