Louise O’Kelly found Block Universe London, the performance art festival, four years ago.
Coming from the art background, Louise discovered her interest towards performance art while working in a gallery that represented the estates of many performance artists from the 60’s and 70’s. She then continued to study Contemporary Art Theory at Goldsmiths and focused her research on performance and memory studies.
We talked about how Louise came up with the idea for Block Universe, how she accepted the challenges, backed the venture and became a successful female entrepreneur in the art industry.
ABOUT BLOCK UNIVERSE
Hi, Louise! It’s so nice to meet you. Tell me about how you came up with an idea for Block Universe.
Hi, Daria! Block Universe was born out of a desire to support artists who work with performance and to create a platform to promote this medium. As someone who loved going to see this type of work, I was conscious that it was primarily being programmed in galleries and museums as either a form of entertainment at the opening of an exhibition, or as part of the public programme in response to the main show. Rarely, if ever, it was being given space in its own right. I felt it was important that this new generation of artists working with the performance was acknowledged and that space was created where performance was the focus, even if that was just for one week in the year.
How did you back your idea?
We still work with very tight budgets, but the first year was on a complete shoestring. We put in a successful bid to Arts Council England and called in as many favors as we could to make it all happen. I and two friends – Nicky van Breugel and Xica Aires – put in many late nights to pull it together. I knew that many artists received little or no pay for their performances and that they were often under-resourced, so my goal was to ensure that the artists were fairly paid and received appropriate support. To supplement what we had already raised, we launched a Kickstarter campaign to secure fees and costs towards the productions.
Why performance art?
To me, artists working with performance are making some of the most exciting work in the contemporary art field today. I see a new generation of artists creating work that is genuinely interdisciplinary and approaches live experience from a different perspective than previous generations of performance artists.
Having that element of live bodies moving, speaking, feeling, and sharing the same space as you create an intangible quality and an immediacy that I find compelling.
How do you find new artists?
I spend a lot of time researching, seeing shows and getting to know an artist’s practice as well as following recommendations. The internet is, of course, an incredibly useful tool, but doesn’t compare with seeing something live. There is no submission process, the selection of artist is lead instead by mine and my colleague’s research.
Why did you decide to have a pop-up structure, rather than a specific location?
I feel it’s important to look at the different contexts in which performance is presented and experienced, and how this alters audience expectations or adds another layer to the conception of the work. That shift between a white cube to a black box, a historical museum or space, which is none of those things, becomes a useful tool to think about where performance sits within traditional gallery models in the visual arts world, or how it operates within traditional theatre confines.
What was the theme for this year’s fourth edition?
The theme this year is looking at ways of being together in the world, whether that is on a communal or societal level, or in our intimate, personal relationships. It felt necessary to think about how we can exist together in an era of very divisive and discriminatory politics in the UK, including the looming specter of Brexit. On a one-to-one basis, these power structures play out in our relationships also, so many of the works in the festival this year also look at the politics of love and sex. For example, on the 31st May at Senate House, we have Australian artist Giselle Stanborough looking at the techno-capitalization of our love lives in a 4-hour durational lecture-performance that is kind of like a tongue-in-cheek, ramped up version of a TED talk.
What have you learned since the first edition of Block Universe?
So, so much. We all just threw ourselves into it, and I can see how passion and determination make so much in the world possible if you believe in what you’re doing.
ABOUT BEING AN ENTREPRENEUR IN THE ARTS
What do you think are new trends in the arts startup/entrepreneurial hub?
I think there is a lot of potential to look at ways of engaging with time-based work using new media, such as video and digital works. Suitable examples of re-thinking how we experience these or how one collects these type of works are organizations such as Opening Times or Daata Editions. There is indeed plenty of potential for disrupting current models of buying and selling artworks online, although so much of the art world is based on relationships that it may require generational shifts for that to evolve in the long-term.
Do you think it’s harder to find financing for a startup in the art world, rather than in any other industry?
I do think it’s a real challenge. Philanthropy for the arts does not exist in the same way in the UK as it does in the US. Government funding to the arts is continually cut, even though it provides a very significant return on investment to the economy. As a performance festival, we can offer a ‘return on investment’ regarding experience, but not necessarily a monetary one in the same way an investor would hope for from a tech startup.
Is there a high potential then for disruption by new entrepreneurial ideas in the art market?
Having contributed something new to London’s cultural landscape, it made me realize that there is still plenty of space to introduce new ideas and ways of operating within London and the art world more widely. I feel that it’s a space that welcomes innovation, and there is plenty of scopes to shift or disrupt existing models within the arts, on either commercial or non-profit levels, though of course, these things take time and shifts are often subtle.
Tell me about your personal experiences as a female entrepreneur in the arts. What have been your challenges, findings, revelations?
It’s nice to be referred to as an entrepreneur, as that entrepreneurial mindset feels relevant to what it takes to launch a new organization and idea into the world as I have done with Block Universe. I’m acutely aware of the imbalance of power structures and how this negatively impacts upon women, but I can’t say that I can identify any particular challenges or revelations that relate to my being female in my experience of setting up Block Universe. I feel that every challenge I have encountered throughout the process has been a positive process to learn from, and relates more to the fact of me realizing my vision in the world than it does to my experience of being a woman.
What’re your plans for both Block Universe and beyond?
Next year is our 5th year, so we’re already looking ahead to this special anniversary! We’re planning more events throughout the year in the run-up to our next edition. And beyond that… you’ll just have to watch this space!
