Thursday, September 28, 2006

Private: Staff Only

I think this sums it up:
I am standing outside Clare Evan's house, some time around midnight, in the pouring rain, shaking my camera about in the wet night air to try and cool it down as it's so overheated it's completely locked up every function and I can't get it to do a thing. I can't even turn the damn thing off and it feels as hot as hell, like it might just explode. I've been shooting stuff inside her house: a hallway plastered with the names of everyone who works at the ICA written on seperate pieces of cardboard, a kitchen table immaculately spread with food, all and every bit of it white, and all under an ultra violet light; 20 editions of my name on A4 sheets of paper stuck around the house; Joe Schneider playing his accordian; Ekow Eshun knocking back a shot of rum before being blindfolded and having a go at 'Pin the Smile on the Mona Lisa'; a girl with masking tape across her mouth filming everything; a french girl shouting at me from the bar when I'm trying to get a drink; the neighbours dropping in to say 'hi'; djs playing, people dancing, drinking 'Private Staff Only' beer, numbers one to many. And all this for: the private view for a show that is happening a few miles away, which opened nearly a month ago and which you can't see because it isn't being shown.
I thought so.
What is all this about?
OK. First, we need to go back a few months.
Joe Schneider is an usher at the ICA and an artist and that's not unusual to be an artist and work in an arts institution. And Joe is putting up signs as a call for submissions for some sort of ICA staff show. He wants to get something going with people here - something like a show or whatever, the details aren't that clear, but he wants to make something happen.
I'm intrigued, but a little unsure of how this can work.
OK, wait, hang on, we need to skip back even further.
Let's take it right back to 1996. I'm working at Waterstone's Booksellers in their Charing Cross Road branch (it closed a few years ago and became a luggage store, then a Soho Original Book Shop, an erotic art gallery and then also home to Claire de Rouen books, but whatever) - I'm working there and for most of the time there I do the window displays. As part of this role I have a sort of studio, off the shopfloor, a couple of flights up, off a back corridor in the building. It functions as my studio for the display works and also, sort of, as some kind of studio for me. I make a work called, 'It is November 1996. I am working at Waterstone's, Charing Cross Road. These people work here too.' It is 50 individual photographs, one of each member of the staff that works there. I put it up on the wall round the corner from the studio.
I send out invitations to the shop staff. They come and look at it. I keep it up there for a month and then take it down.
Now, skip forward maybe six or seven years and I'm at the ICA and we have a new Director of Exhibitions coming and he is called Jens Hoffmann and there's an article in frieze about him and we read it because we want to know who he is and what maybe he is going to do here. In the piece Jens makes reference to a show he curated while he was at the Guggenheim. On his desk. Without telling anyone. I like this a lot.
So, back now again to a few months ago and I say to Joe that if we are going to have a staff show maybe we could have it in the ICA, but only in non public areas, so it can't be seen.
Joe's at first a little confused as to why we should do a show you can't see. I tell him about the Jens show at the Guggenheim and I'm thinking about the piece I did at Waterstone's and I talk a little bit about the show having a layer or two about it.
And eventually, he agrees. We have thoughts originally about public tours round the back of the ICA and people making appointments but this doesn't work out - it's too tricky with insurance and yada yada yada...
So we do it. Joe and I put together a show by staff at the ICA and we place it in the back areas of the ICA. Some people have clear ideas where they want the work to go, many leave it to myself and Joe.
Joe opts to be the unofficial artist-in-residence for the duration of the show and I put a very large wall piece of my name in Ekow Eshun's office (above). Regular readers of this blog (thanks, love and gratitude to the pair of you) will know that I am doing a series of works just using my name (click here and here). Anyway, people submit works, a complete range of stuff -styles, media, qualities, whatever...well, we take them all. I figure that this is a show about art institutions and the people that work in them, it's not just about the works. I give the exhibition a subtitle of 'a show that is not being shown.'
We set up a blog to record all the works. Jens writes a piece about the show and so does Joe. And now I am writing this. The blog has photos of the works in situ and and text by each of the participants. The word artist seems also to be at question here too - there are people who put things in who are resolutely not artists and I like the way that his seems to scratch away at another level. The works come in throughout September and October. There's a start date but I'm happy for the whole thing just to build up as and when people can contribute, as and when we can find the time to access monitors, dvd players, hammers, nails, extension cables...
You can look at it here.
Eventually my camera cools down, turns itself off and shuts down.
I go back inside and pick up another bottle of beer. Clare's piece for the show is a party. Clare did a project before about bands that never made it. Now she's doing this private view for a show that is not being shown.
I look around at some of the ICA staff who are here.
It is September 2006, I think, and I am working at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Some of these people here tonight work there too.

party pics


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