Five years on from that infamous September First Thursday with the naked honey covered red men, the messy punk band in the back of a truck, the opening of Cultivate in a space that 24 hours before had been a storage room for a junk shop and full of old beds and all kinds of diabolical rubbish (we picked up the keys in the afternoon, cleared it out and three hours later we had a First Thursday exhibition open and a group show hung on the walls of a new gallery. We’d put the word out and invited artists the night before, people turned up with art and drills, rolled up their sleeves and it all came together), it wasn’t the greatest art show ever, of course it wasn’t, but it was so exciting to just make it happen and to be part of something that was so alive, to be open and engaging and have hundreds (thousands?) of people coming in. The whole street was alive that night (and for the next two or three brilliantly busy years of First Thursdays until the developers started to really bite). A street alive with people, art, laughter, engagement, galleries and art spaces up and down Vyner Street – fifteen or twenty or so galleries, spaces and such on that first night, people traveling from miles around to be part of it, First Thursday and the East End was alive, not just Vyner Street, all over the East End – Redchurch Street, along the Hackney Road, up at Whitechapel, spaces here and there, spaces seemingly everywhere, just take a walk and find a show, no need for a map or an app, oh look there’s another. There really was a whole load of energy, attitude and exciting art, where did it all go?
Fast forward five years and oh how things have declined, there’s still art shows here and there in East London, it is still worth exploring, sometimes the art is exciting, but now the openings and events exist in (mostly uninviting) isolation. First Thursday, if it does actually still exist in terms of anything other that an unenthusiastic website, is little more than a show here, a show somewhere over there twenty minutes away and the sad truth is the first Thursday evening of the month is pretty much just like any other Thursday night. Art shows still happen but they happen in isolation now and First Thursday is no more significant that the second, third of fourth Thursday of the month, shows are mostly hidden in unclear venues, art is mostly aloof and unwelcoming, exhibitions hidden behind closed doors and meaningless artschool-induced show statements.
We’re desperate for some art on this First Thursday of September, the start of Autumn, the start of the supposed art season, we really want art to engage with us tonight, we’re actively out there trying to find it. The official First Thursday website isn’t promising that much, nothing really jumps out and as usual several of the shows we know to be happening aren’t listened (getting past official apathy and getting your show listed officially was always at best very very frustrating),
The exploring starts at New Art Projects, Fred Mann’s gallery just behind Broadway Market down by the Regent’s Canal here in Hackney. The always seemingly freshly painted very white space has a new show opening tonight, most of the shows at New Art Projects have been rewarding. As always, the four open plan rooms give the current show a feeling of four separate shows, the whole thing is actually a Robin Footitt solo show, an exhibition called Modern Grammar
– New Art Projects is pleased to present Modern Grammar, Robin Footitt’s first exhibition at the gallery. Modern Grammar looks at the way we punctuate the modern world of social media. Punctuation adds thought and time to how text is read. We decipher simple notation to add voices (“ ”), take a pause (,), and even add subtext – these symbols have even developed a language of their own with emoticons.
The way we live is punctuated by increments whether physical, emotional or functional (birthdays, anniversaries, death) and these are commonplace tools in social networks to announce… .blah blah blah
Don’t know what to make of Modern Grammar. There’s three not very exciting graphically-inclined blue and white pieces in frames on the wall that really could be the work of a different artist to the other pieces in the other rooms (the three blue and white pieces could very easily be the work of any one of a million graphic designers or fresh out of art school printmakers flogging their prints in local shops mostly set up for those buying a slightly more expensive birthday card). The sculptures in the fourth room are kind of exciting, striking pieces, glorious curves, the colours kind of relate to the big wall-based pieces in the first room but then there’s those painterly textured pieces over there that surely aren’t by the same artist? And oh, I don’t know it seems to be a show full of its own self-importance when really it just isn’t that important or interesting and none of it really relates to the wordy artist statement – we really should stop reading these damn statements – “My thoughts are with you at this difficult time (4 likes),
Modern Grammar isn’t really saying anything, really not feeling like hitting the “like” option on the social media event page that alerted us to the existence of the show in the first place. The three-dimensional pieces in that white room over there are kind of exciting, they don’t communicate much besides some rather pleasing form and colour – nice shiny things. Apparently six of the images in the second room involve “a narrative with the Maltese Falcon”, yeah right, but what has that got to do with Modern Grammar or that giant paperclip or… ? The sculptures were “nice”, they’re certainly worth a “like” and maybe a “share”, mostly the feeling is of bored detachment and a “whatever” imoji thing, that and a need to move on to the next gallery. The sculpture might have been exciting if the rest hadn’t diluted it – that’s the problem, the body of work dilutes the body of work, the giant paper clip on the door should have brought a “smiley”, it just makes for a “so what” and adds to the identity crisis that both the artist and the show are suffering, are you sure this isn’t a group show?
