London Calling

29 May 2013

East End promise curated by {ourhistory} and Paul Sakoilsky, at LondonNewcastle Project Space, London 2010

The show charts the activities of the cultural migrants who came to the East End from all over the UK and abroad, moving into derelict spaces and filling the vacuum left by previous migrants. Unlike preceding post-war youth and cultural movements, which had mainly been based on consumption, these individuals from a range of social and economic backgrounds took advantage of the cheap rents to create a culture based on ideas and the processes involved in bringing them to fruition.

To reflect the vibrancy and immediacy of the DIY ethos of the time and place East End Promise celebrates, an accompanying catalogue will be compiled and sent to press in the first week of the exhibition, and launched on the last Thursday.

Artists works (selection) BANK (VIPER/BANK TV from the 1996 video show of 130 artists); Gavin Turk (tip bronze painted sculpture of bin bag and early works and archive reworked specifically for the show); Darren Coffield (artwork and personal Factual Nonsense archive); Anthony Oliver with Andrew Herman (Dogs Must Be Carried, 35 mm slide installation of over 300 portraits, at 30 Underwood St Gallery, 1996); Adam Dant (The Donald Parsnips News Stand, 1997); Stewart Home (Red London Video Promo); Swifty (Large scale Installation from the famous designer); Simon Bill; Cedric Christie; Sean Dawson; Cathy de Monchaux; Lucy Wood; Geraldine Swayne (East End the first ever Super 8 to Imax film a documentary short about Spitalfields, past and present, including Nick Cave, Ian Sinclair, Gallon Drunk, Nick Cave, Bill Drummond, among others); and many more.

Photographs, Video & Archive: Bonnie Venture (the ultimate shoreditch portraits or 90s and Liam Duke, unseen documentary photos of East London Strip bars from the early 90s); Giles Moberly; Diego Ferraris panoramas; Dafyyd Jones; photographic archive of important East End show throughout the 1980s and 1990s of Peter Lewis (Artist/Curator and editor of /seconds journal); Chris Shaw (never before shown Shoreditch Portraits 1996/7, from the photographer behind, My Life as a Night Porter); Normski (Photographs of the legendary Metalheadz Sunday Session Club Nights at the Blue Note from back in the day, Bjork and Giles Deacon on the dancefloor, etc), and more.

Archive Material: Containing photos and video of just about EVERYONE the great, the good, the beautiful, the bad and the ugly from the East End art and cultural scene 1985-2000. Including Tracy Emin, Gilbert and George, Bob and Roberta Smith, Tim Noble and Sue Webster, Damien Hirst, Angus Fairhurst, Commercial Gallery, Matt Collishaw, Jarvis Cocker, Fee Doran aka Mrs Jones, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Carl Friedman, Sarah Lucas, Nitsch show at 30 Underwood St Gallery in 1997, Max Wigram, Gary Hume, Rachel Whiteread, Maureen Paley, and more.