Learn more about BLOCK UNIVERSE on its official website
I am Brunno Silva, curator of the series Unimagined Surroundings that just had its debut at Trace with the exhibition “Dispossession” by English artist Heidi Locher. The series explores the boundaries between art and architecture through different takes on architecture by four artists. Monthly Trace will exhibit one artist between April and July, where visitors will have the chance to discover each artistic practice at a time. As a group show, Unimagined Surroundings will be exhibited in Italy later this year.
Hi Heidi, can you tell me about the process behind Dispossession? What was your inspiration for creating the show?
I think you and I were chatting about the relationship of architecture and fine art, and I was saying that in the hands of great architects “Architecture is the highest form of art and that it should encompass within its sculptural light-filled spaces all the delights of life as well as offering within beautifully crafted shadowy recesses sanctuary and retreat”.
This lead me to describe a little hut that sat quietly in the landscape where I live in Puglia, Southern Italy. The hut kept drawing me in, as it seemed to embody all the basic elements of Architecture, basic but beautiful and instigating. Seemingly offering sanctuary and shelter, holding within its walls the whispers of peoples hidden memories and lives. The title is a personal connection with a poem by the Canadian poet Anne Michaels where she describes poetry and the human condition, which I felt had a direct connection to this hut somehow. Michaels wrote, “Poetry is insurrection, resurrection, insubordination against every sort, against every form of oppression, dispossession, and indifference”.
The show is composed of different media: newspaper, photography, video, and sculpture. What were your interests whilst making decisions for each medium?
I felt that I wanted somehow to convey the feeling and essence of the hut, so the show was a totally immersive experience, but also to allow for various imaginations to flow and wander through the work, as mine had done time and time again. Sometimes experiencing it as purely architectural, sometimes wondering what it would be like to take refuge or step across a threshold that was not your choice. I also wanted to set up a tension between the large-frame doors and the large-scale images.
The doors are especially empowering; I am happy we got them all the way from Italy to Berlin, they make such an impact. It was incredible to observe your decision making in choosing which image to use. Could you guide me through your creative process?
There are a lot of ideas that are there initially, as if my brain will explode if I don’t get them out, turn them over, then hold on or let go. The newspapers, for example, were a way of conveying an idea about disposable culture we live in, and the Photo Roman piece felt precisely the right way to describe the feeling of the hut in the tough and windy climate.
I remember also discussing how the newspaper gives visitors the chance to take possession of the artworks and the hut itself, a shared use between the hut and the exhibition.
Creating this exhibition and all its elements was phenomenal, people during the opening brought different views to the newspapers and the doors too. I enjoy very much to listen and see a growing interest in the hut and my work.
Dispossession is your first show in Berlin, how was the experience in showing for the first time in the city?
Berlin felt exactly like the right place to show this work given its background of borders and zones. The doors sculptures look exactly how I wanted, and it will be interesting see them in new venues later this year. Also, it was an opportunity to be part of Berlin Gallery Weekend, a time of exploration and exchange, thank you Brunno and thank you Berlin.
Thank you! What are the plans for the future? Can you tell us a little about your upcoming projects?
Exciting times I hope. As you know, Dispossession is part of a broader dialogue which encompasses three other artists, David Ebner, Randi Renate and Henrique Neves. I am very excited to see all works together after July in one group show. After Berlin, I am traveling to Italy, where I am going to expand Dispossession series with some additional pieces.
Architecturally we are making a beautiful space to house the Zagara Foundation, in Puglia. The project is the collision of ruin and innovation, where simple ordered modern elements are inserted into a vast scale historic ruin in order to create a gentle harmony. The Foundation will be an international artist residency, hopefully, I will be able to share more details soon.
Learn more about Heidi Locher’s work at Studio Locher
December 20, 2017
If you’re an artist with innovational techniques (think technology or quantum physics) and still don’t have a gallery representation, listen up! MTArt, the first artist agency, could be the ideal place for you to become a greater artist and get recognized.
Founded two years ago, MTArt is the first artist agency (working similarly to more common music or film agencies). Marine Tanguy, the founder, came from a cultural background and always strived to work with artists and help them get known. The result? MTArt Agency!
We met a few months ago at Marine’s artsy flat in London and spoke about MTArt and her latest endeavor, art festival Unfold, that took place in October 2017.
Hi, Marine! So nice to finally meet you! I’ve been following your business, MTArt, for a while now. How did you get an initial idea?
Hi, Daria! I never thought it would become a business really. We created MTArt back in 2015. I always loved contemporary art and especially artists and I always thought how I could find a better supporting system for them. I was a young gallery manager in London when I was 21. So I knew I wanted to work in the industry, but I was not as close to artists as I wanted to be. Something expectable from a traditional art business model. Then, I got a chance to move to LA.
I love Los Angeles! It’s so different from London though…
It was a mind-blowing experience. I looked a lot at music and film agencies, so I thought why can’t something similar work for artists? It got me moving. After raising the capital, we’ve established an artist agency. Our primary focus is not only on works of art, it’s a more grounded approach towards art. It’s about building a visibility, making art more accessible. We want to establish a name of an artist with a significant content. MTArt is an agency that is all about a continuous collaboration with artists on a long-term basis.
How do you find your artists?
We get a lot of submissions via social media, texts, emails… What makes us choose is the degree of innovative techniques and valuable content. Now ‘innovation’ is such a buzz word! What I mean by it, is that every MTArt artist questions the status quo; content is the key.
