Play happened last weekend, something like forty-three or so artists gathered together under the umbrella of Cultivate. I think we ended up with forty-three artists? We haven’t done a final count yet, couple of no-shows, couple of last minute additions, couple of almost there in a minimal kind of glittery pyramid kind of way, couple of rule-breaking gate crashers, rules are there for breaking if the art is good enough. The venue was a now empty warehouse, by the railway station, just off the glories of London Fields, deepest Hackney, East London. A now tired looking warehouse apparently opened in 1980 by one time Labour prime minister James Callaghan MP, or so the rather tarnished brass plaque on the crumbling not so white wall says. The place was a frozen food factory until recently (those yellow stickers left on the back of the warehouse door will be familiar to many a person staggering home after a gig and grabbing a dubious late night snack from the local corner shop). Apparently the place was loved by the local squatters, always good for a touch of skip diving and some free food late at night. The place is empty now, a shell of its former self, crumbling and earmarked for demolition and no doubt yet more expensive flats that no one around here will be able to afford to rent. The tired old warehouse comes down at the end of the year, until then a sculpture collective have their eager hands on it, and for one weekend before the sculptors start doing their thing, it because the latest home for the ever evolving thing that is Cultivate
Play then, we said it was to be a maximalist art event in an East London warehouse, did we achieve maximalism? Well we certainly blistered our feet. We’d been plotting this one for about a month and a half, we’d been waiting for the right situation to come along, the right space in the right place for our next cultivated adventure.
Cultivate? What’s Cultivate? A quick refresh; Cultivate existed as an artist-run gallery for around three years down on a corner right in the middle of East London’s Vyner Street. The building has gone now, property developers have pretty much ripped the art out of what was once the heart beat of East London’s art scene, the building that housed Cultivate was knocked down at the start of the year, quite a few buildings reduced to rubble down the once gloriously creative street now. A street once alive with art and creativity is now, sadly, a street pretty much lost to property developers, gentrification, bland looking flats and well, time to move on, time to go play somewhere else.
Play then, we said it was to be a maximalist art event in an East London warehouse, so did we actually achieve a maximalist state? Well I think we left the playground with smiles on our tired faces, left with a little glow of satisfaction as we brushed up the last of Alexandra Unger’s flower petals and lugged our big canvas pieces though the streets and back to the studio.
So here then, well down there underneath this words, are all the photos from the entire weekend, from the first artist to arrive – Darren Coffield with his Factual Nonsense – that was really appreciated, the last of Darren’s vital biography of Joshua Compston left for the artists taking part to take, Darren said something about it being a good place to get the last of the books out and that Joshua would have approved of what was happening in the warehouse over the weekend. Truth is, without Joshua Compston this almost certainly would not have happened, whole slices of the East London art scene would not have happened, honoured indeed to have Darren say what he did, we all have a lot to thank Joshua for, he should not be forgotten, he won’t be.
We’d been herding and selecting the artists for weeks, carefully choosing them, sending out invites, press releases, putting up posters, sorting out the legal side (insurance cover is expensive), getting the word out on social media, attempting to involve those in the area, London Fields Brewery aren’t that friendly are they? The Laundry not much better – but then the Laundry in one of those new places that have come along with the gentrification and the people who do very little besides drinking coffee and eating food. The Laundry is a so called arts centre that really is all about gentrification, first thing they did when they took over the building and kicked the artists out was to have the much loved beacon that was the big Stik figure up on the chimney of their building cleaned off – it was “messy” and “not the right image” apparently. Couldn’t get London Fields brewery or the Laundry to put up a poster, let alone get involved in something happening right on their doorsteps. When we first opened Cultivate one of the most important things for us was to engage with the people already living here, not hide behind closed doors and aloof attitudes, if you’re going to move in then surely you must engage and be part of things, don’t just take over and look down your nose (I’ve been living around here for years, still feel like I’m a guest of the Londoners, I’m in their manor, I’m honoured when they come join in, this is their borough, not ours, nothing gives me more pleasure than the people who been here for years feel they want to come in and see what we’re doing.
So the artists were selected, a bit of cross-pollination, get some artists in a room who probably don’t know of each other, mix up the tribes, Skeleton Cardboard next to Martin Sexton, This One’s graphic style and some of his broken down doors and found bike frames next to the painterly fine art style of Romi Catalan or the porcelain figures, chains and collars of Mia-Jane Harris, the precise lines and bold mathematical colour of Patrick Morrissey and Hanz Hancock complimenting the detailed textures of John Lee Bird, the social statements and values of Megan Pickering next to the street art brightness of Hackney’s very own Charlie McFarley – important to have Charlie in here, he’s grew up around these parts, born and bred here, his bright bright paintings a result of a childhood growing up in the grey grime of 70’s/80’s East London, his way of escaping the lack of colour – East London wasn’t always as colourful as it is now, some of us remember the burnt out cars and the no-go areas, not every change is bad, lot of good things happening around here as well as bad, Charlie adds the colour.
