Industry Insight: Ellie Pennick in Conversation with Millie Norman

Ellie Pennick is the Director and Founder of Guts Gallery, a nomadic space committed to resisting the traditional exclusive modelling of galleries and arts institutions. Guts champions underrepresented and marginalised voices in contemporary art, providing emerging artists with a platform for support, visibility and to connect with established practioners.

Ellie shot by Fraser H-N

MN: Could you tell us a little about how Guts Gallery came into being?

EP: Guts came about after I left university and applied for an MA at The Royal College of Art. I received a place but was unable to pursue the course due to the inability to afford the tuition. I was sofa hopping at the time, in a shit financial situation and frustrated at the politics of the art world - a system that disproportionately benefits people who do not experience racial oppression, gender or class discriminations. I launched Guts to generate a fair art-business model that is worth far more to me than a piece of paper with a Masters grade on it.

MN: How have you adapted the core principles of Guts to the Covid-19 crisis?

EP: I could have sat there until it all blew over as many galleries did, but that didn't sit right with me. Instead, I put my ethos into supporting underrepresented contemporary voices and looked at alternative ways to support artists. I launched two digital Instagram exhibitions; the first called 'When Shit Hits the Fan', which was an instant reaction to the lockdown. The second one was called 'Begin Again', which raised funds for the Free Black Uni and provided a platform for dialogue, collective shouldering and putting words into action.

MN: IT’S 2020 FOR F*CK SAKE, Guts’ current marathon of solo shows, is being held in a railway arch. What is the importance of space to Guts’ principles? EP: Guts operate on a nomadic basis, rent prices are ridiculous in London, and I would much rather put that money into paying staff a fair wage and taking a lower percentage on art sales. To be honest, white cube spaces bore me, and I think they are cold and unapproachable for somebody who is not part of the art world. A small arch under a train station is more my cuppa tea.

MN: What role does collaborating play in Guts’ ethos? EP: Art galleries are divisive, and this division ultimately breeds competition. The art world would be a more supportive, progressive place to work if we started working together, rather than pulling apart. This is why collaboration has a massive role to play in our ethos. MN: What is your advice to young curators and gallerists for building an ethical and inclusive practice? How do you hold yourself accountable in terms of representing art and voices from outside of your lived experience? EP: Guts refuse to “represent” its artists; we have no intention of “speaking for (somebody),” especially when our backgrounds don’t give us insight into their personal experiences, and they have powerful, clear voices to speak for themselves. Instead, we “champion” artists, providing a safe space for opportunity, advice, and support through “vigorous support and defence of their cause.”

When trying to be a force for change, we must all ask ourselves, do you want to uphold traditional views or models, or join in change? I am a firm believer that artists should be at the centre of the art world, not gallerists, and this is a first step in changing that status quo. MN: What do you see in the future of both Guts and British contemporary art spaces? EP: The traditional art gallery model will eventually die out - other industries have adapted and changed, and the art world must now follow. We are on the cusp of change and Guts Gallery will be at the forefront of this.