Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Panic @ The Old Abattoir

Guerilla Zoo's latest exhibition Panic, is a group exhibition of over 35 artists who find inspiration in the 1960's Panic Movement, showcasing a collection of surreal, controversial and provocative modern art.

The Old Abattoir is a brilliant location and enormous space, however, if you are the sort of person to pick up on negative energy, I'm sure you'll find plenty here with its history - having originally been a prison in 1800s, and then a huge abattoir and butchers until 1980s. Although unusual, this environment is ideal for the exhibition, complimenting the surrealist nature of the work.

From painting, to sculpture, film to installation - this exhibition is overflowing with exciting work, and demands you spend time to give it the appreciation it deserves.

Only open till Saturday, grab your chance to get down there now.

Sat 14th – Sat 21th Nov, 11am - 7pm, Every day (one week only!)
The Old Abattoir, 187 - 211 St John Street, Clerkenwell, London EC1V 4LS

Holly Willats

Sunday, 8 November 2009

The Deptford Tour, Saturday 7th November

Relieved that the rain was staying well away, I navigated from west to south London for the Deptford Art Map Tour. Only just on its second run – the Deptford Art Tour is certainly a new addition to the Deptford art scene, and a brilliant one at that. Initiated by Julia Alvarez, the director of BEARSPACE gallery, this tour is specific and committed to the area. With everyone on the map chipping in to the start-up finances - just like ‘the good ol’ days’ when communities worked together and helped each other out – this tour screams out comradeship.

Deptford is the area in London with the greatest number of artists per square meter. Fact. With artists squeezed in to every building and corner, there is no lack of creative talent. With fourteen galleries featured on the map and eight must-see studios, Deptford is oozing artistic talent.

Having gathered at New Cross station Julia led us to her first stop: The Old Police Station. Yes, this really is, an old police station – the name isn’t just for effect. This is an arts centre full of charm and community spirit! A strong group photography exhibition from Goldsmiths is currently on show, but I have to admit, I was equally delighted with snooping round the old police cells…

Next stop was SE8 gallery. This non-profit art space, has dedicated itself to the good cause of installation art. Working closely with artists to make site specific work, it is refreshing to find a gallery with such a strong focus.

BEARSPACE was the third stop on the route. Although having run for five years now, this gallery still retains a fresh sense of energy and enthusiasm. The artist, Thomas Helyar-Cardwell was there to meet us and talk about his work. The first commercial gallery of the tour, BEARSPACE aims to seek out new emerging talent that pushes against the boundaries.

Passing through the bustle of the Deptford High Street market (brace yourself for several aggressively visual, pavement-invading butchers if you too, are a suffering veggie…), we made our way to Utrophia. A ‘vessel of exploration’ – Utrophia is a gallery, a project space, a music venue and a hotpot of ideas and imagination. Also under the roof of this old ice cream factory are several studios and a communal area bursting with character.

Last stop on the map for the day was APT, an arts charity committed to promoting the value of creativity through the visual arts. Despite being in the midst of an exhibition change-over, the gallery technicians showed us round; I must now make the point, that every single host on this tour had been accommodating and welcoming, something that could be quite hard to find if you were to attempt this in West London. APT not only runs a gallery space but also provides highly sought-after studios. Being an environment that inspires creativity, APT was an appropriate final stop for the afternoon’s tour.

The Deptford Art Tour had been a big success with the group full of interest all afternoon. Being so well organised and executed, informative, varied and above all good fun, it is impressive that this is only the second to have taken place so far. Julia’s obvious dedication and enthusiasm to the area and for everyone working in it is contagious. I came back to North London, singing the praises of Deptford!

Each tour will vary as to which galleries and studios are visited, meaning that you can attend a second time without feeling a repetition. And re-book is certainly what I will be doing – strongly recommend you do too.

Holly Willats

Monday, 2 November 2009

The Crypt Gallery, Tracing the Photograph

Brilliant exhibition but found myself slightly uncomfortable about the eerie thought that there were possibly 557 other spirits there with us that may not have been so pleased about these arty happenings...

