Saturday, April 29, 2006

Graham Hudson

It's Colonel Kurtz. It's Mad Max 2. It's Robinson Crusoe. It's Burning Man. It's Samuel Beckett. It's John Bock. It's Steptoe and Son. It's genius.
It's Graham Hudson on Chelsea Parade Ground.
I knew he had been working there a few weeks and I knew he was building something. But nothing really prepared me for turning the corner and seeing...what? A house. Like something from the apocalypse. Amazing. In the middle of the parade ground. Graham has built himself a home. From old bits of wood, reclaimed windows and doors from skips, all sorts of stuff. It's a feat. I'm overwhelmed. Hudson is definitely hardcore.
'Think of it as a sculpture, not as a house,' he says, by way of warning against all the trip hazards inside. There's a staircase leading to a sort of terrace, which I can just squeeze up to through the opening at the top. There's no toilet, just a short walk to the Chelsea college toilets or even Tate Britain next door. There are umbrellas fixed to banisters and poles.
Tonight is food, drink and karaoke. Luckily for the assembled crowd (including Ed and Beth Greenacre from Rokeby, Lisa Penny, Dave Hoyland, Will Cunningham and lots of others) I have to leave before the latter. I see Graham pulling a large speaker up to the top of the stairs and onto the terrace. How fortunate that no one will get to hear my 'Love Lift Us Up Where We Belong.......'
And this won't be the last happening at Graham's work, so watch this space...

Friday, April 28, 2006

Doug Fishbone at Seventeen

Firstly, let's admire the toilets at Seventeen. Not only do they have men and women, but in the mens there are urinals. Three urinals, in fact. Count 'em. I mean, I know to many of you this is probably far too much detail and I apologise, but, hey, credit where credit's due...three of them. That's some kind of achievement...
Anyway, we are here for a one off performance by Doug Fishbone (above). Mostly what I know about Doug is the 30,000 bananas he dumped in Trafalgar Square, and various other cities round the world. That and the 'lecture' pieces he has been doing the last couple of years, or thereabouts. And we are in luck: he is doing one of these tonight. I don't know the parameters of these things, but it seems to me there are lots of different versions. Or maybe they change or he updates them, or whatever.
There's a table with a lap top on it and a projection behind the table on the wall, controlled by the laptop. Doug, with a comforting, soft voice gently talks us through a whole range of images, pulled down off the net. It's a lecture and a stand up routine. There's cod wisdom in there, hackneyed phrases and old wives tales. There's trashy homilies and profound and profane asides. I wonder if he samples the text in the way he samples the images? I'm not sure. It's very good, though. At one stage he passes round a hat for donations. Is this for real or not? People put money in. Is any of this for real? (It reminds me a little of one of Ryan Gander's pub lectures - truths and lies and half truths all mashed up together...).
He ends on the Footprints story, about how God takes the weight of the individual throughout the bad times of their life and carries them through. I've seen this piece of text a thousand times, reproduced on images of footprinted beaches and sold the world over. Tonight, coming as it did at the end of the talk, and with Doug's easy, laconic voice, honestly and patiently going through each part of the story, it was strangely affecting. I shook my head. I didn't want to be affected by it, thanks very much. What was he saying to us? Something or nothing? Everything or nothing? Or both?

