Part Two: The Few and Far Between
A battle of the budgets was waged over the first exhibiting fortnight of the New Year. En masse underdogs competed with the graduate elite for show supremacy. Could it be a moral victory for the art collective crew? Or will elitist competitions win out?
This review is the second chapter in my critical assessment, Part 1 examined Future Map 10, a pretentious and ostentatious shindig overly concerned with prestige. In this second chapter I am exploring the world of The Few and Far Between, a fledgling art collective which truly piqued my interest.
As Future Map 10 prepared to flaunt it’s wares, an independent and more demure exhibition ensconced itself within East London. The first gallery opening of my new year, The Few and Far Between’s launch exhibit heralds a new movement by innovative arts entrepreneurs. I decided to compare these two exhibition events, in order to understand what the future of British arts might look like.
The Few and Far Between is an unknown entity. I mean incredibly unknown, as in only just become an entity unknown. An art collective based on principles of collaboration and exposition, themselves being an underexposed collaborative. They aim to initiate art within the collective and most importantly, get exhibiting space for members and interested parties. Key instigators Tabitha Booth and Rebecca Goodyear describe the increasingly brutal competition for gallery space in London as a major influencing factor for the movement. An oversupply of art students to a discerning and over priced market has left many stranded.
Caught in creative industry limbo. The collective hoped to use the launch to get press attention, acquire new members and just plain have a good time. Very inclusive, instead of the 28 elite artists and designers of Future Map 10, The Few and Far Between claims to be involved with over 100 potential exhibitors. Strength in numbers is obviously paramount, meaning more elbows to jostle for exhibition space. Their launch exhibit was at The Rag Factory on Haneage Street, adjacent to Brick Lane. Despite being sponsored by Beck’s Beer, Cass Art and Schminke, their exhibit was only programmed for three days. Was that enough?
The graduate art and design collective hosted their introductory exhibit in The Rag Factory, a ramshackle, white painted warehouse off Brick Lane. There was a large variety of artists being displayed with only a few having more than one piece on show. The space was almost ideal for such a range of works, the different materials and surfaces being utilised to their best. As I walked in there was an air of shyness to the place, as if the artworks had snuck in to hide from the world.
To the side of the main exhibition space was a room with a wall covered in paper, inviting people to draw their thoughts. Throughout the night this got filled with weird and wonderful designs. This may have been a small and rather banal gesture of communality but it did the trick, instilling the collective’s message early in their schema of events.
The sheltered smoking area was the hub of the party, with exhibitors, artists, friends and frenemies discussing how they all came to be in this place. Rebecca Goodyear, spokesperson for the collective, shared with me her thoughts on The Few and Far Between and how that came to be.
Trebuchet: Who were the key founders of the art collective?
Rebecca Goodyear: The key founders were myself and Tabby Booth, who were brought together by a third person, Victor. Victor is the brains behind an innovative website, solocopy.com, which provides artist a social platform to sell their work through and get their work out to more people through strength in numbers (the more artists there are in one place online the more hits that website will get, especially when compared to one artist on a standalone website). When Victor brought us all together with the purpose of recruiting artists to trial the website, I don’t think any of us anticipated we would form such a strong core and from that core would be born our movement The Few & Far Between. We all have similar morals and gel so well together though so from really early on it was decided the project would continue as a collective and go on to much bigger and better things.
Trebuchet: How many members are there within your collective? Do you hope to grow in size?
Rebecca Goodyear: Currently there are still just the three of us officially, however we have some interested potential recruits. We communicate every day in some way or another, which really says something when you consider that this is a side project in our everyday lives, Victor and I are professionals and Tabby is a student. Because we are such a tight knit and close group, any new additions have to be carefully considered, they can’t upset the balance. However we are very aware that as our projects grow in size and events become more regular we can’t bear the load all ourselves, not until it becomes our day job anyway!
As I wandered around the space, the pieces communicated the varying intensity of each artist’s commitment to the collective project. Some were expansive and expressive works, while others were mildly half-hearted gestures. There was a combination of self-indulgent portfolios with intimate artworks, ones that exposed very private elements of the artist compared to works which were relatively insincere. This blend of the gimmicky and commercial with the innovative and intimidating created a refreshing catalogue for my examination. Those that stood out, you could clearly pin down the why and how they stood out. And the ones that failed, well they just didn’t meet the bar.
