Oliver Sanchez and Swampspace

Oliver Sanchez
Swampspace, the name evokes images of sub-tropics and Florida’s landscape, but this space is different. Swampspace is a contemporary art exhibition venue conceived by artist and fabricator Oliver Sanchez. Located in the Miami Design District in a former pre-school building Sanchez has managed to remove many of the commercial overtones that are part of traditional gallery and museum settings. On a warm, sunny afternoon, Tiffany Chestler sat down with Sanchez at Swampspace to learn more about the early inception of this venture and how he continues to propel it forward.

How did Swampspace start?

The original Swampspace began as an idea in 2008. Before Swampspace we had the Bordello Bodega. It was a micro-space, really just a storefront of this cavernous dilapidated studio.

My studio is a place of work primarily, but it was also a little bit of a clubhouse for the community of artists that was established in the neighborhood. Nick Lobo came up with the name Swampspace, and that stuck, so I really have to give Nick credit for that.

From the beginning it was conceived as a non-commercial venture. And the Bordello Bodega was inspired by a book about Cuba and its music, written by musicologist, Ned Sublette, who had a music show on NPR. He wrote about the allure of exotic places, and Miami is just that. The Bordello Bodega was a manifestation of these ideas. People come for the art, and they come for the design, but there is a little bit more that has always been here.

Now, we’ve relocated and I never imagined that Swampspace would triple in size. When we moved to the current building, I thought it might end, because the new place really wasn’t that swampy. The old place absolutely was in a romantic way. There were a couple of dozen shows at the old place and each one was unique, often with no intentional programming. I recruited artists, but they also just sort of stepped up. But it was never a Democracy. I said no to some things that didn’t fit.

Where is Swampspace now?

We were fully aware of some of the less than stellar connotations that the word swamp might have with some people. They think of the Everglades, but really Swampspace and Swampstyle are focused on what is happening east of the urban development boundary. It’s about the urbanization, the urbanized part of the swamp.

So you consider all of South Florida a swamp?

Absolutely, all of Florida is a swamp. That’s what it was in primordial times and it remains that way. I’m not an active environmentalist but I have great regard for environmental issues and ecology. The Everglades is really on the verge of collapse, and the character, the comic book character swamp-thing was someone that I identified with. You’d want to read the story.

Swampspace exhibits take place in one part of this building. You also run a fabrication studio and produce your own artwork. How do these things co-exist?
They are not completely disconnected, certainly one could exist without the other and visa /versa, but they really are symbiotic efforts. I have become sort of a go-to place for making things. A lot of times, however, people walk into the studio and have this misconception that it’s just sort of bohemia, anything goes, this is all wild; but it’s not. It is a business like any other. Granted, a terrible business model, but it’s somehow managed to sustain itself.

As far as the exhibits - when you remove the pressure of the commercialized component, when you’re not focused on capitalizing on ideas, events, or projects, it’s very liberating. It’s unfortunate that we have very limited means. Who doesn’t want funding? But with funding comes other considerations. So Swampspace can be open, it can be closed, there is something irregular about it and that’s part of the charm. And I think that most of the people that have shown are pleased. Each individual, or group of people, brings their own unique set of friends making each show is different. Some are more successful than others, and that’s okay.

If Swampspace is non-commercial how to you define a successful show?

It’s a jury of their peers. So there have been shows that I find to be perfectly acceptable, because I’m not being terribly judgmental. But then when I get the broader input or reactions from the whole range of artists, it might be a matter of taste. It’s subjective. So success and failure is not strictly defined by the amount of traffic that a show receives.

Swampspace is event driven, meaning we do create a scene once a month, and the rest of the time there isn’t the pressure of having this place where people come. They come or they don’t come. I’m not recruiting traffic.