The Crypt Gallery

They Are Here

Thursday morning and I had booked myself in for the Battersea Arts Centre – a place that stands out amongst the white cubes of the London art venues for its labyrinth like corridors, the dated blue paint and mis-match of furniture; this is an Arts Centre overflowing with charm and character. However, I had not dashed across London merely to wonder at the decor – I had come to participate in a new project, The Twins Research Project: The Daughters of EW Mountford hosted by the artist collective, They Are Here.

Now like many I’m sure – I have a certain clichéd idea that pops in to my mind when someone mentions ‘performance art’. I really do try not to presume, but the fact is that performance art is in a minority against other art forms and so without yet experiencing much of it, the image of artists dressed in black leotards free-moving to modern jazz is hard to push. It is with these prejudices that I found myself sitting with one of the artists, Helen Walker at the Battersea Arts Centre. Whilst we waited for the other participants, Helen explained to me the practice of her work.

They Are Here is an artist collective, made up of Helen and Harun Morrison, which in its four years has held many projects, including this year at The Tate and Camden Arts Centre. Harun approached Helen having seen her graduate show at the RCA – head-hunted even! From this beginning they have collaborated with many others, aging from 14 – 28; their collective has expanded on occasions to as many as 25 people! The principle idea to their work is to study communication between people and systems, whilst playing with both fact and fiction.

I was certainly reassured by Helen’s friendly demeanor but slightly unnerved at what this ‘playing of fact and fiction’ could entail. Once Harun and the other participants had joined us, the artists divulged more about their project. They had been invited as residents to the Centre and whilst starting on one project, had found themselves entirely sidetracked by something unusual, something to be found, in the basement…

Certain that I was going to embarrass myself by yelping at something unexpected down in this basement, I crept down the narrow stairs to what anyone would imagine when thinking of a basement: dark, damp and dim. The basement flashed in and out of the visible as the single light bulb flickered. Now this is the point that things started to ‘become clear’ – this was the starting point of the project. Harun explained that when the two artists had first come across this occurrence they could not help but feel it was odd behavior and that it could be some form of communication.

From this we were invited to their studio – from one extreme to the other it seemed as this was housed in the attic of the building. Resembling a DCI office on the case of a crime more than an artistic hotpot, the studio had maps, charts and photographs on the walls. Once sitting down more information was divulged. Helen and Harun, with the help of the old Morse Code, had managed to decipher the basement message, it spelt out the name: 'Chotsani'. Perplexed as to this having any meaning they had checked dictionaries of different languages and names to find that this was from Malawi, meaning ‘take – away’ (not the food kind) in Lao, a local dialect. The technicians of the building, now in the-know of this finding alerted the two artists of any other questionable behavior from the building. Next up was another light that once decoded, was communicating the message, ‘Plug in to me’. With this instruction, the artists tried plugging in different appliances in to the faulty socket – ending with a television that then pictured many an odd image on its screen adding to the list of messages that had already been amalgamated.

Now I’ve brought you this far in to the story but having written this much, I realise I should hover on caution as it would be wrong of me to give the entire idea away. Let me add though that these messages eventually lead the two artists to the Library across the road, designed by the same architect as Battersea Arts Centre, EW Mountford. The concept of twins and mutual behavior is central to many other They Are Here projects, and some sort of sister-like relationship was developing between these two buildings. With similar behavior from the two, and records in the library archiving letters and documents detailing other similar odd happenings, the tale became more and more mystifying. I found myself getting rather too enthused when I spotted a flickering light in the library entrance – chance certainly was playing its part in making this experience all the more exciting.

By the end of the performance I was in awe; starting as an utter sceptic, I had in fact thoroughly enjoyed myself. Helen and Harun had delivered their ideas with an honest and simple approach that entirely avoided the dramatic and over-the-top. So, not only is it well worth keeping a listen out for any upcoming projects by the exciting artist collective, They Are Here; but I now note, this is certainly an example that moves away from the cliché of performance art and will persuade anyone otherwise.

