HomeSkooled Gallery and The Soapbox Present: Booked!
Last September, HomeSkooled Gallery put together an interactive exhibition for Philly’s Fringe Festival called the Anti-Gallery that drew upon many of their philosophies on contemporary art. Â Guests made up their own rules, embellished and altered the artwork, wore costumes and props,Â and bargained with the “used art dealer” roaming around.
Interaction and participation are all but mandatory in HomeSkooled Gallery’s welcoming spaces, and their shows usually take a diversion from gallery opening to art-making party before the night is over. Â The group ofÂ artists and educators behind the nomadic gallery have hosted nontraditional art exhibitions, collaborations, and events since 2009, initially in their West Philadelphia home but eventually passing through various other spaces around Philadelphia. Â But their Fringe Festival event was the biggest and most logistically challenging to date, and co-founder Ellen Owens did not shy away from expressing how much work it took to coordinate the Anti-Gallery. Â Frankly, they needed some time off to recharge after that one!
After a brief “hiatus” about the length of my average power nap, Homeskooled Gallery returned last Saturday night with their latest exhibition: “Booked!”, a collaboration withÂ The Soapbox Independent Publishing Center. Â The one-night-only event featured three participatory exhibits that drew a sizable, energetic, and creative crowd to the Soapbox in West Philly.
Ellen got the Frankenstein Book Wall started with a little doodle. Â She encouraged me to join her in the story writing center to flip through a basket of old books and magazines and look for some cool images and words to collage on the wall. Â I was thoroughly intrigued by the Q-R volume of an ancient Encyclopedia Britannica. Â Rats. Reading. Respiration. Rifles. Â I didn’t know what I was making, but I knew it was going to be weird. Â I claimed a little corner of the couch and became thoroughly absorbed in my project for at least an hour. Â I wasn’t the only one lost in a pile of paper scraps – I heard many others use the words “obsessed” and “addicted” while alternatingly flipping pages and tearing them out. Â Sharing scissors, glue sticks, and a typewriter gave us plenty of opportunities to chat and interact with each other as we played.
The Listening Tent in the next room provided a cozy little nook to give your eyes a little break from all the visual stimulation and give your ears a tickle instead. Â In my mind, I dubbed it the chill-out tent. Â As more and more people squeezed inside The Soapbox, I spotted the tent empty and took my turn to relax on the pillows. Â With earbuds on and a discman playing audio recordings of stories being read aloud, I reveled in the contrast of the noisy, moving world outside the tent with my still, quiet moment in the midst of it.
Photographing the work became another exercise of art interaction and creative derivation. Â Each flashlight threw light in a different pattern, and I experimented with which one fit best for each piece. Â Then, I made decisions about where to point the light and from which direction and how far away. Â I juggled a flashlight in one hand and a camera in the other, all the while trying to stay as still as possible for the slow shutter speeds. Â Ellen asked if I needed someone to hold the flashlight for me, but I politely declined. Â “This is really fun, actually!” I realized as I attempted to point the flashlight by squeezing it between my ear and my shoulder.
“Naughty Reads” was curated by Lauren Bohy of HomeSkooled Gallery and Mary Tasillo of The Soapbox, and the entire event was conceptualized in a true collaboration between the two groups. Â They held several meetings to brainstorm what to include in the evening’s exhibits and how they would execute everything. Â “It’s all about working with the right people,” Ellen said. Â “That way the work gets divvied up.” Â When working on a labor of love like HomeSkooled Gallery, it’s important to avoid burn-out by only biting off what you can comfortably chew. Â Ellen told me their approach in planning “Booked!” was to “be realistic.” Â That meant that some of their ambitious ideas had to be reexamined and ultimately canned – like creating alphabet lounging pillows that someone would inevitably be slaving over a sewing machine to make. Â In the end, the collaborating groups managed to create a thoroughly absorbing art experience that required very little set up. Â The night before “Booked!”, Ellen texted me to say that they had much less work to do than they thought so they wouldn’t be meeting as early to set up the day of the show – when does that ever happen?! Â Their organization, planning, and careful curation served them well.
What’s next for HomeSkooled Gallery? Â “We want to continue to collaborate with unlikely partners,” Ellen explained. Â “We’d love to work with the West Philly Tool Library!” Â I can already begin to imagine what such an inspired collaboration might look like! Â While their past exhibitions have trended toward one-night-only events recently, she said they are open to showing longer exhibitions if they are working in a space that allows for it. Â After all, in a nomadic gallery with no rules, you can create whatever you can dream up!