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THE ART FIVE, Issue 2, with Artist and Curator, Karen David

Updated: Oct 24, 2020


KD: For 'The Collector’s Room' I wanted to create a particular situation for the works to be hung in, a fiction of sorts to imbue the works with narrative. So we transformed JGM Gallery into the parlour room of a fictional collector with a leaning towards illusion, stage magic and the escapologist Harry Houdini. We painted the walls a blue-grey colour and hung blue velvet curtains lending the space a sense of domesticity. For the year leading up to the installation I selected artists whose work I imagined Harry Houdini would enjoy and discussed new work commissions with 14 of the artists, again strongly considering the fictional ‘collector’ as impetus. So, 'The Collector’s Room' holds three narratives: the act of collecting, the lens of fiction, and the illusion of magic.


KD: The fictional 'Collector' through which this exhibition operates acts as an apparatus for contextualising the objects in the gallery space. She has chosen these artworks according to her taste. Who is this person? What does she wear? What does she have for breakfast? These kind of questions help to form the character, which in turn gives a richer understanding of her choices and in this case a glimpse, through the artworks, into her Houdini-esque obsession.

The fact that there are 44 artists in the show plays true to the narrative of a collector, who may have obtained artworks from many artists over a period of time.


KD: For the exhibition we were very fortunate to have the collective Plastique Fantastique create a new set of tarot cards. Visitors can ask a question and lay the cards out on the red felt covered table which is arranged into categories (obstacles, past, present, outcome, etc.). Your ‘lay’ is then interpreted by Plastique Fantastique in answer to your specific question. I asked "How will the exhibition fare?" and received some very interesting replies! As with all fortune telling devices the answers given by the teller, whether they be through tea leaves, crystal balls or tarot cards, is open to the receivers interpretation and if the teller holds an authority over the receiver, can deliver (or confirm) potentials that may not have been considered before. I find this complex dialogue fascinating.


KD: Currently, I’m halfway through a practice-based PhD. This involves writing fictions which I am basing on a group of characters, led by a librarian, living and working in an abandoned commune in the American desert. Through this narrative I study how myths are made as well as the lineage of paranormal ideas found in the 90s TV show The X-Files. At the moment this involves architectural planning, writing of characters and some investigative work, with my curatorial projects as an extension of this activity.


KD: What’s been interesting is the mythmaking narrative of the exhibition because of our current situation. A few days after the exhibition was installed the gallery closed for lockdown which meant that only a handful of visitors saw the show. This has led to many questions such as "Did The Collector’s Room ever happen or was it just a hoax?" I have collected a handful of ‘witness accounts’ but by the very nature of myths these remain hearsay until the gallery opens its doors again.

"The walls were a blue-grey colour and there were curtains blocking out the outside light. It felt like a cross between a minimalist circus and a magician’s conference room.”

“I think I saw a skull on a bookshelf and a universe in a cardboard box, but I can’t be sure now.”


Thank you to Karen David for participating in The Art Five, Issue 2.

Karen David is an artist, curator and lecturer. In 2018 David was awarded a studentship for a practice-led PhD with a studio focus on mythmaking, fictional narrative, communes and para-anthropology. She lives and works in London where she is a Lecturer in Painting at London Metropolitan University. Find out more at her website:

'The Collector's Room' will re-open after lockdown and is currently available to view online at

JGM Gallery's Viewing Room:

Download the interview:

The Art Five, Issue 2, April 2020, Karen
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All images courtesy Karen S David unless otherwise credited.


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