Reimagining the post-Covid gallery experience for artist and audience, OUTPUT Gallery is disrupting the antiquated norms of the art world – and elevating the city’s profile in its wake.
For many, slumbering into creative hibernation was one of the myriad side effects of lockdowns. Galleries shutting up shop and exhibitions moving online evaporated many oases of inspiration, limiting or altogether minimising creative lifelines for a lot of artists. But as the art world looks to rebuild from the chaos of the pandemic, OUTPUT GALLERY’s Gabrielle de la Puente and Michael Lacey intend to pick up where they left off: platforming and inspiring Liverpool’s irrepressible creatives. Gradually stepping back into normality, the boutique venue on Seel Street is returning to consider the innovative ways they can give a platform to local artists now we are reaching the somewhat dimmed light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.
Housebound for the past seven months owing to long Covid, OUTPUT Gallery founder Gabrielle de la Puente knows the sharp end of the virus more than most. For the interim, the gallery is being looked after by artist Michael Lacey who has operated in Liverpool’s bustling arts scene for many years. Speaking to the duo, I got to ask about the purpose behind OUTPUT and the journey since being founded just three years ago. “about the empty room they had next to Kazimier Garden, a room that used to be their workshop for the old music venue in Wolstenholme Square. The Kazimier team were hoping that the workshop could be turned into an art space.” It was from here where a vision for a new arts hub began to develop.
Since studying at London’s Central Saint Martins, Gabrielle explains how she wants to give local northern artists opportunities and recognition. “For a long time, major institutions have favoured working with national and international artists instead of the ones already here. They offer exhibition programmes full of over-represented identities, and the programmes are slow. OUTPUT was designed to flip those problems on their head.” She elaborates on her original mission: “OUTPUT would only work with artists from or based in Merseyside; it would seek to platform a range of creatives, and it would push a high turnover of exhibitions to inject some energy into the scene.”
Such an undertaking would take time and funds. Temporarily taking the baton, Michael shares the gallery’s intentions to become financially independent rather than relying on funding to develop a community of paid local artists. “Gab was super motivated to make the gallery work so that everyone gets paid, we don’t ask anyone to do anything for free or for exposure. It’s providing opportunities for Liverpool artists to work on their craft and get paid in doing so, at a decent rate. We want to begin a culture of people valuing their own work and expecting it, in time, to be respected by organisations, where people won’t work for free and where it’s not be expected of people to.”
OUTPUT isn’t the only ongoing project for Gabrielle. The White Pube – an online art critic platform challenging the norms of traditional art criticism – was started with Zarina Muhammad in 2015 during the pair’s final year at university. “The White Pube and OUTPUT gallery are scrappy projects that aim to do their part in solving old institutions’ problems. Neither have been able to go the whole way, but I’m happy with what they’ve been able to achieve.” Gabrielle goes on to explain how the two projects influence each other as a means to inspire ideas: “Both were born from criticism and I enjoy how they feed into one another: OUTPUT has shown me the ease with which art world issues can be overcome, and The White Pube has given me the wisdom to know other institutions don’t bother addressing these sorts of issues because it is not in their best interest to do so. It would mean sharing power, opening themselves up to criticism, not having a fixed aesthetic, rolling the dice and working with more than just middle-class white people whose cultural cache they see as a safe bet.”
Currently exhibiting the work of Leo Fitzmaurice, Gabrielle explains the tireless process of OUTPUT’s exhibition curation and her determination to find the best artists that Liverpool has to offer. The process doesn’t stop at gallery visits, social media trawls and the gallery’s regular INPUT call-out event. “Pre-pandemic, I’d email people to arrange meetings and do studio visits so I could go through portfolios in person. That’s half the work. The other half is the invitation OUTPUT puts out into the world,” she tells me. “[We] find out what people want the gallery to do – both from the art scene and our wider audience. INPUT is a chance for people to put themselves forward for a show, recommend a friend’s work, or request something in the gallery they’d love to see. I see INPUT as a central value of the gallery.”
Michael expands on this tenet of the gallery’s work and tells me how they’ve asked the question on their website of how Covid has affected art and the ways in which the gallery can respond. “At the moment, people are on the fence about it, about taking risks, so if we want to have people down to the space, we have to have amazing water-tight cleanliness and something really big kicking in the gallery so that’s something we are thinking about,” Michael tells me with an energy not even an erratic Zoom connection could extinguish. “The whole purpose of OUTPUT is to respond to what’s needed, that’s why we are keeping the current exhibition open for as long as possible. We are now allowing artists to get as big an audience as possible rather than changing the exhibitions every two weeks like we used to do.” Reflecting on her own health as well as that of the art scene, Gabrielle adds, “There are new problems to solve because of the pandemic. I would love for OUTPUT to bear in mind potential exhibitors who may never make it through the door due to their health and ability.”
During the pandemic, OUTPUT turned virtual and considered alternative ways to interact with the public now and into the future. “We have been doing postal exhibitions, it is free and a first-come-first-serve of 100 artist prints which are launched on our website. We aren’t looking on going back anytime soon but rather go online completely and document as an online gallery.’
Considering how his own experiences as an artist filter into OUTPUT, Michael alludes to a direction of travel for the gallery going forward, “I don’t know if it’s down to the pandemic or prior to, we are not seeing artists from Liverpool making big moves outside, it’s almost like an invisible ceiling in the Liverpool art scene. It’s strange that you don’t even have many Liverpool artists in Manchester and vice versa and have a bit of cross-pollination in that way.” he tells me. “As much as OUTPUT exists to be a space for Liverpool artists, we are looking at how we can facilitate and build stronger relationships with artists and organisations outside the region because as things move online, the localisation of an art scene is not the full story of the art scene.”
Despite the future realities of creativity still yet unknown, OUTPUT’s emerging ideas act as catalysts to the foundations of a progressive art world. All that is required is for you, the artists, to act and take part in the recreational mission which is to create a community solely for the real creatives.