Shaking up the definition of political art with Keep it Complex for the Unite Against Dividers weekend

13 January 2017

“We are organising the Unite Against Dividers weekend because we feel the responses from the art world have so far been too binary, tokenistic and quiet,” say Keep it Complex -Make It Clear, who are presenting Unite Against Dividers, an activation weekend for the arts, at multiple venues across London and the UK from January 13 to the 15.

Keep It Complex – Make It Clear is a collective of art workers who want to shake up the definition of political art and see themselves as a tool to get involved in everyday politics, like, as they call it, “a recipe book, a song score or an angry note somebody left on the fridge.” The collective, who define themselves as a loose group of people who work in arts, formed out of the campaign, are tackling the notion that ‘directness’ does not equal community art, and it is time to divest from the old structures that dictate how we experience and value art.

The weekend will kick off with a roundtable dinner at London’s Res. space hosting over 30 politicians, activists and artists including Heather PhillipsonTaylor Le Melle and Legacy Russell, among others. All are welcome to join from 20:30 onwards for drinks. Check out the weekend schedule to choose from a huge number of workshops, talks, performances and reading groups including artist Jenny Moore‘s ‘We Want our Bodies Back’ singing workshop exploring the voice as a tool for protest, as well as a collective zin-making workshop ‘Manifestos for Surviving in the Arts’ run by Collective Creativity (Evan Ifekoya, Raisa Kabir, Rudy Loewe and Raju Rage). 

We spoke with three of the coordinators Kathrin Böhm, Rosalie Schweiker and Divya Osbon about moving beyond the exhibition space, putting pressure on the art world’s resource distributors and re-imagining contemporary art’s role in politics.

Divya Osbon standing in front of EU-UK campaign posters. Courtesy Keep it Complex – Make it Clear.

 ** I love the name Keep it Complex! It brings it back to the importance and process of a continual (un)learning.

Divya Osbon: This is probably very obvious to say, but I view it as a straight-up response to and a good reminder of the maddeningly reductive politics around the referendum. But also useful as an anti-fascist response more generally. I’m thinking about intercultural exchange and past conversations about cultural relativism, and there’s something about this that just can’t be reduced to black and white, it has to remain complicated and evolve within that state, and that’s okay.

Rosalie Schweiker: It comes more out of a need rather than a want. As a non-Brit the whole referendum was pretty traumatic for me, especially seeing how useless and irrelevant the arts were and how little political education there is in Britain. People didn’t know what to do (apart from posting on social media) and so I guess what we did came as a very direct and pragmatic response. The idea for the weekend kind of came out of a similar context, because we just wanted to have people together in a space and create some kind of energy to take this forward. Also to put pressure on the big art institutions, the people with money and power, to take a stand and not pretend that everything is going to be fine.

** Tell us a bit about the mouse logo.

RS: Divya organised a weekend at the floating cinema, and she screened Born In Flames on the boat. We were sitting outside and  it was amazing to see this film so huge and in public. When I saw the bit with Flo Kennedy and the mouse quote, I just realised that that’s what we need to do – be 500 mice because they are harder to shoot than 1 lion. It has become a really useful metaphor also to think about the legacy. Because I don’t want to end up with one huge homogeneous organisation. I don’t think there should be professional artists or activists. If we were all able to do a bit instead of outsourcing it, we’d create a more equal society.

Kathrin Böhm: It also reflects that whatever we do is multi-authored, collaborative, done in a group that can grow and shrink. We’re not pretending to be a movement, but we know we are part of a big group, a large group of people who don’t want racist and nationalistic politics. DO: The other thing it taps into for me then is this idea that having multiple agendas within this weekend is a positive. Something we’ve talked about before, in other groups I organise with, is not being afraid of conflict or uncomfortable conversations (i.e. being ‘called out’ or ‘in’…) because that’s where we learn and evolve and hopefully change aspects of our culture that are oppressive.

Unite Against Dividers.

** What do you want to achieve by putting on this weekend?

RS: I think I’d like to push two ideas with the weekend: Firstly, that as artists, or designers, or whatever, we should stop making art for a while and see how we can use our skills differently. The second thing is I’d like to push is that there is no such thing as political art. All art is political, because it’s about how you give and withhold your labour. So we need to get away from this idea that political art is something serious and needs to look a certain way or use a certain language.

There’s this fetishisation of exhaustion in art and activism, almost like if you’re not nearly dead then you’re doing something wrong. And with the weekend we want to show that activism might also mean having a good time, taking care of yourself, implementing small everyday changes. We want to put some new ideas out there — like, why do arts institutions always do talks and panel discussions? What other forms of communication or community building could we try?

KB: The whole experience [of the EU referendum] made it apparent to me that I have to become clearer with what I’m trying to do as an artist. I’m not here to be simply social and communal. I do the work I do to practice a reality which I value, which is embedded in the everyday of existing public realms and therefore society.  

** Yeah, contemporary culture is increasingly intertwined with politics, and many artists are blurring the line between activism and their practice, yet we continue to think of politics as separated from, or removed in some way from our daily lives.

