Over the last few months I spent my Tuesday evenings at the Sofitel hotel in Pall Mall. I wasn’t meeting my lover – as my husband was insinuating. Instead I was meeting an amazing group of people, predominantly young women, working towards the launch of the city’s first-ever performance art festival.
Titled ‘Block Universe’, the event will be a return to midcentury performance values with a contemporary spin. A bunch of artists will be speaking, wriggling and dancing from the ICA to Somerset House, from RADA to the courtyard of the Royal Academy of Arts.
‘We’re seeing an increasing interest in it, despite the way it’s being programmed in London,’ says Louise O’Kelly, the festival’s director and a Goldsmiths grad, ‘but a lot of artists working in performance find they don’t have a home.’
A devotee of the artform, O’Kelly was roused when Tate Tanks opened in 2012 with a 15-week festival heavy in performance art. Then… nothing. It is remarkable that the creative capital of the world has kept for so long performance art in the margins, at a time when Marina Abramovic enjoys rock star status and is escorted by bodyguards whenever she performs or attends the preview of Frieze.
The intersection with contemporary art is what gives Block Universe contemporary freshness. We will see Jenny Moore performing a feminist manifesto at the Art Worker’s Guild, surrounded by portraits of the Guild’s forefathers. Conrad Shawcross’s installation ‘The Dappled Light of the Sun’ in the courtyard of the Royal Academy will provide the background for Nicola Conibere’s performance, when she will wrap two bodies in swathes of fabric and send them rolling around the courtyard.
‘Performance art in the Sixties was very much about moving away from an object-space practice to something more intangible,’ says O’Kelly. ‘Now there’s a lot of crossover between dance, painting and sculpture. Those conversations are opening again.’
È venerdì pomeriggio, sono a Roma per un lungo weekend. Passeggiando per il centro il marito suggerisce di mandare una cartolina a nonno e zia quasi novantenni. Trovare le cartoline è facilissimo: una bella fontana di Trevi, ora in fase di restauro, ed un’altra con i fori romani, immagini classiche e immortali della città eterna. Scelte le cartoline, entro in un sali e tabacchi, per comprare i francobolli. Mi dicono che i francobolli no si vendono più nelle tabaccherie. Tolti i sali, tolti i francobolli, le tabaccherie potrebbero pensare di cambiare nome. Confesso il mio sconcerto alla tabaccaia – che però mi rassicura: la posta sta a venti metri da lì. Alla parola Posta nella mia mente si accende una sola immagine. Coda interminabile. Caldo. Attesa. Noia. Ma come, devo comperare due francobolli e per farlo davo davvero andare in posta? Sì, l’unica soluzione. La mia reazione istintiva è di lasciar perdere. Poi penso alla giornata tipica di due ultra ottantenni, uno a casa propria e l’altra in casa di riposo. Non accade molto, e ricevere posta è un avvenimento. Dobbiamo mandare queste cartoline. La posta è davvero vicina, proprio come promesso. E che posta! Lo spazio è maestoso, con soffitti affrescati, marmi, frammenti antichi in bella mostra disposti sotto lastre di vetro. Il marito non crede ai suoi occhi e mi ricorda l’aspetto del nostro ufficio postale: una stanza, scarsa illuminazione, pavimenti in linoleum e 5 sportelli allineati. Il confronto è surreale.
Arrivo al dispositivo dove prendere il biglietto, dove, non nascondo, mi trovo in difficoltà. Il pulsante francobolli non esiste. Titubante, scelgo quello che si chiama ‘corrispondenze e pacchi’. Incontro lo sguardo di un signore, seduto su una delle sedie della sala d’attesa. Chiedo se davvero questo è l’unico posto dove comprare francobolli, e chiedo se ho scelto l’opzione del biglietto giusto. La buona notizia è che ho scelto l’opzione giusta, la cattiva, mi dice, è che è davvero così. Hanno introdotto questa cosa assurda, che aggiunge file e perdite di tempo per sbrigare faccende molto semplici. Ma come è possibile che non ne abbia mai letto sui giornali di questo cambiamento?
Aspetto il mio turno, aspetto per venti minuti. Le mie previsioni erano giuste: coda, caldo, lunga attesa. Per fortuna sono in un bellissimo palazzo, e, come mi spiega questo signore gentile, si tratta che della ex chiesa degli inglesi a Roma. Come a dire, non siamo finiti qui per caso.
Arriva il mio turno, finalmente. L’ironia, perché queste cose vanno prese con leggerezza, è che il mio sportello, nonostante si occupasse di Corrispondenze e Pacchi, non aveva i francobolli!