You can also download a version of the talk here

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Truck Art

'Well, look,' I said to him a few months ago on the phone, 'I'm sorry but it's bad news. I'm not going to offer you the job.'
Maybe some of you have heard me say that too. See, you ain't the only ones and I say the same thing to every last one of you. What happens next after those words is kind of up to you. And in this case, Joe Frazer (above) took it in his stride. OK, he didn't get a job working with me (and, quite frankly, lucky him) but he did get my email address. So tonight, I'm following directions.
I've just come from a preview screening of Chris Shepherd's new short film Silence is Golden (very good, and a ton of stuff packed into fifteen minutes) and I turn onto Old Burlington Street, see two police vans and three police cars and think, uh, oh, guess it all kicked off before I got here. But no. The police are just sitting in their vehicles having sandwiches and tea (or whatever police do when they are sitting in stationary vehicles). So I go on. Past the private view at Alison Jacques, past the private view at Stephen Friedman and finally find I'm there. I'm at Truck Art.
This is Joe's baby - or monster, I'm not sure which. A large truck that serves as gallery and performance space. The back is open and there are some steps leading up in to it. Various bits and pieces are inside the gallery, none of which I can make head nor tail of, but then I'm not supposed to. That's the job of Mr Endon. And it is for his arrival and subsequent performance that we are all eagerly gathered here.
'It'll start in about 20 minutes,' says Joe. 'You said that 20 minutes ago,' says someone. 'OK, OK,' he says. 'It'll be four minutes.' We wait. I pick up a beer from Stephen Friedman.
It's slightly tricky this Truck Art business. Nearly always taking place outside the opening of a conventional gallery, there is a delicate relationship which has to be negotiated between gallery and truck - but which, bizarrely, isn't. The galleries come out and look, quizzically, and Truck Art keeps its head down... It wants to be noticed and not noticed at the same time. It wants its cake and the galleries cake too. Would you like someone outside your private view, its audience drinking your beer, cluttering up your street? Thought not. Joe says they have their own supplies of beer, but looking round the audience in the street there's a lot of bottles from Stephen Friedman. (But then again, what's new, huh? I know people that move from PV to PV just chasing the beer. Well, heck, I've even done it myself on a few occasions....). Maybe that's part of it. The Truck Art site states: TRUCK ART WILL DEMONSTATE (sic) AGAINST THE HEGEMONY OF THE CURRENT ART SCENE, PARKING ITSELF OUTSIDE GALLERIES IN LONDON'S WEST AND EAST ENDS, DURING PRIVATE VIEW OPENINGS.
Anyway, I'm looking around and here's Mark McGowan. We have a chat. Mark is, as usual, talking loads about various things he's doing and is planning and is working on. He's a busy man.
I check in with Joe. When will Mr Endon arrive? When will this event begin? People are just beginning to start moving away, drifting off. Maybe there's nothing to this Truck Art thing after all....
'Here he is,' says Joe.
It begins. Mr Endon walks along the street towards us, his long red coat and fixed stare marking him out as quite definitely peculiar and really not from round these parts. He climbs up into the Truck and begins. He takes some bottles out of a box, he pours their contents into a bucket, he takes a plug out of the bucket, it all goes over the floor, he sort of cleans it up, he writes along the inside walls of the truck, then gets down to some other business....
While all this is happening various cars are passing down the street, necks craning through windows to see what's going on. 'Thought it was a fucking soup kitchen,' says a cabbie. And, of course, there's documentation. Documentation, documentation, documentation. As well as me with my little camera there's about a dozen more and at least two video cameras. Ho hum.
...and then finally he's off, the strange Mr Endon, marching away down the street.
No idea. Not a clue what that was all about.
'It's just like the Brian Catling thing the other day,' whispers Mark. 'Did you see it?' I shake my head. 'I bet he saw it.'
Whatever. That was Truck Art. I talk to Mark for a bit. He talks about all sorts of stuff. Running taps, the gherkin, recycling, Bloomberg, Charlotte Church, Ken Livingstone, baked beans, james's bedroom, doors, three legged races, Gary Glitter....
I can't keep up.
I say goodnight to him and to Joe's Truck Art.
Sometimes it's good when people don't get a job with me...