Artists and contributors included: Chris Allen • Arthrob/Tomato* • Atlas Press • Howie B • Tim Bailey • Keith Ball • BANK • Paul Barkshire • Bass Clef/Blue Note* • Simon Bill • Andreas Bleckmann • Andrew Capstick • Darren Coffield • Joshua Compston/Factual Nonsense* • Commercial Gallery* • Commerical Too* • Michael Yee-Chong • Cedric Christie • Adam Dant • Sean Dawson • Lucy Day • Decima Gallery* • Dragon Bar* • The Ditch Magazine* • Liam Duke • Alison Dunn • Don Eales • Ben Eine • Everything Magazine* • Gordan Faulds • Diego Ferrari • Five Years Gallery* • Grant Fleming • Roslyn Gaunt • Matthew Glamorre* • Alexander Guy • C.A. Halpin • Mark Hammond • Falk Hindes •Stewart Home • Marc Hulson • The Indo •Dick Jewell • Daffyd Jones • Mark Jones • Fee Doran aka Mrs Jones • Peter Lewis •Lo Recordings* • James Lynch* • Kate Kotcheff • Marco • Phil Maxwell & Hazuan Hashim• Steve Micalef • Jamie McDonald • Sean McLusky & Martin Tickner* • Giles Moberly •Matt Mitchell • Yuki Miyake • MTJ* • Mute Magazine* • Hermann Nitsch • Normski • Anthony Oliver • Jamie Robinson • Imogen ORorke • Pav • Esther Planas • Danny Pockets • Brendan Quick • Kirsten Reynolds • Jason Royce • Paul Sakoilsky • Chris Shaw • Swifty • Geraldine Swayne • Duncan Telford • Suzanne Treister •Chris Tupper • Gavin Turk • 30 Underwood St Gallery* • Nick Waplington • Simon Wheatley • Winston Whitter • Lucy Wood • Bonnie Venture • Mole Vessey • Wai Hung Young • PYMCA/Sleaze Nation*
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LONDON CALLING Peter Lewis ( published in catalogue)