But when do you say ‘yes, this artist is the one’? What is the selection process?
So, first, we meet the artists and we start testing them. In the agency, we want hard-working and committed people. I know that those who will do very well in the future, can handle stress easily. That is why we look for team players. Artists usually work alone, but during stressful moments they start working as a team.
After we select the artists, we support them for three years. It works like a typical music or film agency in Hollywood. We talk to our artists and try to understand what they want to do in the future, what their aspirations and interests are. Then, all we need to do is complement the artistic vision with exposure. Basically, what we do is accelerating and financing our artists. There’s constantly trust between us. I even have a spare bedroom upstairs so they can always stay for a night or two! ‘laughing’
Sounds very inspirational! And what about your latest endeavor – Unfold Festival? Is it connected to MTArt?
The vision is similar. There were four of us, four co-founders. We all came from different art businesses. The idea was to help people to engage with art in a different way. So, we decided to take art to the streets and new exhibition spaces. Unfold emerged as a street festival during the Frieze Week.
Why did you choose to host the festival during Frieze? Not too crowded?
The timing helped a lot since everyone comes to London in October to see art, but we wanted to do it differently. We did not like putting works under a tent, as it happens in other art fairs. It lessens the experience. We decided to take a historical street in London (Church Street) and enhance it with art. No more walls and psychological barriers that come with gallery spaces. It was all about people being surrounded by art, together with a series of talks and artist studios curated in the main exhibition space.
The wine was blue as well!
Oh yes, my French friends did not approve! ‘laughing’ Very artistic and alternative to a traditional art fair. The crowd was very mixed as well. We had collectors of course, but also people who have never been to an art event before. The partnerships we had (e.g. with Aston Martin) have never taken place with artists. So, we tried to approach new people and get them interested in art.
Unfold was fun. There was wine and art… what not to like?
The festival showed that the content of art was meaningful, but also entertaining. We want people to engage, it’s our main priority.
Will you continue Unfold on an annual basis?
We had another festival, called MELT, last year. It was all about integrating art into urban landscapes. I’ve always attempted such projects to get a conversation going. It’s a way to try new things. Now we commission urban exhibitions, so I want to scale it up. Eventually I would like to have a lot of collaborations coming out of Unfold.
I cannot wait to see these new collaborations! So, what do you think is yet to be done?
What’s lacking is an art and tech festival. A lot of artists are experimenting with these mediums already. We want to create evolution in art and celebrate revolutionary artists, so we hope to do the art and technology festival next year and recognize the artists who are pioneering this new medium.
I can see one of your goals is to attract new people to the arts. Why do you think it can be hard to get new people interested in art?
The art world is considered to be a part of the luxury industry. So, by definition it needs to be exclusive and inaccessible, but that works only for a small percentage of the population. If you think of music and film industries, they focus on entertainment, not luxury. That’s the biggest conflict in the art world. You can’t be luxury and for everyone. I think, we should educate more people about art and get interested in new practices.
Thank you so much for your time, Marine! I hope to see our new projects in London soon.
Thank you, Daria!
October 6, 2017
The South African artist, Jenna Burchell sits opposite me. Despite the fact we are surrounded by the creative bustle of the 1:54 (where she is currently exhibiting), she captivates me by the undeniable devotion she has to her work. Represented by Sulger-Buel Lovell, Burchell is fascinated with the theme of time and has used technology as a way to enhance her subject matter.
Burchell has a particular resonance with technology as her parents migrated from South Africa when she was younger, and thus programs such as Skype were her only forms of communication that produced an emotive response. She explains to me how technology not only helps to reveal previously hidden meanings and emotions but also connects and brings people together.
As a self-proclaimed anti-disciplinary artist, Burchell has designed her language to create a new form of art. When presented with the question of how she would describe her artistic practices, she explained how it is difficult to develop an idea that is unique; one can only improve what has already been conceived. The artist notes how what were once singular disciplines can now be joined and explored together to create something beautiful; for example, science and art can now work together to shape something new. She states passionately, “You must twist the ordinary on its head and question the conventional.” Her outlook of manipulating disciplines and borrowing techniques is especially prominent in her most recent project Songsmith (Cradle of Humankind), nicknamed ‘the singing rocks’ by her audience. Within this project, she has transformed a relatively ordinary historical object into one of beauty and functionality.
The artist has collected some naturally broken fossils and rocks from three ancient sites in South Africa. She then repairs the fractures following the Japanese method of Kintsukuroi in which gold lacquer is inserted into the cracks of the object. As a result, the piece becomes more beautiful from the destruction which it faced; it has been gifted with a new lease of life. Not only does the rock become a form of beauty, but it also encompasses a historical tradition. In this sense, Burchell has connected and interlocked cultures, communities and individuals in a single rock. She captures an essence of humanity, and our desire to be bound together, united as one entity. Her work, therefore, generates a cultural capital in which common ground anchors people.
Although the rocks are incredibly beautiful, they are also functional objects. Jenna Burchell has ingeniously uncovered the poetic voice of the rock by capturing the raw-electromagnetic readings beneath the objects’ original resting place. In essence, when you interact with the piece, the magical sound of the earth echoes around you. Captured entirely by mother nature’s call, the viewer has an undeniably personal and emotional relationship with nature (click here to listen). The enchantment we have with the work is amplified by the different sound each Songsmith produces, based on its weight.