Monday, April 24, 2006

Bats Begins

Q:'An asteroid, which hit the earth in 1996, and was said to show signs of life, came from which planet?'
Q:'In which year on this day did Wallis Simpson die?'
As I make my way thru the bar of The Barley Mow on Rivington Street towards the upstairs room and the launch of Bats, these are the questions being shouted across the floor to the packed tables of quizzical looking folk and surreptitious gizmo wielding cyberspace searching patrons of the night's pub quiz. Luckily, these are not the questions to which I need answers. I am here with an altogether different question:
'Why is it called Bats?'
I'm asking this of Holly Pester (above), who is tonight launching her small, idiosyncratic, quirky, experimental publication.
Turns out that Holly has a number of answers to this question. And so do other people here tonight. So here's a selection:
1. It's 'Stab' backwards.
2. From a marketing point of view, it is one syllable and a punchy kind of word, easily remembered, very clear.
3. It has a resonance with Wyndham Lewis's Blast (and minus the 'l' it is, in fact, an anagram of this)
4. There's the whole Bats/Batman thing going on. When Holly gets a car she can call it the Batmobile, or the Batcar, or whatever it's called. So there's additional resonance there. This evening is called Bats Begins (geddit?)
5. Bats Entertainment.
6. Bats Life.
7. I think by this point I had gotten enough answers.
One final thing, though. It could've been called bats, or foxes or spiders, apparently. All things that are known, but which can be disturbing, or frightening.
There's a small crowd of people here, including Emma Bennett and Bill Leslie from These Horses, who are friends with Holly and have a small book of their own here tonight for sale at the Bats Shop. Oh, yes, there's shop here. Well, actually it's sign saying Bats Shop propped up on all the old paperback books on the pub bookshelves, but there are copies of Bats, the These Horses book and a 'special edition' launch night Bats reader. For 50p. Which, of course, I have to buy...
There's beer and wine available from the bar and jam tarts and pies at our tables. Holly does a reading from Bats and we all clap.
I get talking to a guy who tells me about 'art criticism plays'. I'm assuming you are familiar with this genre? Mmm, me neither. Seems like they are plays written for specific shows which are then performed in the space with both an audience and, maybe, a planted audience. I confess, I was interested but confused. I don't think one has ever been performed yet. But, when it does...
Anyway, time is getting on and I have to go. I say my goodbyes and head home.
When I get off the tube there is a tingling mist coming down, the streetlights are glowing through it like we're at sea. It's eerie. Down one of the side streets I see a fox tripping across the road. There are loads that live round here.
When I get home I creep upstairs to make some notes on the computer. On the wall above where I'm sitting there's a small spider.
So I sit at the keyboard.
And waiting.
For the Bats.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Beck's Performance

I'm sitting with Bedwyr Williams, Ryan Gander and others at a table in the ICA bar, watching as Jo Robertson of Blood 'n' Feathers prepares to perform some songs. Preparation involves a lot of her saying 'I can't hear the guitar, can we turn it up? I can't hear it, is it in tune? Is it? I can't hear it'. It's about 3 in the afternoon and I've already finished a green bottle and am thinking, this could be a long, lost afternoon if I don't slow down...
We are here for Beck's performance day. A series of pieces from four of the artists in the shortlist. And first up is Blood 'n' Feathers. Jo is joined at points throughout her set by Celia Hempton on guitar and Lucy Stein on notebook (seriously), but it is clearly Jo's show: slightly chaotic, agreeably shambolic and seductively laid back. Jo has a nice voice: breathy, reedy and folksy. Previously she tells me she prefers singing in the early morning when people are at the end of the party, chilling out and coming down. So, given that it's a warm afternoon in the brightly lit ICA bar, I think she does a wonderful job. She sings passionately and honestly and even manages to kick over a bottle of beer, so I guess she fulfills her duties.
A short interval - and more green bottles - and it's the turn of Bedwyr, striding up to the tiny stage (will he fit, we wonder?) in full Bard costume: long robe, enormous white beard, flowing grey wig, carrying an old busted harp. 'I can't rhyme, but I'll just tell you some stuff, some things', he booms. Bedwyr makes like a stand up comic without the punchlines, which, despite what that sounds like, is very funny indeed. A series of unrelated vignettes and stories culled from his life and starkly presented with the slightest of comic touches and flourishes. Between each piece he bends down, breathing heavily and looking closely at the side of his harp. He has a list attached to it, words which act as little mnemonics for the next piece he is going to say. Later he tells me that he was so hot in the costume and nervous that sometimes his vision went double and he couldn't read anything he had written down. Hence, some of the very occasional long pauses between pieces. But, no matter, it's a good piece and hilarious. Short clip here.
A while later and I'm in the upper gallery for Sue Tompkins. Man, this was very weird. I'd read about her performances before, but nothing can quite prepare you for what it is actually like seeing one of these. She's standing in the corner of the gallery, with microphone, a folder of paper opened and propped on a stool in front of her. And she's bouncing and jigging away like she's listening to an ipod. Bouncing and hopping about and reading small snippets of text from the pages in the folder and speaking and singing them, and repeating and changing them in this little sing-song voice, like she's doing it for her own amusement, whiling away time in her bedroom. Except she's not in her bedroom. She's in the upper gallery of the ICA and she's looking round at all of us while she's grooving around and every now and then giving the biggest, goofiest, happiest, look-at-me-can-you-believe-this-I-am-so-happy smile that you would forgive her anything. It's the sort of smile you think should only be shared with people she loves. It is captivating. It's something else. The piece goes on longer than I really feel it ought, but, hey, who cares. We've seen something quite extraordinary and special and odd here. Check out a clip here.
On the way back down to the bar I stop off at a table that Flavia Muller Medeiros has been at since 2pm in the afternoon, intervieweing and talking to people. I sit down, have some chat, then listen to 'Ohio' by Neil Young on some headphones. There's a conversation which maybe we could have after this but I'm not really getting it. Some of Flavia's works have really hit the spot for me in the past. This doesn't, but I remain a big fan.
I crack a last beer. It's certainly has been a long afternoon, but not a bit of it was lost...

