DNA GALLERY + BOOKSHOP
Story By Natalie Larios
Photography By Kerry Ssemugenyi
Over the last five years, DNA has established itself as a staple in the London art community. Not only does DNA provide an exhibition space for local and international artists, they also pride themselves on being a space for small, independent businesses to flourish. Whether it’s printed goods from Ontario-based company All Sorts Press or weekly bouquets from London’s own Tania Floral Design, DNA continues to use their platform to uplift fellow entrepreneurs. Additionally, DNA provides a space for fellow creatives to form connections with other artists, authors, poets and publishers. With the recent expansion of their bookshop, which now occupies the entire first floor of the two-storey space, DNA has broadened its already diverse audience. The opening of this new space attracts lovers of all texts and mediums. Not only will the new bookshop inventory include artists’ books and catalogues, it will showcase everything from zines, paintings, photography, textiles and ceramics, to aesthetically pleasing stationary, and even children’s books. So, whether you’re looking for your next print to display or simply a relaxing read to flip through, DNA will surely provide an unparalleled selection and experience.
What is the meaning behind naming the gallery/bookshop DNA?
I opened the gallery 5 years ago with the support of my husband and the name DNA is based on our first names - Damir and Allison. Damir works in the medical field, so obviously the name DNA relates to that and although it's cliche, art and creativity are truly found at the core of all people.
In the early stages of thinking about opening an exhibition space, we knew we wanted to run the space as a commercial gallery, but we also wanted to have the flexibility to see what might happen with things and therefore we called the space DNA artspace for the first few years. This led to a bit of confusion as to what kind of gallery we were, (ie. artist run centre, public gallery, community space?). Initially, people did not understand that we were a privately run commercial gallery since our programming did not always adhere to that model. After several years of programming we decided to clearly separate the gallery and bookshop. We dropped the "artspace" and left it as DNA Gallery and DNA bookshop - 2 distinct spaces.
What inspired you to expand the DNA bookshop?
The bookshop was one aspect of the gallery that we always found performed particularly well, and we felt there was a strong interest in the content that was curated there. Also, with the Dundas Street project and the alteration of the streetscape, we hope that boosting the bookshop will draw in a more diverse crowd and create a space that might entice a wider population.
DNA has always operated its exhibition space on two floors. By expanding the bookshop to incorporate the entire first floor, our exhibition programming will take place entirely on our upper floor. This creates two very distinct levels. Visitors to the upstairs gallery can spend time with the art and can be immersed solely in the exhibition. Exhibitions won’t have to compete with the bookshop corner anymore, and artworks will have space to breathe. Plus, we’ve introduced a cozy new lounge area in the back of the bookshop so people can spend time and browse. We encouraged people to linger before, but they were often sharing our big worktable with Abby, Ruth and their ongoing rotation of coffee and tea cups. Not an ideal way to try to skim some poetry.
Why did you decide to coincide the opening of the bookshop with the launch of Kelly Jazvac; Plastiglomerates?
When the publisher, Durable Good, approached us about launching Kelly Jazvac; Plastiglomerates, we were thrilled. We couldn’t have chosen a better fit! Kelly has recently moved her practice to Montreal, and she will always be a beloved part of the London scene. She was such an important contributor to the London arts community for many years, and a huge supporter of DNA from the very beginning. It also feels really wonderful to coordinate the launch of Plastiglomerates with Kelly’s solo exhibition at Museum London.
Launching Plastiglomerates also gave us the opportunity to connect with Durable Good. They’re wonderful people and artists who are truly passionate about the potential of artists’ publishing, and we’re excited to see what they’ll produce going forward. Our launch included a conversation with Durable Good, and London artists Liza Eurich and Kim Neudorf, about how artists’ publishing can exist outside of traditional publishing structures. Supporting small press, independent press and self-publishers is central to our mandate. We benefit from carrying these unique works, and we’re endlessly inspired and excited by the ways artists innovate through printed matter.
Tell us about incorporating children's books into your collection?
We started bringing in children's books pretty early, because we've always lucked out with staff members and friends who have a knack for selecting truly beautiful children's books. We try to stock children's books you can't find just anywhere, and that take interesting, off-beat, and creative approaches to story-telling and illustration. Our children's books also tend to have a strong feminist bend to them (Rosie Revere, Engineer is a constant favourite). A lot of these can and should be enjoyed at any age, like our titles by Blexbolex: a French illustrator with a penchant for gorgeous graphics and experimental storytelling. We also love getting recommendations, and we want to keep growing that section of our bookshop with works that any of our artist friends (and their kids) will love.
