The First Thursday of May then. First Thursday? Really? Are you sure? Shall we put down the paint brushes and go clutch at straws? Are we clutching at straws? According to various social media feeds and e.mail in-boxes First Thursday in the East End of London is still a happening thing. Really? Surely not? Almost Seven in the evening on the first Thursday of May 2018, the sun is out, no need for a coat, at long last, summer is threatening to happen, perfect weather to go explore art, to go explore a gallery or two, to go explore the (rather dubious) promise of First Thursday still being a going concern.
First Thursday was once such an exciting thing, we’d be building up for it for days, buzzing, excited, hanging fresh art – the idea back there was that the many galleries of East London were all open at the same time on the first Thursday evening of the month, it was exciting, it was thing not to be missed, an exciting thing to be part of and Whitechapel Gallery was always the “official” home of the “official” side of First Thursday – they handled the publicity, the branding, the official website, they took most of the credit, basked in the glory (and the funding and fruits of sponsorship we assume). And here we are, a couple of years on from any kind of First Thursday happening in any kind of meaningful way and Whitechapel are apparently insisting it is still a happening on-going thing. Are they right? Surely not? Let’s go see, let;s go explore…
When did we last have a decent First Thursday? Two years ago? Three? Four? It was once such a buzz of a night, wouldn’t it be wonderful to see it kick back into life in some kind of meaningful way? Let’s go see then, let’s go see what the first Thursday evening of May 2018 has to offer. We’d given up on the notion of First Thursday as anything relevant months and months ago, probably a good few years ago, First Thursday simply doesn’t happen any more, But hey, hang on, for some reason someone at Whitechapel Gallery seems to have woken up, or at least whoever is running their fractured social media feeds this week has. Let’s go see if there’s any substance to any of the on-line hype that’s been flowing at us in the last few days, is First Thursday in East London really an on-going concern?.
Not a good start, our neighbours at Space clearly aren’t bothering to take part, just before 7pm and the gallery over the road from our studio base here in Hackney is all locked up and in darkness, oh well, one down, on we go. We’re heading for Stolen Space, we know Stolen Space have a show opening, a show not listed on the official First Thursday website. It was always a nightmare trying to get them to list something on the official First Thursday website even in the best of days. Had a meeting with the PR people at Whitechapel Gallery about the problems a couple of years or so back, they had a couple of marketing people at the time who seemed to know next to nothing about art, very little about East London or indeed the who, what or where in terms of the galleries who were committed to the then still just about thriving monthly first Thursday monthly event, they were clueless – “we haven’t actually been to Vyner Street, we hear good things”, they really really didn’t have a clue and they were handling the PR for the event! They did know quite a bit about Rugby League though, apparently they’d been handling marketing for the Super League before Whitechapel Gallery took them on to run publicity and handle the First Thursday information, needless to say the meeting was a complete waste of time (well besides getting the low-down on the Salford Reds and what Wigan Warriors were up to at that time),
Whitechapel Gallery has always been rather frustrating, happy to take the credit but really not that interested in the artist-run spaces that were the original backbone of the East London art scene. First Thursday was once such a glorious thing, scandalous the way the heavily funded gallery let it all fall apart when so many got so much out of it in so many positive ways. Why is art so often so bad at engaging? That’s the past though, that’s gone, and East London does still have galleries and artists, not as many as there were, less of us with each week that passes, but we are just about still here, and surely First Thursday could still be a very positive thing if anyone ever got their shit together? Surely it could still work in this evolving East London of ours? If the galleries are actually open and the information actually flows flows, surely First Thursday could still be an exciting happening monthly thing?
