GAS is a mobile, autonomous, experimental and networked platform for contemporary art. Located in a truck gallery parked around Los Angeles and online, Gas collaborates closely with artists to create experiences that foster community and connection while imagining alternative forms of cultural and critical production. The space’s inherently itinerant format reflects the fluidity of twenty-first century culture and art practice, while also allowing considerable independence and creative freedom in terms of concept, site, format, audience, and engagement. Gas offers an opportunity to rethink why, where and how we view art, whether the encounter happens while surfing the web or driving around Los Angeles, a city defined by its sprawl and car culture. Each season, Gas presents one thematic exhibition that includes works in the gallery and online. All shows include a fundraiser edition and a zine publication.
Interview with Ceci Moss, Director of GAS LA
Questions by Emily Burns
Gas is a mobile gallery located in a 1993 Step Van. When did you create the space, and how did the idea manifest?
I moved to LA in December 2016, and the first show Fuck the Patriarchy launched in Fall 2017. I knew I wanted to start a gallery, and therefore I spent the first few months in the city talking to friends, colleagues, artists, etc. to gain a sense of the greater community. The design of the space seemed a natural fit for the geography in Los Angeles, and I was greatly inspired by the performance venue the Bus, converted by musician John Benson from an ac Transit bus, Ant Farm’s Media Van, and other mobile exhibition venues. I’m certainly not the first person to do this.
What was the process of retrofitting the van like? How big is the gallery space?
The gallery is small—8ft by 10ft. I use every available space for work, from the front driving cabin to the website and sometimes, my own body. I was lucky to find the truck on Craigslist from a woman in Austin who was already running it as a gallery, so I only had to do a minimal amount of buildout.
What is your role in starting and running the space?
I do everything. This is the first time I’ve started an arts organization entirely from scratch, and it seemed like the right step after more than a decade working in established non-profits arts organizations in fundraising, editorial and curatorial roles. Overall, my exhibitions attend to urgent political and social issues, presented in an accessible, engaging, and thoughtful way. I care deeply about feminism and social justice, and that commitment directs much of my focus. I also have a PhD in Comparative Literature, with an emphasis in media studies, so that training often filters into my perspective.
What is your exhibition schedule like?
I do three exhibitions a year, seasonally. The exhibitions are open one to two days a week, and run for an average of three months. This schedule allows me the time and energy needed to properly develop shows.
What types of work are you most interested in highlighting?
Most artists I speak with work in a variety of mediums, and it makes sense given the environment we inhabit. I tend to gravitate towards artists who are enthusiastic about the unique parameters of the space.
You exhibit a great deal of fascinating, timely, and highly conceptual work. How do you discover artists?
I do studio visits all the time, see shows, travel, read and talk to people. While I have somewhat of an Instagram habit, I do think it is important to meet and connect with artists in person. I’ve also been in this space for quite awhile.
Are exhibitions and events often tied to the mobile nature of the gallery, or its being based in a vehicle? I am thinking of the show Anatomy of Oil, which explored oil production around LA.
That’s a good question, but not all of my shows are tied to the mobile nature of the gallery. Anatomy of Oil was the first exhibit to deliberately use the mobility of the space to directly address site, by parking the truck and staging events at active and former oil extraction sites in Los Angeles. I learned so much from that exhibition, especially from the incredible group of artists involved Susanna Battin, Kate Kendall, LA Transcendental Listenings (David Horvitz and Asha Bukojemsky), Michael Mandiberg, Nina Sarnelle, Molly Tierney, and Elia Vargas. I hope to continue to develop projects that attend to site in a similar fashion.
It seems like much of the work is site-responsive, and installed in a way that is unique to the specific requirements of the gallery. What are some of the requirements for work to be installed in a vehicle that moves?
True, but that’s the nature of any space really. Thankfully, the artists I work with understand and see the peculiarities of the gallery. Things work best when an artist leans into those elements, such as Olivia Mole’s Dud Ankress (2018) a hybrid performance, sculpture, and installation centered on the figure of the anchoress, a medieval female hermit, who took up residence in the front driving cabin. On a practical level, I have to partially set up and take down the works every time I drive, so the works don’t roll or bump around. This means I have to devise a custom packing system for each exhibition.
Since you have the ability to travel, and park in lots of different locations, what types of events have you been able to host that you might not otherwise be able to in a typical brick-and-mortar space?