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Nigel's Big Night

Desperate longings, missed opportunities, shameful disclosures, dysfunctional families, misunderstandings, loss, failure, confusion, death. Yes, we are at Nigel Grimmer's show at Standpoint, just around the corner from White Cube. Nigel presents all these difficult emotions and awkward psychologies through his increasingly recognisable and charateristic melange of trashy, garish toys, dolls, plastic monsters and other assorted moulded figures and bric-a-brac. I find it tough looking at so much of his work in one go, especially when he always seems such a nice man, always pleasant and polite and beautifully turned out, upbeat and jolly. I guess he puts it all into the work....oh, Heavens, time to get a beer.
It's a busy night. There's a good crowd, some drifting in from White Cube but a good many here for Nigel's work. He is looking happy. He advises me to pick up one of the badges he's had made for the show (Road Kill or Gay Doll - I take an example of each: I just love this kind of ephemera).
I look round a bit further. More Japanese dolls lamenting the pointlessness of their lives, more family members lying dead on the road...
I run into Lisa Penny who is just back from the art fair in Brussels. So I get a bit of info on that and we are joined, briefly, by Mari and Rachel. Mari is still working on Big Brother - and STILL doesn't have any gossip. He's worn out, though, poor thing and he and Rachel leave. What else do Lisa and I talk about? Growing up with an artistic temperament. Meaning, my dears, that growing up was a continual battle against letting yourself have fun. While everyone else was out at clubs and parties, having laughs and not caring, I was at home thinking. THINKING. BEING SERIOUS. Listening to SERIOUS MUSIC AND LOOKING AT SERIOUS THINGS. And, quite frankly, it got me nowhere. Nowhere but into a whole bucket of unhappiness. Nowadays I find it much better not to think at all. Consequently, I'm much happier. (That's today's first lesson, children. Learn it well).
I bump into a guy called Ru(pert) who I've met a couple of times before. (He was bar staffing at VTO's last show). He introduces me to a friend he is with. 'Hi', she says, 'I dropped my CV into you today'. I think back to Lena, my deputy, earlier today saying to me: 'Look at his girl's CV - she did Horse Studies. Horse Studies? What the hell's that???' - so I say yes, Horse Studies, what the hell's that? Well, hard to believe, but apparently, it involves studying horses. I can't now remember her name, but I can remember her qualification. (I'm not sure if there's a tip there for applying for jobs or not...)
Lisa is back, eating a fairy cake. In fact, seems like the whole gallery is eating fairy cakes. Except me. They are all gone and so too, nearly, is the drink.
Lisa and I talk some more about stuff. Back in her day, instead of going out having fun, she was listening to Karen Carpenter. What more can I say? That's a whole bunch of trouble. Songs about desperate longings, missed opportunities, shameful disclosures, dysfunctional families, misunderstandings, loss, failure, confusion, death. Yes, we are at Nigel Grimmer's show at Standpoint.
I suspect, from the excellent work on show here tonight, he spent far too much time being serious too....