Quindi ai venti minuti, se ne sono sommano altri cinque. Che dire, pazienza. Certo è che le poste, con questo trucchetto, si assicurano un passaggio incredibile di persone, a cui possono vendere i loro prodotti bancari, telefonini, cancelleria e altro.
Inspired by Freize, I compiled a semi-serious FAQ around art shows.
Vernissage. Why do we use a French word?
It comes from the French word for “varnishing,” and these days means simply preview. Its origins are linked to the Royal Academy of Arts in London: the day before a show’s official opening the artists were allowed to add a final layer of varnish to their paintings, while art professionals and critics were allowed to preview the show. These days the word is used for private views in many contexts: exhibitions, fairs, and private galleries.
How shall I approach an art fair?
Do not expect to see everything. Be prepared to encounter crowds, queues for the cloakroom, as if you were attending a concert or a theatre show. It might sound obvious, but buy your ticket in advance. Go if you are keen to see prominent and commercially valuable artists, cutting-edge art trends and do incredible people watching. Be prepared to rub your shoulders with two typed of people: the uber rich and the obsessive collectors.
Two highlights from this short week. On Tuesday at Freize Masters I witnessed an Italian man having a very angry conversation with his art advisor. The poor advisor just failed to grant him at an auction a new piece for his collection.
On Monday at PAD Italians, French and Germans were compulsory- buying limited editions furniture like I would buy Haribo in a candy shop.
You do not see these things on your average day.
Lots of plastic surgery, on average not very well executed. You are supposed to look fresh, not plastic. High heels and plenty of statement bags.
What is a VIP programme?
A card gets sent to your address and magically all doors open for you. You are granted access and exclusive experiences. What you probably do not know when you receive the magic card, is there are usually at least three layers of VIP tickets, bronze, silver and gold. You can get a private car and a driver for the duration of the fair, early admission to the fair, and open doors to various extra-special events. Post opening dinner, after parties, curatorial expertise at your fingertips to name a few. If you’re a bronze VIP, usually all you get is a chance to browse the show before the rest of the population and – but not always – a glass of wine or Pommery if you are very lucky – in your hands. This year I didn’t feel very lucky and had to pay for my own booze at both Freizes during the previews. What is the point of having a drinks sponsor? PAD was much better catered. And very conveniently located in Berkeley Square.
So many fairs! Which is worth attending?
Stick to the biggest and grandest: Armory, Frieze, Art Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach. You get the best gallery and the largest selection. Tickets are not cheap, but you get a decent value for money and few hours of entertainment.
If I want to buy, can you ask for a discount?
You have to! However, even in the art world, life is unfair. If Abramovich asks for a discount, he is probably more likely to get it than me, being a massive art collector and being someone who spens annually on art the equivalent of a small country’s GDP . Museums get discounts: if an artist features in a museum can reach a critical mass, becomes more recognisable and raises their profile and automatically prices.
The other way of getting discounts is waiting. You can pick up bargains, and leftovers, on the last day of a fair. Dealers would do anything to lower their shipping costs.
What should you wear to one of these things?
While most of the art professionals you’ll see around you are usually decked out all in full black or expensive prints – Marni for the rich and famous and Cos for everyone else – any outfit is pretty much acceptable. Wear black, like an existentialist, and you will fit in perfectly.
You will see a lot of groomed bears, perfect and impeccable blow drys, Laboutins and Ferragamo shoes and sharply cut suits, bespoke specs. And the usual botox party delegation.
The scruffy look is also acceptable. People will assume you are an artist and not a buyer.
I read the book “Watching the English” by the anthropologist Kate Fox few years ago. It explained pretty much all you need to know about the Brits. Surprisingly it doesn’t shed any light on the enthusiasm and dutiful approach for queues. One outstanding example of this ritual hit me in the face last Sunday morning, an handful of meters (or shall I say yards?) from my doorstep, in Battersea Park.
I was heading towards the park for my (short) Sunday morning run, finding my usual path invaded by a long snake of people. What where they doing there? Of course, they couldn’t miss the chance to have the last and final look inside the Battersea Power Station, just before it goes under the knife, gets a makeover, a breast enlargement in order to become a suitable place for cash rich foreigners. Thousands of architecture-starved people, queued for up to 5 hours! The bizarre thing is that at least a third of them looked like they could be architects. Or they really want to be ones.
Other places where I witnessed extreme queuing are: Wimbledon, the National Gallery to see Leonardo Da Vinci, the Secret Post card sale, launch of Apple products, Harrod’s sales. These queues were far longer, scarier than by the Sistine Chapel or the Uffizi in Florence.