Marnie Scarlet brought Marilyn along, Amy Elizabeth kingmill performed her “Discarded” piece on the Sunday afternoon, meanwhile spontaneous bit of painting happened outside, the rubbish piles were no longer just rubbish piles, kids played with toy cars, people explored, wrote on the name tags of Rebecca Feiner’s clothes drying rack or underneath Sig Waller’s big red umbrella…
It all happened one minute from London Fields railway station and right by Broadway Market, by the park itself (and all that that involves on a summer weekend). The plan was a very busy two day art exhibition, a place to Play, artists coming together and doing it ourselves, doing it in a great big warehouse (guarded by a Burning Candy cat and sweet set of teeth, 2010 vintage rather then the fangs of now). We wanted to bring an unwanted building to life again, walls and floors alive with paintings, with sculpture, installation and more, street artists jousting with contemporary painters, sculptors juggling around installations, performance next to leaf growth, next to Emma Harvey’s bold red mouths or Julia Maddison’s Our Lady of The Chip Shop or the big banners of Danny Pockets … A two day art show in a great big beautiful shell of a (soon to be demolished) warehouse. A gathering of pro-active artists who had either exhibited work with is at Cultivate during the three year Vyner Street period or worked alongside us at other events in recent times. We were being very picky about who we invited to take part, we wanted the show to be balanced and considered, very much a curated thought out exhibition rather than a chaotic free for all, we wanted the exhibition to flow, you work as one whole, we wanted the black and white illustration of Mille Easton or Phillip Hawkey next to the intrigue of samuel Brzeski or India Roper Evans – but this was essentially artists coming together for a DIY punk rock style weekend art exhibition in a disused East London warehouse.. Egos and attitudes left at home, artists coming together to make something happen, a busy show, maximalism in the ruins of the fast disappearing East London playground and everyone is invited to come have a look and explore the walls and floors, explore the art and the people making it…
So the first of the artists started arriving at the empty warehouse just before 8am on Saturday morning, installing all around, frantically directing people, Flora Deborah’s big red piece, slightly moving Meiko kikuta’s work (didn’t it look amazing as the light changed), fitting it all together, Deborah Griffin’s customary stylish arrival, by midday the space was full, Glenn Fitzpatrick’s throne in place, Roger Clarke’s pieces somehow standing up. Everyone working, making it happen, we knew the artists would make it happen…
Here, (well down there at the end) in some kind of chronological order, are the photographs of the weekend, from the first artists arriving (very) early on Saturday morning, to the lights going out on Saturday evening to the sunshine, bright clothing and ice cream of Sunday until the last petals were swept up late on Sunday night.
It was a pleasure to see it all unfold and happen, to see it all come in to play. To see people putting the jigsaw together, (yes MOB was there, or at least his work was). It felt good, it felt like it was about the art and the artists, the people and the place, about using a building where so much has gone on, a place where people once worked, where lives were lived. it was about creatively making use of a space and inviting everyone to join in before it all gets knocked down to make way for something that probably excludes most of us, about one of the last stands before we artists have to leave East London. It was about people coming together, working as one and making it happen – just people, art and a coming together to share it all, no egos, no power tripping curators with their bad attitudes, and hopefully no treating the artists badly, an antidote to the artist-exploiting cash-cow attitudes of so many galleries, the chew up people and spit them out attitude of some who should know better, It was no accident that this happened on the same weekend that the cynical Royal Academy show was being installed. This was about artists coming together, respecting each other, pulling together, sharing our art with whoever wanted to take up the invitation to come see it, it was about making things happen on our terms. Yes, it took a lot of effort (big thanks everyone) but, if nothing else, this proves things can happen if artists REALLY want it to happen – it really can happen, artists making things happen, artists saying no to the way the Lonodn art scene treats them is what Cultivate was about in Vyner Street , Play was about artists taking the doing it all ourselves a step further…
I think we pulled it off, I enjoyed it, I hope everyone else did. Yes, I shall say it myself, it was indeed a brilliant weekend, I was a little burnt out by the end of it all so sorry if I missed thanking anyone at the end, big thanks everyone! Enjoy the photos from the dying Cultivate camera. Now where can we play next? On with the Cultivation, here’s to maximum overdrive and an East London punk rock state of mind, you haven’t quite driven us away yet… (SW)
Big thanks to the Whitesao crew for taking the time to join in and make the video
Click on an image to enlarge or to run the slide show (now who’s going to crowdfund a new Cultivate camera to document all these things, we’ve worn this one out)