Each Songsmith is a time capsule. The voice of each rock is infused by the place it came from, meaning each song has been sung for 2.2 million years (in the case of those from the Cradle of Humankind). So not only are we connected to nature physically by touching the rock, but we are also teleported 2.2 million back in time. We are part of an unbelievable collective experience; we breathe the same air, walk upon the same soil and are reminded by nature’s melody.
It is important to remember that Burchell would not be able to conceive her artistic concept without technological help. She argues that technology is like “the books of our age,” and in a sense she’s right. In the 21st century, we learn and adapt through the use of technology, so there is no reason not to embrace it. The only way in which this can be reached is through the specific technological technique called Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR). The golden band running through each rock also aides our understanding. It is not only compositional but also allows the stone to resonate and the foundation to sing. Without technology, Burchell would not have been able to build the bridge joining humanity and nature together.
Carry with you the beauty of the Songsmith’s and let them be a reminder to interact, connect and build relationships with those around you. Replay the Earth’s song in your head and know that beneath you something genuinely incredible is happening.
Jenna Burchell is exhibiting at the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in Somerset House, London until the 8th October. Find her on the first floor of the South Wing in room G27.
March 30, 2017
In 2011 Ryan Stanier launched the Other Art Fair. Eliminating the middleman (galleries), Ryan created a space for artists to come and show their talent. Tremendously popular from the very beginning, the fair attracts more than 40,000 visitors and exhibits over 100 artists. The last London edition opening featured 130 contemporary artists, art investment tours and the much-anticipated Virtual Reality project, Underworld, by the Guardian. I met with Ryan in the hip part of Coven Garden last week to discuss how it all started and what we can expect in the future.
How did you come up with the idea for the Other Art Fair?
I don’t really have an art background. I got interested in art by being constantly surrounded by friends who are artists. And then I saw my friends struggle to produce an exhibition: it could be an amazing show, but nowhere accessible. That was the problem; it is so expensive to rent a space that artists have a little way out. They have little exposure; dealers and publicists don’t usually visit this kind of shows.
I thought, what if I create a show of the kind, but in Central London? It came out naturally, out of love for my friends. And that’s the thing: unless it comes out of your interest and passion, it has low chance to succeed. The material part was completely irrelevant at that stage. I looked for a space for a while, browsing around London, calling agents, and after hundreds of calls, I found one. I set up an informal gallery in Coven Garden in 2009. It was good timing, as after the financial crisis a lot of spaces were empty. We stayed at that place for a while putting up shows, selling art…
I realized after a while that I don’t want to be a gallerist. It wasn’t something I was interested in. My background in events gave me an idea to create a fair for artists, without galleries being involved. And so, the fair for the artists who don’t have an exclusive contract with a gallery was launched.
Did you think about the competition, big shots like Frieze?
Yes, but it’s a completely different market. We created a space where new collectors can come and buy art. We all go to big art fairs, but we don’t buy anything. There’s an experience, for sure. With that in mind, we decided to create something more accessible, more fun, and equally aspirational. We always knew how we are different with a unique position in the market. It’s all about the artists. People like Gordon Ramsey visit, we’ve been working with UBS for a while to create artworks for their offices… We’re also looking to launch an art prize. We promote our artists and a lot of them make contacts through the Other Art Fair. It’s the same cost to rent a stand for everyone, so it comes down to the artists to make the most out of the fair.
How does the selection process work?
The upcoming fair had 1100 applications and we only have 100 slots. There’s a panel that selects artists, simply saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’. We’re interested in different types of mediums, so there are no specific selection criteria.
Who is your target customer?
It varies. We try to create a unique experience like nowhere else. We have a guest artist each fair, usually a known figure in the arts. For example, last year we had Tracy Emin create exclusive work for us in editions of 500, 50 pounds each. So, someone who has never bought art before could afford to buy an Emin. More than 50% of our audience has never bought art before, so we’re focusing on this ‘new collector’ type. The Other Art Fair is also interesting, it’s not intimidating. It’s never the same. What breaks all the barriers, I think, is that anyone can talk to artists and not a gallery sales person.
Tell me about your recent partnership with SaatchiArt.
It started last July. SaatchiArt is the biggest platform for artists, so we created the partnership where all the Other Art Fair artists are now available on SaatchiArt all year round. It came from my initial idea of how to help artists sell their work and create opportunities throughout the year.
Your first international edition was in Sydney last year. Why go to Australia first, and not, say, New York?
The city like London has around 30 art fairs a year, New York – twice more. In Sydney, there are only two art fairs every other year and such an enthusiasm for the arts from the public. It was a natural decision.
This year you’re expanding to New York, but not during the Frieze Week. Why?
In London, we run fairs both during the Frieze Week in October and one in the spring. The thing is, we haven’t noticed a large difference in visitor numbers and sales between the two. So, in NY we decided to develop a clear message about who we are and see who is interested in joining. We’re also expanding to Europe next year with 11 art fairs throughout the year.
Do you personally prefer museums or art galleries?
Museums. There’s no pressure and, you know, there are more impressive shows.
Do you have an advice for someone trying it out in the art world?
Don’t get overwhelmed by tradition. Don’t buy into it. Everyone will have to adapt to innovation.
P.S. Keep an eye on the place, in a few years it could be in your town.
October 28, 2016
I catch up with Rubén –who now works as a solo artist— after a particularly busy summer to talk about one of his most recent projects, Stupid Borders, which deals with the absurd human need to possess the land.