There were a few pieces that really hit home for me, that will both haunt my nightmares and fascinate my daydreams. To clarify, I think haunting my sleep is a good thing. Especially by silhouetted goblin creatures like those in Tabby Booth‘s illustrations. Her pictures had a fearful complexity with a rather innocent, illustrative style. The Sky Pigs and Creature With Fish were childlike and terrifying. These animated ink drawings conveyed the Brothers Grimm with an oedipal complex mixed in.
Tailoring works to the venue is always a good method to bring life to art, and in the case of Katy Beveridge’s Wooded Friend it has never worked better. Crawling up the staircase in a corner of the gallery was the creature, solemnly staring out at the other art instillations as if they’d had farted. The creature looked cuddly but was in fact made of carved wooden leaf-shaped tiles, a hug wood definitely give you a splinter. This piece has seen a lot of action, previously being displayed at Secret Garden Party and Cargo. Wooded Friend added a magical air to the exhibition and with little trepidation I meandered around it and up the stairs.
Unfortunately all I found was a small screening room, two sofas and empty beer bottles, not the enchanted city of Rivendell. Ho hum.
Another piece that seemed to tailor itself to the site, if even unintentionally, was Mackenzie Hodge’s close up portrait of a woman’s face. Painted on a large piece of cotton cloth, this may sound unoriginal. But the way the cloth hung and folded, juxtaposed on the white tile of the rear factory wall, gave it tragic soul. Similarly Thomas Reddy’s small cabinet of curiosity’s and framed sketched atrocities, were positioned with the careful aim to delight, transfix and taunt. These were exciting, ghostly pieces.
There were many others which seemed to demonstrate real talent and potential, a few too many to name here. However one that I am sure I will see again is Vahakn Matossian. A designer with aspirations in digital and interactive art, his piece Boomboy spoke to the geek and the cool rocker inside me. Boomboy is a carved wooden character with a curved cartoonish body and a speaker for a head. Yes that’s right, a working speaker for a head. It’s every male student’s wet dream. I was very close to plugging it in and seeing it blast the paintings off the walls. Surrounded by a flock of little wooden animals which had gathered from recesses all over the gallery, Boomboy was an icon for the exhibit. A central figure around which the other pieces were called, a strange dubstep pied piper.
My praise of course is always in short supply, and certain works were dull, self-involved and sometimes pathetic. Franciszek Wardynski’s The Airport was contrived and obvious, detailing the issues that occur when travelling in today’s economic climate. Next he’ll do one based on airline food, that’s classic. Max William Neilson’s small studies in satire were aimless. Rachel Hardwick’s photographs were nicely shot but seemed vain and inexpressive. As were Francesca Allen’s photographs, more so even as the photos weren’t particularly good. It looked like someone’s facebook page. James Heslips’ prints were ornately carved but poorly used, I mean t-shirt printing is a bit GNVQ level. Raise your game people!
This style of art looked like someone’s last minute homework, ‘I’ve left it too late and now I’ll just hand whatever in’ sort of homework. Like Kraggy’s Cakes. Using a Disney character to make a pun, you should be ashamed. The video art was again a mix of inventive and well thought out homilies with overdone and easily assimilated reels. Strawberry and Cream by Katayoon Forouhesh was such a film, a montage of dietary statistics set to music. Unimpressed.
However when you have this very inclusive policy for exhibitors, it will be hard to have sufficient quality control. Particularly when the collective is just starting out. I can’t exactly blame The Few and Far Between for not turning anyone away. The onus of responsibility is more on the artist than the curators in this instance, they are the ones that need to aim higher in their participation. I want to take the ones I have just mentioned aside and say “you’ve let me down, you’ve let the collective down, you’ve let the audience down but worst of all, you’ve let yourself down”, channelling my mother all the while. The damage to this new collective could have been worse, yet with such a short exhibition, the damage is not so easily repaired.
I asked Rebecca Goodyear about the short run of this exhibit, trying to see how this may affect future events by the collective.