KB: When we did a mail-out to our Company Drinks mailing list in Barking and Dagenham to ask everyone who supports and appreciates our collaborative and cross-cultural way of working to support the Remain Vote, we got some of our regulars to say that they don’t want the project to be political. They wanted it to be a nice community project. I want it to be a nice community project, too, but I also have to be clear that it produces and represents values which are feminist, co-operative and ecological. That’s where I have to become clearer as an artist.

Campaign poster (2016). Courtesy Keep it Complex – Make it Clear.

** The webpage is very instructional and full of resources, which feels refreshing and accessible.

RS: Well, I think we were really overwhelmed with the complexity of politics and realised that there’s no simple answers to all of this, so we thought it might be good to just create the website as a starting point, to collect some ideas. I think lots of people don’t get engaged with politics because it seems such a huge thing — or like with climate change, we all know we’re fucked but we don’t take any steps to solve this, we just retreat back into some kind of melancholia and anxiety.

** Do you have plans to continue and reincarnate after UAD? 

RS: I don’t know exactly what we will do after the weekend, but I think in the spirit of the 500 mice, we will have found out who we want to work with and then go off and build smaller teams, push things in smaller groups, because otherwise it also gets to exhausting.

KB: Keep it Complex will continue, and as Rosalie said, the weekend is to incubate and grow initiatives and action. For me it’s also to gain and grow confidence in being clear with my values and ambitions in order to carry them back into the work I do as an artist in communities.

DO: I was daydreaming the other day that if things became a lot worse in the UK, I would start my own version of Pussy Riot.**

Unite Against Dividers is on at venues across London and the UK, from January 13 to January 15.

  share news item

Megan Snowe @ Res., Sep 22

21 September 2016

Megan Snowe is taking part in the next I Had This Feeling reading group at London’s Res. on September 22.

The programme is focused on emotion and affect theory, the emotional economy, and the sensual impacts of language. They will discuss ‘The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling’ by Arlie Russell Hochschild, who coined the term ’emotional labor’, on their next meeting.

Alicia Grandley’s article ‘Emotion Regulation in the Workplace: A New Way to Conceptualize Emotional Labor‘ will also be referred to as it gives a brief overview of theories about emotions and the workplace from 1983 through the late-90s.

New York-based artist Snowe is currently resident at London’s The White Building for SPACE Art + Technology’s OpenPROCESS #7 programme, where she is researching “emotion-as-substance with words, actions, drawings and substances (provided), co-creating enhanced issues, more thorough than before.”

See the FB event page for details.**

I Had This Feeling @ Res., Sep 22


  share news item

Kathy Rae Huffman archive @ Res. Jun 28 – Aug 6

27 June 2016

The archive of video art collector and curator, Kathy Rae Huffman will be coming to London’s Res. this summer, opening June 28 and running by appointment through to August 6.

Selected from the Goldsmiths University Kathy Rae Huffman Media Library and installed in the Reading Room at Res. will be books, videos, documentation of shows and her work at Long Beach Museum of Art set up by Huffman in the 70s, and collections of artists names that make up, for example, ‘Face Settings’ an all-female mailing list of media specialists.

The exhibition also incorporates several events, such as Legacies of Cyberfeminism III: Networks, Collaborations and Forms Labour where attendees will read from Huffman texts as well as others, a set by DJ Spacer Woman (Chooc Ly Tan) and later on in the summer an evening of screenings commissioned and curated by Huffman herself.

See the FB event for further details.**

Max Almy, Leaving the 21st Century (1982). Courtesy the artist.
Max Almy, Leaving the 21st Century (1982). Courtesy the artist.
  share news item

Laura Morrison + Beatrice Loft Schulz finissage @ Res, Oct 30 + 31

30 October 2015

Laura Morrison and Beatrice Loft Schulz‘s Bain Marie project is finishing it’s run at London’s Res. with an event on the evening of October 30, followed by a final showing on October 31.

Part of a broader research project on corporeality and affective labour under capitalism, the artists have set anchor in the gallery space, to “consider the instrumentalisation of vulnerability”.

In exploring the tension inherent in positing the body and the gallery as often contradictory spaces, the closing night begins with performances by the artists to be followed by a DJ set by Spacer Woman (aka Chooc Ly Tan).

See the Res. wesbite for details.**

Beatrice Loft Schulz and Laura Morrison, ‘Bain Marie’ (2015). Installation view. Courtesy Res., London.
Beatrice Loft Schulz and Laura Morrison, ‘Bain Marie’ (2015). Installation view. Courtesy Res., London.
  share news item

An overview of Frieze 2015 on the fringe

23 October 2015

The thing about Frieze London 2015 is that it’s kind of going on or happening anyway, even if you don’t go to it. You don’t need to go to the big ‘thing’ because you know it’s happening. It sort of frames something and allows things outside of that frame to use its edges and say – we’re doing this, thanks for the frame, ‘cos we gonna do another thing’ [sic]. So you walk around and bus around and get a sense of the state of things in relation to the big ‘thing’ that hovers in the mind. It sort of presides over the whole experience until, if you keep walking far enough, on the fringes, you can turn around and it’s almost gone.

