Exhibition Review: ‘Celebration: The Big Picture’ by Hatty Davidson
October 4th saw Forman’s Smokehouse Gallery take part, once again, in Time Out Magazine and The Whitechapel Gallery’s ‘First Thursday’. The event sees the galleries and studios of East London open their doors until late in the evening and show off the very best that their contemporary artists have to offer.
The gallery is situated in Hackney Wick; the area most densely populated by artists, artist studios and independent galleries in the world which now sits on the opposite side of the canal to the newly developed Olympic Park. Unlike many of its contemporaries in the world of contemporary art, the exhibitions here are organised by different guest curators every month who manage a new exhibit with a theme and title of their choice. Artists are then asked to create or choose work that fits with the chosen subject. This month ‘Celebration’ was the theme chosen by the curators, Sophie Venturini and Neha Malik, and the work presented in the exhibition shows the diversity and variety that this word promotes.
It seems an apt and poignant title when one considers the goings-on that occurred on the other side of the canal during the summer when ‘Olympic-fever’ hit the previously uncultivated and secluded neighbourhood. During these months however, many of the artists in Hackney fled the area in the hope of avoiding the masses. Although the departure of the athletes has meant that the spotlight has been somewhat removed form the area in the recent autumnal months, this exhibition has demonstrated a new reason to keep a light firmly on it (and with a turnout of over 400 guests on the opening night, it seems people, both local and otherwise, have by no means been permanently discouraged).
The range of artistic mediums that responded to the theme was vast, from painting, sculpture, drawing, ceramics and installations, to animation and video, photography, paper-cuts, architectural model and mosaic, this was an exhibition that included every artistic outlet.
An overall impression of the exhibition when first entering the space is one of joy and expression, and as the winter draws ever closer this show holds onto the colour and vibrancy that are usually associated with the summer months.
Some works in the exhibition are very clearly linked to its title. What is particularly noticeable about the group of works is the brilliant colour that emanates from the walls. From Margy Creber’s ‘Orange Face’ (2012), which uses un-naturalistic tones, reminiscent of the Fauvist style, to create a portrait, to Soren Mayes, a local artist who lives and works in Hackney Wick, who has created a series of abstract works that reflect the area’s changing function and the struggle between the natural and the man-made elements that are so clearly juxtaposed in this area.
There are also clear references to the freedom of movement that are so often associated with festivals and carnivals which can be seen in Mark O’Rourke’s ‘Echo Beach’ and Dena Schuckit’s ‘Blast Boom Bust’, which both allow the paint to express itself through its own natural movement on the canvas and the movements that the artists themselves make when creating a painting.
However, other works are less apparently connected to the theme such as Eva Bachmann’s photographic series, ‘Unlimited Fun’. The images depict various abandoned spaces around Tottenham and Haggerston, which initially seem anything other than celebratory. Dark and dingy, the spaces may initially seem cold and uninviting. Only after reading through the catalogue that accompanies the exhibition does one get a better understanding of the associations that the series has with celebration. The text explains that the spaces are in fact in constant use for free parties in which the room provides a blank canvas for people to express themselves in whatever way they choose. The photographed spaces are then seen with an entirely new significance, no longer are these spaces of depressive decay, they become environments whose primary, if not singular, function is celebration.
‘Celebration: The Big Picture’, not only revels in visual art at its most fundamental, through demonstrating the diverse nature of the art form and allowing its intrinsic qualities, such as colour, form, texture and structure to shine through, it also celebrates the unique location of Hackney Wick itself. This exhibition highlights its tolerance towards change, its inclusive temperament, and its deeply creative core. Above all, however, it illustrates and celebrates the dualistic nature of art itself; not only are these art works an extension of the individual who created them, they are also an essential component of the society in which they created.