The Wells Projects is an artist-led, non-profit, project-space located in a disused nightclub in Battersea. The building, originally a Victorian pub, was converted into a decadent nightclub in the 90s, by sculptor Rudy Weller. Boasting murals, chandeliers, figurative sculptures, bars, disco balls and dance floors, The Wells Projects wears its gaudy, bacchanalian past proudly. Hosting art shows, rehearsals, film clubs and happenings, this project-space attracts challenging artists and performers who don’t fit into the clean-cut restrictions of a white-cubed space. Wells Projects encourages site-specific installations and dynamic, multi-disciplinary exhibitions. We also prioritise the local community. We have developed relationships with local businesses and social initiatives such as North Street Deli, Common, Puppet Planet, London Fine Arts, Mental Zine, Thrive and hArt.
Wells Projects started from a chance conversation about alternative spaces in London. Lizzy Drury and Neena Percy (now Hot Desque) were looking for an affordable project space that didn’t fit the standard “white cube” description in London. At the time The Artesian Wells, an ex-nightclub maintained by LOWE guardians had some extra rooms. As the live-in guardians of the space we decided to clear the rooms and begin holding shows. Our first two shows happened in December ’18 and January ‘19. First was Undercurrents featuring many RCA grads, as well as John Strutton head of painting at RCA and Margarita Gluzburg, a tutor at the RA. The success of this show led to Tailbone a few weeks later with work from Candida Powell-Williams, Jamie Fitzpatrick and Ruby Green. The shows featured film screenings and ambitious installations. These shows set the tone for what Wells Projects would become.
Undercurrents, photography courtesy of Neena Percy and Lizzy Drury
Following on from Neena and Lizzy’s involvement, Wells projects held a show involving three practising artists who were living in a guardianship on the corner of Wandsworth Road and North Street. ‘Stuff of the Universe’ featured ceramics from Katia Kesic, material hangings from Lulia Filipovscaia, and paintings from Charlie Hawksfield. We also produced a zine under the same name featuring poems from some of the artists and writers we knew. Alongside the show zine, we promoted Mental Zine, which was started by former resident Alice Kidney to raise mental health awareness.
Stuff of the Universe, photography courtesy of Wells Projects
At this time we had no name and no online presence, but we were getting messages from other artists with ideas for the space. One of these communications was from Clair Nichols. Clair runs the Study Abroad Programme at CSM. Clair wanted to take her young students through the process of finding a DIY space, planning a show and delivering an exhibition. We worked alongside the university, tutors and visiting curators to promote, hang and produce a group show called Distanced, which in many cases was the student’s first public exposure.
Next, through an association with Alt MFA I met Thomas Hudson, who organised Mouth, a six person show in June. By this time we had renamed ourselves Wells Projects. We had also started an Instagram and were posting on Art Rabbit and Facebook. Curator Sonja Teszler had also become involved.
Repurposed, photography courtesy of Amber Kim
Around the exhibitions we were also holding performances and rehearsals. Many performers tested their material in the makeshift theatre space before heading to bigger venues such as Edinburgh Fringe or the Extinction Rebellion protests. We also screened films and held writing groups. We were now beginning to gain followers and building an artistic community.
Our remit for 2020 is to encourage collaboration, push artists to explore new forms of cross-discipline experimentation and engage with the local area. We are working with two community artists to map out a 5 month education and outreach scheme as well as inviting other spaces and curators from across London and internationally (we have a space swap with a Budapest-based non-profit).
Detritus, photography courtesy of Ben Deakin
Looking to the future we would like to encourage other guardianship's to adopt our model of a non-profit, free-to-use project space. As many guardianship's are ex-public buildings and house many artists and creatives we think they are perfect opportunities to become community assets and serve a public function again. We also want to hold off-site shows in derelict or disused buildings in London.
Words by Charlie Hawksfield of Wells Projects
The Salamanders Skin, photography courtesy of Ty Merkel
Bacchanalia, photography courtesy of Sid Black
We at Bupkis have had the pleasure of working with Wells Projects and had the chance as individual artists to exhibit at The Artesian Wells. We discovered the existence of the space through a friend who had helped previously photograph a show there. I will never forget my first visit there, the grand decadence, every detail over exaggerated, and believe me there are a lot of details in the design, stained glass windows, gold mermaid busks and hand painted floral bars (to name very few). It’s visually a lot to take in. When inside there is such a strong sense of the past, you can feel, see and smell the parties and dining that once went on here. A real hidden gem!
Putting on a show there was a fantastic experience because of the originality of the space, as well as the kindness of the guardians and the support from Wells Projects. I have never had so much freedom in installing work before as I had here and that is very rare and freeing as a creative. The open-minded attitude of the collective is the soul that is Wells Projects.
What Wells Projects is doing is fantastic, especially because the future of The Artesian Wells is so fragile. Currently the building is still under the care of live-in guardians, although that could change at a moment's notice. The owners of the building also own the property next door and over the road and all three are under threat. The owners plans are to turn the buildings into a gym, a pub and flats. These plans will involve completely destroying and gutting The Artesian Wells, which is extremely upsetting.
The future ethos of the collective is very exciting and the idea of branching out and using dis-used spaces in London is something that will be very exciting and I can't wait to see. As well as this a zine press/ publication/ distribution service is in the early stages of development!
There are not a lot of people in the art community in London who do community well, Wells Projects is accessible, unique and community focused. The passion for keeping the space alive and making the most of it is inspiring. Wells Projects just keeps growing and has plenty of ideas and projects that are happening as well as promising plans for the future - hopefully remaining with the space as long as possible. I wish them the best of luck and can't wait to see what they do next!
Words by Zerrin Aşir of Bupkis