Walking up Kingsland road into Hannah Perry’s show Mercury Retrograde at Seventeen Gallery might seem like walking into a shop. Not a shop to buy things but a dead shop that communicates through arrangement and display. There is music playing whilst looking, cut up pieces of ambience, and then beats come on. The gallery is divided by hanging rubber latex, dark cherry red, that allocate areas where things are on display –pieces of printed and painted aluminium. ‘I don’t want you to feel like I have the dominance over anyone’ (2015) shows an image of a cracked and smashed iPhone printed onto corrugated aluminium. I look at my cracked and smashed iPhone and think  –‘this is how I find out about the big things’. A series of four works, ‘Gas Lighting 3, 6, 2 and 1’ (2015), are pieces of dented and punched out aluminium sheets immaculately finished in autobody enamel, the cherry reds and blueberry colours matching the hanging latex. In front of these sitting on the floor, ‘Will You Be Topless’ (2015) is what looks like part of a wrecked car, again with a perfect gloss finish of cherry red autobody paint and a piece of rubber draped over it. If this is a shop then now it’s a workshop –a car spray and repair shop.

Hannah Perry, Mercury Retrograde (2015). Exhibition view. Courtesy Seventeen, London.
Hannah Perry, Mercury Retrograde (2015). Exhibition view. Courtesy Seventeen, London.

Then travel to Evelyn Yard, to see Jamie Jenkinson’s show Video. The press release speaks of Jenkinson’s interest in ‘digital phenomena’ and his ongoing investigation into expanded cinema. Before I get much time to look around one of the gallerists comes to tell me as much about the show as possible, talking about the importance for the artist of ‘information transfer’ and the ‘glitches’ and ‘noise’ that occur in this process. The centrepiece, ‘Colour Correction’ (2015) is a projected colour field that shifts its colour hue slowly over ninety minutes. This work and all the other video pieces were shot on iPhone 6 which I am told is important for the artist because of its everyday relation to the body. Because everyone has iPhones. A monitor on the floor shows ‘Net Storage’ (2015), a durational still(-ish) close shot of a piece of netting –the pun opening up a dialogue on how things can be stored: as objects –what things can slip through the netting? Or data –what information is lost in the transfer to the iPhone? Whether the artist agrees with the ‘information transfer’ spiel or not is unclear, what is more apparent in the show is an interest in the formal qualities of film/video and (expanded) cinema. ‘Digital phenomena’ may be casting too broad a net.

 Jamie Jenkins, Video (2015). Photo by Tom Carter. Courtesy Evelyn Yard, London.
Jamie Jenkins, Video (2015). Exhibition view. Photo by Tom Carter. Courtesy Evelyn Yard, London.

I get on a bus and go to Cabinet gallery for the opening of Mark Leckey’s new work ‘Dream English Kid 1964 – 1999 AD’ (2015). The place was pretty packed and the bus stop outside was like some sort of hang out if you were either waiting for the 243 or waiting to get into the gallery. I go inside and from the surround sound system I hear the words, spoken through some NASA style intercom, “3 – 2 – 1 – Mark” and so begins a journey through found footage of The Beatles, NASA rockets, British public information broadcasts and Joy Division gigs. The film is kind of a biopic. The artist’s memories of mediated events re-found as images now feel like they can transcend any ‘real’ memory, creating a kind of new ‘present’ memory. A scene from a 1970s public information broadcast shows a frisbee landing precariously on an electricity pylon, one of several references to electrical energy in the film –and the subtext running through the work could be amplification. From Joy Division’s electric guitars through to the saturation of images that comes with digital technology, it folds back to the amplification of the memory to something greater than a dream.

Mark Leckey, Dream English Kid (2015). Exhibition view. Photo by Mark Blower. Courtesy Cabinet, London.
Mark Leckey, ‘Dream English Kid, 1964-1999 AD’ (2015). Installation view. Photo by Mark Blower. Courtesy Cabinet, London.

At Pilar Corrias is a huge wall size projection of the latest moving image work by New York-based artist Ian Cheng, who in 2012 created a 3D animated music video for Liars, where humans and rabbit characters dance and twist and rip and tear apart from their rigs. The current exhibition, Emissary Forks At Perfection, continues Cheng’s distinct imagery and colour pallet. Out of the grey landscape, orange dogs play and speak and chase a corpse like a humanoid avatar through vibrant green foliage and littered water bottles. Beyond the surface qualities is the interesting fact that this work is a ‘live simulation’ of ‘infinite duration’. A flow chart on the wall when you come in seems to hint at the complex algorithmic procedures that might be at play, with the quite funny headline, ‘Horizon of volatile uncertain complex ambiguity (VUCA)’. The press release says ‘a story may escape its classical fixity and indefinitely procrastinate its conclusion’, so I wondered if they shut the power off at night.

