Now before anything else, please understand this isn’t some kind of attempt to critically review this year’s Deptford X. The annual art festival has just taken place, ten July days of art over the river in London SE8 – the festival has been a rather big deal since the first one took place back in 1998 – back on again after an enforced Covid break last year, 2021’s focus was “Art In The Open”, the plan (not the plot, The Plot is in Folkestone next week), the plan was to “turn Deptford and the surrounding area in to an open air art gallery” – but please understand this isn’t some kind of attempt to review this year’s Deptford X, I was kind of focused on my part of it. Deptford has always had a feel like nowhere else in London, the brilliant free festivals of the early 90’s down in Fordham Park, the many adventures and atom seeds down Deptford Funk City‘s Creekside, the going off and things at the Venue in the last century, that now legendary climax to the Eight Day itch, Experiment and such – there is still some of that defiant spirit you can’t kill on Paco’s old streets.
That spirit is down the High Street on a Saturday, not sure how much Deptford X itself has ever captured or connected with it, that Deptford spirit is still there though, a lot of the old buildings, the squats, the spaces where so much happened might be gone now but the spirit is still there somewhere on the streets where Deptford X is once again happening. This really isn’t some kind of attempt to review this year’s festival though. to actually review it in an objective way would require a lot more exploring, a lot more searching, a lot more attention paid to the maps that were being given our from a rather entice booth at the top of the market by a team clad on black t-shirts with a big white X on the back of them. A quick glance at the social media feeds of others over the ten days as well as the festival’s own feeds tells us we missed lots, this isn’t a review, just a flavour of what we encountered while leaving leaves…
I’m here to take part again, one last #43Leaves piece as part of the Fringe, a third and final #43ArtDrop piece (following on from drops in 2018 and ’19). Once again 43 leaves to be left, 43 paintings on found unwanted recycled material, unwanted material picked up off the streets. Material picked up, cleaned up, painted on and then left hanging back out on the streets of Deptford for people to just take should they wish to. I hadn’t intended returning this year, the invitation was extended and well, it kind of felt right to do it one more time, partly a kind of celebration of that band from “Deptford Funk City” who were a big part of my art and our adventures for a time and well it just seemed right to come back (The hottest band from Deptford Funk City is how Atom Seed were once described, they were very much a Deptford band back there, we lost frontman Paul Cunningham this year, had to come back to the X and those streets one more time)
So yes, our minds were on the leaving of leaves and this really isn’t some kind of attempt to review this year’s festival – arrive in the sunshine on the overground, breezy train from East London, sunscreen on, head for the centre of things with a bag full of freshly grown art, head for that big Air Raid Shelter “S” (re)painted on the wall in the middle of the High Street and hang the first painting just around the corner from some rather colourful street preacher and his amplified group of disciples. No, this is no review, just the tale of what we found in the bright sunshine of the last Saturday of the festival. The idea is to get in, leave a painting and move away quickly before anyone notices, not hang around, just leave it to be found, and while we’re walking the streets, see what else we can see. The festival is as well signposted as ever, bold lemon yellow signs and posters this year, signs brightly pointing to the performances or the installations, true, the signs can sometimes lead you to nothing, (something been gone already?) There seems to be more happening this year though, in past years signs have tended to lead to locked doors and indoor space where not a lot has actually been happening, this year, out of the street the art can’t hide so easily, actually it doesn’t seem to want to, the X feels a little refreshed this year, something to do with us all getting out there after months of lockdowns or maybe something more?
Walking around the street trying to hang paintings, however much you try to do it in secret, does attract a certain amount of attention and conversation, and you do hear things as you wonder around. There’s a healthy bit of performance going on, there’s musical pieces, “what’s going on?” asked one voice in the wonderful second-hand (dare we say junk) market where all kinds of treasure can be found in amongst the crap, the broken toys and bootleg football shirts, some of these stalls are almost unintentional art installations in themselves, the rows of old dolls heads and such, “the white people are having some kind of art festival” answers another in response to the “What’s Going on?” question – that does seem a little unfair, it does feel a lot more inclusive this year, there are a lot of cultures coming together in a rather positive way, although how much of it really really truly connects with the people who actually live and work around the High Street and the surrounding area is still a VALID question. The bight yellow signs are there though, the invitations, the doors are open, the interventions and performances are there on the streets, the galleries that are open are there for anyone to just walk in. Deptford’s local radio station AAJA are involved, as are the local school pupils, it doesn’t feel like just a white thing, that was unfair
The “Have You Eaten yet?” installation looks and feels particularly strong out in a courtyard through an inviting gate under the railway bridge in the middle of the High Street. we’ve missed the performance elements (well actually that’s not true, we caught some of it on line earlier in the week), it does look good, rather beautiful, apparently in some Asian cultures “Have You Eaten yet?” is the equivalent to a “how are you” greeting, an enquiry into your well being that often leads to impromptu food sharing (as it does here)