Beautiful evening, t-shirt weather (finally), Space is all locked up but there is that new gallery at the top of Vyner Street, let’s go see what they have to offer. Locked up! Closed, darkness, nothing! There no sign of life in the recently opened gallery or indeed any sign of life anywhere down the old street. The whole street deserted, ghost of a street, all locked up and rather sad to see. Whitechapel and the official First Thursday event co-ordinators did very little to support the galleries and art spaces of Vyner Street when they were still there, they took the credit but did little in return, Vyner Street was the heart and soul of First Thursday back there. When we opened Cultivate six or seven years ago there was something like fifteen or sixteen galleries and spaces in the street, on a First Thursday there would be thousands of people joining in the events up and down the street. The galleries are almost all gone now, there’s really just the big Wilkinson space that’s now Modern Art (there’s been some really good shows in Modern Art this year actually, their recent Eva Rothchild show was a must see). Besides the beautifully peaceful Modern Art space, everything else has petty much gone in terms of Vyner Street now – closed down, taken over, knocked down, “developed” – a whole community and something rather special destroyed, well dome Thomas. Thomas is the self proclaimed “regeneration architect, impact entrepreneur, futures thinker” – well that’s how the arrogant rich-kid destroyer of communities likes to describe himself on his rather sickeningly insincere self-celebration of a Twitter feed. The “regeneration architect, impact entrepreneur, futures thinker” bought up and closed down most of the gallery spaces on Vyner Street over the last few years,, he allegedly threw one lot of artists out of one of his spaces because their openings kept his girlfriend awake in the evenings. he did breath some life into Limewharf for a time but that appears to have been a sham, a bluff, just a way of getting more funding from some sucker who falls for his bulshit And what a unique street it was five or six years ago, ten years ago, fifteen yeas ago, what a special place with so much history in terms of art and people, in terms of thriving creative communities – the street had a worldwide reputation, it really was a special place, people would come from all over the world, sad to see how it is now, criminal destruction. What is a ” futures thinker” anyway?. Vyner Street is little more than history destroyed now, just another east London street with a coffee shop or three, actually you could argue that Vyner Street is one of the least interesting streets in East London now, an expensive block of glass fronted flats here, a coffee shop there, and, oh well, move along, nothing much to see there. It was rather heartening to spot a new gallery at the top of the street a couple of months ago, shame they were closed, early days for the new gallery, and in all honestly as much as we want to shout about it, we’ve not really seen anything worth shouting about in the new space so far; Let’s hope something develops at Tungsten Gallery over the next few months, we need our galleries, shame the space is all locked up and in darkness tonight On the first Thursday of May, surely you’d want to be open on First Thursday?. Stop Press: went back on Friday afternoon, the opening hours sign on Tungsten‘s door says they should be open, their website promised they would be, alas the place is all locked up again, all locked up on in the middle of a sunny Friday afternoon, looks like it might be an interesting show through the window but hey, if they can’t be bothered to open then why should we be bothered with going? We’ll maybe try again next week, really want to be positive about a new space, we certainly need them…
So Whitechapel Gallery insists First Thursday in East London is still a happening going concern, it a shame they didn’t put in the effort when it was still alive and it was still an exciting monthly event that people travelled from all over London and further afield just to be part of. Whitechapel’s social media feeds insist the event is still alive and tonight is the night to get out and explore East London’s galleries. The First Thursday official website is as useless as it ever was but it does insist the event is happening and they’re still trying to get people to buy tickets for one of their First Thursday bus tours. Let’s just head out there and see what we can find for ourselves, let’s just go see, the great thing about a First Thursday back there is that you could just head out and find so many things just happening. So Space Gallery is all locked up, Vyner Street is empty and the couple of galleries still there are closed, no sign of life at the rather unfriendly Cell space on Cambridge Heath Road, the Annka Kultys Gallery on the Hackney Road is all locked up as well. What about Roman Road? Never ever really seen anything that exciting in that beautiful little gallery on the Roman Road, probably not worth the time and effort of walking up there, let’s cut through to Herald Street see if anything has popped up, let’s go see if there’s any sign of life at any of the galleries there? I guess the Maureen Paley Gallery people are in New York for Frieze this week? Have they every taken part in First Thursday? They’re certainly closed tonight. No sign of life at Herald Street Gallery itself either, you can never quite work out if Herald Street Gallery is open or not, they’re not big on signs or information or open doors at that space and you’d never guess from the outside that there was a gallery hiding there at the end of the street, although when you do catch them open then they are one of the more consistently rewarding East London galleries, they have some great shows in that well hidden gallery space in the last couple of years, alas not tonight, on we do…