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Halos / Family Viewing / Baroque My World (or: Space is the Place)

I am standing in the European Commission drinking a beer. I am in a small - I was going to say 'room' - but that's not quite right. It's like a wide hallway or sort of architectural non-place, leading between places which are either out of bounds, locked behind doors or which maybe aren't even there at all. It's the sort of curious place beloved of large government organisations or old institutions that inhabit these large rambling buildings, constantly reinventing rooms and offices and corridors... Whatever, it's a small area with stairs going down into it from the main entrance (which is, of course, on the side, not the front) and some stairs going out of it (though I can't now remember seeing a door). The floor is tastefully laid with mouldering dark brown furry carpet tiles, rather like an unemployment office from the 80's, and from the ceiling hang two astoundingly ornate light fittings. Between these two incongruously combined decorations is a small, concise exhibition called Halos, which has been curated by Matt Packer, who works with me in the ICA bookshop. I'm the first there. I get Matt to walk me round the pieces on show - which, valiantly and politely, he does (there's nothing worse that walking round a show talking about the art, but I feel I need some way into all this and he curated it, so he has to pay the price...). He's a little bit nervous and more than a little bit drunk, as befits someone who has pulled together a show and is faced with the first breath-tightening moments of the viewing, but he talks lucidly and intelligently about the pieces here. I remember that the 14th and 15th words of the press release were 'Walter' and 'Benjamin' so I know there's not going to be a lot of comedy moments tonight. We get into a conversation about why he has chosen to show the show here, but he gets a little cagey about this (as people always get when they have finagled anywhere to show some art). Anyway, I think it probably all works, despite, or maybe because of the carpet tiles. Just before I leave though, Matt points out a last detail about the room, which, surprisingly, I had missed: bomb proof curtains. I'm relieved. I've always believed this to be an essential and much overlooked and undervalued consideration when curating any space.
I drink up and say my goodbyes, heading up to CuratorSpace and Family Viewing. Nigel Grimmer is there, having just arrived himself, from Transition. He is here tonight, partly, as he has to speak to a couple of people about work/shows and he is slightly apprehensive until he sees the people he has to catch up with and then he swings effortlessly into a relaxed, happily confident networking artist... While he is busy advancing his career I run into Lisa Penny. Lisa and Nigel are my current private view buddies. As the months move on, so the groups of people I keep meeting change: used to be I was always at views with Lena Nix and John Hayvend; now I always seem to see Lisa or Nigel...and Lisa has a bit of a funny vibe tonight on account of having curated (with John Tiney) the previous show, Corpsing, in this very space. And tonight she's here again, but this time knowing a lot fewer people, not handing out press releases, not opening bottles of beer for people and generally thinking: who do these people think they are? Acting like they own the place...what a fickle crowd these private view people are...and I'm in agreement. Most galleries I know have a little hardcore of supporters that turn up to these views, but I get the feeling CuratorSpace is a little different here. I don't know many in this crowd at all. Where do all these people come from? Why do they come? Oh yes, the art. It's a very nice show. And when I say nice, I mean nice in a completely disurbing/disturbed way. Proof, if any more were needed, that artists are, on the whole, products of quite dysfunctional family backgrounds...Cathie Pilkington's Singerie deserves special mention. A forlorn line of monkeys sit at a table covered with the detritus of an earlier party: wilting balloons, tired bunting, squashed cakes and old fag butts; some of them with their happy monkey face masks still hanging around their necks. Disturbing, melancholic and deeply unsettling. If this piece isn't sold by the time I finish writing this I'll eat my own party balloon. There's a lot of good stuff here. There's also lots of overhead talk by people about whether they are going to Transition next, or having come from there, what it's like. Seems we are all either here or there tonight and I need to be at Transition to say hello to Cathy and Alex and wish them well in their new space.
I drink up and say my goodbyes to Nigel and Lisa and head up to Regent Studios, where Transition has now taken up residence, a few floors under MOT. The balcony outside is pitch black and heaving with people and the gallery is packed. It's probably the busiest I've ever seen Transition. Cathy and Alex are looking happy at the bar, serving the last of the wine as I arrive and I overhear people saying that they have just come from Curatorspace or are heading down there. The new gallery space here is fabulous, much better than the old garage they have just moved from. I'm sure, even as I write this, that a patina of history is falling onto the old garage - small legends will be passed around like wraps of drugs, everybody getting their own little hit (who went to those first shows, who was there at Stella Vine's private view, who was there when...) I see Cathy and say hello. She looks happily at the heaving mass and says, 'It's like a real gallery.' And it is like a real gallery. I suspect she, and her loyal team of invigilators, doesn't miss the long cold days in the garage...Its certainly not cold tonight. The sweat, to take a line from Irvine Welsh, is lashing off me. I spend most of my time wiping my face and taking crowd photos, saying a few hellos, and wishing all the bars at these private views didn't run dry quite so quickly...I inadvertently lean back against a door and nearly crush a work by Sarah Gilham. She's not too happy. And then she's not too happy later when I ask for her photo. She's looking at me thinking, who is this weird, sweating guy who tries to break my work and then stalk me? I tell her about the blog and things get a little easier. Curator for this show, Mimei Thompson (above) is there looking happy with everything. Antonio Gianasi is fretting about my photos of him, as usual. Alex, Cathy and Sarah Doyle are in the back room discussing a future show. People start to leave to go onto The Dove for more drinking. The nice, new, bright, white Transition starts to empty. It's an interesting show and the gallery looks great. This is my third view of the evening and it's time for me to go. As I walk back down the stairwell I can't help but think it's a shame, but there's one crucial thing missing from the new Transition gallery:
If only they'd invested in some bomb proof curtains.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Annie Kevans Studio 1.1