We’re wondering around finding parts of the festival as well as pieces of faded street art, old posters, galleries that aren’t an official part of things, shame Bearspace Gallery is closed again on the second Saturday of the event, we never ever seem to catch that space open. There are new (to us) galleries along the Parade that we find later in the day and there’s a rather rewarding show at A.P.T Gallery. There some great pieces of street art as well as fresh layers of graff over old layers of graff, graffiti is stronger when the older layers and colours are still there behind the latest pieces, there’s an artist called Kels who’s been painting on old bits of found wood and screwing them up on the art-encrusted railway arches, she finds a #43Leaves piece that leads to a text conversation about Deptford X that isn’t altogether positive from her side. We spend some time watching a film made by Amy Robinson and Jodie Cole that’s being shown in someone’s garage, film shows in bright bright sunlight aren’t the easiest thing but what we can see of it looks good, a collaboration over 72.2 miles mad during lockdown that, judging by the postcards featuring people’s reactions, has been going own rather well (we look forward to seeing what they do with it next, apparently it isn’t on line yet, they haven’t decided if it will be)
A quick pits-top at the excellent pub that is the Dog and Bell to post some photos of the art drops completed so far and to update the social media for those following the hashtag reveals posts from others who have already posted photos of themselves with the pieces they’ve already found. Some of the #43Leaves pieces are hanging in plain sight, others not quite hiding down side alleys that lead to the river and such. Always of nails and hooks that are already there, we never ever bring our own, once the art is taken there should be no trace left, nothing disturbed or damaged, nothing permanent. We bump into someone who spies us hanging another piece, she tells us she’ll leave it for someone else, that she still has her’s from a few years ago hanging in her hall, she tells us there’s also a piece from a previous art drop at a previous Deptford X hanging in her local cafe, that’s rather pleasing.
We drop in at the plush looknig APT Gallery to check out “Absent Authors”, we’re over by Creekside now, narrowly avoiding being caught in the act of hanging a leaf by one of the Deptford X walking tours. Absent Authors is “an exhibition of new work by eight contemporary artists united by the idea that every artwork contains the trace of the absent author. Planned before the pandemic hit the theme has gained extra resonance due to lockdown and will celebrate the return of art, artists and audiences to galleries this summer” – it is a striking group show, Kelly Sweeney’s work jumps out straight away, there’s eight artists sharing the space, probably wrong to single out just one – the painting, both on canvas and digital screens hung like canvas pieces is strong, the overall show is strong, the conversations between pieces is strong, exciting, enticing, emotive, a strong show well curated by Robert Fitzmaurice, deserving of far more than the brief mention we’re giving it here – The rather recommended show runs until August 1st
Another pit stop, The Bird’s Nest is as welcoming as ever, scene of many a proper punk rock gig, a leaf is left hanging on the Deptford Bus, more social media engagement, people finding pieces. we never quite know how quickly these paintings are taken, I would guess there’s still a few out there though. On with the following of yellow signs and exploring the Enclave galleries along Resolution way that aren’t part of the festival (or at least there’s no indication that they are) . There’s a particularly strong show at Indigo and Madder, a gallery with “a special focus on contemporary art from South Asia and its diaspora”. a show called Sky Circles featuring the delicate work of Anusheh Zia & Laila Tara H, there’s a rather show next door at Xxijra Hii, a solo show of work by Kate Atkin that’s well worth checking out as are the paintings of Kin-Ting Li at South Parade gallery a couple of doors away. Good to see these artist-run spaces opening up.
On with the art dropping, someone passes us with a piece in hand, the evening is kicking in now, we can see more pieces have gone, hang on, is that a live band?! Can we hear an actual band, how many months, (years?) has in been since Covid took away raw live electric bands in venues, oh this sounds good, some old school hardcore punk rock blasting out through the air and out on to the street, it is so so tempting as we look in through the pub window but hey, lots of people, no masks, as beautifully Deptford as it sound we resist, actually we’re in New Cross now, one last drop on the Venue, it doesn’t feel right though, the Venue we knew has long since evolved. Hours of walking, one art drop left, we head for the train back East and home, the last leaf of the day is left on a wall by Hoxton Station…
And that was the final Saturday of Deptford X, we didn’t see everything, we were busy leaving leaves rather than following the map, the Instagram feeds of other people suggest we missed a lot of good things, that to really experience Deptford X properly to need to engage over the entire ten days, you need to seek out the performances and be there at the appointed time. I’m still not sure if the festival breaks out of the art bubble, that it really engages beyond those who actively seek to engage with art, it did feel a lot more engaged this time around though, no locked studio doors this time, not so much art school bluff – taking it to the streets seems to have been positive, yes, it mostly felt good this year. We came, we saw, we dropped, we enjoyed. Yes, many of the old spaces, the much loved buildings, the crusty punky pubs, the creative places are going, that spirit is still somewhere there though, and yes that probably was the best Deptford X of recent times, one last art drop felt good, it didn’t feel so good last time, glad I can back for one more art drop, long live the Deptford X and all who sail with her next time (and the time after that), Outside is good (sw)
So click on an image to enlarge or to run the fractured slide show