Trebuchet: Why did you have such a short exhibition run for your launch show?
Rebecca Goodyear: Primarily budget. We would have loved to run for two weeks or even longer however it just wasn’t feasible. We simply didn’t have the backing financially to do so. It’s important to point out that the artists exhibiting didn’t pay a penny to show their work, and all we asked for if they did sell anything was for 10% of the value. The 10% part of the deal is not going to change, however we may ask for a small contribution from the artists going forward, if anything to stop the pinch on our back pocket.
There are few actual members of the collective, but these few recruited the artists and designers and enabled them to display their work in a semi-well known arts venue. This is quite an achievement. What’s more they are launching a new website based on the concept of collaboration. Once registered with the site you can look forward to free entry to the exhibits. Testing the practicality of such a scheme was a great risk, one which apparently paid off.
Trebuchet: Was the registration process on Kolabi.com for free entry to the exhibit successful?
Rebecca Goodyear: We are aware that there were a few glitches with kolabi.com and some people had difficulty registering. I managed to register first time though. Through the process we captured several hundred email addresses however, so, all in all we were happy with the result. Watch out for the kolabi website launch this summer, it really will change the way people interact both on the Internet and in real life.
Yet the opening night was a far cry from the bustling, celebrity induced seizure that was Future Map 10. I want to believe in this collective and that this event was a success, but I guess I am just too big a cynic. I consulted Rebecca Goodyear on what we can expect from them in the New Year.
Trebuchet: What is in store next for The Few And Far Between?
Rebecca Goodyear: Well we still need to debrief from our first show. It was an amazing success (1000+ visitors, over 2000 beers drunk, Roots Manuva and The Banana Klan djing at our Saturday night party) but we need to partake in some constructive criticism to flag areas where we can make our future events even better. We have set a high standard and must build on that. As far as events go we met on the weekend and are brainstorming a few ideas. Our next biggie however will be a fashion weekender.
Glance of the Future
It may just all be a question of humility. The humble, independently constructed and eagerly given offerings of The Few and Far Between struck a chord with me. This grass roots system of displaying art is exactly what the cultural industry needs and may become essential to artists’ progress in these academically tumultuous times. With Future Map 10, they are feeding an institutionalised commercialism to an unsustaining art literati. As much as I disliked what was on offer there, I cannot dismiss it’s impact on the future of art. I would run the risk of ignoring potential solutions to my anti-establishment diatribe. What can be said however is that The Few and Far Between look not to awards and pomposity, but to just getting through the month. They want art to be shown, to be seen and yes to be sold (they can’t eat air). But they want this for all artists and audiences, not just those who wear giant knit Prada cardigans and kill fish in picture frames (see Part 1 for continuity).
I’d like to end this examination of Art’s Promising Future with a statement from Rebecca Goodyear on what she believed the differences were between competitive, academic centred exhibits like Future Map 10 and the mutinous art collectives, such as The Few and Far Between.
This is a tricky one. Whilst we think it’s great that artists are getting recognised for their talent, who can say whether one piece is better than the next. Art is a personal subject, it’s subjective. And can you really compare sculpture to jewellery to special effects? I’ve not been to this year’s Future Map yet, but I look forward to having a look at what is on show there. The idea of elitism and competitions completely goes against one of our core statements, “art for all”. In our exhibition we didn’t turn anyone away who wanted to exhibit, which we knew was a gamble as we couldn’t monitor the standard, however I’m sure you would agree that the work on show was of a really high quality.
Well said and much nicer than I would have been.
The Rag Factory, Haneage Street, 7th – 9th Jan 2011
Ruth currently works as a creative administrator within the arts sector and writes an interactive e-novel called Beyond Pages. Her illicit and dangerous affair with London involves white cubes, free bars, site specific cabaret and experimental performance art. Ruth’s main academic and journalistic interest is festivals, having worked at Glastonbury, Reading, Latitude and Canterbury Fringe.
A burner with an eclectic taste in music, Ruth Carlisle was recruited to write music reviews for Trebuchet based on her grudging respect for doom metal and deep love for progressive art punk.
Follow her on twitter – @ruthieless_c