The notion of just going out and finding First Thursday isn’t working then, the five or six galleries we’ve walked past so far are clearly not taking part and those unexpected events that would just pop up a be part of a First Thursday are clearly a thing of the past now (Appear Here have put pay to that one). Not much sign of life anywhere tonight, maybe the people running Whitechapel’s social media fell through a timehole? Maybe they’re back in 2011? The white vans of Whitechapel Market are the most exciting things we’ve seen in terms of art so far this evening. We’re still on our way to Stolen Space via the Whitechapel Road and Whitechapel Gallery, surely if First Thursday is happening anywhere then it must be happening at Whitechapel Gallery itself? Just gone 8pm and the Whitechapel Gallery is almost deserted and besides the bookshop things are very quiet. Things are locked up, this isn’t what their Facebook event page promised! There’s a cleaner or two, there’s the last of the people leaving the café, the main gallery door is locked, the Facebook page said 9pm, there’s another hour to go yet, what is going on here? Mary Celeste? So much for First Thursday at Whitechapel, wonder if anyone went on the bus tour? This is an almost laughable farce, we kind of knew all this before we set out really, but hey, the social media hype was telling us it was on, we could but hope…
At last, the buzz of an opening night, there;s a crowd on the pavement outside a gallery over there, there’s that hum of a chattering art crowd in the air, Stolen Space is open, nothing to do with so called First Thursday of course. The always reliable gallery just happens to have an opening tonight on the first Thursday evening of the month, and rather than just jumping on the bus and heading directly for the opening just around the corner from the Whitechapel Gallery, we though we’d walk through East London and see if there was any substance to the on-line First Thursday claims. Damn, we’ve missed the beer, just red wine left, should have gone of the bus! The back room of Stolen Space is an almost perfect space to hang art in, those walls are beautiful, they bring out the best in the work that’s hung there and the gallery has been on a seriously rewarding roll in terms of exciting art shows over the last year or so. Consistently impressive exhibitions, and positive engagement with those who come to see them, clear on-line information, regular hours kept, signs outside, a smile when you go in, surely engaging like this isn’t that difficult? Tonight The Typograffic Circle is opening, The Typograffic Circle is a show curated by two artists, Gary Stranger and Pref, their group show is opening at Stolen Space tonight, there’s a crowd outside, there’s a buzz in the air, were found some actual art at a gallery at last!
That Gary Stranger piece painted on the rusty textures at the Semi Skimmed show a couple of weeks ago was rather special, those flat clean sharp-edged icy-blue graphic lines on that dark rusted textured metallic background made for something rather impressive, one of his finest pieces. That piece had us wanting to see more of his gallery work tonight, we know Gary mostly for his bold graphic work out on the street, big pieces of clean-cut typography on the sides of buildings and such – that piece at the Semi Skimmed show.was a beautiful set of contrasts, that very sharp light blue line, the smooth typography on the textured metallic rusty weathered background, almost disappointing to see the same piece on show here again just a couple of weeks later though, we want more of the same rather than exactly the same. The piece is one of four pieces from Gary Stranger that are part of this group show tonight, the other three are impressive if ” tight execution” and sharp graphic lines are your thing, but that one piece, Lemniskate, is the stand out piece again tonight –
StolenSpace is proud to present the inaugural show from The Typograffic Circle; a collective of artists and a newly developing movement within the urban art world. The cohesion between the artists is a desire to make work that explores the boundaries of typographic design, within the contexts of both studio work and in-situ wall painting. Taking the placement, attitude and quest for individual style and originality from the graffiti world and mixing it with the constraints of type-making and type-setting, and accessibility and expression of the written word to create a new aesthetic and approach.