When did you decide that you wanted to be an artist?
It was a visceral decision.
At 16, before I started studying engineering, I used to paint graffiti in the outskirts of Madrid. During my studies I continued painting murals, developing the artistic side of it, and when I was finishing my degree I projected myself into the future, and two things happened. If I thought of myself as an engineer, my guts clenched and I could see a heavy darkness. If I thought of myself as an artist, I could perceive light and I felt free of any tension. So after university I backpacked in India for four months, and when I came back I realised that uncertainty was going to be constantly in my life. That uncertainty, not knowing what I’ll do or where I’ll be tomorrow, has won me over.
How were your beginnings in Boa Mistura?
Simply wonderful, like everything we have done together until now when, due to my personal circumstances, I have decided to step aside to see my children grow up. The beginnings were full of innocence and fun. Then came years of learning and growing, and the project developed like the forging of iron, through fire and hard work, full of difficult and wonderful moments, and always with a dash of good humour.
How was working in such a multidisciplinary team?
Before a studio or a company, Boa Mistura was a group of good friends, and that has enabled its powerful growth. We worked very close together and learned a lot from each other. Except for girlfriends and underwear, we shared everything with each other. There is something very beautiful in sharing an idea, shaping it together, and feeling as if it was yours even if came from somebody else. A dissolution of individual ego takes place in favour of the group and the common good, and that is precious.
How has this collective, urban experience affected your individual work?
The collective experience made me grow both as a person and as an artist.
What I love about urban art is its capacity to reach a really wide audience, to go beyond the limits that museums, galleries and the conventional art circuits impose. It’s necessary to forget the idea of art as lifeless objects contained in museums and to start thinking about it as a process, like that vital attitude so necessary for everyone in every aspect of life.
In your statement you mention that your work revolves around the concept of “associated behavior”. What does this concept entail?
Landscape and what I call “associated behavior” –that behavior and bonds that connect you to a certain place— are at the centre of my work. In Seaside Holidays I focus on holiday landscapes in the Mediterranean coast and on the collective and mimetic behavior that leads people to massively go to those places. In Stupid Borders I study frontiers, the concept of limit and our attitudes towards an Earth that transcends us in age but that we strangely feel the need to possess.
How did you come up with your project Stupid Borders?
It emerged from an invitation by AP Gallery to create a project ad hoc for their space. This gallery has a line of work linked to the landscape and an exceptional location near the mountains of Ayllón (Segovia, Spain). It was just the right time for me to begin developing actions on the landscape and to do more conceptual work. In my notebook I drew a line across a lake. I imagined a lane rope dividing that lake in two, crossing it from side to side. Under that I wrote Stupid Borders. That’s where the project was born.
What part of the creative process do you enjoy the most?
The beginning, when there’s just an idea. There’s a special magic when a project is just a sketch in a notebook. At that point I feel a great intellectual pleasure because I imagine all its possibilities and the thousands of shapes that it could adopt. That moment really captivates me. Then there’s a phase of refining it, when you filter and polish, and then comes production to make it real. This last phase is interesting because there are still surprises and problems to overcome, and it counts on one’s previous experience, which is very enriching. Once the piece (or project) is finished, it loses interest to me, as if that idea was already dead. Although it’s precisely then when the idea is passed onto –or revives in— another person.
In Stupid Borders, the documentation that you produce while you work is also exhibited and becomes essential in order to understand your project. Do you think that the educational element is often left aside in contemporary art?
I don’t know. I can’t speak for others. The only thing I can say is that for me that educational element is essential. My work is very conceptually and philosophically charged, and it’s important that the public can get to know that part. My aim is to make us reflect on our behavior and on our way of inhabiting the Earth.
How do you choose the spaces where you create your Minimal Republics?
My Minimal Republics are set in places where normally no one would live or establish a micro-state. The first three are located in the middle of a rye field, in a fallow land, and the last one floating in a reservoir. Absurd places for absurd nations.
I believe you want Stupid Borders to become a life-long project. Was this decision motivated by the problematic situation of borders nowadays?
Indeed. We perceive borders as real entities. We fight for them. We stop those who want to use their freedom of movement. We believe that a piece of land can be ours… we even believe that the Earth belongs to us, when we’ve been here for barely an instant.
The day we come to realise that we belong to the Earth, and not the other way around, we will start behaving differently. It is essential to understand this. I think that’s where Stupid Borders plays an important role as a means for critical reflection. That’s why I have decided to continue creating Minimal Republics until the time comes when either borders or I cease to exist.
Which other plans do you have in mind for the future?
I have a notebook full of ideas, some of which will never see the light. There’s a project entitled Overcrowded where I talk about overpopulation as the main problem we face as a species. Another one, Descanso Visual (Visual Rest), where silence is considered an alternative to our hyper stimulated and noisy society. And also Topographies, which explores how moulds or models –words, preconceptions, physical laws, and other representations of reality— confuse us and lead us away from reality itself.
But my true plans for the future include becoming more of a hippy, seeing my children grow up next to my wife, getting away from the city to live closer to the earth, building a house with my own hands, growing my own tomatoes, writing a book, traveling, learning to surf, becoming more humble each day and enjoying each moment, because the future and the past are not easy to live in.
Stupid Borders opens October 28 at Palacio Quintanar in Segovia (Spain).
