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In March 2021, Ashlyn Davis Burns and Shane Lavalette launched Set up – a gallery, agency, and creative studio that aims to create an comprehensive, ethical, artist-centric platform
Ashlyn Davis Burns and Shane Lavalette have known each other for a long time. With a background in the non-profit arts sector — Davis Burns as Executive Director & Curator of Houston Center for Photography, plus Lavalette as Director of Light Work — they will spent years crossing paths at reviews and activities until, after ongoing conversations about the shifting state of the field, an idea for a brand new initiative began to take shape.
Co-founded in March 2021, Assembly is “a system that brings together elements of the gallery, agency, and innovative studio in order to holistically support artists and their exercise, ” Lavalette explains. This is a hybrid platform with a wide purview; an ability to end up being flexible, and respond to the requirements of both a roster of artists and a system of industry peers and collaborators.
In the initial stages, Davis Burns up and Lavalette had inquired themselves: how does one sustain life as an artist? “Typically there is no single answer, ” they explain. “There is really a web of support contained in sales of artwork, commissioned work for brands and books, teaching, grants and sponsorships, book publishing… By getting this web of assistance together under Assembly, our own goal is to simplify that process for artists and to act as a connecting point between their practice, their work, and these various constituencies that support it. ”
The need for such a space was clear, and personal: “I’m a practicing artist myself, ” says Lavalette, “and so i understand many of the challenges of navigating the art entire world and what a difference it can make when you find your support system. ” The aim was to generate an inclusive, ethical, artist-centric platform. “There is an optimistic seachange happening in the arts which is making room for brand spanking new models and innovative ideas to emerge, ” Lavalette proceeds. “It’s a challenging amount of time in the world, to be sure, but in many ways the perfect moment for your birth of a platform such as Assembly. ”
Both Davis Burns and Lavalette wished to think expansively about the various support models available to artists. “We both intimately know the limitations of the non-profit framework as well, which is often only set up to provide short-term or even project-based support, ” it is said. In the arts, as in business, having access to numerous streams of revenue is immensely important. This can be a fact that Assembly’s model is designed to accommodate. “We know that performers cobble together their livelihoods through various types of work then one of our goals was to bring those at-times disparate methods of working together into one home, ” they say.
Assembly has a tight, impressive roster of 10 lens-based artists, each of whom got previously worked with Davis Can burn and/or Lavalette. Collectively, these people hail from the United States, South america, Colombia, Japan, France, Indian, Bangladesh, and the UK. “We both have a deep passion for bringing forward underrepresented voices and introducing fascinating new work to bigger audiences, so it was very important to us to assemble a roster of artists who represented diverse, global perspectives, with regards to their own backgrounds, the content they may be engaging with, and the form their work takes, ” they say.
The agency’s perspective and ambitions are worldwide. “We knew that we wanted our roster of musicians to reflect that, ” they say. “We [also] wanted to represent varied approaches to the medium plus language of photography. ” From photographs to collection, video, VR and beyond, their artists are genuine interdisciplinary thinkers. And, crucially, they connect with Davis Burns up and Lavalette personally, important which comes as no surprise to get a platform founded on an integrity of support. “Shifting primary from the work products of the artists to the artists themselves is central to our philosophy, ” they explain.
“Photography is by itself a hybrid medium and it is operating in nearly every element of our lives. It’s hard to talk about one aspect of the field plus leave out the other”
Davis Burns and Lavalette both firmly believe that hybrid platforms like Assembly are the future of the industry. “Photography is itself the hybrid medium and is working in nearly every aspect of our lives. It’s hard to talk about one aspect of the field and leave out the other, ” they say. It is natural, then, that the areas and structures that assist in the medium develop appropriately. “We don’t believe the same models that brought us to this point will carry all of us through, especially when it comes to really opening up the field and producing room for a broader array of voices and practices. ”
Ultimately, they aim to understand their artists’ interests and ambitions, and are guided by their principles when pursuing tasks. “Our experience thus far is obviously rooted in the art world more than the commercial or advertising world, but we see this as an opportunity to bring something new to this industry, ” they say. “Our enthusiasm is really on directly supporting the artistic practice. ”
When asked about the problems of setting up an agency in the context of a pandemic, Davis Burns and Lavalette stage, instead, to the opportunities it revealed. By launching practically, they were able to work on developing the foundations of longer-term initiatives with their roster, using the period to develop and combine plans which will come to fruition as the world opens up. “It is also a time of testing and community-building in new ways, which really motivates both of us, ” they reflect. “The ultimate design for what Assembly is becoming really solidified as a response to the pandemic. ”
“We have been so excited to find so many people in our field — new and old — reach out to us to recommend projects and generate tips together, ” they say. “This spirit of collaboration is essential to us. ” Set up has received overwhelming curiosity from artists seeking support, and has begun to offer mentorship and consulting; they also plan to support their network associated with institutions, galleries, agencies and art dealers.
As the simply leaves open and spring unfurls, the world is feeling a little more hopeful. Davis Burns plus Lavalette are currently finding motivation offline, in slow neighborhood walks, independent cinema, music, meditation, reading essays, and making spring salads along with friends. Since releasing, Assembly have published their own first book, Fumi Ishino’s Index of Fillers , plus ran an online exhibition, Collaging Desire: Archival Interventions, Long term Visions . Two of their artists, Alejandro Cartagena and Poulomi Basu, are shortlisted for this year’s Deutsche Borse Foundation reward. They continue to conceptualise concepts for when physical areas reopen and people can be indoors together again. Even in the infancy, Assembly is charting new territory.