Ian Cheng, Emissary Forks at Perfection (2015). Exhibition view. Courtesy Pilar Corrias, London.
Ian Cheng, Emissary Forks at Perfection (2015). Exhibition view. Courtesy Pilar Corrias, London.

I walk to Deptford to get to Res. Here artists Laura Morrison and Beatrice Loft Schulz are working as part of a project called Bain Marie. “What does Bain Marie mean?” I say to Schulz. She tells me it could be something like a thing that melts chocolate slowly so as not to burn it, kind of warming it up. I started to think that the space they have started creating is having the same effect. Some rubber tiles cover part of the floor and arranged across them are plenty of books that the artists had brought with them –novels, Finnish poetry, theory –all sorts. Over the other side of the room are a couple of portable old fabric and wooden makeshift beds, upon which each has a vintage dress draped over it. The materiality of the objects creates a sense of warmth in the space –paper, wood, fabric, nylon. Also drawings are being made onto veneered wood –a fox, a map of slow worms, a vagina, an arsehole. Both artists seem reluctant to consider it a collaboration, preferring to state that they are working on their own separate things. This strikes me as interesting, a beginning point for a discussion on the nature of collaboration and what it means to even state the word in different situations. Schulz mentions the notion of ‘the collaborators’ during wartime. A performance event is planned for October 30 and, I believe, should be highly recommended.

Beatrice Loft Schulz, 'Bain Marie' (2015). Installation view. Courtesy Res., London.
Beatrice Loft Schulz and Laura Morrison, ‘Bain Marie’ (2015). Installation view. Courtesy Res., London.

Then I walk to Peckham to get to Assembly Point to an event from East Anglia Records. EAR is an ongoing project by Harry Bix which started at the Slade School with his ‘album launch’ nights. Here, at Assembly Point, the lights have been turned off and there is a smoke machine and a stall to buy EAR branded merchandise. The place is pretty rammed. Taylor Smith reads some beat style poetry about curry clubs and petrol stations, Harley Kuyck Cohen animates a talking Toby Jug with a torch. Lea Collet presented ‘Ricardo’ in drag brandishing a screen in front of another screen. Audience participation gets interesting with Richard Seaholme’s longer piece –interesting because of the audience’s growing disinterest and Seaholme’s manner in which he continues on regardless, occasionally telling the crowd to shut the fuck up. Leaving before the end I missed the performance by Ulijona Odišarija. I had seen a previous incarnations of the work –the artist posed enigmatically in front of a camera to the soundtrack of Tina Turner’s ‘Simply the Best’, while the image is simultaneously broadcast on a screen. I get in touch with the artist to ask how it went this time. “It’s basically the same as before but I was more of Sweatlana this time with a JLo-esque weave and spotlight in my face.” Who is Sweatlana, then? “She is sort of cool, sitting in the spotlight with a lot of drama in her face and all eyes on her”.

Thinking about “all eyes on the spotlight” I think that if the light shines too bright then you can get stuck in the glare of its presence –the big ‘thing’. But transiting the streets by phone light allows smaller things to become much brighter. **

Click arrow, top right, for exhibition photos.

Frieze Art Fair runs in London’s Regent’s Park annually in October. The fringe events happen elsewhere.

 Header image: Sweatlana. Courtesy Ulijona Odišarija.

  share news item

An interview with Joey Holder

29 September 2015

Joey Holder used to be a diving instructor, and has spent a correspondingly long time under the water. In retrospect, scuba diving is the scariest thing I’ve done. At the time it was great; a zero-gravity experience in a wholly foreign environment, with a 360 degree field of vision above and below. Plus the colours, and the warmth of the water (it was in the Caribbean, naturally), and the otherness of the fauna, and even strange things like the invasive but also comforting breathing apparatus. The trailing plumes of visible exhalation following each diver were all very powerful and evocative and at the time totally intoxicating.

But then: fear. The weight of the sea above, the alien-ness of the environment may be actually unwelcoming, the little technical dangers that only occur to anxious people. The technical integrity of the breathing apparatus, the bends.

Having spent some time under the water, it’s kind of hard not to let the knowledge of Holder’s previous career colour readings of her art; a preoccupation with the synthesis of nature and technology, an aesthetic palette and visual language of fluidity, digitally realised amorphous shapes, an indifference to the conventions of stasis manifesting in a thorough and ongoing exploration of digital space and the weightlessness it affords. Her practice is simultaneously broad and refined; broad in the sense that it spans group and solo exhibitions (she’s prolific), a legion of regularly-updated Tumblr pages (her email signature lists 11 separate links) and various residencies (she’s this year completed one at Wysing, and has work in their upcoming group show The Uncanny Valley).

Holder’s work’s refinement lies in its clear agenda. Her exhibitions support an expansive network of investigation, the Tumblr pages functioning as mood-boards, sketchbooks and image banks, useful to her but also to her audience for whom they provide a visual dictionary of context. Through them Holder archives images that shed light on both her aesthetic and conceptual preoccupations: bio-technologies, improbable creatures and environments, the uneasy proximity of the realization of science fiction into usable technology.

