Da Da Da...
As you well know, I've been to a lot of private views over the last twelve months - small ones, big ones, some as big as your head, but tonight is the first time I've ever been asked to pay in order to gain entrance. Seriously, no kidding: I actually have to pay to get in, it's not like part of an installation or anything. And the real irony of this, I think, is that the place I'm trying to get into (and the place to which I was invited) is a derelict shop on Tottenham Court Road which is being squatted by a bunch of artists who are putting on a show. Well, what can you say? Yes, that's right, that's exactly what I think about saying - but instead, in the interests of my research, I keep my trap shut, pay my quid fee and walk in.
This is a show organised by DA Gallery - the DA stands for Direct Action - a group of young artists who find empty buildings and squat them to put on art shows. I walk into a dimly lit corridor which has some cotton or similar sort of string threaded across it, from wall to wall, like fake cobwebs. I have to dip my head slightly to avoid getting caught in it, or pulling it out the walls. At the end I walk up a staircase. Everything is dirty and cracked, plaster falling off the walls, holes where light switches used to be now housing claw-like wires holding tiny bulbs. It all looks like a proper squat. Then, on the first floor there's a brightly lit room with some people milling around. There's a girl who looks to be in charge - smartly dressed, clipboard, glasses, hair in a bun, official looking - and a team of boys and girls dressed head to foot in white overalls, as though they are conducting some experiment. There's a long table, a laptop and an industrious air about them. Behind them there are some words painted on the wall: Cows Under No Title (did you see what they did there?). Anyway, you have your photo taken, fill in a form with a few details, then your image and information is printed on a T shirt. In a couple of weeks time they'll email you and tell you where to pick it up. There's a suggestion that it will be a public place and you'll have to get there sharpish to get your own T shirt. I think.
I'm not sure about this. Maybe I'll have a look round at the rest of the show first...
There's another room on this floor, with a small bar, a few bits and pieces of things which may be art and some people miling around or standing looking out of the large window onto Tottenham Court Road. There are a couple of guys fiddling with electrical equipment and a short while later someone starts moving instruments in here too. I guess later there will be music. I head up the stairs. On the next floor there's another room with what looks like more art, though this seems more constructed and thought out. There's a kitchen sink arrangement with plants and tubes and buckets and wood and tape and lots of carrots. A girl is demonstrating its use, a chain reaction which ends with a small guillotine sharply descending and slicing through a carrot. Except in this particular demonstration she forgets the carrot. 'Oh,' she says, finally placing a carrot into the path of the blade, 'here - it will chop it.' She manually raises the blade again and lets it drop. It sticks in the carrot. 'It does usually chop it in two,' she says, wrestling with the blade. I move on. Near this is another contraption with lots of bicycle wheels. I don't know if this does anything. There's no one demonstrating anything here...maybe it just does nothing.
I head up, even further into the building and come across a room with a few chairs and a long hammock like construction. A film is being projected onto the wall. Oh no, I think, video art...
But then, wait, what's this - the film is brilliant. Lots of samples of old fifties and sixties films somehow projected onto little origami like paper trains that are roaring along a track. It's such an original piece of work I can hardly describe it.
It's fast, exciting, innovative, enormously inventive, breathtaking and truly captivating. I sit down. I can't take my eyes off the screen. I wasn't expecting anything of this calibre. When, about 10 minutes later, it finishes I'm so exhilarated I can hardly stop smiling. I can't believe I've just seen such a great piece of work. I scan the credits. It's a film by Virgil Widrich, who I've never heard of and who clearly isn't affiliated to the group of artists in this squat - they are just showing his film. Anyway, it's called FAST FILM and you can watch it HERE.
After this I reckon it'll be difficult to look at much else here. As I leave the room there's a girl with a string puppet mooching around. He doesn't look very happy. And neither am I when I almost put my foot through a hole in the floor. There's a fairly noticeable lack of concern for any health and safety issues about this place. And a minute later, still worrying about this, as I am standing in a room that has been completely covered with carboard, a guy comes through a hole in the wall on his hands and knees almost dropping the cigarette he is carrying. He scuttles past me while I wonder a) how long before the whole thing goes up in flames and b) how granddad here ought not to go to squats anymore...
It's all a bit of fun really. I suspect it's as well to leave your art criticism at the door (along with your pound coin) as this is an attitude, a proclamation, a stance, more than a serious art show. I suspect they'll hate me for saying that, but that's ok, I'm old and they're young - I'm not supposed to understand them.
I make my way back down to the room with the C.U.N.T.s in it and, what the hell, let them take a photo of my face and print it onto a T shirt. Earlier today I met up with someone I hadn't seen for 20 years (which was lovely and amazing) and I give this fact as my 'anything else we should know' answer on the form to commemorate it on the T shirt. I wonder where the T shirt will end up?
I got the invite to this place tonight by a girl called Steph Smith. I feel I should say hello and get a bit more information from her. I ask the girl with the glasses and clipboard if Steph is around. 'Ummm,' she says, 'she should be.' We walk round a couple of the rooms, but don't find her. 'She's wearing a black and white dress, black and grey tights, burgundy shoes...and she has brown hair.'
I spend the next five minutes looking at girls, their dresses and their shoes. None of them fit this description but I do get some rather strange looks myself.
I figure that maybe I have enough information on the evening after all and make my way back down the stairs.
Luckily there's no charge for leaving.