What does DNA love most about the local flavour here in London?
It is exciting to be in a city that is currently undergoing a revitalization - and to be located right in the middle of it. We are not from London and when we moved here 17 years ago, it was interesting to see how much Londoners really "love" London - even back then. It's exciting to be involved in the community and to be hopefully making a contribution to London's already vibrant art scene - one that has a rich history. We are happy to be adding our drop to the bucket, so to speak.
London has an incredibly engaged community of creative, mindful and intelligent people, with a knack for seeking opportunities to develop and improve what the city has to offer, and doing that in meaningful and exciting ways. The arts community is a supportive and collaborative one, and there's a lot here to enjoy. We’re in the company of other incredible arts organizations, galleries and bookshops in and around downtown: Forest City Gallery, Support, Carl Louie, TAP, MGG, Museum London, Brown & Dickson, Attic Books and City Lights. Thanks to some truly dedicated folks, London's events programming is outrageously good: Grickle Grass Festival, London Girls Rock Camp, Winter Spectacular, Fringe, Masterpiece London, the Woodfield Porch Series, etc. Now we just need more Londoners to feel the desire to come downtown and spend time in this neighbourhood. We're hoping the street construction will really help that happen, and communities like See Collective are playing a big role in that revitalization as well!
How does DNA see itself using this new addition as a platform to uplift fellow artists?
The bookshop expansion will allow us to select and feature even more inventory from publishers, authors and artists. We want to support local art practices, and we also want to introduce London to artists and publishers from all over. We’ll admit that it feels pretty good when people from out of town visit our shop and see independent, underground and specialty titles that they aren’t expecting to find. We feel even better when we’re able to showcase works by local artists and authors. It reaffirms that London’s art scene is engaged and lively.
We’ve designed the new bookshop to be an inviting space for readings, launches and discussions, and we’re looking forward to collaborating with other members of London’s arts and literary communities on events. London has so many incredible bookstores and it feels like each one offers something unique. We’re hoping to partner with some of these other booksellers on some really great programming. The same support is at the heart of London’s art community. There’s a network of institutions and organizations that tirelessly promote each other, and DNA has been supported by London artists and arts advocates since its very first exhibition. It’s important for us to continue that thread of support in whatever ways we can, as a retail space and as a gallery.
Any events and or pop-ups we should look forward to?
Absolutely! Right now we’re gearing up to begin a collaboration with Tania Floral Design called Pick Me Up Saturdays. We’ll be teaming up to present a limited selection of her wonderful bouquets for sale at DNA on Saturdays throughout the summertime. Beyond that, we will be hosting an exhibition in our upstairs gallery space by Western University MFA candidate Graham Macaulay in July. On July 21st we’ll have a book launch for Toronto-based independent micro-publisher Penrose Press (run by two artists formerly of London). The Insomniac’s Assistant is a letter-press printed verse novel about a ghostly person who helps people go to sleep in unorthodox ways, written by Sienna Tristen and illustrated by Brianna Tosswill.
With the expansion of the bookshop, are there any new pieces, books, or additions you're particularly excited to unveil?
We’re truly excited to increase stock in our books and to bring in more artists’ multiples and editions. Multiples are works of art that usually have a lower price point. They can be prints or objects, book works or posters, tote bags or t-shirts or greeting cards. They’re always very special, and they’re a nice introduction to anyone interested in starting a personal art collection. We’re bringing in a lot of new stationary, which is a real passion of ours. We’re also big enthusiasts of children’s books, and we aim to have a great selection of unusual and beautiful works that you can’t find just anywhere. We want to be on families’ radars as a place to go when you want to introduce your children to artful and imaginative stories.
Expanding the space also enables us to better showcase pieces and books that we already have. We’re now able to display beautiful hand-stitched quilts by LOAM, a natural dye and textile studio based in Newfoundland that uses plants, wood, roots, minerals, and insects to create truly stunning pieces. Two of these quilts hang in the back of our shop, and they’re as inspiring to us as anything we’ve ever exhibited in the gallery space. We’ve devoted a lot of space to a selection of t-shirts and totes from Otherwild. This is a New York/Los Angeles-based collective of designers and artists who are dedicated to grassroots and national social justice and health care organizations. Otherwild asks its stockists to donate a portion of the proceeds from their merchandise to a local community organization, and in keeping with the message of their popular “The Future is Female” merchandise, we’ve chosen to support a local women’s organization. We also have an amazing selection of out-of-print art catalogues and monographs. These were donated to us from the family of Martin Robinson, who was a passionate supporter of London artists for many decades. A portion of the proceeds from his books are donated to the Megan Holliday Memorial Fund, which supports programming initiatives for children in the region.