At the core of Holder’s practice lies a fascination with the natural world, and humanity’s interface with it. Her imagery is slick with bio-mucus and circuit-board coolant. The uncanny bleeds into the outright unsettling as she brings to light the alien in the terrestrial.

In an unusually anonymous pub in London’s Soho, we met up to discuss her work and upcoming exhibitions. This autumn she’s in three group shows –the aforementioned The Uncanny Valley, Exta at Deptford’s Res. gallery (running during Art Licks Weekend, October 2 to 4) and a joint exhibition with Viktor Timofeev called Lament of Ur at Karst.

Our conversation is illuminating and hallucinatory, the setting and her enthusiasm lightens Holder’s visions of Ballardian techno-human interfaces, aquatic molecular life that calmly and dispassionately adapts to the spoiled seas, and biologically engineered organisms with their inbuilt killswitches. I am left with visions of opaque jellyfish, floating through the seas of a de-populated earth. Through her online presence, as well as exhibiting, Joey Holder highlights the interlinked networks of organisms that exist in the world, with the digital analogous to the weightlessness of the deep sea.

Joey Holder, 'Multifunctional Gel Fertilizer' (2015) @ Plague of Diagrams. Installation view. Courtesy the artist.
Joey Holder, ‘Multifunctional Gel Fertilizer’ (2015) @ Plague of Diagrams. Installation view. Courtesy the artist.

Can you tell me a little bit about your upcoming exhibitions?

Joey Holder: The show at Res. is a show called Exta. It’s quite an abstract and theory-heavy… it’s kind of like slime-aesthetics, alien sort of stuff. But it sounds quite clever. It’s about slime, and weird shit; for this one they want me to do something with Dark Creatures, which is one of my Tumblrs, so I won’t be under my actual name, I’ll just be called that. I’m making a sort of trailer for the show; they’re doing a bigger show next spring, and I guess I see it as some sort of film-trailer or something for this bigger project.

Then I’m in a group show that’s happening at Wysing, called The Uncanny Valley. I’m basically doing a big floor piece for that.

I do a lot of shows, and I feel like my work is this continual process and output. I don’t think of my works as finished pieces, like static works within a gallery or something, so it’s quite nice to be invited to do lots of things. To somehow compartmentalize, or conceptualise or sort of seal off certain parts of my thinking, somehow.

I find the ‘Uncanny Valley’ as a concept so arresting, through it’s almost recursive description of a kind of human-engineered state where the proximity to flawless human-ness is what actually inspires negative feelings in humans…

JH: It’s really relevant. What’s happening now, with AI and robotics and stuff, how it starts to simulate life, I guess, becomes really fucking weird.

That’s something that I always think about in my own work, how we used to always separate humans from nature, or what we do from nature, when it’s actually part of the same thing.

I saw a quote in an interview with Dazed, “what we produce as humans is actually part of nature’s whole”. It sounded quite new-agey

JH: It is a bit like Gaia theory or something! But it is ultimately true, we are part of a bigger system. I’m not saying that it’s happy and balanced, but whatever happens in the world has a knock on effect. And we take resources from the earth, and are connected to other animals or something – not in a hippy-ish way at all, but like, I guess it’s like in a Timothy Morton sense as well.

I kind of always think about how everything we have as our technology ultimately comes from nature, although it’s not separate from us if that makes sense. You could think of any example, it comes from something that exists in nature. With what I’m interested in these days it becomes even weirder, because with stuff like synthetic biology we can ultimately not just take the wings of a bird and then replicate that, create an aeroplane wing or something, but actually take pieces of genetic code, and life, and essentially put that together -programme that into a new form of life. It’s actually using the stuff, using nature, for want of a better word, itself. It gets really fucking weird then.

Joey Holder, 'Dark Creatures' (2015). Video still. Courtesy the artist.
Joey Holder, ‘Dark Creatures’ (2015). Video still. Courtesy the artist.

Your engagement with these ideas goes beyond the superficial: it doesn’t seem like you just like these ideas, it seems like you understand them. Like you’ve researched them, you know how they work, and you can talk fluently about them.

JH: I wouldn’t say I can talk like a scientist about them in any respect, but some of my projects involve collaborations with scientists, and I have a lot of conversations with them. I did a big solo show called Hydrozoan, which came off a research residency I did. They paired me up with a couple of scientists from Nottingham university, they were plant scientists. I was researching aquaponics which is where you grow food from fish-waste, so you create a system where the fish are kind of providing the nutrients, the nitrates then gets kind of fed into the plants roots and then they grow. So I kind of simulated an aquaponics system within this show.

So yeah, it’s not just, I guess, appropriating the aesthetics of science. I guess I do do that, I don’t actually use, like I’m not a bio-artist as in, using scientific techniques within my work, I’m not actually doing stuff with live-tissues or anything like that, but…

I’m trying to understand why you would use the kind of imprecise tool of visual art to engage with the rational objectivity of science.

