Last Saturday I had the pleasure of going on the ArtRabbit Art Trail tour lead by Tabish Khan, who writes for the Londonist as an art critic. I met Tab at the Moroni event, and was excited for his tour of the trail. ArtRabbit has collaborated with 18 galleries around London (N1) with a mission to promote the discovery of contemporary art.
On his tour, Tab guided us round 4 of the exhibitions open for the three-day Art Trail event, although unfortunately I was only able to make it to the first three. The tour began at the Proud Archivist in Haggerston, where the ArtRabbit team had created a visual installation for the duration of the trail, which ran from the 6th – 8th of November.
Our first stop on the tour was the Ditto Gallery, for Thomas Mailaender’s Cyanotypes. This exhibit was the first time I’d ever experienced cyanotypes – a photographic printing process that produces brilliantly blue prints used by 20th century engineers (in this context, often referred to as blueprints). I found Maliaender’s work to be playful, rather cheeky – one particularly memorable piece uses the technique to reproduce the image of Putin with bunny ears. I enjoyed seeing contemporary images and issues recreated in this outdated manner, as well as the effect of the cyan-blue.
Our next stop was at Gallery One and a Half, for Robert Wilson’s Helmand Return. The exhibition showed photographs taken by Wilson in April 2014, documenting the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. As an official war artist, Wilson’s work gives a unique perspective and insight into the process of ending war. It was even more significant, perhaps, to see it the weekend before Armistice day, to see a beautiful side to the controversial conflict.
Tab started a really interesting discussion with the other members of the tour group around the complex relationship between art and advertising. Some of Wilson’s work for this exhibit had previously been used in ads, and Tab asked us our thoughts and opinions around this subject – and whether advertising co-opted art. To one extent, advertising has the opportunity to make art more accessible: but to what cost? The discussion went further, to discuss space – does art need to be confined to galleries, which are essentially commercial spaces, to be appreciated? We considered the Art Everywhere initiative – a national outdoor art exhibition that takes place across the UK each year, by taking over spaces usually dominated by advertising – billboards, bus stops and poster sites. I like to think of myself as someone who is interested in art, so I really surprised myself when I realised that I had missed this completely.
Although I agreed with the point that art should be widely accessible, I also think that people won’t be as receptive, or pay attention unless they are open to it. The discussion really reminded me of the DC subway experiment with renowned violinist Joshua Bell. Bell sells out countless shows, but when he was busking no one paid him any attention. As cynical and depressing as it is, I personally do think I try to shut out the OOH advertising – which might explain why I missed, or even ignored the Art Everywhere campaigns.
Gallery One and a Half was a beautiful space – I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibit, and the gallery has worked closely with the artist on this body of work which is visually and emotionally stunning. It’s running until the end of November, and well worth going to – my photographs of the work and space really don’t do it any justice.
My final stop on the tour was BAG, at the Atrium, which showcased a diverse range of works by artists from the Hertford Road Studios. At this stop, Tab talked about the importance of collaboration and constructive criticism, particularly for emerging artists. Artists who have just come from an art-school environment, where there is a lot of guidance, particularly when receiving criticism from their peers can find it somewhat jarring when they leave. As with anything, people are only going to talk about something if they love it or they hate it – and in this context even negative press has value. This exhibition, which allowed different artists to share a space encouraged more open discussion, criticism and collaboration between the artists which was refreshing.
The tour and the Art Trail was a great way of exploring a new neighbourhood, as well as seeing new galleries too. I really enjoyed the tour and hope there will be more in the future!
Several of the galleries and exhibitions are still open – for a full list, visit the ArtRabbit website here.