Sunday, September 24, 2023

KGB: An appreciation

Belper seemed to be an unusual place to open a contemporary art gallery. Most “art” in small towns, in art fairs, in open houses, in white walled galleries that serve coffee; I am not sure whether it is art – or whether it is craft or decoration. It always perplexes me, why is the same subject matter used over and over again? Landscapes, treescapes, portraits, flora and fauna, heritage buildings – maybe a bit of industrial heritage as well (water wheels, windmills, steam trains, horses pulling ploughs, bridges, canals, barges), still lifes. Every now and then a bit of Impressionism. It all seems as if the theory of art and art technique stops somewhere around the end of the 19th century. It is all a bit polite, all in good taste. Figurative art and western ideas of perspective dominate, it is as if the challenges presented to art by photography and the mass reproduction of the image have been ignored; as if modernism (never mind post-modernism) has not happened yet. 

And this is strange because the art world is not like that at all. Contemporary art is in the zeitgeist; Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, Grayson Perry are household names, the Tate Modern is one of the most visited galleries in the world. We know about this stuff, talk about it, have opinions on it – but it is hard to find in our own backyards.

When the Kunst Gallery opened just over 2 years ago I thought, brilliant! someone has realised that the audience for contemporary art has grown, that contemporary art belongs in rural towns as well, that those who think art should be exciting and fun and provocative and adventurous are also to be found in places like Belper. I thought it was the harbinger of something else – a touchstone, Belper’s own “cultural zone” in Campbell Street.

And KGB was more than an art gallery, it was a meeting space, an independent record store, a shop that promoted local writers and pamphleteers. When Jonny also turned the Unstables bar into a performance space (a Temporary Autonomous Zone) it seemed as if he was on a mission to attract everything weird and wonderful and fascinating into Belper.

These are just some of the events Kunst has staged since it opened: A performance of Tony Harrison’s poem “V”; The east midlands premier of the film, Tony Conrad: Completely in The Present; Daisy Campbell’s Pigspurt’s Daughter; Stupid Cosmonaut (supported by a lecture on meteorites); Gigs by local band, Crimewolf; A performance by Richard Strange; The East Midlands screening of the Ballad of Shirley Collins; An exhibition of photographs documenting Throbbing Gristle’s performance at the Ajanta in Derby; A very rare performance by the art provocateur, Jordi Vallis.

I wish that this list could go on – but the Kunst Gallery closed down on the 2nd of July.

When I walked past the KGB this Tuesday I was genuinely perturbed. Had it closed? Or was it between exhibitions? Was the stripped and empty building an artwork in itself- a  gnostic gnegation, inspired by the philosophy of the Cathars as described by Daisy Campbell in the production of Pigspurt? I sent out messages and received a message back that, no it was an ending after all.

We hope that Nailed has been a good supporter of the Kunst Gallery and there is little left to do now but to thank the owners of KGB, Jonny and Lisa Thomson, for creating such a marvellous space for Belper. We admire their energy and vision and appreciate all their hard work over the last two years and we wish them well with any future endeavours.

The Kunst Gallery won’t be forgotten. Some places resonate in the collective memory. These are the places where good things have happened, where people and forces have gathered and for a moment coalesce into a focal point of energy, ideas and inspiration. The Kunst Gallery will be talked about as one of those places. We are sorry that it has gone.

(Edited 14th July 2018: Reference to the Belper Arts Festival removed by the Author).

6 thoughts on “KGB: An appreciation

  • Great to see this write up and the final paragraph is particularly spot on.
    Two years ago I never thought I could be so sad to see an art gallery close. Kunst was an brilliant space and the events out back were unique.
    Where else could you see sitar based psychedelia and a talk about a tree on the same night! They were always open to local community input too and young artists and poets had great opportunities to develop their talents.
    There is a good write up on the door there now also paying tribute to the Kunst way of doing things, differently. If AVBC over reaction to the odd noise complaint had a part to play in the decision to close I hope they realise the loss to the local arts scene and culture.
    Best of luck to Jonny and Lisa in a well earned rest and whatever comes next and thanks for some amazing inspirational times.

  • Joanna Kirk

    Even Art & Language returned to painting.

  • Joanna Kirk

    I saw Tony Harrison reading his poetry at Birmingham Library some years ago. He’s a great poet. There was a feature on him on Radio 4 last week about his visit to Czechoslovakia. It may still be on the BBC’s “Listen Again”.

  • Tony Webster

    Cheers Jo,

    “Tony Harrison’s Prague Spring” – available as a download or to listen to from iplayer – originally on R3.

    Tony Harrison’s original broadcast of the poem V (first aired on C4 – I think) can be seen on youtube.

  • tony fisher

    WOW this is a shock … i was supposed to screen some of my experimental films from the 70s in october , it was a fab place i want to find out whats happened 🙁

  • Heinrich - the Viking

    It was early in August 2016 when I walked around the streets of Belper as I usually do when I’m about to visit a good friend in Little Eaton. Suddenly I saw five big coloured letters in my language.
    KUNST – five letters above a shop window. In a place where you expect everything except KUNST.
    I was lucky to find the door open. There I met Jonny. A man full of energy, power, ideas, creativity and spirit. He showed me around his gallery and the “Old Nailshed”, we had an intense talk.
    When I left I thought: “Well what is real wealth and affluence in our time? It is exactly that. Having places where you find all the colours of creative minds. It is not the big names like Hearst, Rauch, Ai Weiwei or Kiefer. It’s more the hidden gems and we have plenty of them. And with KUNST we have a place where you can meet them and their understanding of art.”
    Jonny lighted his candle on both ends and I was amazed how huge his network was.
    Jonny persuaded me to perform “a talk” in his Old Nailshed in July 2017. What an honour!
    Via facebook I followed all the activities of KGB and I would have liked to visit many of the concerts and performances – if there weren’t the ~800 miles between Belper and my hometown.
    KGB, Kunstsuppe, KinderKunst, Unstables Bar and temporary autonomous zone ….
    Burn candle, burn!
    Now I had to learn that Jonny closed down the whole project.
    What a loss for the whole region!
    That gap can’t be closed.
    Hopefully there will grow some other flowers in that field and in that area.
    Lucky people in Belper that you had this.
    Thank you Jonny for inspiring views, visions and sounds.

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