In conversation with Wooosh Gallery
The Skinny speaks to Dundee-based Wooosh Gallery about institutional voices, disrupting curatorial practices, and setting up an art gallery in a car park
It’s got to have at least three ‘O’s. Any more is fine, but absolutely no less. Accuracy is, after all, very important for Wooosh Gallery: once Scotland’s Most Haunted Gallery; Scotland’s Most Romantic Gallery; and, even, the Best Gallery in the Whole World. Such titles can’t really be proven or denied – so Wooosh Gallery is claiming them as its own.
Back in 2019, Jamie Donald, Finlay Hall, and Jek McAllister founded Wooosh Gallery, based in Miller’s Wynd Car Park, Dundee. It’s free to attend, open 24/7, and usually consists of A4 paper pasted on a wall.
In their fourth year of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design (DJCAD), peers were putting on exhibitions, performances, gigs – and there was space to do so within the art school set-up. Upon graduating, however, it seemed this wasn’t really the case. Wooosh sought to do something about that.
The trio looked at several different commercial spaces, including one titled Woosh Gym. They joked they could take the ‘gym’ off – adding ‘gallery’ instead – saving money on an entirely new sign. From there, the name stuck, even though they didn’t end up opting for the space. “It’s such a perfect name. It goes with the theory: do it first and then think about it later. And then we added an extra ‘O’,” says Hall.
And Miller’s Wynd Car Park was the perfect place. Crucially, it was somewhere people already were. The car park happened to be next to the art school, nearby their old flats, and opposite their chosen pub. “It’s awkward if we're having a big opening, and then someone has to come and get their car out,” says McAllister. “There could literally be 30 people standing around the car.”
The gallery’s regular programming consists of Woooshes: the opening of an artist’s work at Wooosh, accompanied by an artist talk and an “interrogation”, always ending with a trip to the pub. At the beginning, they set out to Wooosh weekly; now, realising that’s a lot, it’s slightly less frequent. Its one-off events are often collaborative, sometimes highly responsive. For instance, when DJCAD students were denied a degree show, Wooosh took matters into their own hands. And, in June of this year, Art Night Dundee saw them collaborate with local community gardens to facilitate a Flower Show.
Each Wooosh piece is pasted directly on top of the previous one (or the remnants of it). Usually, they use wallpaper paste – occasionally, wheatpaste. “Sometimes people steal them, or they get eaten by slugs,” says Hall.
“We quite quickly realised we had zero resources at all – including time, money, access to any facilities,” explains McAllister. “But you can sort of always find somewhere to print something off.” While studying, the trio found that their tutors and lecturers were fairly opposed to A4, a supposedly unintentional paper sizing. But, for Wooosh, A4 is mandatory. An institutional ruling is turned back on itself – while also allowing for ease of printing and archiving.
“Regardless of how many people come or not, or whose thing it is, a lot of the rituals are the same every time: being a bit late, not showing up on time; having to really last-minute print the thing; and then trying to remember where the Wooosh bag is; buying beers,” says Donald. Wooosh bag contents include: wallpaper paste and a paintbrush; a folder with the current Wooosh and remnants of the previous Wooosh; and, usually, some tinnies.
“There's certain people whose practices align with the Wooosh ethos or maybe the opposite, where it'd be funny if they did one, because they don't usually do stuff like that,” explains Hall. Wooosh Gallery isn’t afraid to disrupt itself. In fact, their “curatorial dictatorship” is all for it.
“If anyone asks [to do a Wooosh], it’s a no. But we might just incidentally invite them two seconds later,” adds Donald. The pretence of exclusivity is part of the fun. But it’s also a pointed response to the closed-off, all too elitist art world; Wooosh can be just as mean as the big institutions – and get laughs while doing it.
Performance is, of course, key. “We were experimenting with a gallery voice, an institutional voice – and what if that voice is a bit stupid, or a bit mean?” says Hall. Wooosh emails are a little cheeky; Instagram captions are proud and long-winded; their stratified badges are highly exclusive and coveted. Hierarchies are sometimes fun – and Wooosh knows it.
“We wanted to get invited to VIP drinks and we wanted to go to V&A private openings. ‘Fake it till you make it,’ is what we used to say. Now we seem to get included in these things,” says McAllister.
But, overall, the gallery isn’t all too interested in adopting the mainstream approach. “We came up with the way we do things deliberately for it to be able to happen for free, essentially,” says Donald. “And it means that we don't have to do any of the reshaping that you have to do when you're getting into the funding racket.”
Wooosh Gallery is very much doing things its own way – subversive, exciting, and very Wooooosh indeed.
Find out more about Wooosh Gallery @woooshgallery on Instagram