25 WATT? Celebrating a quarter-century birthday

Kim Saberton celebrates Watt Space’s 25th birthday with a look back at the history of the student art gallery.

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PHOTO: Spectators enjoy the 25 Watt exhibition opening.

In 2014 Watt Space gallery celebrates its 25th birthday with the retrospective exhibition 25 Watt – a survey of past students who have since moved into professional arts careers.

A lot of students today may not really get why this is such a big deal, but it represents a momentous occasion for celebrating all things past, present and future when it comes to the arties and creatives of UoN. Here’s a little history to break down the real importance of Watt Space existing for students.

It was in the spirit of three rebellious students known as the “Arts Mafia” that Watt Space was born. George Drewery, Jacqui Henderson and Bryan Bulley decided they had had enough when they began to lobby for the transparency of the Student Representative Council’s sports focused funding and demanded a “bite of the cherry” for the neglected arts student. After some on campus political struggle, their demands were eventually met. Watt Space was born as a $100 per week, single-room shop front in Watt Street, opening its first exhibition “Watt’s Happening” in 1989.The organisational structure of Watt Space that soon blossomed created a unique balancing act of commercial gallery and artist-run space. Through creating a committee comprising of members of the student body, the University Union and the School of Fine Art beneath a full-time gallery Director – Pippa Robinson being the first to take the position in 1990 – Watt Space was able to mimic a semi-commercial gallery environment. This blend of stakeholders has provided both a highly professional and polished gallery as well as a real-world learning environment for students to engage with exhibition protocols and the realities involved with building an arts based career.

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PHOTO: Students perform at the 25 Watt exhibition opening.

Often a students first experience of participating in an exhibition is with Watt Space. Watt Space moving location was key to initiating and encouraging students to diversify their practice as they worked with the industrial styled space. The concurrent wave of installation works which were received in the nineties confirmed the importance of the move to Auckland Street in 1995. The importance of owning a physical space and negotiating and responding to it is fundamental for how student work progresses and is viewed. During opening night, Director Penny Finnigan emphasised the often precarious existence of the gallery space, excitingly announcing the gallery’s move to a yet to be disclosed location in 2015 – a space which she believes the student body will make their own.

25 Watt gives us a moment to contemplate this history and the springboard the space has been for the students who have passed through its doors. The selected artists for this retrospective exhibition attest to Watt Space’s success in its philosophy of supporting students in art-based careers – and if you haven’t yet perused through the gallery, take this opportunity to be astounded by a refined show of amazing artists.

Artists showing include:

Penelope Benton
Dr Deidre Brollo
Dr Ian Burns
Dr Stephen Garrett
Linsey Gosper
Lucas Grogan
Susan Jacobs
Chris Langlois
Dr Ken O-Regan
Izabela Pluta
Niomi Sands
Alexia Sinclair
Peter Speight
Julie Squires
Jennifer & Catherine Strutt
Shan Turner-Carroll
Ahn Wells
Dr Ashley Whamond
Braddon Snape

25 Watt is open until 28 September, so get your best art critic sweater and glasses combo on and go view some of the best.