Friday, November 22, 2013

'Star Food & Wine' by Waxwing Exhibitions, 21st November 2013

The deserted hulks that haunt our streets fill me with curiosity.  When you've lived in a place long enough you learn which shops are permanent, which change hands every year and which are the slowly collapsing no-hope wrecks. Whitecross Street used to be notorious for these, film companies coming here to capture authentic urban decay. Peek through windows of these abandoned buildings and you'd see nature versus valuable Central London real-estate. Collapsed ceilings let you look right through the building to the grey sky behind it, the neverending rain creating impromptu water features - obscenely swelling piles of newspapers with a datemark of 1995.  It was kind of cool in a slum-chic sort of way but boy did it stink - god knows what was breeding in that decade-deep layer of rotting trash. Perhaps it's for the best that they're gone.  Yet one remains...

You'd think that a shop on Old Street would be a prime business opportunity but Star Food & Wine has been a mummified corpse since I moved here four years ago, a disused and dirty full stop at the end of a kickin' cool street.  But not this week!  A group of artists have resuscitated the patient, jamming a transfusion of life into her dusty old veins - now what was decaying behind rusty shutters is brimming with life and creativity. Star Food & Wine now contains work by artists who've been involved in exchange at art schools around the world "from New York to Paris and Kyoto to Tallinn" as the material puts it. Packed into the three floors are a pleasingly wide variety of art; ranging from photography, to appropriated objects, interactive art, multimedia - even room size installations.  

A Place I Thought Would be Our Future Home - Dorthe Slej Pederson
Much of what I enjoyed here was a reflection on what it means to occupy a space and alter it purely by your presence.   Up on the first floor was a huge photo-collage by Dorthe Slej Pedersen called A Place I Thought Would Be Our Future Home.  This consists of a mosiac of over-lapping pictures that add up to a single room.  The concept of "home" is deceptively slippery to pin down; something that has to be simultaneously fixed, firm and concrete, while also being ephemeral and transitional.  As you move in and out of houses, forever dragging boxes and suitcases cross a blasted grey cityscape you leave marks on where you've stayed and they leave marks on you.  Pedersen's piece compresses this idea into a single image, boiling down a series of locations and objects to show us what stays constant and what changes.

One consequence of displaying in a found space is the building becoming an important component of the work.  Pieces like Yuki Kobayashi's The Community and Untitled gain new dimensions purely by being framed against shattered brickwork and exposed cement.  In a traditional gallery space these plush, strawberry-headed figures could look a touch sugary-sweet.  Here, slumped in the corner of a smashed building they look more like wiped out junkies.  Intentionally or not, the work gains an edge purely by dint of where it is.

The Community and Untitled - Yuki Kobayashi
I'm not going to pretend that holding an exhibition in an abandoned building is some bold new direction in art - you could probably attend ten other shows in similar surroundings right now - but though the general atmosphere is familiar I still get a tinge of excitement at being somewhere I shouldn't.  Frankly I'd be happy as a clam here without the art, so what works best are the pieces that work with the surroundings rather than compete for attention with it. 

Sous Les Paves, A Tree - Sidney Charity
A good example of this is Sidney Charity's the understated and tucked away Sous Les Paves, A Tree - a piece of concrete that'd hardened around a tree.  As the tree grew it cracked and broke away.  When in spaces like this it's difficult not to have architectural decomposition at the forefront of your mind, and this piece neatly shows how apparent permanence crumbles against the simple formula 'nature+time'.

Scape - Angus Frost
But the piece that best summarises the idea of urban exploration is Angus Frost's Scape.  In a corner of the musty cellar is a corridor. As you venture down this low lit passage you find yourself enmeshed in a winding labyrinth of plastic sheeting, walls guiding you through a disorientating maze.  Everything is lit in soft blue and there's a electronic whine emitting from parts unknown.  You pass dirty pipes and crumbling cellar walls - eventually reaching an unexpected space.  There's a large, wide hole in the ground with a plant hanging above it; bits of neighbouring buildings rudely intrude over our heads, blotting out the sky.  It's difficult to say where we are geographically, but there's a spooksome 'wrongness' to this place, as if the world was a movie set and you've accidentally stepped behind the scenery.  

Snooping around the mysterious basement of an abandoned newsagent is very much my kind of thing, more than satisfying my desire to poke my nose where it shouldn't be.  It's slightly frustrating that Star Food & Wine is on for just four short days, it'll be sad to see the life breathed into the building quickly dissipate and the place return to moldering slumber.

There's a whole bunch of stuff to see other than what I've described here: I haven't even mentioned Alice Woods' Facebook-blue mannequins with security camera heads or the machine that prints out anonymous secrets or the sound-triggered installation or the... well you get the drift.  If you're into any of this stuff you owe it yourself to get your ass down to Star Food & Wine before Tuesday and have a damn good poke around.  

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