But I need to make a confession: last weekend I queued too. And even worse, I queued in the name of architecture and joined those thousands of Londoners who took advantage of Open House to see beautiful and iconic buildings. I set my heart on 78 Dean Street, as part of Open House London weekend, when 700 venues open up to visitors.
I am a terrible queuer. I believe that standing in a line is for losers. If I want something, I want it now. If I wait two hours to see an exhibition, by the time I am in, my legs will not be able to support my love for art. I am a great believer that being tall (I am taller than the average Italian man) and handling well my sharp elbows, gets me further in a queue, and in life.
On this occasion I had to make an exception and conform to the rules in order to view this perfectly preserved townhouse. 78 Dean Street is a beautiful place, just a shame about the restrictions enforced by the owner, who is adamant about the size of each group (15) and the length of the visit, and doesn’t accept pre-booked groups. Shame, as the overall experience would have been memorable, and it wouldn’t have taken me two hours on the sofa, in order to recover from my 2 and half hour standing (1 and half for the queue and one hour for the tour).
Conclusion: queuing is clearly not for me and I am going to try to avoid any further situation that involves queuing for more than 15 minutes, even in the name of art and architecture.
Working at London Design Festival, attending several graduations shows – I like to play a game called “If I was Charles Saatchi what would I buy”– and quite few Salone, I thought that everything that can be designed/ created/ conceived, had been done already. I discovered – quite randomly – Alex Randall’s original lamps after a design-fuelled week, at the end the Clerkenwell Design Week (always a pleasure, far too short). It is not by chance that her latest collection was presented at the legendary Sanderson Hotel in London, a place that I always enjoy, finely balanced between extravagance and simplicity. If Duck Lamp and Squirrel Wall light are already collectable, the Harp Lamp, is likely to be the next big thing. The chosen form of the harp underlines how Randall seeks creative inspiration in everyday objects from the world around her. “There are few shapes quite as feminine and delicate as the harp, and it was because of this I felt simplicity was key. The EL wire is strung under tension between its feminine skeletal form. There is undeniably a ghost-like presence to the harp that sings a forgotten song” commented the artist about her latest work.
Pensavo di aver visto tutto, o quasi, in fatto di design, mobili e soprammbili. Dopo aver lavorato per un po’ al London Design Festival, aver visto qualche Salone, Fuorisalone e mostre di neolaureati, pensavo che tutto fosse gia’ stato inventato. Con la memoria ancora fresca dei tre giorni della Clerkenwell Design Week (sempre bella, ma troppo corta! 3 giorni non bastano) mi sono imbattuta nelle lampade di Alex Randall.
Non e’ un caso che siano state presentate al mitico (un po’ demode’, in un mix di stravaganza e semplicita’che a me continua a piacere) Sanderson Hotel di Londra. Randall usa animali imbalsamati e oggetti di uso quotidiano per farli diventare pezzi di luce. “Alcuni sono femminili e delicati, come l’arpa. E’ come se ci fosse un fantasma che anima questo strumento musicale, e quando si accende la luce, e’ come se questa presenza misteriosa suonasse una canzone dimenticata” dice l’artista. Duck Lamp e Squirrell Wall light sono gia’ pezzi da collezione.
Ecco una conversazione di un paio di mesi fa.
Art manager di una fondazione: “Ciao Alessandra, ti piacerebbe partecipare a una nuova commissione artistica?”
IO: “Scusa, intendi dire una fotografia artistica con me come soggetto?”
Art manager: “Si, e la fotografa sarà Venetia Dearden.
Magari conosci già alcuni dei suoi lavori, perché sono stati esposti in diverse occasioni alla National Portrait Gallery, e ha contribuito al lancio di Cara Delavigne e di altre modelle di successo. Il ritratto che abbiamo commissionato diventerà parte della nostra collezione permanente e una copia sarà consegnata a te.
Se ti sembra una cosa fattibile e ti piace l’idea, dobbiamo accordarci su un luogo che abbia un significato per te e dove ti piacerebbe essere fotografata.”
Lascio alla vostra immaginazione la mia reazione.
Ma certo che si!
Lascia passare qualche settimana ed eccoci pronti a scattare. Venetia e i suoi due assistenti – James e Stuart – vengono a casa mia. E’ un freddo sabato di Marzo, tipico di questo inverno che non sembra voler finire. Fa freddo fuori, giacca e sciarpa sono d’obbligo. Venetia guarda al mio guardaroba e insiste perché indossi una giacca scura di taglio classico, la sciarpa di visone che era di mia nonna e, tocco finale, il cappello. Si focalizza proprio su quello perché’, secondo lei “Finisce il look e comunica un’allure di glamour europeo”. Adoro come parlano le persone che lavorano nella moda.