Earlier in the day Mark McGowan comes into the bookshop at the ICA. He is his usual loud, slightly hamfisted self. He has a video camera with him and shows me a film he has just made with Simon Old - I think it's called Black Hawk Down. It shows Simon, dressed in a black cape and crappy handmade crows beak jumping down the Duke of York Steps, then hopping around crowing while some kids point and laugh. The film ends with a rather long segment of Simon holding an umbrella made to look like a crow, again making loud squawking noises. Mark talks about how sometimes he finds the whole gallery thing difficult, preferring to just hang out with people or do things in the street (like pushing peanuts along the road with his nose, for instance). It's just that galleries don't take notice unless you do things in white walled spaces. He tells me he saw Simon do a performance where he had a copy of Beowulf in one hand and a copy of Peter Benchley's Jaws in the other and read from both, switching from one to another. Then he covered himself in peanut butter. Mark thought this was brilliant.
I'm thinking about this and about the artworld and about the difficulties in looking at art and being able to see stuff as I'm walking to the Annie Kevans pv at Studio 1.1 in Redchurch Street. All sorts of things make it difficult to look at art. Money, for example, is certainly one of them.
Annie's graduation show sold out (to Charles, naturally) so this means that her solo show at Studio 1.1 has good odds to do the same. Approaching the gallery I see John Tiney, Lisa Penny, John Summers and a guy called Tom who has no surname (ok, he does, I just didn't get it - he's not like Prince or Madonna or something). The four of them are skulking across the road from the gallery like naughty schoolchildren. I go over and catch up, then head into the gallery scrum for a beer and then straight out again to breathe. I talk to Lisa and it seems we have some common history, both having some sort of background in drama. Lisa tells me a story about having to say the word 'furskin' in a group exercise and getting so wound up that she obviously ends up loudly saying the word 'foreskin'. It's funny story, I just wonder what the other people around us tonight think is going on. Then we talk about how much we look like other people. She looks like her niece and I look like my dad.
We say hello to Michael who is one of the guys who runs 1.1 and then head back in to try and get more beer. But we're out of luck. By the time I get to the bar at the back the beer's gone. I figure I ought to get a picture of the barman anyway, for my ongoing 'Best Barperson at a Private View Award'. Turns out he isn't your usual kind of barperson. He's called Ron and he too runs the place along with Michael, Flora, Keran and Gill (well, that's the names on the website). We have a chat and he tells me how the whole of Annie's show has sold out already. It was like a carboot sale, he says, when the dealers come early, poking their noses in to your goods before you've even got them out of the boxes, before anyone else is there and snapping up all the good stuff. 'We've sold eight to someone in Italy, another ten to someone in America'....It's thrilling stuff. And a good help to the gallery. Everyone needs a bestseller. Anyway, that's Annie and Ron above (Ron's the one on the right, by the way).
Seeing as the gallery has run dry, Lisa, John Summers and I go to the Owl and Pussycat for a drink and Lisa talks about an ex boyfriend who used to be the drummer in Cud (a band I vaguely remember from years ago). She ends up at one point in the story having a meal with Fish from Marillion in his house where the band are recording. Later on she talks about 70's perms. John is talking about the Fat Duck in Bray where he has just been for a meal. I get very excited by this as I've never been but always mean to. John tells us it's quite an experience. 'Like, dude, all the waiters are french, so this dude comes up to take the order with this, like, french twang and stuff...' If you know John, you'll know that he speaks with a pronounced American twang. It think it must have been a great thing to see him there...
We go with Annie to the after party but there's something not right (like the price of the drinks) so we make for the Bricklayers Arms. I talk to John about private views and what they achieve and what they are for and all the stuff that people usually pick up on when talking about private views. Like, how difficult it is to see the work. And it was very hard to see it tonight.
When someone asks me the following morning what the show was like I say, 'Well, she'd sold all the work before the show was opened.'
And that, I think, is the end, but also the beginning, of the story.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Spring is Sprung at Showroom