Sooo many events! It’s been quite an adventure! One highlight was a silent listening walk and meditation organized by LA Transcendental Listenings (David Horvitz and Asha Bukojemsky). On the occasion of Anatomy of Oil, they took a group to the shore closest to THUMS Islands in Long Beach and lead a listening exercise at the water’s edge in order to circumvent the structure’s intended purpose of sound dampening the oil drills. THUMS Islands are four artificial islands built in 1965 to tap into the East Wilmington Oil Fields. In order to hide the wells visually and sonically, theme park architect Joseph Linesch was hired to transform the exterior of the drilling rigs into a replica of a futuristic cityscape. The combination of parking the exhibition right there, and leading a group along the shore, was quite magical.
When not in use for a show, does the van function as a vehicle,? Where do you keep it?
If you mean do I do errands, go to Trader Joe’s, etc. with it—the answer is no. I store it in a lot in Glassell Park, but I’ve kept it in a few parking lots over the past year.
What is the furthest location from LA where you have parked and been open to visitors?
I only park the truck around LA, because I’m terrified of it breaking down in a hard to reach location. That said, I’ve been all over Los Angeles, from San Fernando Valley to San Pedro.
You have mentioned that all shows include a fundraiser and a zine. Can you elaborate a bit more about how each of these components connect with the primary exhibition?
I’m not a commercial gallerist, so I do the limited editions to bring in income to cover exhibition production expenses. They also double as a work in the show, and a new commission. I try to make them as affordable as possible, so anyone can buy one. The current price point is anywhere between $10–$50. I also work with artists to develop editions that are conceptually in keeping with their practice. For instance, our most recent edition “to plant an anxious garden of big dreams” by the Institute of Queer Ecology was an unarchival laser print on seed paper containing wildflower seeds, which the buyer had to grow into a garden.
The zines allow another avenue for context and creative exploration. They feature artists writings, interviews with academics, etc. Ultimately, in the future, I would like to publish a book compiling the zine publications along with documentation, as an archive.
How does each zine come to be? Are you also the designer and publisher?
I compile, edit and design each zine.
As far as you know, are there other van galleries out there anywhere?
Sure! Gallery1993, Tailgate Projects, Stone Chisel, Domingo Project, Side Street Projects, EPFC Filmmobile, Project Mobilivre-Bookmobile, Artscream Truck, Bed Stuy Love Affair…
What about LA makes this type of project more or less possible than in other locations?
People are accustomed to mobile businesses, and regularly encounter food and produce trucks. From the public’s perspective, it’s not a huge jump to do a gallery in a truck. Further, because of the ubiquity of these kinds of businesses, and the strong car culture, there’s tons of resources and skilled technicians who can help you do, say, a custom paint job or retrofit. This isn’t the case in all cities.
Where can people find you and view an exhibition or attend an event?
Online at: gas.gallery, and instagram.com/gasdotgallery
What’s up next for you and the gallery?
For the month of July, Helsinki-based performance and visual artist Ana Teo Ala-Ruona will be in residence in Los Angeles producing a writing workshop, an exhibition, and a performance. The overall project runs from July 4–July 27, with the exhibition in the truck from July 13–August 2. The exhibition opens Saturday July 13 from 5–10pm at 4917 York Blvd, and will be part of Sticky organized by Hikawa Studio and Zizia, an event merging artists, projects and small businesses who we feel integrate life, art, function and application in one beautifully sticky practice.
Ala-Ruona is interested in generating new forms of collectivity, interdependence and futurities in artistic practice, while creating space for silenced, unheard or non-normative, queer and trans narratives and experiences. Drawing from techniques found in the fields of feminist pedagogy, contemporary performance and theater, activism, and literature, they create collaborative strategies for feminist speculative fiction in lived practice. Creating a context for collective sensitivities, affects and formations to perform, their work takes the form of speech performances, performative installations, workshops, a free school and various types of open events, often produced in partnership with fellow artists and working groups.
Ala-Ruona will run a writing workshop titled TWAH (These Worlds Are Here) for trans, non-binary, queer people and women that will culminate in an intimate audio installation within Gas. The workshop will take place at navel, and there are still some slots. You can sign up here: navel.la/events/twah/
Thanks so much for talking with us!
To find out more about GAS LA, check out their website.