E’ un piacere chiacchierare con lei e i suoi collaboratori. In ascensore nota il mio anello di fidanzamento. Anche lei si è appena fidanzata e si sposerà a novembre di quest’anno, quindi ha l’occhio allenato e nota cosa aleggia sulle dita delle altre donne.
Suggerisce quindi di non trascurare questo dettaglio ed aggiunge” “E’ un oggetto simbolico e cattura più di ogni altra cosa l’essenza di questo momento della tua vita.” Come darle torto.
Scelgo il Chelsea Embankment e Battersea Park come set per il servizio fotografico. Sono vicino a casa e amo trascorrervi il weekend. Camminiamo per qualche minuto e ci ritroviamo nel parco, circondati dalla solita fauna del sabato mattina: gente che corre, famiglie giovani e felici, donne impegnate a scolpirsi nuovo corpo con l’aiuto del personal trainer, dog sitter con cani imbellettati. Alcuni ci guardano e si chiedono che cosa ci fanno due tipi con dei pannelli riflettenti giganteschi, una fotografa e una tipa che fa da soggetto. E che chiaramente non è una modella. Lasciamoli fantasticare. Io continuo a sorridere, a loro e alla lente della macchina fotografica.
Il team di fotografi è eccezionale: talentuosi, simpatici e super professionali. A volte nella vita accadono cose che non avresti mai osato nemmeno sognare. Adoro il mio ritratto.
Sembro una spia.
Images credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kevinpaulmorris/6107818878/
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/nickwheeleroz/2773776799/”>nickwheeleroz</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/kevinpaulmorris/6107818878/”>Kevin_Morris</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a>
Here is a conversation I had a couple of months ago.
ART MANAGER: “Hi, would you be interested in taking part in a new art commission?”
ME: “Sorry, you mean a work of art?”
“Yes, and the photographer is Venetia Dearden. You probably know her work, as she exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery. The portrait will become part of our company’s art collection and you will also get to keep a signed copy of the picture. If it sounds like something you would like to get involved in, all you have to do is agree a day, time and a place in London that has a special meaning for you and where you would like to be photographed.”
I let you guess my reaction.
Fast forward a few weeks later and here we are. Venetia and her two assistants – James and Stuart – came to my flat on a Saturday morning, they help me choosing my clothes and style me. It is a cold day, so we opt for a coat, my grandmother’s mink scarf and a hat. I am not so sure about the hat, but Venetia is adamant. “It finishes the look, and brings an allure of European glam to life” she says. I love the lexicon of people who work in the Fashion industry.
She then spots my engagement ring and decides that it needs to be features in the shoot. “This is a great detail and it really captures the essence of this moment of your life”.
I cannot argue, she is right.
I choose the Chelsea Embankment and Battersea Park as a location for the shoot. We end up heading to Battersea Park and we shoot there, surrounded by the usual Saturday crowd of joggers, young happy families and dog walkers. People look at us, wondering what the hell are two people with two massive panel reflectors and a photographer are doing on a Saturday morning, taking picture of someone who is clearly not a model. I keep on smiling and let them fantasize.
The whole team is wonderful, they are talented, warm, and know exactly what they are doing.
Life like this is such a dream, sometimes! And I love the picture. I look like a spy.
Who needs to go on a minibreak when you live in London? Unfortunately I had to work this weekend, so all I had to enjoy was the best part of Friday evening and Saturday until 5 pm. A handful of hours to prove once more that quality is more important than quality.
So what can you do, when – after a night out – you are ready to leave your place by lunchtime and only have few hours? I decided for once to trust the Friday edition of the Evening Standard and do one of the activities recommended. So I convinced the Lord that cycling to Somerset House to see Somerset House, a retrospective and celebration of the work of some very talented British crafts makers, was a good idea. The fact that it was an initiative of Walpole British Luxury Institute was good enough for me. From knitwear to shoemaking and glass blowing, blended with the opportunity to meet the makers alongside the products, and see the labour of love that lies behind a pair of shoes or a cabinet.
All of these in one of my favourite parts of Somerset house, the West Wing galleries. Filled with lights and sunshine, the objects and their makers brought this space to life. I felt like I was lounging in someone’s sitting room. With very high ceilings. Were the curators and the organisers trying to suggest that this is the space where this objects should live, outside the workshop and the retail arena, but in our homes?
It feels like Craft is becoming what Design was few years ago. Craft is having a moment and everyone seems to want to have a piece of it. Even the School of life of Alain De Bottom is dedicating a talk to one of the aspects of crafting – DIY. And it sold out in a couple of hours.