Do you expect the extension of the bookshop and the addition of new materials will attract a new audience to the gallery?
Absolutely. Contemporary art galleries can feel intimidating, and we’re hoping that our storefront will draw more people in who will then feel encouraged to venture upstairs and spend time with our exhibitions. The bookshop will run as its own “entity,” but we always invite our exhibiting artists to suggest books that resonate with them and relate to their practices. This is a unique way for us to extend our exhibition programming into the shop, and it’s a neat avenue for talking to gallery visitors about the artworks they’ve just seen.
We want to continue to support the literary scene in London by offering readings and book launches in the shop. In the past, we’ve hosted London-based Baseline Press , Vancouver’s Fillip Magazine, musical performances, Forest City Gallery events, a dedicated reading room, and many artists’ talks. These are opportunities for us to make meaningful connections with artists, poets, playwrights, theorists, researchers, biographers, and musicians. Art engages so many different disciplines, and we want to foster that liveliness in our space. We want people to feel welcomed to spend time in the shop, wander upstairs, and have an unexpected experience with art and storytelling.
In what ways do you feel DNA can still grow and evolve, both as a company and in its role as a pillar of the London art community?
The contemporary art and literary markets are exciting and unpredictable terrains. It takes a lot of hard work and a lot of passion to be in this business, and there isn’t always an immediate response. We’re in our fifth year of operating and we feel confident in who we are as a company, and confident in our position within the greater arts community. We know that we have to be agile, we have to be patient, and we have to remain committed to promoting work that inspires us. The exciting thing about DNA is that we are not afraid to try new things – of changing the model, if you will. Some galleries are giving up their bricks and mortar to focus on participating in art fairs. Fairs are exciting events, but we have two big floors that we can use to increase our visibility and showcase exciting artists. Our model is a unique approach to draw people in and surprise them with a very different space in which to encounter and experience art. DNA is essentially becoming two businesses—a bookshop and an exhibition space that are separate, but very much interconnected with each other. We don’t want to have one without the other, and we think there’s a lot of potential in letting them have the space to breathe together under one big roof.
In terms of the gallery, we are hoping to participate in Art Fairs in order to broaden our exposure and hopefully extend our collector base beyond London. Now that the gallery and bookshop are two distinct spaces, we're looking forward to developing our bookshop programming by working closely with authors, writers and independent publishers. We want to use our shop space to share and discuss their work, and book launches, readings, discussions, and even workshops are all events we would love to offer regularly at DNA. We’re aiming to do more programming for children, and there’s always a back-burner future dream for an in-house publishing venture. Long answer short: we’re truly excited for what’s to come!
Can you share some of your must reads/favourites?
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT?
A must-read for anyone who feels intimidated by art and who doesn’t understand "what they are looking at"! Gompertz's book tells the chronological story of modern art from Impressionism to now in a fact-filled, yet lively way. It is not intended as an academic work – instead, it’s a personal, anecdotal and interesting read. Cuts through pretentious art-speak!
I LIKE YOUR WORK: ART AND ETIQUETTE
Edited by Paper Monument
We really enjoy Paper Monument titles, a non-profit art press based out of Brooklyn. I like your work collects interesting tips and banter about etiquette for artists, dealers, and gallery owners. Funny yet relevant
MOMUS: A RETURN TO ART CRITICISM VOL. 1
The international online art publication and podcast, Momus, was begun in 2014 by Sky Gooden (of the London Goodens). Its mandate is an approach to art criticism that is evaluative, accountable and brave. Their first published book is a beautiful collection, collecting landmark essays and reviews from art historians, writers and curators. We’re honoured to distribute their first title here in the city!
THE FUTURE IS FEMALE AND OTHER T-SHIRTS AND TOTES
The original “The Future is Female” t-shirt design was made for Labyris Books, the first women’s bookstore in New York City in the 1970s. The slogan has lasted through the decades as an empowering statement for all. Otherwild believes in an inclusive, expanded and fluid notion of gender expression, identities and feminisms, supporting liberation, embracing our trans sisters, and calling for the end of patriarchal ideologies, domination, oppression and violence. We love what Otherwild stands for, and we’re proud to be the only retailer of their products here in London. All Otherwild merchandise is made in the USA, and a portion of Otherwild sales at DNA will be donated to the London Abused Women’s Centre.