JH: I think that’s where the interest lies, really, because science is supposed to be this logical truth. And then scientists kind of build up to that. And I think that with science, or with any kind of system that we take up as a culture that then gets believed and then written down, that stuff is always subject to change, right? And so the next thing we find out, I mean it might not overthrow the whole thing, but there’ve been times when it has.

I guess maybe it’s like critiquing that static structure of that logic, or of language or something, and saying that it is quite malleable. Hopefully art can open something out within science, or question or critique it, in a way that gives people a different way of looking at it, whether it’s through this kind of Sci-Fi aesthetic, or anything else.

I’m kind of interested in very specialist research as well, and how that almost becomes its own system of logic. Maybe like contemporary art does; it starts referencing itself, and then you kind of have to be ‘in the know’ to be able to get into it or something.

Joey Holder, 'Dark Creatures' (2015) @ The Uncanny Valley. Installation view. Courtesy the artist.
Joey Holder, ‘Dark Creatures’ (2015) @ The Uncanny Valley. Installation view. Courtesy the artist.

You maintain a huge number of different Tumblrs accounts; how do they fit in to your practice?

JH: I was doing this job, I won’t tell you what but it was office-work stuff. I could get the job done really quickly, it was just a couple of hours in the day; it’s probably when I started to make more screen-based stuff. I’d got into net art, I guess, when I was just seriously bored at work, and wanted to find some way of breaking the screen. Breaking the monotony of the screen. That was when I really started to get into net art. Not post-internet art, but net art. I just started to make all these Tumblrs. I see them as mood boards, image collections that I can gain access to very quickly, and get ideas from or a feeling about something, or a project about something that’s a lot easier to access than putting stuff in folders.

I think when people started to become interested in my work was when I started sharing lots of images, and using these Tumblrs and stuff as a research tool. I think when people could see where I was coming from through this stream of research and through this process, that’s when they started to understand more about what the work was about. I guess I always kind of had a problem with the finished art object in the gallery. I always wanted to show that thing in motion or something. Show its progress. It’s just a moment in time of a continual process or way of working. The Tumblrs are more the sum, or the constellation of all these things and all these kind of strings, rather than this finished piece of work, if that makes sense.

Before I turned the Dictaphone on you mentioned that you used to be a scuba instructor; I find diving terrifying, I’d never do it again.

JH: I was really interested in why people were so scared, and I think there’s two main things. One is the equipment –it feels really alien and claustrophobic. And second, the main thing, is people’s fear of the –it’s the fear of the unknown. It’s not knowing what the fuck is down there. Because nine times out of ten, if you could get people calmed down to go down, and get them to look around, and show them a fish, or an octopus or something, then they’d be away. Suddenly because the world had opened up and they could see around them. It’s the fact that they have this idea that there’s this pitch black or something below them, or the abyss, something like that, where there are all these things that they don’t understand. Which is what, like within my work as well, I guess I’m drawn to; really odd things that are kind of beyond our comprehension. As humans we think of them as these alien things, ‘so outside of us, or things that look like they’re made of some other alien material or something; something that we just can’t comprehend.

Joey Holder, 'Dark Creatures' (2015). Video still. Courtesy the artist.
Joey Holder, ‘Dark Creatures’ (2015). Video still. Courtesy the artist.

What do you find compelling about this idea of the incomprehensible other?

JH: My interest in strange life-forms is about the limitations of our understanding, or language; that is about something that’s outside of the human system of reference, that we can’t get to grips with. I was talking about synthetic biology earlier; I’m also really interested in things that transcend out understanding of how nature operates.

I guess because we think as humans, which we are, we’re destroying thousands of habitats, and we’re killing millions of species, but then I’m interested in the other side of that as well, in quite an optimistic way what will happen when humans become extinct, something will take over. For example, we always thought about plastic as being this inert material that can’t biodegrade or rot; it doesn’t go back into the earth and become part of the cycle again. But now they’ve found that these microbes exist in the sea that are eating plasticYou know, so that kind of transcends our whole understanding. And these creatures might have come into being because of our direct action. Jellyfish are another example; jellyfish thrive in polluted waters, water dirtied by us. It’s kind of like this alien thing that we’ve got no idea about, but actually our actions are kind of creating these fucking odd lifeforms as well.

Do you think spending all that time underwater has influenced your practice?

JH: I’ve thought about that a lot. When you get used to scuba diving it’s like you’re weightless; with your buoyancy, you don’t go up and you don’t go down. So it’s a completely different space that you’re dealing with. You’re not walking on land, on gravity. I guess in terms of thinking about a gallery space though, I think it’s really helped me in terms of not… I mean going back to that thing about fixed objects in a gallery? The boring thing about post-internet art is a lot of it got taken off the internet and then put into this really clean, white gallery space and really cleaned up.

I kind of think that with the digital realm you can think about scuba diving as something that anything could happen within this space, or within a digital space. With the digital there is so much possibility for what can happen in there; you can be in a gaming environment, where it’s like you’re moving around a completely alien, different space, and I guess I think about that a lot in terms of creating this kind of liquid space, a space where things aren’t set by gravity.

