Generously welcoming a criteria-less variety of media and personal exploration, the It’s been four years since 2010 group exhibition at London’s Arcadia Missa illustrates the value and undeniable power of instinct. A shared anniversary show of sorts between the UK and Mexico’s Preteen Gallery, the guttural curation of invited artworks by the latter’s Gerardo Contreras is something that feels very new, and at first, rather hard to grasp. But don’t be put off by initial, elusive confrontation. This show makes one work hard to break down institutional expectations, revealing something gloriously elementary.
What’s immediately noticeable on entering the gallery is that nothing really seems to match, other than a subtly shared notion of a kind of confused, apocalyptic expression along mixed media littering the space in the room and around the walls. A pillowcase, pasted Morrisons shopping bags, a disposable camera photo, paint, a boxy old TV, and moving image showcasing glitched layers of sexualised needle usage happily exist among one another –and the resulting atmosphere isn’t immediately recognisable.
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge’s layered collage combines framed text and coloured visual, while Phoebe Collings-James’ child-like line paintings incited an overheard conversation suggesting they could have been produced while high. Nightmarish sketches of bizarre shapes and characters from both Luis Miguel Bendaña and Abdul Vas were no different, while a hanging, ‘talking sculpture’ made from cut-down Australian Banksia nuts provided the only offer of natural materials from Lewis Teague Wright.
Although interesting in themselves, focusing too much on each piece isn’t necessarily helpful when exploring Contreras’ aim with the exhibition. Only when the works are understood as a collective does the exhibition come together, and since all of them are so different, it’s surprising how simple and unified the ambitions of both Arcadia Missa and Preteen seem to be.
Without being material-led, the show and each artists’ work presents physical making as an intuitive act of expression. Simultaneously (and critically), the curator’s work appears to immediately react to that, and what is beautiful about Contreras’ approach is the visceral way in which this is executed. When asked, he told me that “curation is spiritual stimulation”, and as a celebration rather than a critique, It’s been four years since 2010 is an instinctive gathering of works without order, which for the curator, manages to elevate the art beyond its tangible meaning. The performance by O F F Love’s Simon Guzylack (with visuals from Leslie Kulesh) later on in the evening exemplified this idea. A projector showcasing an intriguing series of hand gestures executed by a group of webcam users and artists set the backdrop for an emotive musical performance. Wearing a caged, flowery mask, Guzylack’s ambiguous lyrics were contorted by various different electronic effects. Ambling bpm allowed for a trance-like, mellow tone, and despite being unable to connect to a figurative narrative in the artist’s song, the audience was certainly taken on a journey by the expressive sounds and movements involved.
By encouraging this kind of detached objective, It’s been for years since 2010 promotes both personal and collective dialogues –an act which directly relates to Arcadia Missa’s curatorial position as an established, independent gallery. By recognising the institutional nature of contemporary curation, an appreciation of different ways to work allows for exhibitions like this one to shine.
A brief conversation with Arcadia Missa co-curator Rozsa Farkas illuminated me further. She talked about letting the show and the works within it exist just as they are, rather than framing them with the agenda of the gallery or the curator. As she explains, what follows is a space for a show that makes no distinction between studio and gallery, bringing the studio to the viewer rather than trying to reform an artist’s practice into a finished product. It’s a good way to work, and the respect between all involved in the exhibition for this reason is evident.
This notion of respect runs deeper both within It’s been for years since 2010 and the collaboration between Arcadia Missa and Preteen gallery itself. Connecting originally on twitter and forming a ‘love affair’, the bond between Contreras and Farkas was described to me as cosmic: “we were meant to meet up and sync up so crazily on so many levels, so it was a cosmic thing this show we made happen” Creating a platform to support their community of artists is high on Arcadia Missa’s agenda, and equally, the thing that connects all of the works within the show is in a similar feeling of camaraderie between Contreras and all of the contributing artists.
And so we return to the liberality by which these pieces are allowed to exist as a collaborative art project. Despite an initially confusing collection of works, what’s very simple here is that direct reaction follows direct expression –and even if that expression is (in Farkas’ words) “a little bit fucked up”, we can all relate to the dilemmas it conveys. By accepting these works, we join Contreras in celebrating them, and without constraints or categorisation of medium or space, this show stands as a tribute to many of the things that make us human. **