There are little things that let you know that spring is in the air. On the cherry tree in my garden little buds, like tightly clenched fists, have appeared on the dark branches; the stray cat, who we haven't seen since autumn, is back at the window, meowing for attention, strokes and food; last night on the way home from my work the park gates were still open allowing me the short cut home (they close at dusk - and dusk is at last later than my return home). So, walking up Bonner Road to Showroom's 'If it didn't exist you'd have to invent it' show, a group exhibition of around 80 artists who've appeared at the gallery over it's audacious and intelligent history, I see a whole bunch of people standing outside, talking and drinking. Ah yes, I think, spring is definitely here. This is the first private view I've been to in the year where crowds of people are happy and warm enough to enjoy the ambience of the street. So, feeling light and breezy and full of the joys of the season, I grab myself a beer and head in. Only the rules tonight are: no drink in the gallery. Suddenly I realise that's why everyone's outside. It's not warm and balmy and spring like at all. It's really cold and I'm holding an ice cold beer in my ungloved hand...
I bump into Emma Quinn from the ICA. We say hello. She is here to cover the show for ZingMagazine. And she's here tonight to get the 'vibe' of the show (she'll come back later on to see the works properly). Great, I think, someone to compare notes with. I give her the address of this blog and say she should come here, as I tend to talk a bit about 'the vibe' of private views (you, loyal reader, will know this). I also think it will be good to get her input during the night. Which I do, and of which more later.
I see Giorgio Sadotti, Liz Wright and their two adorable daughters. Both Giorgio and Liz have work here tonight and both of the pieces they have I like. Giorgio's I've seen before at MOT, but Liz's is new to me. I get her to point it out to me. There's no labels on the works so it's pot luck if you recognise stuff. That looks like a Jim Lambie, I think and, oh, there's a Martin Boyce, that's a Simon Starling, surely, etc etc...
I check in with Emma. Am I frustrated that none of the works have names and titles beside them? she asks, slightly frustrated. Do you think it's some kind of ploy? I consider this and nod sagely, wondering what it all means. Then a few minutes later I find a pile of printed handouts with the key to all the works. I hand one to Emma.
There is some great stuff here. And as I'm thinking this I bump into Warren Neidich. I've written before about him at private views: he talks to you for a few seconds and then he's off, clutching at someone else. Tonight, apropos of nothing, he says, 'I have attention deficit disorder at these things. I can't keep any concentration on anyone.' 'YES,' I practically shout at him, 'THAT'S RIGHT!I KNOW YOU CAN'T,' and as I'm a sucker for people with a scintilla self knowledge (aren't we all?) we then talk for a bit. At one point he says: 'I think the real problem with young artists working today - and I see this in the Beck's Futures show - is this...' I hold my breath. I think: this is going to be really interesting and certainly something that I should remember and put in the blog later. Here's a man who is going to lay it on the line, who's going to say what is happening here.
Then, suddenly, he's finished. Somehow I didn't actually get what it was that he was saying. I drifted off. Or went into some private view black hole. And he's ended with something, like, 'they're all uptight in London at the moment'. Then he points to a work on the wall here. 'Hey, man, look at that.' He is pointing at something that I could only describe as 'the least uptight piece of work I have ever seen'. I think I'm losing it. By the time we say goodbye he has invited me to do a show with him. I wonder how may other people have been invited to do a show with Warren?
Time to check in again with Emma. A good thing, because she has picked up on the amount of children here. It's just past eight o'clock and the gallery seems to have finally started to empty of them. As well as Giorgio and Liz's lovely daughters I'm sure there were at least another fifty or so kids here when I arrived. More than I think I have seen at any other private view I've ever been to. It makes me feel both very old and very young at the same time. And it's indicative of the show, and the artists, here tonight. Most of the private views I go to are young affairs - the in-your-face, we're-up-for-it, just out of college kind of things. Showroom is different, it has a unique place in the London art world, having doggedly shown some truly great artists over the last few hundred years. Artists who are committed to the work. Artists who have been working for a long time. Artists who really deal with the big questions. What you might call, in laypersons terms, 'Really Good Artists'. So it's an older crowd. With more children, but with less mayhem and excitement and feverish looking around. There's less need to be seen and to be looked at. And to revisit Emma's question earlier, I'd say this makes 'the vibe' pretty good...
As I walk back down Bonner Road at the end of the night, two things are left in my head. One, is that for so many works (and also tonight, people) in the space, none of the works seemed cramped. They all had space to just be. It's a beautifully hung show. And secondly, all the works had that weight you get from good art and a little history. Of the stuff tonight there was maybe 70% where I knew the artists work and could arrange some kind of context around the particular piece. Many of them seemed to be much bigger and to have greater depth than they could possibly be carrying on their own. They were pieces from a bigger picture. And The Showroom has always been part of a much bigger picture.
This is a great show.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