Then between diving and the internet there’s a metaphor for the world, or something, as well. There’s all this crazy shit out there, these strange networks of creatures, all their communication, the way that they exist. It’s all here. We don’t have to go to outer space to find that, all of that stuff is here on earth. **

Joey Holder is a UK-based artist participating in the Exta group exhibition at London’s Res., part of Art Licks Weekend, running October 2 to 4, 2015.

Header image: Joey Holder, Nematode (2015) @ Wysing Arts Centre. Installation view. Courtesy the artist.

  share news item

Susanna Davies-Crook @ Res., May 29 – Jun 13

29 May 2015

Susanna Davies-Crook‘s newest exhibition, Star Chamber, opens at London’s Res. running May 29 to June 13.

Star Chamber comes as the last of three solo shows produced by #temporarycustodians at Res., where the London-born artist and writer speaks through multiple bodies, both live and recorded, in a system of voices pointing to another, absent one. A series of closed workshops precede and continue during the exhibition, and Davies-Crook’s installation is composed of excerpts of the qualitative data gathered through these workshops.

The preview on May 29 brings a performance at 9:30pm, as well as a live set by Recsund (Clifford Sage) from 10-11:30pm, while the closing event on June 13 brings a live distributed script reading, as well as a response and research exchange between Sally O’Reilly and Davies-Crook.

See the exhibition page for details. **

  share news item

Events + exhibitions, May 4 – 10

6 May 2015

The art world would mostly be preoccupied with the 56th Venice Biennale in the week beginning May 4. Highlights at the prestigious Italian art fair including Burger King Venezia, Pizza Pavilion, The Internet Saga and SUNSCREEN online initiative listed in our short summary here of some things to look out for.

There are still things happening in other parts of the world, including an national election in the UK, along with parties and gatherings to celebrate/commiserate. There are new exhibitions at Arebyte Gallery, Millington|Marriot and Rod Barton, as well as the third in a series of events supporting the Multiverse Spring Residency at Wysing Arts Centre and Morgan Quaintance in conversation with Gery Georgieva around her Solo Romantika exhibition.

Elsewhere, the second of four shows in on for One Thoresby Street‘s S1 series in Nottingham, including writing by Candice Jacobs and Lindsey Mendick, Otto Byström’s Ratchet Shit is on at Helsinki’s Sorbus-galleria, and Amalia Ulman is speaking in Oberlin as part of Storage‘s excellent ongoing programme.

There’s more so see below:


Leeds Weirdo Club Annual 2014, May 6

I Want a President @ Trafalgar Square steps, May 6

Gery Georgieva in conversation w Morgan Quaintance, May 6

Les Rencontres net art de la BnF, May 6

Vagina Dentata zine launch @ Ditto Press, May 7

Amalia Ulman @ Storage, May 7


HIPS TITS LIPS @ The Old Bath House, May 8

BLUKAI #1 @ EXIL, May 8

56th Venice Biennale, May 9 – Nov 22


TAKEOVER 2015 w Alternative Press + London Radical Bookfair, May 9

Peckham Independent Label Fair III @ The Peckham Pelican, May 9

NEMATODE @ Wysing Arts Centre, May 9

Suzanne Treister, Dr Daria Kuss + Dave Young @ Primary, May 9


Justin Vivian Bond @ Vitrine, May 6 – Jun 13

It’s Our Playground @ Show Room, May 6

Zoë Hough @ Arebyte Gallery, May 7 – Jun 6

I still pick my nose @ Wayward Gallery, May 7 – 9

Show 2 @One Thoresby Street May 7


let the brittle bits @ MilMa, May 8 – 31

Otto Byström @ Sorbus-galleria, May 8 – 17

Chris Hood + Carl Mannov @ Rod Barton, May 8 – Jun 13

Pablo Rasgado @ Steve Turner Contemporary, May 9 – Jun 6 **

See here for exhibitions opening last week.

Header image: Otto Byström @ Sorbus-galleria.

  share news item

Gery Georgieva @ Res., Apr 24 – May 9

24 April 2015

Gery Georgieva is bringing her latest solo exhibition, Solo Romantika, to Deptford’s Res. project space, where it will run from April 24 to May 9.

The Bulgarian-born artist’s latest show is a mix of new performance, sound and video installation, and forms the second of three solo shows produced by the #temporarycustodians R&D platform (initiated by curator Helen Kaplinsky and artist Maurice Carlin) at Res.

With Solo Romantika, Georgieva gives us her own rendition of emotive folk and pop solos, performing alone in a studio as she lip-syncs and records a cappella versions of sad Bulgarian songs. As a backdrop to the performance, and performative in its own right, is an elaborate layering of references across props, costumes, and script parts.

See the Res. website for details. **

  share news item

Akhal-Teke + Josephine Callaghan @ Res., Mar 27 – Apr 11

27 March 2015

Mutable project Res. is bringing artist Josephine Callaghan to its Deptford gallery and studio space for an exhibition titled Akhal-Teke, running from March 27 to April 11.