I met Touria El Glaoui during the opening of 1:54 art fair this October. Already familiar with Touria’s tremendous success in not only establishing the fair four years ago, but also expanding to New York only two years after the inauguration, I was intrigued to meet her.
Elegant in her long silky dress with a stylish, and warm for English weather, cardigan, Touria made you feel 1:54 was not simply an art fair, but a home. The amiable, pleasant atmosphere of the Somerset House, which you don’t typically find in a large-scale art fair, made me feel like a guest to a home party, rather than a stranger in a museum. There was no sense of pretensiosness.
While we were sipping hot morning coffee and treating ourselves with a warm butter croissant, Touria shared how she built the brand, or better say the platform for contemporary African artists, and what it took to get 1:54 to the level of today.
You earned your MBA in Strategic Management and have an impressive background working both in banking and IT industries. What made you decide to turn to the art one?
I grew up in Morocco in the house of an artist – my father, Hassan El Galoui – and he was the person who gave me my artistic education. For this reason, art – particularly African art – has always been a part of my life. Much later on – in fact, during my career in the IT industry – I was travelling extensively around Africa and the Middle East, and this is when I fully realised how absent African and African diaspora artists were from the international markets in Europe and the US. Having the seen the incredible work being made on the continent, I decided it was time to the bridge the gap and create a platform.
How did you personal background (your farther is a famous artist) influence you throughout your career?
Many of my earliest memories are of my father’s studio with its incredible smell of oil paint. I would spend hours watching him transform his canvases, and the life of an artist became my daily norm. Because of this, my approach to running 1:54 has always been centred on the artist and on maintaining the integrity of the work. I have also organised and co-curated a number of my father’s exhibitions, and have also been working on the catalogue raisonné of his life’s work, and these experiences have certainly shown me much about the realities of being an artist working on the continent verses in Europe and America.
How did the idea for 1:54 come about? What challenges did you face/still facing?
When I established 1:54 back in 2013, the biggest challenge was finding both the interest and the support. This underpinned much of my decision to launch in London. In 2011 I could already see evidence of a growing interest in African and African diaspora art – for example with the Tate launching its two-year African art programme. I will never forget the incredible backing that I received in that first year, yet every year we continue to face the financial challenge of making the fair happen. We are incredible grateful this year to our main sponsor, Floreat, as well as to Christie’s education and the Arts Council England who have both sponsored this year’s FORUM.
Are you planning on expanding the fair to other locations? What’s the importance of having the fair now in both London and NY?
As I said, London was the most obvious ‘home’ for 1:54 for a few reasons, its internationality being one. Once London was up and running, we began to toy with the idea of New York, and began to see that our galleries and collectors were keen to make the move. We first launched as a pop-up edition, in May 2014, but returned again this year to enjoy our second edition. The two fairs are actually quite different due both to the buildings they are housed in as well as the different audiences they attract, and so the importance of having both editions is to widen the diversity and outreach of the fair. It’s very exciting for us when collectors are able to visit both.
Who’s your favourite artist?
This is always such a difficult question! I can never choose and it would be unfair for me to do so. All the artists and galleries that we welcome to each new edition brings something unique to 1:54 and my greatest hope is always that our visitors will explore and appreciate this diversity, and appreciate each artist in their own right.
6. Tell us what is new in this year’s edition of 1:54 art fair.
I am particularly excited about our incredible line up of Special Projects joining us this year. We have 10 in total, and each one is incredibly unique and will add a whole new element to the fair. Zac Ové’s installation, for example, will extend the fair into the Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court for the first time ever; Ifeanyi Oganwu’s lounge design – created in collaboration with Phoebe Boswell – and Barthélémy Toguo’s Mobile Cafeteria will introduce vibrant, interactive spaces; and we will also be extending out over the airwaves with a live three-day broadcast by a new music-radio platform, Worldwide FM. Of course the Malick Sidibé exhibition – created in collaboration with Somerset House and MAGNIN-A – is also incredible exciting. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to showcase such an influential African photographer, and to be able to extend the exhibition past the four days of the fair, throughout Somerset House’s winter season.
Who are the artists to watch at 1:54 this year in London?
I want to draw attention to the fact that this year we are delighted to be welcoming 16 Africa-based galleries, of which 6 are from North Africa. Many of these are joining us in London for the first time, including Village Unhu from Harare, Zimbabwe; Mashrabia Gallery of Contemporary Art from Cairo, Egypt; and L’Atelier 21 from Casablanca, Morocco.
What are your future plans for the fair and beyond?
1:54 is constantly evolving, this year we welcome an incredible 40 exhibitors with over 130 artists exhibiting with us this year. Despite this, we want our ethos to stay the same: to create a platform for African and African diaspora artists in the international art market while putting the artist first. In terms of expanding further afield, we first want to ensure that our London and New York editions are as good as they can be.
September 14, 2016
START Art Fair opens its third edition on September 15th in London. Located in the unique Saatchi Gallery, this new (compared to others) art fair is a star on the rise. Apart from featuring and showcasing emerging artists and galleries from all over the world, the fair also stands out for its curatorial projects. This year’s START Projects present works by Iraq-born and Qatari-based artist Mahmoud Obaidi.
The director of START is Niru Ratnam (check out his twitter). A believer in cultural globalization, Ratnam, who previously worked as Head of Development at Art14, brings the multicultural drive and global focus to the fair. We talked about START, London’s art scene and what Brexit could potentially mean for the art world.
What was the initial idea behind START and what is new in its third edition opening next week?
