Co-founder and Curator,
To be totally fair, this story is only one-sixth mine. The other five-sixths are split equally between Carrie Collins, Gerik Forston, Jamie Dillon, Elsa Shadley and Nick Paparone. Together we created a gallery on the third floor of an industrial warehouse just north of Chinatown in Philadelphia. We painted the floor black and called the gallery Black Floor. We also lived and worked in the space for three years.
We were all well-behaved kids. We had jobs, tried to be sort of clean, and organized our messes. Mostly we voted on decisions and didn’t really want to crash the state. We would work 9-5, then have a beer and work some more. There were no crazy orgies or drugs. This isn’t weird until you took a look at how we were living. There was no hot water for the shower; we had a camp stove to cook on and dead mice at our feet. We slept in a circle, like we were a pack of wolves, underneath a buzzing fluorescent light that we couldn’t turn off. Then Carrie pitched a tent in the middle of our disorganized pile of belongings.
Each of us had the option to live normally. We weren’t victims, except of our own ambitious dreams, and those dreams were to build an art gallery and launch our own microcosm of the art world at large. It wasn’t easy and we were serious. The art world we were building wasn’t going to be glamorous. It was going to work all day, only relaxing when it drank cheap beer at night. It was going to yell at its housemates and stew in its anger for days. It was going to be a perfect fit for the City of Philadelphia.
I won’t say that building a white rectangle with a black floor was easy, especially for people with little to no building experience. Drywall is a bitch. It’s expensive if you’re broke, and it didn’t really fit into the elevator. It is also very heavy. I remember all of that, but still it just seemed like the gallery appeared one day and then, suddenly, life had a whole different set of rules. There was now an island of order within our disordered world. You could see it from the kitchen, look at it while you brushed your teeth, but you didn’t really step into it. It was better then you.
For two and a half years, the six of us hosted art exhibitions every month. The artists came in and did what they were planning to do (mostly). Once everything was going, it felt like we had nothing to do with the production of it, like the gallery was a river and it would be tougher to dam it up to stop the flow. Running the gallery was both easy and hard. At some point an overwhelming and inexplicable lethargy injected itself upon us like a seventh roommate.
Black Floor was an entity that had its own momentum and its own sense of timing. As one person in a group of six I could feel the inevitable taking over, even though I really didn’t want it to. The choice was simple: we could end what we started, or we could become a bad reflection of ourselves. We were done with Black Floor before the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia invited us to be a part of a show called Locally Localized Gravity. This afforded us the perfect ending.
During Locally Localized Gravity we enjoyed the perfect Utopia of being part of a project that had a clear, solid ending, and it was then that I felt the closest thing to regret I had ever felt about our decision to disbar. My roommates were beautiful, perfect reatures and all of their flaws were charming. Drunkenly, sometimes with tears involved, I talked to them about keeping it going. Soberly, I knew it was over. It’s better to pull the Band-Aid off quickly then to heed the siren call of the past.