From Navels to Nipples

The tiny bar, Hat on Wall, is on Hatton Wall (geddit?) where we go for the launch of Giorgio Sadotti's book, From Navels to Nipples Henry Moore. I talk to Mari Reijnders and Lisa Penny. Naturally, we talk a bit about Becks and Mari talks about the problems with prizes and how he doesn't agree with them. Lisa asks him if someone wanted to give him 25K for doing artwork whether he would turn it down. He wouldn't. But he's not so happpy. After one particularly lengthy declaration he says, 'I'm really not an idealist'. And of course, I think: how often people most precisely describe themselves when emphatically declaring what they are not. Rachel Tweddell arrives and we talk some more. We are all very impressed with Giorgio's beautiful book, but like most of Giorgio's work it takes a bit of questioning. There are pages from books in the Henry Moore library reproduced with circles cut out of them. I know that the radius of the circle is determined by the distance in the image between navel and nipple. We also notice that the holes get bigger throughout the book. And where the holes are, can we see through to the next page? And what is the view on the other page, with just a circle and no surrounding page? And why these images? In this order? In this way? Then we talk about other stuff: art, shows, beck's (again), collecting, business cards (Mari's one has a drawing of himself done by a ten year old boy they know. It's a lovely little piece of ephemera and I slip it carefully in my wallet), and then, finally, Rachel and I have a very satisfying conversation about...cats. And we exchange theories that we have heard. Mine: that cats look upon us wondering when we will evolve enough to walk on all fours. Rachel's: that cats believe when their owners come home from work at night and feed them that they have spent the day out hunting for this food. Then the brilliant Superqueens start playing and we move to the back to watch. I get a photo of Giorgio (above) and he says, 'I saw a photo of myself on your website thing.' Oh, yes,' I say, not sure if he is about to lamp me one, 'if you're not happy about it, you can just email me and I'll take it down.' 'No,' he says, 'it's fine. I was just surprised, that's all.' I take a couple of photos of the band, then bump in to John Tiney with his Russian Submarine Commander look. Apparently a friend had cut his hair for him. Then John had to go straight to the nearest barber's to have it sorted out. When he got there and took off his hat all three barber's stopped what they were doing and just looked at him.
Luckily, they sorted him out. I leave, thinking about holes and cats, my ears ringing with the Superqueens' 'you're a lap dancer, you're a lap dancer, you're a lap dancer...' following me home.