The Dirt I’m Made Of: Two Interviews about OUTPUT Gallery

Recently, Scott Charlesworth exhibited his first solo show The Dirt I’m Made Of at OUTPUT Gallery, featuring sombre photographs of abandoned buildings and passing-places, quietly capturing the industrialism and loneliness of the North. Charlesworth plays with light, transforming these empty spaces into moments of consideration and optimism.

It was somehow fitting that his first solo show took place at OUTPUT, a space working exclusively with creatives from, or based in Merseyside. Since its launch in 2018, Gallery Manager Gabrielle de la Puente has facilitated numerous exhibitions and events, supporting the mobility, development and visibility of artists in the area. 

In these two interviews, Callan Waldron-Hall speaks with Charlesworth on the importance of having a space like OUTPUT made available to him; and with de la Puente on her hopes for the gallery, how she maintains transparency, and the implications of collaboration.

Interview 1, with Scott Charlesworth

Callan Waldron-Hall [CWH]: Firstly, congratulations on your solo show, The Dirt I’m Made Of. What led to your exhibition at OUTPUT?

[Scott Charlesworth] Thank you very much! I was originally contacted by Thomas Dukes, Curator at Open Eye Gallery, who I knew from when I used to volunteer there. He’d previously seen my work (produced as part of a group exhibition, Our North) and thought it would be great to create a show centred around the sense of place found in my work. The passion and positivity that Thomas displayed right from the get-go was something that spurred me on. He explained OUTPUT’s goal to champion local artists, and I couldn’t have asked for two greater art organisations to work alongside.

[CWH] What does it mean to you that you had your first solo show at OUTPUT, a Merseyside venue?

[SC] It was a surreal experience for me. When I received the initial phone call from Thomas, I was taken aback. During my A Levels, Liverpool was my primary source of inspiration because of its close proximity and abundance of free exhibitions. It was always the bright lights I’d see on the horizon, a place full of promise, and somewhere I could aspire to make my mark upon. Liverpool is where it all started for me, so to be able to return for my first solo show is quite fitting. Considering the Northern consciousness that is intertwined within my work, I wouldn’t have wanted any other city to house my debut outing.

[CWH] Do you think it’s important that spaces like OUTPUT champion local creatives? What do you think makes these spaces so valuable to local communities?

[SC] I think what OUTPUT offers to local communities is an invaluable experience to those who, like myself, would have struggled to find such opportunities elsewhere.

It’s rare to find an organisation that holds its local artistic community right at the centre of its operations. Knowing that you have places such as OUTPUT fighting your corner, with only the truest motives at heart, creates a healthy cycle of local artists looking to repay their community, and vice versa.

Interview 2, with Gabrielle de la Puente

[CWH] In your article ‘How I got a gallery’ (published on The White Pube), you detail the years and months leading to the formation of OUTPUT. As both critic and Gallery Manager, how important is transparency for you? 

[Gabrielle de la Puenta] Transparency matters to me on so many levels. Now that I have not one but two jobs, I really want to make it clear how I even function, because working across the two is so weird and stressful. ‘How To’ guides on The White Pube are a quick fix for me in when it comes to championing transparency, for example the piece you mentioned and also ‘How To Get An Exhibition’. I also did a session where I invited everyone into OUTPUT to look at the Arts Council England funding applications that made the gallery’s programme possible. Similarly, The White Pube’s accounts are listed on our website, so if you ever wonder how much money we got for a talk or any other job, you can have a nose. 

At the end of the day, if anything is produced with public funding, the public have a right to know the  breakdown. But I’m worried people aren’t transparent because they don’t want to let the riffraff in (read: anyone that’s not a middle class cis white man), but I’m the riffraff, so I’ll try to keep talking. The best education I’ve had, more useful than a Fine Art degree, has been the generosity of others. It’s been people’s transparency.

[CWH] Do you think it’s important to host shows as collaborations with other local galleries, and how does this impact Merseyside’s contemporary art scene?

[GDLP] For OUTPUT, it’s been a matter of life or death. That sounds dramatic, but when I was first putting together the funding application (a Project Grant from Arts Council England), I had to deal with the big problem of match funding. Say you ask ACE for £10,000, you need to find 10% of that from another source. 

Liverpool is blessed and cursed with big institutions, so I decided to go to them for my 10%. Some places turned me down at first because they weren’t getting anything out of the deal, so I had to figure out how to make this collaboration thing work. Bluecoat contributed £250 to OUTPUT’s budget and in return we hosted an exhibition by their Volunteers; Liverpool Irish Festival contributed £300 so we were able to do an open call together for an artist to exhibit as part of LIF in 2018 – and ended up with a great film by Sorcha Boyle. In the 2019 programme, we’ve had similar deals with Liverpool Arab Arts Festival and MAKE.

It’s been great doing these pair-ups, but moving forward I want to be careful with this way of working. I have this database of artists whose work I want to share with the world, and I want to foreground solo exhibitions with them rather than having to put careers on hold because, financially, I need to collaborate with other organisations just to get the funding application through in the first place. I still want to do crossover shows but they can’t dominate the programme – and maybe more importantly, they can’t make up for what the organisations aren’t already doing for local artists. I don’t want OUTPUT to be a tick box exercise for these National Portfolio Organisations; I need the work to be genuine.

[CWH] Final question: what is the one thing about OUTPUT that you’re adamant never to change?

[GDLP] I would say “working with local artists” but that’s so obvious. What I really love about the way OUTPUT is set up, is the fact we have a small vintage shop at the front of the space. Total Recall Vintage are here and they’re the ones that open the space every day – they’re in OUTPUT even more than I am. I think it’s done wonders to reduce the pressure of any threshold psychology – that, and having the Kazimier Garden next door. If OUTPUT ever has to move to a new location, I would make sure there was something similar going on, as it’s so nice to see people come into the shop and then end up an incidental gallery visitor because they see the edge of an exhibition and wonder what’s on.

At every exhibition opening we have people coming to the show, grabbing a drink next door, bringing it back through the space and then buying a dress. People stay all night and they seem so comfortable, as opposed to the atmosphere of ‘proper’ white cube galleries and drinking cheap white wine off a foldaway table. I think Total Recall and the Garden being at our shoulders really adds to the OUTPUT philosophy of a down-to-earth exhibition space, and I love that.

OUTPUT Gallery is based at 32 Seel Street, Liverpool, L1 4BE and open 11am-6pm daily during exhibitions. This piece of writing is kindly supported by Arts Council England

Callan Waldron-Hall is a Liverpool-based writer and editor.

Published 27.10.2019 by Sinead Nunes in Interviews

1,374 words