It was 1985, early in January. I'd come back from Holland having completed a residency in Rotterdam, at the Kunstakademie. My father had died in October the year before and I was trying to get back on my feet, and move back to London, to open a space. I thought that opening a space could get me out of the solipsistic morbidity of the studio, and into a more social network, something I wanted. People, excitement, art, regained through hedonism. I went to New York to see what was happening in the East Village. Small galleries housed in dirty spaces, David Robbins was there, Peter Nagy, a lot of intelligent work was being made, and artists were determining a scene that produced so much press - this was remarkable as an independent production, the scene suggested that another economic system could be engaged and reworked out of the oppositions in capital , to condition the way art could be perceived, and how the art/life dichotomy was being redefined by its triad relation with entertainment (David Robbins, The Velvet Grind, Selected Essays, Interviews, Satires (19832005), JRP-Ringier). I saw Jeff Koons' basket ball floating in a vitrine, at a small space in the Lower East side. Who would have thought how the market would be moved by such discrete gestures... the New York scene was highly organised around the idea of dealing, gaining media presence, so something small could be quickly elevated by an urbane knowledge and manipulation of art's economic power through the museum, the critic, the collector, and celebrity. Galleries included Gallery 51X on St. Marks Place, East 10th Streets Nature Morte, Civilian Warfare on East 11th Street, New Math on East 12th Street and Gracie Mansions gallery on East 10th Street and Avenue B. Along with the galleries appeared new art bars (most notably the Red Bar and the Pyramid) that conspicuously promoted the mix of fashion, music, performance, video and painting...all very social. Sometime later I met Andy Warhol in London, introduced to him by ex Factory girl, Mandy Miami, and we worked with Mandy on some stuff in London on his / her visit upstairs at the nightclub Heaven. I think 'Andy' was showing at Anthony D'Offay. I remember someone smashing the glass table he sat at giving out autographs just to get a freak shot of him. I felt very much a resurgence of the excitement I had felt in 60s and 70s London when something happens, also in Paris with my friends there who were studying under Marcuse from 68 through early 70s. The talk was always of doing something else, something not parochial, (Paris was dying well before Beaubourg was built, thats why 68 happened I guess, it was sealed tight with the Pompidou, clearing the streets for the big funeral, recruiting the will of the people). I was thinking out the historical conditions that created or killed off situations, felt as the experience of living, as both a resurgence and capitulation of spirit, through punk, of the city. I showed with Paul Neagu and Joseph Beuys at Neagu's Shaftesbury Avenue Gallery, the Generative Art Group, and met David Medalla there in 1976. Later, I lived with some of Stiff Records crew in 1977. The Damned often crashed on the floor in my room - Dave Vanian and Captain Sensible..." wake up cunt" was the typical early morning call with Dave already fully dressed polishing a shiny black shoe. My friends then were music critics like Mick Wall and Pete Makowski, enjoying punk at its most pristinely putrid. I worked freelance for Sounds, with Mick and Pete, as a photographer, in those putrid amphetamine fuelled days. I still carried some aspiration to do something called art something 'insincere' and succeed in life, too, as Marcel Broodthears had written, accompanying his first exhibition. In 1985 I met The Grey Organisation in London at an art opening off Bond Street (the now defunct Fabian Caarslon) and had a space offered in Kings Cross by a fashion store opposite the Scala cinema, a basement with a low ceiling. This was the Submarine Gallery and the Grey's opening was swamped by members of the press. The Greys were really adept at self-publicity after they 'bombed ' Cork Street's straight galleries with grey paint and got banned from the city centre for acts of vandalism, leaving London for New York and later to L.A. It was arguably something inherited from the strategies of disobedience of Paris 68, culled from the heroism of Guy Debord, psycho-geography- suicide - alcohol, a better way out than drowning with the Situationist International, but there was a very aggressive rejection in the British art world to what we were doing- and I got the hell beaten out of me too, critically, for supporting their activities. I moved into the Grey's house in Bow with my girlfriend and we stayed there with Toby and Daniel and Paul for a while. Maureen Paley was also just at Beck Road and I remember Helen Chadwick being thrown on the street with her possessions.. Was that in a dream, part of an art work or real life? Who knows? Who cares? It happened one way or another. I recall a day when a black guy with a petrol can torched the dole office in Tooting where I signed on in 1982. We just got up and walked