Natalia Zagórska-Thomas wearing Julia Schrader. Photo © Jens Schaumann.
DS: Well, we managed to negotiate our way out of 2016 only to find 2017 looming before us like a rogue ice shelf. Yet although the festive season was full of foreboding there were occasional moments of optimism amidst the gloom; one of the most enjoyable events in my pre-Christmas calendar was the private view of Call of the Wild at Studio Ex Purgamento in Camden.
Antlers © Julia Schrader.
Visitors to the gallery are often wrong-footed by the address; it is located in a second-floor extension in a private home, a flat that belongs to artist and conservator Natalia Zagórska-Thomas and her husband Simon. If there was ever an enterprise that demonstrated devotion to an ideal of what art can and should be, Studio Ex Purgamento is it.
Going into the Thing Seriously; or These Influences Have Been Exerted for Good. © Natalia Zagórska-Thomas (alternative titles provided for the artist by Diane Williams).
Profit, apart from a tiny percentage above a certain price to try to recover some costs, goes to artists directly. Some years we sell a lot; others, not at all. I want to show established names alongside lesser known artists whose work interests me, and to mix visual art forms with text, design, performance, architecture, design, music and science. I show many Polish artists to promote their profile and contribution to the culture of the city.
As to the current show, Natalia describes it thus: This is not a tidy show. This is not a tidy subject. What I wanted is what I think I always want: a contemporary version of the cabinet of curiosities, a camera obscura, an idiosyncratic collection of specimens picked up along the way. It feels like life: messy, chaotic, undisciplined, joyous, violent and confusing.
Pale Blue Hexapod © Danuta Sołowiej.
Somehow, Natalia has managed to fit work by 25 artists into her small gallery; these include sculptures by Almuth Tebbenhof, Danuta Sołowiej, and Andrzej Maria Borkowski, wearable art by Julia Schrader, photographs by Jens Schaumann, Marzena Pogorzały (whose images of massive Antarctic ice sheets are elegant visual tokens of the strangled metaphor I opened with) and your own correspondent. The show also features an extraordinary ‘biological’ installation by Heather Barnett, and poems by such luminaries (and friends of The London Column) as Roisin Tierney, Christopher Reid and Katy Evans Bush.
Ice 3. © Marzena Pogorzaly.
© Andrzej Maria Borkowski.
You hardly need me to tell you that the London art scene is full of bullshit, any more than you need me to tell you that 2017 could be a rough year. We will need all the optimism we can get our hands on; and any blows against philistinism or the dead weight of cultural conformity are as welcome as they are necessary. As Katy Evans-Bush writes in Call of the Wild‘s exhibition catalogue: ‘At the time of going to print no one knows what’s going to happen next. Old ways of being uncivilised are being exhumed and new ones invented. The one thing we do know is that we will need to call on all our most civilised impulses – as well as our deepest, wildest aardvark’. Or, to put it another way, if you think the world is going to end tomorrow, plant a tree today. (Who said that? Answers on a postcard to …)
Ruan Minor, Cornwall, 1978. © David Secombe.
Gallery photos by Natalia.
Call of the Wild runs at Studio Ex Purgamento until 15 January; open weekends from 11 am — 6 pm. To visit during the week, call for an appointment. (132D Camden Street, London NW1 0HY; 07799 495549; email@example.com. http://www.studioexpurgamento.com.)
Moon, a deer in Sheffield. © Tom Broadbent courtesy of the Laura Noble Gallery.
From Wikipedia entry Furry fandom:
The furry fandom is a subculture interested in fictional anthropomorphic animal characters with human personalities and characteristics. Examples of anthropomorphic attributes include exhibiting human intelligence and facial expressions, the ability to speak, walk on two legs, and wear clothes. Furry fandom is also used to refer to the community of people who gather on the Internet and at furry conventions.
Sticks the fox and Terry, Wimbledon. © Tom Broadbent courtesy of the Laura Noble Gallery.
D.S.: Tom Broadbent has been photographing members of the ‘furry’ community for the past seven years, following a chance meeting with a six-foot wolf called Smirnoff. Tom speaks warmly about the furries and their acceptance of him is fully evidenced by the photographs. Furries inhabit a world of elaborate fantasy, albeit one with a curiously quotidian aspect. They might be in revolt from the mundane but they find release in performing ordinary tasks in the personas of their animalistic alter-egos (or fursonas).
I suppose you could call it a form of living theatre, or lifestyle as theatre. As Tom says, ‘There’s no one reason why people identify as furry; and in terms of ‘costume play’ (or cosplay) most of them create their own characters, drawing on a wide range of Fantasy and Sci-Fi influences, from classic Disney cartoons to Star Wars’.
Marshall, a border collie, Woking. © Tom Broadbent courtesy of the Laura Noble Gallery.