There’s five artists sharing the wall of Stolen Space tonight, well five if you count “Enigmatic graffiti collective” All Type No Face as one of the five. The contrast between the bolder bigger more significant pieces in the show and those beautiful walls of the gallery makes it work, the slick typography and paint of Georgia Hill stands out, some of the smaller pieces of work in here seem a little restrained though, tamed by those white frames, energy of the street sucked out of them, polite graphic design and kind of lacking a little in terms of both the the attitude you’d maybe be expecting and the use of colour, maybe these things can’t be taken to a gallery and still have the impact? maybe not the best show ever at Stolen Space then, well worth dropping in for a look though.
And on we go in search of the elusive thing that is Whitechapel’s First Thursday then, on through the East End. Brick Lane offers little, a quick diversion to check out the Star Yard, it has a couple of decent This One pieces up, that black and white tattoo-like street style of his, but the Star Yard has been feeling a little flat recently and the wall at the start has fallen victim to the tedious no-talent taggers and the toys, that and the annoying paste-up artists who miss the obvious points they’re so desperately trying to make as they impose themselves again and again (and again) with the same old thing. We’ve got a royal wedding coming up later this month so we’re expecting an onslaught of bad stencils and half-arsed slogans blighting the streets, we’re expecting shameless street artists trying to cash in, gawd help us! never mind the Royals, off with the head of a street artist or two, do they have no shame? And as hard as we try to ignore it, there’s a couple of paste-up jockeys who seem to think they can cover every piece of beautiful hand-painted art with their clueless statements, their cringe worthy slogans and lack of even a hint of a sense of colour as they invade every space with their tediously repeated trumped-up imagery. The art of stating the bleedin’ obvious can sometimes be a little too bleedin’ obvious! Leave the paste-ups to Aida Wilde, she does it right, always wanted daddy to buy me one of her flipping ponies, one of her paste-ups is worth a thousand of yours, go away!.Out of Star Yard and on with the search for First Thursday, where is it? Has anyone seen First Thursday?
Back in the day when First Thursday was a serious thing, every gallery would be open, if you didn’t have an actual show that week, you’d just throw something together for the evening and be part of the event anyway, things would pop up in empty shops, in full shops, in bars, in studios, in vans parked in the street, I guess the Appear Here attitude has dome for a lot of that, almost impossible to be spontaneous in East London now. Quick slip down that side street over there then, we know there’s a gallery hiding down there, wonder if they’re open? No, 5The Base Gallery is closed as well. There was a time when being closed was just not an option on First Thursday, what would Joshua Compston think of the East End now? We;re a long long way from a Better Woolworths, oh how we need some Joshua attitude right now? Or maybe we just a few of his sticks of dynamite? There is something happening further along Brick Lane in Monty’s Bar, but that really is a dark bar and you really can’t really see a thing in the darkness and what with the people sitting at the tables and such, one to have a proper look at in the cold light of daytime maybe? We’re working our way back to Resistance Gallery and their Miss Meatface event at the space – a quick look in Espacio Gallery first but that really is us truly clutching at straws now and that place really is at the “vanity publishing” end of things. When they do occasionally have a decent piece of art, the rest of the show tends to brings it all crashing down, we’ll politely leave Espacio Gallery to their thing and make a mental note to just not bother with going in again..