SUPPORTS FOR JEWELRY YOU ALREADY OWN
by Kelly Jazvac with RAY~RAY
Artists Ella Dawn McGeough and Sarah Nasby are the collaborative collective, RAY~RAY, and are developing a collection of commissioned, limited edition jewelry and jewellery-like work by contemporary artists. Their collaboration with Kelly Jazvac, Supports for jewelry you already own, are gorgeous turned wood creations that consider logics of value and consumption. They give your jewellery another way for being and being appreciated, and sales from these works help to fund Kelly’s ongoing team research into plastic pollution.
ROLAND BARTHES, CAMERA LUCIDA: REFLECTIONS ON PHOTOGRAPHY
Hill and Wang
A moving contemplation on the nature of photography and its relations to (and ruptures on) the body, memory, loss and longing. There is no recovering from this book.
In Objects We Trust
We’re so happy to be carrying a range of rings by Toronto-based jeweller Jesse Tempest, but this silver nail has really charmed me. Jesse calls this one of her earliest ideas: jewellery for your wall. The more ingenious could make of it a special kind of brooch or earing. Personally, it’s hard to not assign superstition to the act of hammering a silver spike into your home (probably why I’m so charmed). How much space would you give it? Does it get its own wall, or is it tucked in nondescriptly with other artworks, or even behind one? Use it to hang a precious thing. Or leave it bare, and trick someone into thinking it’s a half-done project missing its buddy.
I MAKE YOU SAY MY NAME
Poems and photographs reflect on need, intimacy, and the motions of thinking/feeling through no longer being with a person. A London-based artist, Faith’s language is potent, bawdy, and occasionally (and rightly) remote. Her colour photos are familiar and quiet compliments to her frank writing: traveling with a lover; looking at them (and yourself) in the midst of dreamy-good escapism; getting ready for it to be over; thinking about it being over. The unbound collection has no particular order, and the act of unpinning and unwrapping it from its satin and lace dressing is its own strange and intimate experience.
A small, out-of-print catalogue of Katz’s paintings from 1972-1973. Colour and black-and-white reproductions of head-scarved poets, sleepy-eyed people at parties, a woman in the rain, families on vacation and in backyards. Katz’s way
for faces makes everyone a heightened, hyper-serene version of themselves. It sometimes feels like he paints from photographs, and he turns potentially awkward gazes into the camera toward something truly striking. “Ada and Vincent in the Car” is an eerie precognition of Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name.
LOST ENVOY: THE TAROT DECK OF AUSTIN OSMAAN SPARE
Edited by Jonathan Allen
This book! An amazing rediscovery of an early tarot deck by British artist/occultist Austin Osman Spare, and a thoughtful consideration on the many ways art history has delimited or denied esoteric and occult practices. To complement the gorgeous, enlarged reproductions of each of Spare’s hand-illustrated cards and their concordances, Allen invites artists, academics and historians to respond to the stunning deck (and Spare himself). This is a wonderful book for the generally curious and the seasoned cartomancer.
INTERACTION OF COLOUR
A forever favourite. The perfect handbook for understanding colour theory.
Printmaker JooHee Yoon has beautifully designed an anthology of sixteen poems about nonhuman creatures, featuring poems by authors Lewis Carroll,
D.H. Lawrence and William Blake, to name a few. Printed in three colours, cyan, magenta and yellow, layers of ink overlap to create the most beautiful collection of illustrations to excite children and adult readers alike.
MARY HEILMANN: SAVE THE LAST DANCE FOR ME
Terry R. Myers
An incredible, comprehensive study into one painting that represents a shift in artist Mary Heilmann’s perspective and practice.
DOCUMENTS OF CONTEMPORARY ART
An ongoing series of anthologies compiled on specific ideas in contemporary art, each edited by an artist, curator or scholar: The Magazine, The Artists’ Joke, The Archive, Painting, Abstraction, The Studio. You name it, there’s probably a really great text available on the subject combining writings, notations and manifestos written by or about artists.
The publication we recently launched at our bookshop re-opening event! This book, the first from publisher Durable Good, considers how artist Kelly Jazvac's sculptural practice fits amongst research in diverse fields: earth sciences, environmental activism, and cultural studies. The book is beautifully put together, and has special ties to London, featuring an interview with geologist Patricia Corconan, an essay by Kirsty Robertson, and photos by Kelly Wood. Kelly Jazvac lived, worked and taught in town until quite recently, and has been an incredible supporter of DNA from the start.