Recently, I had the chance to sit down with Caitlin Mavroleon, the founder and creative director of “Office Sessions”, a project which aims to repurpose empty buildings in London, making them into dynamic spaces for artists and other creative people to come together in a community of ideas, sharing, and making.
How Office Sessions got started
Having nearly 30 years of experience curating and directing art/creative projects for private and public sectors (including Art for Youth and Reach Prize), Caitlin Mavroleon was privately commissioned in 2014 to set up an art exhibition in Anchorage House, a 100,000 square foot disused office building in Tower Hamlets, East London.
Caitlin named the project “Office Sessions” to simultaneously refer to and subvert the former intended use of the place of work, business, manufacture or administration, remaking this disused building as an art space. For this first show and as with all Office Sessions, she had complete freedom to select artists and curate the space – always with the added challenge to leave no traces behind once the exhibition was finished.
Of course, “Office Sessions” further could imply a number of things: jam sessions; therapy sessions or just un-fussy meetings of like-minded creative people for learning, community, conference, discussions, and assembly.
And from the start to now, community remains the foundation of all Office Sessions projects.
Office Sessions I and “House Rules”
For the first Office Sessions (6 February to 13 March 2014), several floors of Anchorage House, in East India Docks, London were taken up by a variety of artwork curated by Caitlin. On the 5th floor, a company of 13 under the direction of Nadia Berri staged a residency and project called “HOUSERULES” in which these artists occupied the empty space and developed work in direct response to the site, also creating “space for spontaneous experimentation was created for both artists and audience.” Berri writes,
HOUSERULES embraces indeterminacy; bringing, but also questioning, freedom, action and play into the context of an exhibition and the given space.
Artists were invited to collaborate and contribute to the HOUSERULES project resulting in work that included: sculpture/3-D works, sound and performance pieces, film, installation, and text-based works. As the space is already divided into cubicles, artists took up particular locations within the floor, and devised their own set of ‘house rules’ to be “the starting point for each artist’s response through his or her own ‘lens’. Still in existence, HOUSERULES remains “unsubscribed to a fixed location… as a nomadic occurrence appearing in unexpected places.”
Office Sessions II, III, and IV
Office Sessions II and III have also taken place at East India Docks, Anchorage House, London and each project/residency has had a completely different vibe; Office Sessions II (July – August 2014), for example, hosted a photography exhibition by Vanja Karas “Enso: The Lightness of Impermanence” along with painting by Robin Rutherford, while the other floors included a number of other artists in a variety of media.
Then there was Office Sessions III (November – December 2014), which saw the 5th floor curated by Adam Zoltowski for “Office Party” and joined by a number of artists from Chelsea College of Arts. At the same time, Office Sessions hosted a variety of work selected by Caitlin on the 4th Floor while on the 6th Floor, The Photography Open Salon, curated by Vanja Karas offered “a unique installation of prints, lenticular pieces, stereoscopic installations, site-specific installations, photo sculptures and projections“.
Office Sessions IV (July – August 2015) headed to Soho for an expansive group show in an abandoned former police station, with Caitlin inviting 86 artists to take up 5 floors for painting, video work, performance and spoken word, drawing, and installations.
advice for people involved in artist-run spaces
I asked Caitlin to share a few suggestions for people who want to join or start artist-run spaces, and she quite candidly offered a number of thoughts. Foremost on the list was to highlight the importance of respect for each other and respect for the space. This is evident when at the private views or during install, visitors can see every artist pitching in; even small actions are valued in the artist-run space, from picking up rubbish, cleaning/preparing to helping others install their work, and promoting the project with social media. She suggests for artists to also think about their own personal skills/resources and willingly offer to share those for the “greater good”. This community vibe is always present in Office Sessions and an important part of what makes it all work!
Entrepreneurs and so-called business experts sometimes advise people “say yes to everything and figure it out later”. Caitlin advises a slight amended philosophy which is to consider opportunities carefully, choose with care, and to make proposals thoughtfully. Though it may take many attempts to get you where you’re going, she suggests, you do not, in fact, have to “say yes to everything” to be successful.
Lastly, Caitlin emphasises that opportunities for artists such as Office Sessions are becoming more rare in the present economic and political situation in the UK – and what the artist earns is of high value in return for commitment to the project, along with a little time, heaps of positive energy, and willingness to share their unique artistic vision.
What makes Office Sessions extraordinary
Caitlin seems genuinely affected by the transformation of a difficult, broken, dilapidated place into something dynamic and inspiring, full of positive energy, with artists creating and exploring their practice within these challenging spaces. Not only that, Caitlin is keen to find ways to help artists to support themselves within their art practice and she utilises projects like Office Sessions to mentor artists in all stages of their careers, helping them to gain respect and recognition for their work. Of particular interest to Caitlin is empowering youth and women artists through art and creative practice.
For the artists, Office Sessions allows them the space/place to experiment and expand their practice, meet and collaborate with other makers, and if they wish, it is a chance to meet collectors, curators, arts organisations, and other people who might be a good fit for further collaboration, commissions, and the like. If nothing else, Office Sessions offers artists the chance to join a community of like-minded individuals.
To sum up what makes Office Sessions special is that it is an artist-run space/project with the “mission” to serve as a valuable “sounding board” for artists, curators, and other arts professionals. Under the guidance, coaching, and support from Caitlin for these connections and conversations, artists have the chance to engage in healthy, positive, constructive dialogue about their creative practice.
More links and information about “Office Sessions”
“Office Sessions” is an on-going creative project founded and directed by Caitlin Mavroleon since 2014.
- Read more about Office Sessions IV in this interview with Michael Barnett for FadMagazine – 11 August 2015 – We catch up with Caitlin Mavroleon founder and director of Office Sessions.
- Find out more about “Office Sessions IV: Beak Street” in Soho, London – 26 July 2015 on kelise72.com.
- View/download the Press Release for: OSIV_Beak_Street_PR_24July2015 [PDF]
- Check out “Office Sessions III” and “Office Party” at Anchorage House, East India Docks on kelise72.com – 25 November 2014
- View more info about Vanja Karas’ “Enso: The Lightness of Impermanence” and “Office Sessions II” at Anchorage House, East India Docks – July-August 2014 –
- Find out more about some of the artists involved in “Office Sessions I” and “House Rules” at Anchorage House – Feb-March 2014 – “House Rules” is founded and curated by Nadia Berri.