Holly Willats

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Frieze Week Diary, Signing Off!

After a week of cultural overload, the weekend was going to be no different. Gallivanting from a 100 hour art marathon in Southwark, to a poetry marathon at the Serpentine, brought a week of art mayhem to calm close.

Friday night saw the opening of 70+ ARTISTS 100+ HOURS, part of the PLUS series of exhibitions curated by several curatorial groups. The idea for this project was good: for over 100 non stop hours, PLUS occupy an empty warehouse in Southwark, transforming it into an exhibition and meeting space showcasing the work of over 70 international artists. Open for 24 hours/day until Tuesday at 9pm. Despite the Herculian effort to show the work of many artists – I couldn’t help but feel somehow the execution just didn’t quite pay off. Unsure of the need of a 24 hour gallery, the focus of the project was unclear, amongst a mania to keep people entertained through burlesque performances and bands. However, the effort that had been put in to this show to organise over seventy artists has to be admired and the turn-out for the opening certainly adhered to this.

Disappointed I had missed the Kate McGarry opening on Saturday, I was ready by Sunday to power through the bitter cold for the Serpentine Poetry Marathon. Held in the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2009, designed by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa; where for the last four years, the Serpentine have hosted a marathon of some sort over Frieze weekend, 2008’s Manifesto Marathon was a hard act to follow. Hans Ulrich Obrist – announced this week as the most powerful man of the art world – curated an exciting mix of poetry acts and readings, from dancing poems to rap.

Gerhard Rühm grabbed the audience’s attention with his sound poems and in particular, his ‘Breath Poem’. Whilst Rühm quietly breathed in to the microphone with increasing intervals, the entire audience was spellbound. Then joined by Monika Lichtenfeld, the two read in German the steps to four dances: Sprech Tanze, the Foxtrot, Viennese Walse and the Tango. Rühm and Lichtenfeld were perfectly synched and were followed by appreciative applause.

Next was Liliane Lijn's Game. In 1970 Lijn created a deck of 54 word cards and invented three games to play with them: a game of power, a game of poetry and a game of divination. With four volunteers from the audience, the game of poetry was carried out for the 15 minute slot. A collaborative poem was created with no discussion, nor negotiation, as Lijn explained, “a poem you cannot write”.

Gilbert & George were introduced enthusiastically by Hans Ulrich, as a marathon at the Serpentine was not complete without the duo. Delivering their poems dressed in their signature tweed suits and startling ties, they were witty and animated, while later Nathan Cash Davidson, rapped his way through his 15 minutes.

A fantastic way to end the Frieze week, after buzzing around London all week, poetry was a calm finish to my own art marathon. The London art scene has had its equivalent of Oxford Street’s Christmas time, with a huge influx of visitors from across the world and no doubt a fair amount of selling. Monday is going home time, with de-installation, tidy up and follow up, after today it will all seem a surreal dream. Until next year that is.

Holly Willats

Frieze Week Diary, Day Four

While Wednesday was the big day in the London art calendar – for me Thursday was always going to be the marathon; Zoo Art Fair, the Hayward Gallery, Stephen Friedman Gallery, Whitechapel Gallery and finishing at an artist’s studio for a party. Much caffeine got me through it.

Having not managed to go to Zoo last year, I headed down to Shoreditch in great excitement to see what the fuss was all about. There were art-whisperings in the air about the change of location for Zoo this year. In 2008, the fair was held at the Royal Academy on Burlington Gardens, opposite the vastly commercial Abercrombie & Fitch – this year you couldn’t get further from their old West end digs. Now located off Shoreditch High Street, walking down a cobbled alley to the entrance I could sense that Zoo is making a point of no longer being the baby of Frieze, but standing out as an established fair in its own right.

