During its' first five years MOT has meant different things to different people, but to myself, its' founder, it is my strategy. In 2002 I formed MOT as an artist run space after mounting a number of exhibitions in the late 1990s, mainly from my studio, known as Shock Corridor. My intention at the conception of MOT was to engage and explore the strategies of exhibition through a traditional gallery model. The first stage of this was to form an artist run space that was funded by a group of artist members, all of who were included in exhibitions, with a core of three artists making curatorial decisions and occasionally showing their own work. This is a relatively common format for artist spaces, but I quickly saw the limits of such a model and became more interested in exploring a more institutional approach to organising the space.
My own practice had moved away from studio-based production towards a more curatorial practice and I became less interested in facilitating a group of friends. In 2003 I curated, Round Table the first of a number of exhibitions that explored how the different areas of art production were in fact intertwined. This was the turning point in MOT's history, not only in terms of recognition, but also in how MOT would be run. From this point I started to adopt a more directorial role, slowly underpinning the very structure of MOT with my developing practice. By halting the self-facilitating cycle of programming and introducing a more institutional approach I was able to attract new audiences. Those that were no longer benefiting decided to leave MOT, allowing me to run a programme not compromised by other artists' agendas. I was not opposed to the artist run initiative, but because of its nature it had a certain shelf life. I had watched excellent artists run spaces come and go. Some became commercial spaces. Others split through tiredness, break-ups, lack of funds or worse some carried on well passed their sell by date. Of course many of our institutions started life as artist run organisations. Personally it was vital for MOT to keep moving on, to take the very best qualities from these various models and learn about other strategies. I had my sights set on the institution, their funding techniques, artists and their curators. MOT started to invite established artists, as well as adopting the museum strategy of showing deceased artists, including Kippenberger, Nicholson and Jarman in exhibitions that mirrored those that might be found in the public art gallery. This was done at a fraction of the price and hopefully more interestingly in a tiny industrial unit in East London.
With exhibitions such as Russian Doll and I Am The Wrath of God I further established MOT's position as one of London's most interesting independent spaces and the collaboration with International artists, such as Mike Kelly, Rodney Graham and Paul McCarthy soon had audiences from outside the East London community focusing on what MOT was up to. With these and other exhibitions of the time I turned MOT into a micro-institution, project fund-raising from the Arts council of England and other trusts, foundations and embassies. This was a period of profile building that saw MOT using the marketing tools of advertising and the strategy of combining high profile invitations with relatively unknown artists to get people double guessing as to what MOT was about. During 2005 and 2006 MOT invited some institutional and independent curators to initiate projects at the gallery, as well as continuing to carve out a unique curatorial style, questioning the nature of art practice and the institutional failure to address the function of production as art. In the exhibition Not Quite Ten Years Without Martin Kippenberger I attempted to take on Tate Modern's uninspiring Kippenberger retrospective, by trying to understand the outer elements of Kippenberger's practice through that of my own and his friends. This was picked up on in a number of circles, most notably, Lisa Le Feuvre's article for Art Monthly, The Institution Within.
By appropriating these different models MOT is attempting to forge an undefined practice. The insight afforded me, by immersing myself in the structures that surround art production, has enabled MOT to function in between the traditionally perceived boundaries and in so doing, ridicule their erection. In just five years MOT has initiated over fifty exhibitions and developed an audience profile that can compete with some of the smaller institutions, yet still there is confusion as to what and who MOT is. Again this is a strategy that MOT both encourages and capitalises on, honing its' practice to change with the wind, creating a hybrid that can compete at every level and survive the roughest storm. It is for these reasons that MOT chooses to expand into the art world in liquid form rather than chaining itself to administrating a solid structure. Far too often, success becomes a full stop, rarely transcended. Through the immersion in the common structures that govern how artists work is produced, selected and exhibited, I have had a discourse with the stifling nature that has a strangle hold upon contemporary artists. But it is familiarisation with, rather than standing outside in opposition, that will provide a way through the stalemate.
The next five-year plan will see MOT exploring the overwhelming dictator of the art world, the market. With the formation of MOT INTERNATIONAL, a commercial dealership and curatorial practice, the organisation will compete both in the private and public sectors and protect MOT from the uncertainty of public funding. Financial sustainability is key to longevity, both to artists and galleries, but directing these resources back into the production of art is rarely the outcome. If MOT can apply the best from all the different models available it is my hope that we will inhabit a unique position beneficial to art and artists and be there for some time to come.
Chris Hammond 2007.