Around the corner on the second floor of the Regents tower block the Transition Gallery people are once again doing there best to hide the fact that their space exists and might even be open. The show opening actually looked to be the most interesting thing listed on the (annoying) First Thursday website, the one image on-line looked powerful, and if we hadn’t looked on that website we’d have absolutely no idea the show was happening tonight!. What the hell is it with this gallery? What is the point? Still no signs, still no engagement, still no indication that there might just be a gallery in the building or an art show might be happening and that people might actually be welcome. How difficult is it to hang a sign on the big fence outside for the evening? If you didn’t already know there was a gallery hiding up on the second floor you’d have absolutely no clue, how difficult can it be to photocopy a couple of notices with a couple of arrows pointing the way? Don’t they want people to come? Does art really want to be that aloof? We’re tempted to just give up trying to work out which set of doors might take us through the warren of a tower block it is and just piss off to the damn pub instead.
When we finally do work out which door and which set of stairs leads to the right place (with the help of some friendly residents in another part of the building), the intimate DIY art space offers a reasonably interesting show and a stimulating set of images, some strong pieces and a decent question or two thrown out
Isolation Chamber Vacation is an exhibition of artist’s responses to the subject of ‘aloneness’ and exploration of cultural representations of solitude. The work of five artists: Juno Calypso, Hannah Ford, Kirsty Buchanan, Nicola Frimpong and Katerina Jebb, will be shown alongside contexualising objects and ephemera from curator Sarah’s research into the theme. These objects include artists’ books, as well as letters, back-issues of magazines and a library of ‘recommended reading’.
There is some interesting art and there is a good show trying to break out somewhere in here, not really feeling isolation though, maybe the hang is too busy and the walls a little bit too alive, pieces talking to each other across the small room for anything to really feel alone or isolated? If anything it feels more like a show about female sexuality than anything, There’s no indication of whose work is who’s but this is an interesting show, there are some pieces of art in here that suggest one or two of the group of participating artists might be worth exploring a little more (oh for a label and an artist’s name, there’s probably a piece of paper somewhere around here, damned if I can find one)
With its horror-filled connotations of madness and perversity on the one hand, and its elevated status as a tool for creative genius on the other, the concept of solitude has long fascinated society in general and the creative community in particular
Strange show, confused show., annoying space, she doesn’t get it, neither do I. Why is there a crudely coloured-in drawing of a girl with a ball gag in her mouth over there? Why is there a big naked female image next to it? Soft porn? Is this really about isolation? Shall we just go to the pub? Seems the show is on for a month, wonder if anyone ever goes up there during regular opening hours? Surely know one knows the show is on or that there’s even an art space up there? Why don’t galleries have signs, why do they not want to engage with the public? I don’t get it, maybe that’s part of the feeling of isolation? The concept of being alone? “We put on a show about isolation and no one came….” Make a damn sign and engage! Here, have some more blurb about the exhibition, we’re off for a pint, oh look, Oust has been at it again down by the canal, by far the most exciting engaging thing so far this evening
Off we go past that arts council funded Guest Projects gallery space that’s never ever actually open, up along the canal to the Kingsland Road, oh look there’s another locked up gallery space, if you don’t want to use them give us the keys for a week, we’ll put on a show, we’ll put out some signs, we like to engage, we like open doors and people feeling welcome. Art doesn’t need to dumb down, to think it does need to is to insult the audience, but surely it needs to be open and engaging?. Is there anything more depressing than a closed and locked art gallery door or a gallery that make yoo feel like you’re not welcome?