out. It was unexceptional. After all, I lived in Railton Road just after the riots. Blood-soaked imagery depicted in colourful anti-American propaganda were fly-posted everywhere - pictures of Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran and the revolution, with lots of cheap Iranian brown heroin arriving on the streets in 79. The denunciation of American influence led to militant Islamic students storming the US Embassy in Teheran in November 1979. Some of the American hostages were held captive for more than a year. Still we got the shah and his heroin. Baader-Meinhof and the Red Army Faction were still in full swing. The world was messed up with victory and defeat, and London was on the edge of the Thatcher 'money never sleeps' generation playing itself out to the lyrics of Spandau Ballet's 'True' , romantic/fascist, flag waving, solvent, still fresh from the Falklands. The Brixton riot had taken place in Lambeth, in 1981. The riot resulted in almost 279 injuries to police and 45 injuries to members of the public; over a hundred vehicles were burned, including 56 police vehicles; and almost 150 buildings were damaged, with thirty burned. There were 82 arrests. Reports suggested that up to 5,000 people were involved in the riot but still London was defined at the time by a sense of futile resistance. There were concurrently, free art events at B2 Gallery run by Dave Dawson in 1982, and I showed there, in Art and Artifice, in 1981, with Vivienne Westwood, John Maybury and Andrew Logan and many others. Met Derek Jarman on the stairwell, in the crowd. After Jubilee, he was working on Caravaggio, and most critically, and poetically, in 1988, The Last of England. Even Bryon Gysin had stayed over. ' B2 was not some isolated art space but part of a community of artists, publishers (the Anarchist Press) and other galleries living and working in Wapping... The area was a popular film location for Victorian period films but also a boarded up tenement environment - Wapping High Street was like a ghost town and the whole area had little or no direct transport. The old tube station shut early and you had to walk a fair distance to reach the Docklands Railway or a bus. Consequently many an audience slept at B2, once over hundred. We also partied and entertained artists and public alike, it seemed natural for people to drop in from all over the globe.' Roger Ely (from B2, at The Centre of Attention, 2006). It all changed with the gentrification of Wapping and the birth of Canary Wharf in the early 90s. In 1991, 92, I met Leigh Bowery through Lovely Jobly, an underground newspaper I wrote for among others, run chaotically by Hercules Fisherman. This was around the same time that Doris Saatchi split from Charles and British Art started to be promoted at home and abroad. I curated shows, made many works in collaboration with curators and artists under the name FLAG, directed from my home, where I lived with my partner at the time, the artist Runa Islam. With Derek Jarman's death things in 1994 got a little duller and changed, I feel for the worse. Art was replaced by something called the Curator. Hans Ulrich Obrist and Laurence Bossé curated Life/Live at Musée dArt Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1996, as an overview of the energetic 90s British art scene at a point when things generally were becoming totalised, reduced to a few names as 'yBa'; also in the apologist kind of eulogising in Frieze, which side-stepped or ignored invisible, unvetted alternatives to the mainstream. That attitude has prevailed - but there is no alternative, to the multitude of artists writhing in the Baudelairian anonymity of the crowd. Obrist's canny exposure of the many independent activities in dirty spaces might be suspect, in term of the bureaucratic or managerial power that could be attributed to the insight of the uber- curator and his marathon efforts to control and archive, to lift life into an aesthetic, hygienic state of exception. As Andrea Fraser acknowledges as the built-in failure of institutional critique, such curatorial exploitation by Obrist at the very least reveals some truths about art's ego particularist or narcissist agenda, by his own example. These days, in the 2000s, someone like Merlin Carpenter has tapped into and understood the common need for the reciprocal kind of contempt that curating encourages. I recently opened Redux as a curatorial project returning to ten years of unacknowledged works, on my return from the Middle East with Makiko Nagaya (returning to the same space where I had, in 1992, shown together with Keith Arnatt, Matthew Arnatt, Runa Islam, Piers Wardle and David Mollin in 'Lemon'). The gallery in Commercial Street was now 'registered' with the semiotic brand with a capital R ringed with an understanding of the market circulation of value. It figured simultaneously as signifying a free art school and host to other's projects. 'Registered' literally, registered a new meaning through a disappearance. This double-take presented a radical change from the 90s embattled oppositions. We had no interest to continue since the war had been won in our collective unconscious.