Spread out over three disused warehouses, there is none of the disorientated panic that is all too easily found at Frieze. The logic is simple: Zone A: Editions, Zone B: Curated Exhibitions, Zone C: Prize and Award Exhibitions and Stand Presentations. Within two hours I had managed to look round the entire fair and see and appreciate the work on show without feeling I’d rushed through like a tornado. If you haven’t got two hours to spare, then make sure you see the Curated Exhibitions, and visit the Aracade and Riflemaker gallery booths. I would strongly urge you, if you haven’t yet managed to see anything this week – to spend the time you do find at Zoo, in my eyes, Zoo wins.

Next up: a major retrospective of the work of Ed Ruscha at The Hayward. For such an established artist, this exhibition was never going to be poor and so it was no surprise that it was full of his classic works - instantly recognisable as Ruscha. Curated so that one glides through – easy to digest, which was certainly a positive when we only had half an hour to enjoy it.

With a slight change of mindset, we made our way from the calm of the Southbank Centre, to the busy commercial world of the Stephen Friedman Gallery for the new Yinka Shonibare exhibition, Willy Loman: The Rise and Fall. With Shonibare’s hugely successful career, it was to be expected that this exhibition would be a magnet to visitors; the gallery was packed, with even the street taken over by the turnout. The exhibition does not disappoint. The entire front gallery space is painted black, with the photographic work hanging in gilt frames; this exhibition goes beyond the ornate. Shonibare spent the evening signing copies of the Financial Times whilst the flurry of waiters and cameramen scampered round the gallery – all the stops had been pulled out for this opening.

The Whitechapel was next on the list, for the opening of Sophie Calle: Talking to Strangers. By this point I did start to feel spoilt by the amount we had seen so far and the Calle exhibition is a wonder world of work that demands your attention. Showing over twenty years of work, it is rich with photography, text and film – a great find when often exhibitions are all too sparse.

It was at this point that we did make a slight error in judgement, thinking it was best to walk from Whitechapel to the edge of London Fields. Almost an hour later, and we made it to Yinka Shonibare’s studio, feeling the cold and exhaustion with our art marathon finally catching up with us. However, the studio was full of warmth and energy and we soon perked up. Being offered ice cream of either Peach Leaf, or Pumpkin was perhaps slightly eccentric, but I couldn’t help but feel that this was the best place to end our day – having been rushing round all parts of London, we ended it in the East End, the home of much of London’s art scene.

Holly Willats

Frieze Week Diary, Day Three

The day that probably strikes a mixture of horror and excitement in any gallery owners’ hearts arrived again: the Frieze Art Fair opening. Artists and gallerists from all over the world make their way over to London for the annual event that gives top galleries the chance to show, meet, greet and above all, sell.

There was no ignoring the entrance this year – blazing high was "Frieze Art Fair" written in lights; and this attention-grabbing gateway was only just beginning. If you have not yet been to Frieze, then imagine the Westfield of the art world – like an enormous shopping centre – clinical, regimented and branded. With the layout designated by aisle names and numbers you cannot help but feel you are in an art jungle and the Fair Guide is your only manner of keeping control on where you are. Try to find anyone and you’ve set yourself a mission – a bombardment of texts such as, “I’m in row R! Where are you?” – “I’m at the frame end with Neil” and “We are currently at D16” may give you an idea of the geographical mayhem. 

If you are an avid ‘people-watcher’ like many of us are, then the Frieze opening is a heavenly place to be. There are clothes to be admired – and behaviour to marvel at. Perhaps one of the best spots of the night was a quick glimpse of Grayson Perry gliding past dressed in an outfit that can only be described as Little Boe-Peep in drag. Brave man. 

There is a generous mix of emerging galleries and the established staples. It is great to see new galleries taking part in the fair, such as the Parisian, Balice Hertling. Camped within the Frame section, where newer galleries present installations by just one artist. Unusually in the main section, Stephen Friedman Gallery also did this, dedicating their entire stand to the artist Jim Hodges and his installation piece, 'the dark gate' - a risk that paid off well.

After a substantial rush and dash to see what was needed to be seen, it was off to an after-party. I had come away the proud owner a Donor card - an instant artwork by Carey Young, and a series of postcards from the Collection of Mr & Mrs L.M. Kane, from the Ancient & Modern booth - not a bad turn out. The opening day a success behind us, with a sigh of relief the gallerists can really start to enjoy themselves. And that is what we all did.