Off up to Dalston then, we could have turned left for the KK Outlets show in Hoxton Square but no, time does not allow. Turn right and head for Dalston (what’s left of First Thursday really is disjointed and the few events actually taking place tonight are scattered far and wide)
There’s a rather testosterone-filled street art show going on in a rather compact basement space called 1963. Not really a gallery but a space is space, get in there, hang some art on those black walls under the bad lighting, make it happen, positive space, nice one!!
Is it a street art show or do we call it urban art this week? There’s some old-school graff over there, there’s quite a few impressive names on the event flyer – “Artists exhibiting include: Annahita, Hessami x, Fanakapan, Tom Blackford, Paintshop Studio, Dregone, Tizer, Monokrome, tonyriff, MrOliverSwitch.com, Parlee, Jive, KAES, ARTISTA*, ELNO, George Tilbury, Krap/Crap, Otto Schade, Dd Regalo, Stedhead, Lost Monkey, Vanesa Longchamp, Christiaan Nagel and more…” – Not sure how they’ve all been crammed in, quite keen to check this show out though, it looked good on paper, a show of good intent.
A collaborative pop-up exhibition showcasing some unseen and brand new works from a host of artists from graffiti, street art and the contemporary art world, all at affordable prices.
You need to hang a show though, even a show (or a pop up sale, surely that’s what this really is, a sale, a pop up street art shop rather then an art exhibition?), even a show like this needs to be hung, the art needs to breath, you can’t just cram it in. And some of it does seem a little, well, shall we politely say we’re in a dark overcrowded badly lit basement with a well-intentioned show and one or two stand out pieces in amongst lot of really not very good urban art, generic graff, smelly armpits (it all kind of feels like nu-metal circa 2002) and ummmmm, well…. off to the next one them … or maybe back to the pub with the piano and the wasps again? No, we can’t give up, onward to the next one…
Sr. X is a now London-based Spanish artist, his work is a… well I want to say vibrant but that word is way too overused… Sr.X‘s show at Dalson’s BSMTspace is a vibrant fusion of painterly pop culture, classic 50’S film imagery, publicity posters, 60’s advertising copy, nostalgia, urban legends, pop art “which he normally gives expression to through stencils, paste-ups or installations. His creations are often wrapped in a distinct tone of irony and social criticism, frequently shrouded by a veil of sharp humour”.
This is a striking show, an instantly enjoyable show. As a rule stencil art does not excite, it mostly makes for very lazy under-achieving very clichéd street art clutter, art generally made by people who can’t paint and possess little imagination or desire to challenge themselves or there potential audience, people just following rules and making art that conforms and looks like all the other stencil art made by all the other people following the same rules, the nu-metal syndrome again (that or people who are all about “clever” technique and have very little content… .)
Sr.X avoids all the traps, in the same way that Agata Cordoso uses her camera to paint so gloriously, Sr X uses stencils to really really craft his bold stylised work, well on the evidence of tonight he does, outside on a grander scale his art seems rushed and nowhere near as exciting as it does in here with these relatively smaller made-for-the-gallery well worked pieces. Beautiful use of colour, a touch that is delicious, his detail alive, his canvases full of brilliant contradiction, areas to focus in on, a cynical smile, a background featuring some half-hidden advertising slogan that you didn’t notice at first, a strap line, a noir stroke, a pop twist or two, a glimpses of Bob and a taste of discordia, Church of Subgenus, a comic book flow, 1950’s hope, Stan Lee, balance, sharp smiles, perfect teeth, “bulshit” for sale all warped and wrapped up in nostalgia, warped nostalgia indeed, gloriously so, not quite too sickly sweet. A damn fine show an an evening saved by the last gallery of the first Thursday of September 2016…. .
Sr/X’s solo show PORK LOIN ROAST runs at BSMT SPACE until September 11th, for details of the other shows mentioned here follow the links in the article, to commission a sign for your gallery or to hand over the keys to the space you didn’t bother opening on First Thursday contact us, we really don’t want you to feel isolated. The best art we saw all evening, besides the Oust and piano in the pub, was the installation in the greenery of the upstairs that lead to the basement hairdressers in Dalston, never did find out who the naked red man were, we got the blame, it wasn’t our doing, we miss Vyner and Redchurch street on a First Thursday, nothing lasts forever but…. (sw)
Click on an image to enlarge a photo or run the fractured slide show …