All that moved London, had moved in the 90s through Saatchi, as a collector [great openings unlimited access to alcohol] but which always left a bad taste, something unpalatable, in all his adman sophistry], events designed to embody the spectator in the bad faith of commercial 'success', without any need of puritanical, intellectual rigour. By a more reflexive attitude to the market we had extracted a certain moment that tested the impossibility and limit of critique outside of 'saatchification' i.e. the forced symbolic value of art through the prestige of the artist-as-genius-entrepreneur-celebrity-asshole. That moment could re-align value through an equally powerful symbolic violence. Like extracting a rotten tooth. Malignant to the core, the auction houses accelerated kill or be killed speculative dealing, placing artists at the mercy of the prestige collection provided they were ready to be sold down the river. Charles Saatchi had visited east end small spaces after his divorce in 1990 where he cultivated a renewed interest less in the kind of 'difficult' work of artists that we had shown at the level of a certain intentional anonymity and criticality than in particular work that represented a sign for another British movement - but things cross over - there were a lot of paradoxical happenings in the period 92 to 96. City Racing might be perceived from here as a research and development cell for the rather quaint prevailing system at that time, of dealers and insiders, the auction houses, the academies, et al, whilst I was, wishfully thinkng, working ostensibly in a more critical way, 'failing' better, returning like Don Quixote, to assault the windmills, to the site where the yBa myth was constructed; with Matthew Arnatt, and Julian Stallabrass we 'conspired' to advertise Candyman II in art magazines, following conceptual art practice, and in 1993- 94 held an exhibition at the same site that Hirst had occupied at Building 1, in E15. Matt Collings was also involved but as an artist, representing another way of breaking down preconceptions of what critics do and don't do, and how media manipulation and parasitical tactics could equally open up a can of worms as to how things 'succeed' or 'fail'. Collings found a way of detaching criticism from a fake or redundant objectivity and aligned himself closer to artists as one himself. I felt at the time that the transdisciplinary way of working both inside and outside a system might yield unexpected results, good or bad. The ads presented a rather bleak, but not a defeatist, view, as firstly not interested to help the work exhibited but rather to argue what an exhibition is, through disengaging seeing or looking, from visual display and theatrical, minimalist, space, as to how value and property markets might be assuaged by theatrical, occult or crypto-hybrid means, to mystify and gain media, disguise from audience attention. Tate Gallery, and property tycoons, et cetera. Hans Haacke comes to mind. The choice was there, briefly. However shows in empty warehouses were to become almost anathema in the following years, by 1998, a lot of stuff going on solidly up to then also with the very open system of collaborations and sharing - I can't count the number of projects - with like-minded artists such as BANK contesting and parodying the motives of independent curating, at Underwood Street, where other artist- groups staged exhibitions, including Simon Hedges at no 30, Mark Hulson and Elizabeth Price at 5 Years, and Paul Sakoilsky himself, whilst organising the Hermann Nitsch show, travelling between Vienna and London, and Naples. Vyner Street is a pale imitation of these early contested organisations success vis-a-vis the way the market has been expanded to be globally inclusive of subversion, glamour and credibility, as project spaces again turn back to the New York model, in the kind of lower east side dealing from the 80s, with perhaps the 'young Dealer' rising like Scorpio, and feeding the market with new, readymade artists tailored for the inclusivity of the system. Nothing new in this or recriminating- Dan Graham had presented an interesting argument for the impossibility of being outside of anything, other than 'bo-ho' as an unattractive option, so if capital is without alternative, it has to reinvent itself again; in his critical essays going back some 20 years earlier, he foresees these developments published in 'Two Way Mirror Power', (Selected Writings by Dan Graham on His Art, MIT Press, 1998.) During that period FLAG worked with artists such as Giorgio Sadotti, and his space, Modern Art, in Whitechapel, and Patrick Brill, in Something's Wrong at Tower Bridge, and with also parallel events in group shows and collaborations at Catalyst in Belfast, Tramway in Glasgow, W139 in Amsterdam. By placing projects closely together, or bringing cities closely together a sense of energy precipitated change, as if there was really an 'event' occurring culturally beyond the usual self-enclosing boundaries of individual expressions. These simulations of change were partially effective in acceptance of the work, although not ideal. By the time I was at Goldsmiths, lecturing in 'curating' and invited as a curator of various biennials and Kunstvereins, the debates appeared academic and redundant. Research culture had won out, with Frieze talking of 'super-hybridity' and free art schools. The trickery of appearances, of a fiction about London, after all had been easily proven, early on by for example Patricia Bickers in ' The Brit Pack: Contemporary British Art, the View from Abroad, (Cornerhouse Publications, 1995), as constituting the marketing and export of a British art 'scene'. If colluding with the endless fakery of an 'optimism' to be reread as indicative symptom of triumphalism, in happy announcements in the Evening Standard such as 'House Prices Rise Again!', Bank Tabloid's headlines ' London Over!' uncannily anticipated the end of the 90s, and of the Brit's self-congratulatory national identity, not only by their own break up, but as witness to the inevitable rise of the globalised power of the city, as the City of a World Power, of Bankside's conversion from power station to the mega-museum, in the ascendancy of Frieze Art Fair, sovereign over London in the 2000s, and in the defeat of a particular period of micro-political artistic excess and exception to evident inequalities. All this reverie that attested to the myth of sovereignty of the artist feeding on the surface of the social body, is made an imposing 'rule of exception' that now, in retrospect, overreaches the horizons of the City. I personally look back to those struggles without a slur of nostalgia, of what could have been, as there are always new arguments and disagreements to the judiciary, of agonistic pluralism, unacceptable activity and thinking, arguably done better through the global interconnections of the internet, to paraphrase Christopher Williams, that might create the conditions for a certain kind of seeing, when in the dark.

Peter Lewis is an artist and curator. He currently publishes the online journal of contemporary art, at