The new series of medium format, analogue photo-collages by Callaghan will be the first of three solo shows at Res. produced by research and development project #temporarycustodians, initiated by Helen Kaplinsky and artist Maurice Carlin. Kaplinsky, along with Sarah Jury and Lucy A. Sames, is also the founder of gallery.

The opening night will be accompanied by a DJ set from BAD SECTOR, and alongside the exhibitions programme #temporarycustodians will be “enacting the distribution” of an artwork by Carlin, inviting the audience to develop a legal and company structure for it to be co-owned by temporary custodian shareholders.

See the exhibition page for details. **

Header image: © Newspix/ Rex Features


  share news item

Events + exhibitions, Mar 23 – 29

23 March 2015

The La Confidentielle Art Fair is running this week, starting March 23, at Bastille Design Center in Paris. There’s also a group exhibition featuring Adam Cruces, Adriana Ramić, Amitai Romm organised by New Galerie and Yves Klein Archives in the French city, as well as one featuring Tilman Hornig, Felicia Atkinson, Pierre Clément and Dustin Cauchi at Galerie Joseph Tang.

In London, Photofusion is hosting one-day group show Crossing the Black Atlantic with Juliana Huxtable and Derica Shields among its artists, while Harry Meadley, Sam Kenswil and Sam Keogh are in the lineup for Small bird’s nest with blue eggs inside at MMX Gallery. Santiago Tacetti‘s ISO 9001 will be his first UK solo exhibition, and Trust Magazine is launching at Ditto Press. Dena Yago, also of K-Hole, is in London to talk at the ICA and take part in Columbidae at Cell Project Space.

Outside of the UK capital, Auto Italia and Primary appear in conversation in Nottingham, and in Stockholm Body by Body, Jaakko Pallasvuo and Stefan Tcherepnin are showing at Minibar. Kari Altmann has a solo exhibition in Dublin, Mathieu Malouf is throwing a Total Sex Party in Mexico City and ‘Queen of Bounce’ Big Freedia is performing Berlin, along with DJ sets from Black Cracker and DREEA.

There’s more so see below:


Rachael Allen @ Exhibition Laboratory, Mar 25

Erik Van Lieshout + Amalia Ulman @ Nicc België, Mar 25

David Raymond Conroy @ Camden Arts Centre, Mar 25

Zoe Williams @ Standpoint, Mar 25

Under the Moon 3 @ May Day Rooms, Mar 25

Kenneth Goldsmith @ Institut Kunst HGK FHNW, Mar 25

Auto Italia + Primary @ Primary, Mar 25

Rachel Rose + Anna Zett @ Hackney Picturehouse, Mar 26

Trust Magazine Launch @ Ditto Press, Mar 26

Mathieu Malouf @ House of Gaga, Mar 26

Devotions @ Regent Studios, Mar 26

SOMETHING TO BE SCARED OF @ All Hallows Church, Mar 26

Dena Yago @ ICA, Mar 27

La Confidentielle du YIA Art Fair, Mar 27 – 29

SASSITUDE @ Vogue Fabrics, Mar 27

Freedia @ Berghain, Mar 28

0800 DINOSAUR @ The Yard, Mar 28

Open studios @ Open School East, Mar 28

Karen Di Franco + Eva Weinmayr @ Banner Repeater, Mar 28

ALPINA HUUS. @ Schinkel Pavilion, Mar 28

Sam Curtis @ Serpentine Galleries, Mar 28


Los Carpinteros @ Parasol Unit Mar 24 – May 24

Crossing the Black Atlantic @ Photofusion, Mar 24

Santiago Taccetti @ Hus Gallery, Mar 25 – Apr 25

Isa Genzken ‘Geldbilder’ @ Hauser & Wirth, Mar 25 – May 16

Plowing Solids @ Yves Klein Archives, Mar 25 – Apr 8

Small bird’s nest with blue eggs inside @ MMX Gallery, Mar 26 – 29

Up a Tree @ Balfron Tower, Mar 26

YOU’RE THE REASON OUR KIDS ARE UGLY @ The Laundry, Mar 26 – 29

Ella Görner + Stephen Mathew Nachtigall @ C.Rockefeller Center, Mar 26 – Apr 12

White Nights, Green Scream @ /V\INIBAR, Mar 26 – Apr 18

Columbidae @ Cell Project Space, Mar 26 – May 17

Kari Altmann @ Ellis King, Mar 27 – May 2

Debora Delmar Corp.+ Test Run @ Modern Art Oxford, Mar 27 – May 17

Felix Melia @ Lima Zulu, Mar 27

Fenêtre Project @ Galerie Joseph Tang, Mar 27

Akhal-Teke + Josephine Callaghan @ Res., Mar 27 – Apr 11

Things That Tumble Twice @ Tenderpixel, Mar 28 – May 6

Bottom Natures @ CGP, Mar 29 – May 3**

See here for exhibitions opening last week.

Header image: Felix Melia, All in a Clearing @ Lima Zulu.

  share news item