Lock Up International

Lewis Teague Wright discusses his project space Lock Up International

Steve Bishop, Deliquescing, 2015, Lion's Mane mushroom grow block on stainless-steel trolley, Polaroid on aluminium shelf. Installation view, Lock Up International, London, 2015.

Since 2015, Lewis Teague Wright has been running Lock Up International, a transient project space that houses itself in storage units worldwide. The project typically mounts a series of three weeklong solo shows in each location it chooses. Visitors must make an appointment to be personally guided to a show. This fall, two nearly simultaneous series of exhibitions will open in Istanbul and Tokyo, with the Istanbul series featuring Isabel Yellin (September 19–25), Sarah McMenimen (September 26–October 2), and Bahar Yürükoğlu (October 3–9), while the Tokyo series will comprise shows by Yuri Pattison (September 26–October 2), Martin Kohout (October 3–9), and Russell Maurice (October 10–16).

I LIKE THE IDEA OF GOING BEYOND what is normal for an art viewer. It’s a commitment to come and experience a Lock Up International show. The fact that these storage facilities we use are such large complexes means that they are often located on the periphery of cities—in London, for example, you had to take a train and a bus to get to the exhibition. It was quite inconvenient, but I’m very interested in the idea of access and thinking about the mechanics surrounding art viewing.

In a way, this project’s setup is exclusive, but many of the works I show represent the beginning of an artist’s journey, with a specific body of work that’s still in an experimental state, and so with that exclusivity it’s possible to have this very intimate interaction with art in a germinal form—almost like a crit, but with an asynchronous group of anonymous people. At most galleries you can go in and out without talking to anyone, but since I walk visitors in and guide them to see the work, I end up meeting everyone who sees the shows. I’ve had to let people in as early as 6 AM—and it was fantastic, we talked about the work for an hour, went for a walk afterward. I am aware, though, that some people don’t like having that kind of intense interaction, but on the other hand, every visitor to Lock Up International gets personal treatment. I’m there with you to talk about the work directly. By being based in storage spaces, we’ve bypassed the art dealer, the gallery, the collector’s house, and gone straight to the end point where so many pieces of work are immediately stored. The project enables a way of talking about that barrier between audiences and this destiny for most artworks.

What’s fascinating about storage units is that they are almost exactly the same everywhere you go. Through conversations with the artists I can also tailor the size of the space to their work. Artists drive the choice of locations as well—we’re doing shows in Istanbul because Bahar Yurukoglu lives and works there and we’d been discussing doing a project together for a year or so. Yuri Pattison initiated the Tokyo show based on his fascination with the collector marts in Akihabara and Nakano Broadway. These are little stores in malls that provide rentable glass lockers where people can sell their collections of items range from die-cast figurines to more vintage items. Then my challenge became choosing artists that could work within the dimensions of that small space, but also would have some sort of connection to the niche society of Japanese collectors.

The beauty of Lock Up International is that there’s such low overhead for me that I can open shows for as little as a dollar, since the initiatives these facilities offer to get people into the units give heavy discounts for the first month. It’s about finding the loopholes in the world as it is. We don’t need to have perfect white walls; we don’t need to have the perfect lighting; sculpture doesn’t need to be presented in such sterile environments. We can show work in spaces that inform and create conversation instead.