Holly Willats

Frieze Week Diary, Day Two

Two days in to the Frieze week marathon and I headed to the Charlie Smith opening at The Old Truman Brewery – decision made mainly on the title of the exhibition, The Future Can Wait. Plus a quickly snapped up an invite to a Sketch Gallery opening in Mayfair…who wouldn’t.

The Future Can Wait is a project of the Charlie Smith gallery established in 2007, aimed at spotting and supporting early rising talent, the project acst as an "alternative experience to the art fair routine." With over 30 artists, this show combines painting, drawing, video, sculpture, performance and installation.

The Old Truman Brewery is a refreshing choice of environment for a commercial gallery. The venue that may not surprise for a graduate show – an abandoned factory, where entire chunks of plaster on the walls can be ripped off by a nudge and large puddles loom large on the ground, but Charlie Smith manages to pull it off.

Being on the top floor of the building, drinks were served on the rooftop with a view that would be hard to beat. Rather romantically – and also painfully sickeningly – we watched the sunset throw pink light across the cityscape in the near distance. Whilst the light was going down over in the City, amongst the high-rise and flashy gherkin shaped buildings, over here things were only just getting started. Despite best efforts, my attempts at capturing this poetic moment however were far from effective – my mobile phone camera isn’t quite as professional as hoped.

From East end grime to West, and the chic glam of the Sketch Parlour for the preview of AiM. Until now I was feeling fairly smug at having successfully avoided alcohol for the last week and a half. Naively, I thought that if I managed to survive Frieze week without breaking this detox, then I would certainly do myself proud. Day two of Frieze week and it's broken far too easily by the temptation of a free Sketch cocktail, resistance almost nil. Blast.

There is undeniably a good buzz in the air for the start of Frieze week this year. After the doom and gloom of the first half of the year with the economy overshadowing the art world, it is great to see that this hasn’t stopped the Frieze fun for 2009. 

Tomorrow, the big day itself: Frieze opening night.

Holly Willats

Frieze Week Diary, Day One

To kick off Frieze Art Fair mayhem, the most action-packed week in any art aficiando’s calendar, I spent Monday evening at the Barbican for the opening of The Free Art Fair; a gentle beginning for a week that can sometimes seem all about meeting and money.

The Free Art Fair has lived only three years, and yet this is to be the last in London, so take the chance this week to go and have a look. Not having been before, I was curious to see what it was all about – answer is that it does exactly what it says on the tin – gives art away… for free.

I have to admit, my friends and I were slightly distracted when we first arrived by a wandering medley calling themselves, The Happy Band and the poetry-reading, badge-giving artist Daniel Lehan. With the aid of the artist, our table and belongings were picked up and swiftly swept across the room to be planted right bang in front of My Happy Band – a group made up of a bear, King, tin man, cloaked guitarist and tuxedoed puppeteer. This seemed to sum up the relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere at the fair, with inhibitions certainly being ignored.

But more about the art! Artists participating were asked to incorporate the idea of free into their work by making work that they always wanted to make, but felt like they couldn’t. The Fair is organized without any budget and relies entirely on donations from artists – there is nothing untoward about this fair, it does what it claims to do and so you cannot help but feel relaxed and at ease – unlike at Frieze where being at ease is something only done when on the bus home.

Last year, people queued for three nights to become Free Art Fair collectors, 2000 catalogues were given away, and thousands of people saw the exhibition. My highlight of the fair would be Markus Vater’s installation piece Smoke Without Fire, 2009 (pictured). The tone carried in his messages printed on boards scattered across the work, seemed to be all too relevant to the fair’s attitude against the commercial. When responding to the question, What have you always wanted to do but haven’t? the artist answered:
"A show where we show all the money in the world. The show will be called: “The evil bird laughs.”
If you cringe at the money and status focus that is a frequent criticism of the Frieze Art Fair week, than this fair is the one for you.

Holly Willats