squatter’s guide 4: Art for art’s sake…
I haven’t met all of the squatters in London, but those that I have met have been almost exclusively cycle couriers or artists – or cycle couriering artists. Squatting gives the artist the opportunity to practice their craft unfettered and free; not having to worry about whether what’s produced will fetch a price can only help the creative process. Otherwise the whole effort has been bought way before any money has changed hands; the only art that has real value has no value.
Trying to test the theory, I’ve also been seeking various avenues to view the arts for free, which this weekend led me to the Wellcome Centre and the High Society exhibition. The Wellcome is part medical, part art centre and its exhibitions always have an educational bent. Looking and learning and liberation from a ticket price? If you tried to complain, they’d laugh you out the door.
High Society asks the perennial question: are drugs a sin, a crime, a vice or a disease? But it seems to have forgotten about fun. I don’t mean to negate any of the negatives with that three letter f-word, but surely this is the main spur? It also seemed a slightly mixed message: half the exhibition is a warning, the other half is cool stuff to look at when you’ve taken drugs. I certainly wasn’t the only glassy-eyed hipster walking around its halls late Saturday afternoon. There was even the ubiquitous uncontrollable giggling fit, from a couple of girls in a darkened projection room that was designed to enhance the experience of an acid trip.
Lots of galleries aren’t really galleries at all, they’re art shops. It’s towards the acceptable end of the scale, but Marks and Stencils is one. The aesthetic is meticulous, and cool fairly drips from the ceiling: but you’re going to have to stump up if you want to take anything home with you. It’s best summed up by Ian Stevenson’s ‘Street art: now in a gallery near you’ in the window, and the fact that someone was scrubbing off a giant tag from the outside of that window as I left. Expression has its place, it seems.
I also made a Sunday stop off at the Stolen Space gallery (art shop) to see the Penguin ‘Never Judge…?’ show. I’d held high hopes but got the distinct impression that the space was not, in fact, stolen, unlike the Beaconsfield gallery, which I visited recently for an exhibition launch. It was also free to see, but nothing was for sale. I was with Simon Tyszko who knew one of the exhibitors, and in the course of conversation it transpired that the old Victorian ragged-school had been squatted in the seventies and turned into a gallery. Ownership rights had long since passed to the current occupiers. Why fork out for a ticket to the Tate when you can just steal a building and start your own?
The best free art happening I’ve been to recently, however, was November’s exhibition opening at Flaxon Ptootch. It was my first one, although the monthly nights have apparently been going for nine years and 11months now. Billing itself as ‘less a hair dressers, more of a fruit salad’, it’s mainly a hair dressers but it also doubles up as a gallery space with month long exhibitions filling its white walls. And sometimes, when those exhibitions officially open, it becomes a sort of wonderfully weird speak easy party. The best art inspires joy, and the air was thick with it – all are welcome and there is no price of admission…
“They came for the party with a simplicity of heart that was its own ticket of admission…”