This summer, we’re retracing the multifaceted history and idiosyncrasies of our London neighbourhood in a celebration of the Soho creative community. As the focus falls on more recent times, we look to Beak Street’s Riflemaker gallery, founded by Virginia Damtsa and Tot Taylor in 2004. Offering a jumping point for emerging artists alongside more established names, the contemporary art space became part of a wave of ventures driving Soho’s subcultural climate into the 21st century. But now, having witnessed the changing face of the area, the gallery is set for a move to London’s newest creative playground. Speaking to Virginia, we visited for one last time as they close their doors and prepare to open a new space in King’s Cross.
How and why did you choose Soho as the location for Riflemaker? It’s where culture and innovation has thrived. Originally, film, music, and fashion - and now start-ups, tech and finance. Always busy - a hive of activity.
What was your vision when opening the gallery? To open a really contemporary, fast-changing art space. To discover and promote young artists - and also the more established artists which may have influenced them. That has always been our aim. In terms of the public, to see an exciting, memorable exhibition.
What is it about Soho that allows subcultures to thrive? It was always its eclecticism and acceptance of new ideas. But subcultures cannot develop where areas become homogenised, sanitised, franchised. The costs of running a creative business in Soho now are beyond the means of small businesses.
Is there a particular subcultural movement that resonates with you? Bring 'Peace & Love' back please.
How has Soho changed in the era of digital? The internet has changed commerce for sure as more people buy online to avoid spending time travelling. Traffic in Soho has become an issue for us. Cars at a standstill outside your window is not an attractive addition.
What role does the artist have in society? The artist’s role is to shake things up. His/her imagery should question the Now and give us an escape from reality. Don't you still get goosebumps every time you stand next to a Caravaggio or Leonardo da Vinci painting? Art should be timeless and engaging, absolutely contemporary while still historical.
Riflemaker has been open since 2004, what has been your gallery highlight so far? Yoko Ono's bagism performance, Julie Verhoeven's eggs installation in the window, Alice Anderson 300 metres of hair hanging into the street from the first floor, Wen Wu’s recent sold out debut exhibition, Wolfe von Lenkiewicz's ambitious five-metre paintings (almost too large for the gallery, Gavin Turk 'fright wig’ canvases, our ANALOG survey, turning the gallery into a vinyl record studio and having Jarvis Cocker recording in our room.
What’s your favourite Soho memory? Turning a former gunshop into a thriving Riflemaker art gallery.
How has the art landscape changed since you opened the gallery? There are many, many more people interested in being involved in contemporary art, however visitor numbers have dropped.
What’s next for Riflemaker? Moves towards new art projects