The idea behind START is very simple – an art fair set in a museum-quality location that focuses on emerging artists and new art scenes. There are lots of great art fairs around Europe so we wanted to do something that was a bit different – where you could go to and come away with a series of new discoveries. Ideally we want each visitor to go away with interests in artists and gallerists who they haven’t come across before. In terms of the setting, I wanted to move away from the trade show type venues that most art fairs go for and do something in the type of place that you’d normally visit for an exhibition – hence the Saatchi Gallery is our base.
Apart from its boutique-like setting at Saatchi Gallery, how does START differ from other art fairs happening in London?
We try to have quite a tight focus—on emerging artists and new art scenes. So the emphasis is very much on discovering artists and galleries who are new to you. Lots of these galleries are new to London audiences, so hopefully that gives the fair a little bit of a unique flavour.
START is relatively small scale compared to other art fairs. Would you think of expansion?
I think fair organizers are realizing that viewers, no matter how expert, can only meaningfully look at a certain amount of art and artists at a fair. At a certain point, no matter how good a fair is, it becomes a blur, which means that the good stuff you seen gets forgotten. Also in terms of collectors, it just gets too confusing if there is too much to see.
How do you select artists for START Projects?
Again the emphasis is very much on looking at new art scenes in a bit more depth, so the opportunity to showcase Mahmoud Obaidi’s work in advance of his major museum show in Qatar, introducing him to London audiences at START makes perfect sense. He is exactly the type of artist that START is all about –somebody with a strong reputation in the region where he works but one who deserves recognition on a wider stage — and his participation as both artist and a curator in START Projects emphasizes the important role that established artists play in nurturing emerging talent in new art scenes where there is a relative scarcity of public institutions.
We tend to take each edition one at a time – we’re not a big art fair or organisation that will suddenly roll out three similar fairs around the world. So the main plan is simply to deliver a really great edition again!
What are your views on cultural globalisation being even more pronounced now due to political changes both in the UK and the world?
Do you think London will still remain the heart of the art industry or will it shift in view of Brexit?
September 4, 2016
Anouska Beckwith, England-born and Paris-based photographer, is the artist to follow. Interested in nature and mystical, Anouska tries to capture the intrinsic relationship between the unseen natural wonders and presents her subjects in the dreamlike settings.
The founder of the World Wide Women, the collective of female photographers from all over the world, the artist searches for ways of expressing her own views on the world by means of photography, poetry and music. Her models are frequently musicians and other people from creative industries giving her photographs yet an extra layer of artistic meaning.
This September Anouska presents her second solo show (following her debut in New York last yer with the show Transcendence) and her first solo show in London called Uni~Verse at the Palm Tree Gallery. I met Anouska last year when we discussed her creative process and her inspirations to follow up her own practice and perhaps have a solo show in London. Now, when the show is finally happening, we talked again, discussing the background behind Uni~Verse and the new future ambitions.
Why did you choose the word Uni~Verse as the title for your show?
I chose the title ‘Uni-Verse’ for the show as I loved the meaning, ‘One song’ coming from the Greek origin.
I believe that despite humans, animals and nature being different from one another we are all a collection of parts that make up the whole to form ‘one song’. I felt that ‘Uni-Verse’ encompassed what I wished to express through my work, a melody in nature’s symphony.
What’s the theme/focus behind it?
‘ Women have always been the guardians of wisdom and humanity which makes them natural, but usually secret, rulers. The time has come for them to rule openly, but together with and not against men.’ – Charlotte Wolf
The theme for the exhibition looks at nature as the backdrop for the exploration of feminine archetypes and endurance throughout time. As I believe that our planet is having a rebirth of the feminine. We have been living in a patriarchal society for the past 3000 years and although we have had some incredible advancement we are now in need of a big change, which is beginning to happen. I feel that we need to encourage guardianship of the Earth and for us to realign with the natural cycles rather than go against them.
What was the inspiration behind your new projects?
I have drawn from different sources for my work, which have either been from songs that I have been listening to or books that I have been reading such as ‘Women that run with wolves’ which inspired me to create
‘The Handless Maiden’ or from the use of tarot cards which led me to create ‘ The Empress’ featuring Flo Morrissey or looking at the chaos around me after the Paris attacks all of this past year and seeing the pain and destruction in the world led me to create ‘War In Heaven’.
Your new works position models in the natural setting. Women look unprotected to the natural forces. What notions are you trying to raise in your work?
I love nature and all that it provides us with but I also respect it as it can be destructive and catastrophic in some cases. I feel that we are lucky to be here, it is a gift not a given. I think a lot of people have forgotten this and try to manipulate something much greater than we have been led to believe. Through my work I try to explore the harmony between the two. Yet the insignificance of our presence, how temporary it is in the scheme of things, overwhelms me at times and I am reminded that it is a miracle.
Who are your models?
I usually choose models for my own work that inspire me. I like working with people I know mainly as I find there is a relaxed energy when taking photographs. I photographed Macha Polivka, an amazing healer and actress who I met outside of Paris last summer at an ashram. She is very natural and beautiful. I found working with her an absolute joy as she was completely in her body. Xamira Azul I met through my good friend and fellow artist Amanda Charchian last year during a summer solstice ritual and we have become friends ever since.
