The Art Conference, I guess the clue is in the title? The Art Conference opened earlier today, spread out over the three floors of The Ugly Duck, a beautiful 19th century warehouse type building not far from the river down by London Bridge. A 48 bus ride from Hackney, so let’s go poke a nose or two in…
According to the press release The Art Conference is a two-day festival for art, tech and culture professionals held on the 23rd and 24th of July, brings together 18+ international keynote speakers, artists and thought leaders to debate across a series of seminars, panel discussions and interactive exhibitions. We are creating a platform to discuss, connect and engage with contemporary art from a fresh perspective”
The plush looking exhibition is mostly located on the ground floor of the rather beautiful brick building, the conference aspect is happening behind closed across the upper two. The £80 day ticket is a little beyond most of us (£150 for the full weekend), I guess there were early bird tickets at £65 a shot and a slight discount for students..). Not met a London artist or curator who’s said they’re going (have been making a point of asking people in the last couple of weeks, this thing has got me a little curious), £80 a day? Not for the likes of us then? Most of us are busy with trying to survive in this city, most of us need every penny we make for studio rent and if we’re lucky we have a bit left for a fresh tube of paint and a beer.
The exhibition part is free to get in to but this really doesn’t feel like the important part of what’s going on here. We can hear bits of the conference going on, RJ from Vandalog is in there talking, not sure when he last covered anything going on in this city (I think the last time we saw him in town was when he put on that show of mostly US street art and we did a radio interview for our show on Resonance with him, rather good show actually but hey, not sure if any of these people are in touch with our world?) Actually where is the Resonance representation at this conference? Surely London’s only dedicated arts radio station should be here somewhere?
There’s not much going on in terms of the promised networking or engagement, well not in the exhibition area, I guess it might be happening behind the closed-doors upstairs, who knows? Is anyone up there? Hard to tell? Downstairs is mostly a little tame and politely (un)engaging, there’s some mostly “nice looking” art, nothing that edgy, nothing that confrontational or dangerous, nothing throwing out the sort of challenge or the type of questions you’d expect at an art conference (well besides those Tinsel Edwards signs that convey some of the anger and frustration that comes with being a London-based artist right now). Sure, there’s a nicely hung show, all correctly put together, everything by the book, correctly formal, nice white frames, nice white walls, nice white labels, a nice enough exhibition. There’s a row of red phone boxes over there, has someone let D7606 in? Actually a red phone box is about as unusual as a soup can at a show these days (why are there so may soup cans can’t go a week without another soup can), these red phone boxes are the work of Dan Witz, they’re a bit more exciting that an over-repeated mass produced paste-up, but hey, hardly radical is it? Actually Dan Witz is an interesting artist, I suspect the environment is stifling everything a little, the art in here feels a little neutered, the art in here feels a little like it’s had its balls chopped off
There is good art though, the Colin McMaster pieces (and room-like area) are rather delightful, well no, they deserve to be called a little more than delightful, delightful is a little disrespectful, his space is engaging, it is delightful! There’s a lot of digital art flickering away, people looking at things via headsets and virtual reality, things are running on laptop computers, do we need galleries for that? Can we just watch a YouTube rather than sit in a gallery watching a small computer screen wearing headphones? Maybe they’re addressing that in the conference bit? Maybe someone will put it on YouTube later? No sign of Tinsel’s signs? Tinsel Edwards is one of the familiar artists, about the only one here from “our” world, an artist often encountered in the back street art spaces of London exhibiting and curating, good to see her in here, good to see one of “ours”, an activist though? (The signs are finally tracked down after several enquiries, hiding on the second floor away from the rest of the exhibition).
Maser’s City Lights in the back space beyond the white cube area are colourful to walk through, the space occupied my that piece leading to Robert Montgomery’s Light Poetry is a little more like it. Oh look, the art in here on the whole, is okay, some of it rather good, Jordan Seiler’s Collisions and Access looks encouraging, inviting, exciting, I don’t know, not sure what I was expecting? Not sure what the organisers were trying to communicate? Not sure what the organisers were expecting of us? Were they trying to communicate anything? There’s probably a statement from them somewhere? What was this all about? I guess if I had shelled out the eighty notes for a day ticket it might have thrown up some stimulating talk and such? Maybe? Would it? Networking? What are we supposed to be networking?
The cast of The panel of keynote speakers apparently included: Jordan Seiler (Artist, Founder of Public Ad Campaign), Mia Grondahl (Art Administrator, Founder of Women on Walls), Dan Witz (Artist, Project Breathing Room), Tinsel Edwards (Artist and Activist), RJ Rushmore (Journalist and Curator, Founder of Vandalog), Lucy McLauchlan (Artist), Robert Montgomery (Artist, Poet and Sculptor), Maser (Fine Artist and Mural Painter), Jose Montemayor (VR artist and photographer), Valentina Fois (Digital art curator), Dan Lewis (App Developer, Founder of Skute), Teresa Latuszewska (Founder of Urban Forms Foundation), Vestalia Chilton (Curator of MB6, Morocco), Guillaume Trotin (Director of OpenWalls Gallery), Louis Jensen (Art Director, Founder of Spraying Bricks), Charlotte Webster (Arts Administrator, Founder of Human Nature).
Oh look, the conference is happening behind closed doors and beyond the pocket of us mere artists, none of the art audience we regularly see in London appear to be here either, i guess the price is beyond them as well? Or maybe the idea of a conference just doesn’t excite them? It might have been good up there in the actual conference bit?Maybe? Who knows? The exhibition has some moments, most of it is a little too polite and just a little too well behaved and conservative, a little too clean-cut and sanitised and most weeks there’s more excitement, more energy and more attitude to be found in the artist run spaces, the warehouse events, in the car parks and the sculpture woods, in the surviving art galleries still managing to hang on in the gentrified back streets of London (the back streets I suspect anyone taking part in this conference never ventures anywhere near)..
There was a pleasant enough deck chair area outside, no networking there either though. What was happening here? A different world? An art world divorced from most working artists? Oh I don’t know, it all seemed very polite and not feeling like it was for the likes of us scumbags. Was it relevant? Did I waste an afternoon? Think I’ll stick to the excitement of metalwork workshops down Clare Street or the odd bit of Play when we can still find a space to do it ourselves, art conferences aren’t for us, we’ll get on with doing what we do and leave them to it, we’ll look forward to what remains of Hackney WickEd and the open studios and brick walls of East London next weekend. . glad we came though, i think I’m glad? it is good to poke a nose in and see isn’t it? Decent enough exhibition I guess? Was it? Oh I don’t know, all seems a long way away from Joshua Compston, not sure what this was all about? 40 years since punk rock shook up the music world this year, dare we suggest the art world needs a revolution? What was this all about? (sw)
The Art Conference continues tomorrow, Sunday July 24th. Full program, details of the artists, speakers and tickets available via the website www.theartconference.com The exhibition area is free to get in to.
The exhibition area is free to get in to, here’s a photo or two, click on an image to enlarge or run the slide show….