And on we go, past the Stick of Rock – if only the Stick was still there – and we just about make it back to Cambridge Heath Road in time for Miss Meatface and whatever she’s doing at Resistance Gallery. Resistance is a performance space more than a place to view static art on walls, Miss Meatface is performing and launching her new book tonight. The modest railway arch space is packed, fellow performance artists, painters, a musician or two, someone dressed as a rubber Rabbit, someone else in a latex mask, someone on a lead, there a dog barking, a human one, there’s a scrum for the bar, there’s punks, dandy-types, there’s a bit of attitude at last, a touch of danger and a hint that not everything has politely closed and gone away Miss Meatface is sitting at her table on the stage, china teapot and servant in attendance, she’s giving a talk, politely answering questions –
Kat Toronto, aka “Miss Meatface”, is a multidisciplinary artist hailing from the San Francisco Bay Area that works in performance based photography. She uses her often unsettling and surreal images to explore the cultural ideals of feminine beauty and the objectification of women in a feminist society by toying with the push and pull of dominance and submission and the act of revealing and concealing
– we haven’t seen the book so it is rather difficult to offer much of a comment but hey, at last something going on on First Thursday (not that it was mentioned on the official First Thursday website either). Miss Meatface does have a certain style, we’ll be back with more once we get hold of the book, she’s based in London now, must explore a little more of her etiquette sometime soon…
Of course the lack of First Thursday isn’t all down to failures of Whitechapel Gallery – true, they did let us artists running galleries down rather badly when it was all happening a few years back, they did take us for granted and they really were impossible to work with, and on the evidence of tonight, their attempts to claim that First Thursday is still happening in any kind of way is almost as laughable at the contempt they held for the artists and galleries making the effort back when it really was very (very) much a happening thing. First Thursday and the demise of the East London art scene in general isn’t all down to the way Whitechapel Gallery let the event fall apart, it was never really about Whitechapel Gallery, if it was about anything it was the artists who squatted the empty spaces and brought them back to life in the first place, about those who rented the falling down buildings, cleaned them up before opening the doors and making it all happen, it was about so so many things and the Whitechapel Gallery were a very small part of it. There were so so many elements to the scene that originally brought the bigger galleries over here and made East London such a great place to be as an artist, and there are so so many problems for those still hanging on here now – the lack of realistic spaces to show art or to run galleries, there really is nowhere realistic now, the destruction of places like Vyner Street or the crimes of Hackney Wick (no we don’t want a new bridge or a tower in the new “creative Quarter” – the destruction of Hackney Wick’s beautifully organic spaces, the gentrification of designer label Redchurch Street, the general push-out of art, the stranglehold that the dreadfully greedy Appear Here organisation have on any empty spaces that do still “pop up” – the high rent greed and red tape of Appear Here means a week in an empty shop is just not the option that it one was, and then there’s the food invasion and well, we could go on and on and on), the fight for survival as an artist in East London is a tough one these days.
First Thursday? Well it was once a brilliant thing, is was so so good back there, but no, the first Thursday of the month in 2018 here in East London is just another regulation Thursday evening now and on any regular Thursday you can still find an opening or two, occasionally if you’re lucky you might find three or four openings happening on the same night. There is no First Thursday now. There’s no unity now, no sense of people coming together to make things happen, things are fractured, East London’s art scene is broken, there’s very few decent spaces for the artists still hanging on here in East London, something like Cultivate really couldn’t happen now like it did just a handful of years ago, the notion of artists coming together and making it happen themselves can’t really happen now, not in any kind of significant exciting way anyway. There are still galleries, the deals to hire them are dubious at best (there’s a reason why no one hires a place like 5th Base on a so-called First Thursday). There are still openings and shows and you can still find good things happening but will we ever see anything with the spontaneous unity and excitement of a proper First Thursday again? Will we see anything more than the middle class galleries and their “vanity” business models? or the new breed of establishment galleries showing art made anywhere other than East London? Will we ever see art delivered with a slice of punk rock attitude again? Delivered with a bit of defiant spirit again? With the spirit of Joshua Compston or the best days of Vyner Street or a hint of the attitude of a Fate Worse Than Death or even 2015’s Play, a show that happened in an East London warehouse that’s long since been knocked down to make way for another block of expensive flats currently clad in advertising boards offering a chance to come live in the “vibrant iconic creative community of East London”. Is it really all over? Probably, but there are still things happening, we’ll be back out there tomorrow to see what we can find, exploring the first Thursday of May 2018 last night was rather depressing, we did carry on and we did find a couple of things on Friday that we didn’t make on Thursday though… more in a moment, day two… (sw)