Hidden away off Hackney Road in east London is an old Victorian pub, frequented by the cries of a hoary prostitute – and it might also be the site of the most innovative gallery show all year, showcasing art and design pieces in a meticulously restored (but fashionably crumbly) local landmark. But first you need to figure out where it is. We probe Traces curator Donna Walker for clues.

TRACES:  The secret gallery

What inspired you to begin the Traces project?

It began really when I met Talulah working on a Punchdrunk performance a couple of years ago. I came from a furniture and product design background whilst Talulah came from an immersive set design background, I remember being completely in awe of the idea of immersive theatre and being inspired to use that as a way to exhibit art and design pieces. We wanted to find a way to merge both our industries, and although it’s really great what immersive theatre does, we thought that rather than sourcing ‘props’ to tell a story, we could work with designers from all disciplines to create new work for sale – a new kind of exhibition that shows the world what the creative industries can do when we all pool our skills together.

How did the project develop? Did the building come before the concept or vice versa?

The concept came first, but we did struggle initially with securing a building. We knew that the narrative and everything else would depend on the building we used and so we wanted to find that first. We spent a number of months trying to find somewhere we could afford, but it wasn’t until we brought it up with Designersblock that it really all started to come together.

What was the thinking behind keeping the location secret?

Because the project encompasses so many different areas of art and design, we really wanted to utilise performance. But we didn’t want actual performers in the space as it was key that the objects and space told the story. The performative aspect comes from the clue campaign we’re running in the build up to the project. We want to engage people so that they become the performative aspect. We wanted to get them in the mind set of a detective before they came to the space, so that when they arrive they will know how to behave.

TRACES:  The secret gallery

How do you want people to feel when they spend time in the space?

We want them to feel as if they are going into a space that has been left just moments before and their job is to work out what’s been going on. We want them to be inquisitive. We are really keen for people to interact with the objects there. If someones going to buy a chair, they want to sit in that chair, they want to know how it feels.

Do you think that the project fulfills a need that isn’t addressed by traditional museums and galleries?

As far as we’re aware there is no one else really working in this way. It’s really important to us that the experience is firstly immersive, but secondly that it is informed by the building. We’re not going into a space and simply trying to transform it to a way that suits us, we’re looking at the actual building and doing something that suits it. It really is a different way to experience art and design.

Are there any more clues that you could provide us with? Maybe a little exclusive info?

See attached!

TRACES:  The secret gallery

TRACES:  The secret gallery

Traces runs from 17 to 19 August at a secret location. To find out more follow traces-london.co.uk for clues and to be kept in the loop for future projects.

Words: Mark Izatt
Images: Giovanna Del Sarto