Flo Morrissey is one of my best friends whom I met through World Wide Women when she performed at our Ritual Exhibition. Last year she moved to Paris, which has been a dream world for us to share. Over the past couple of years we’ve had ongoing projects together. She is also extremely adventurous! Last year we were in Ibiza and I had a whole vision of her inside this remote cave. At first she looked at me as if to say ‘really?’ but once I told her of my idea she climbed up and took position. She looked like a water goddess.
How do you choose location and subject of your work?
Usually I have an image in mind of what backdrop I would like for the photograph and then I either research a place to shoot or I stumble across something even more magical than I could have pictured. Usually choosing the subject and location come hand in hand.
Why did you decide to have your second solo show specifically in London?
I choose to have my second solo show in London as it’s where I grew up and felt that it was important for me to return to my roots. My family is from England and even though I live in Paris there will always be a part of me there.
You mostly photograph female models, why?
I mainly photograph women because I find them fascinating. The form and curve of a woman is much more interesting to me than men. There is a mystery to them that when photographed can capture a very vulnerable moment that I think only is expressed by a woman photographing another woman. A trust is formed between the two people.
How do you balance the intrinsic nature of your work with the commercial aspect of photography?
I think when you create work it should come from a place of integrity and truth. How one conducts themself is equally important. I feel that nature and beauty are two things that everyone should be exposed to as so many people live their lives in fear without hope of a brighter future. I think that offering work to inspire people as an alternative for the future is what we are in desperate need of. I am not saying that my work does this but I try to convey a message of hope and awareness of our mother earth and all her many gifts.
I use social media and I think the more people who can see ones work is always a positive if the message is truthful. Even if it affects just one person that is enough for me as one person can have a ripple effect.
What’s next for you?
I am creating a short film with a dancer in the Fall and I will be continuing shooting the ‘War In Heaven’ series as I wish to turn it into a book, as well as working on my installation room ‘ I Am The Other You’.
I will also be doing editorial work.
Uni~Verse on view at the Palm Tree Gallery September 16th – October 8th
291 Portobello Rd, London
A week ago, I found it nearly impossibly to look away from C-SPAN’s coverage of the Republican National Convention. The rowdy fanfare of the RNC appears more like a circus than a political conference. No matter how one aligns themselves politically, most people can agree that the upcoming election has been prime material for art and entertainment. Throughout history, politics have seeped their way into the art world. Often artists sneak subtle political statements into their work, or will directly address contentious political issues in very explicit ways. In the world of contemporary art, Swedish artist Johan Wahlstrom is continuing this tradition of politically themed artwork with his harrowing and provocative acrylic and ink paintings. Although Wahlstrom started out as a musician, he always painted as a hobby and after touring with a rock band for many years, he moved from Stockholm to a small village in France to pursue painting full time.
Today, Wahlstrom is based in Spain and continues to paint pieces that explore the dark underbelly of modern society and politics. Wahlstrom paints in a neo-expressionist style and cites a diverse range of artists that include Paul Klee, Jean Michel Basquiat, and Jackson Pollack as his influences. His dark inky colors and thick brushwork create portraits of modern life that are simultaneously hazy and abstract and frighteningly realistic. As a former rock musician, Wahlstrom is not afraid to provoke and rile up his audience. His paintings are dark, confrontational, and frighteningly resonant. Upon viewing his painting “Heil Trump,” I was reminded of a similar politically themed work by the German Dadaist John Heartfield, entitled “Adolf the Super Man: Swallows Gold and Spits Tin,” which is an explicit critique of Adolf Hitler. Wahlstrom’s “Vote for Me,” another portrait of Donald Trump, features the presidential candidate’s head surrounded by terrifying abstract figures, representing his loyal followers. “Punch them Hard,” an acrylic work by Wahlstrom is equally disturbing and shows Trump giving a thumbs up while chaos ensues in the background. This is a visual representation of Trump’s verbal encouragement of his followers to attack protesters. This series of Trump portraits evokes the mob mentality and frenzy of Trump’s rallies. Wahlstrom attacks other issues such as immigration in his “Aliens with Extraordinary Abilities” series, which poignantly captures the plight of immigrants and refugees.
As a former rock musician, Johan Wahlstrom is not afraid to provoke and rile up his audience. His paintings are dark, confrontational, and frighteningly resonant. His piece “Too Much Trump” in particular is an apt depiction of Trump’s pervasive presence in the media, his angry scowl taunting the viewer. Wahlstrom’s favorite piece from his body of work is “You Can’t Trust” from 2011, which he refuses to sell and hangs in his living room. Wahlstrom was so satisfied with the piece, that he took a 2 month hiatus from painting. This particular painting is his favorite because he associates it with the catharsis and satisfaction he experienced while working on it. The experience was “magical” for Wahlstrom, he felt like he was inside of his own work and not slaving away in a studio.
Despite Wahlstrom’s sinister aesthetic and disturbing subject matter, he paints with a profound passion and love for his craft. His favorite part of the creative process is conceiving the title or theme behind his work, which eventually determines what will end up on the canvas. For Wahlstrom technique is not the most crucial aspect of great art, but rather “the feeling and messages” behind the work in question.
Wahlstrom’s artist’s’ statement reads:
“I paint to keep myself insane.
I paint anxiety to be calm.
I paint war to have peace.
I paint sadness to be happy.
I paint the dark to be in the light.
I paint death to be alive.
I paint a story so that I don’t have to tell a story.”
In the future, Wahlstrom hopes “to be able to do stronger paintings with political statements, social criticism, to be part of making the world a better place for future generations.”