In Tom’s photographs, we often see his furry subjects in their domestic settings. The ‘at home’ scenes are as sweet as one could wish: a rabbit tending his garden in east London, a Glam Rock border collie playing his Les Paul in his bedroom on a 1960s estate in Woking, and so on. These images speak of tidy, ordered lives which just happen to incorporate a bit of dressing up. And although the fetish undertow is always present to some degree (bit of a touchy subject for the furry community) that isn’t the top note here: Tom’s furry friends are endearingly wholesome.
Edward Fuzzypaws shares a moment with labradoodle Teddy, Richmond. © Tom Broadbent courtesy of the Laura Noble Gallery.
Furries are an international phenomenon, but there is a quintessential Englishness about the activity as presented in Tom’s photos. These characters might be bit players in an unproduced film by Alan Bennett or Victoria Wood. But what makes Broadbent’s pictures more than just another showcase for native eccentrics are the moments where the photographer accompanies his subjects through the looking glass into the realm of private myth. That’s when the child-like delight in costume gives way to something wilder.
Bhavvels Bunny, Barking. © Tom Broadbent courtesy of the Laura Noble Gallery.
A nod to Lewis Carroll isn’t inappropriate, given that the furry domain shares some of the dreamy charm, transformative power and moral complexity that he represents. That seems obvious enough. But the image of the stag invokes the iconography of the pre-civilized mind and a time when woods were feared and venerated. This stag is a forest god; one that might be worshipped as part of the sacred, time-honoured rituals of Summerisle.
Fangorn, a Jedi tiger, in his living room, Swansea. © Tom Broadbent courtesy of the Laura Noble Gallery.
As for the Jedi tiger, he inhabits a different galaxy to the one you or I live in. He’s about to climb into his own Swansea-moored spaceship and leave for somewhere very far away. Nothing cosy about him. And I am afraid that stag will come to stalk me in my dreams.
DS: About a thousand years ago (1991) I spent a few months working with a BBC film crew – it really was film – making a documentary to mark the Queen’s 40th year on the throne. The camera/sound team of Philip Bonham-Carter and the late Peter Edwards, and the director Edward Mirzoeff (a sometime contributor to this blog) – had formidable reputations. I did not have a formidable reputation. I was hired in haste, the production already rolling, to take ‘stills’ and not get in anyone’s way. Naturally, I got in everyone’s way – most often in the viewfinder of Philip’s Arriflex – but somehow managed to avoid being fired.
My chief recollection of the project is fear: fear of getting in Philip’s shot, fear of missing my shot (the sound-proof camera housing I had to use denied easy access to the camera), fear of under-exposure in huge rooms lit by dim lamps, fear of saying the wrong thing … I even discovered a new kind of fear: that my Moss Bros penguin suit was about to collapse in front of royalty. At Windsor Castle photographing a state banquet I suddenly felt the elastic in my waistband give out; my trousers began heading south just as Lech Walesa was greeting the Queen Mother. The nightmares still recur.
I finally overcame my fears and managed to complete the project, salvaging some dignity in the process. Looking back, these images are souvenirs of a time that has become so distant. Who would have thought that 1991 would seem like such an innocent time?
Anyway, this blog post constitutes The London Column’s 90th birthday greeting to Her Majesty. Please be upstanding, and cue music:
All photos © David Secombe.
© David O’Shaughnessy.
My old friend David O’Shaughnessy has an exhibition currently on show at Stour Space, Hackney Wick (part of Photomonth, the east London photography festival). David’s show is called Zoo Logical, and is a study of the habitats of zoo animals in New York, Dublin and, as showcased here, London.
© David O’Shaughnessy.
The key word is habitat: the animals themselves are absent. The viewer is confronted with a series of disconcertingly empty rooms reminiscent of deserted stage sets: which is, of course, the point. The animals are expected to perform for our benefit, and their man-made surroundings either mimic their natural environment or display them as specimens in an alien setting. (As beautiful as Berthold Lubetkin’s penguin pool is, the birds themselves hated it.)
© David Shaugnessy
Walking round the exhibition last weekend, it struck me that David has selected the perfect location for his show. For those unfamiliar with the locality, Hackney Wick is a kind of giant guinea pig cage for hipsters. A stone’s throw from the Olympic Park to the south, and within sight of the looming bulk of Westfield shopping mall, the area offers an environment as fitted to the needs of well-heeled young urbanites as any zoologically engineered habitat. All the key elements are in place: retro-fitted brown field decrepitude, bars and cultural spaces sprouting from light industrial units, towpaths to cycle on, and a sprinkling of riverside new-builds. Anyway, this post is written in haste as Dave’s show ends on Monday: so allow me to suggest that you treat yourselves to a visit to Hackney Wick this weekend. Enjoy the exhibition, drink a craft beer or two and look at the men with funny hair.