Last week I interviewed Tom Jeffreys, Spoonfed’s Art Editor, about his curatorial debut (doesn’t that sound great!), Et Cetera at Hoxton Art. I wanted to chat with him about the relationship between art writing and curating exhibitions. As a fellow English Literature graduate making a segue into the art world, I thought he had lots of interesting things to say. Read the interview here:
Et Cetera, a group show of works by Beatrice Haines, Colin Glen, Janne Malmros, Laura Culham and Steven Gill at the Hoxton Art Gallery, catches my attention not merely because of its rare focus on the aesthetically beautiful, but also as the curatorial debut of Spoonfed’s Art Editor, Tom Jeffreys.
Jeffreys describes Et Cetera as “quiet”, “calm” and “subtle”. He hopes that it will be “provocative” in its focus on the “mundane”; those “cracks in the cobbles” where moss grows. Spare and restrained, these choice adjectives are testament to the difference between the complimentary processes of writing and curation.
Jeffreys writes that Et Cetera may be ‘seen as a writing-out-in-full of art practice.’ I can’t help but notice this slip, this falling back to his more natural habit of writing. While curation has been a ‘writing-out’, the essay has acted as a “thinking-through in words,” and a test of the exhibition: “if it worked in writing, it would work in real life.”
The process of curating might share a pattern with writing: both are a “way of navigating” in order to find threads of connection, things “change in the act of writing” just as they do during curation; but they certainly don’t share a rhythm. Jeffreys explains the difference as one of time-scale. While the writing of articles has its weekly cycles, Et Cetera has been an extended “thought process over the past couple of years” and its realisation at the Hoxton Art Gallery has taken months of organisation.
Jeffreys’ emotional and critical “investment” in the show is what gives him his anxious sense of “vulnerability.” He believes in these artists and therefore “wants to do them justice”. His degree in English Literature has given him the “criteria” by which he judges “what makes exhibitions interesting.” Jeffreys believes that “a good book needs to sustain repeated reading.” Et Cetera has collected together a group of works which certainly warrant repeated viewing; rich in detail and often the result of labour-intensive processes, a single glance cannot give us all they have to offer.
As Jeffreys takes me around the exhibition: from the rich monochromes of Steven Gill’s photographs, to the sensitively wrought ink thimbles of Beatrice Haines, or the delicately varnished fragments of china painted by Laura Culham; he hesitates to speak for the art. The works do their own describing, meticulously rendered and consistently honest, they may be “subtle” but they are never silent.
Jeffreys writes that in ‘making marks’ these artists address the ‘process by which the unremarkable is remarked upon’. Using their own visual language they engage in a dialogue which is powerful and affecting. Whether we are presented with the relics of a lost grandmother as with Haines, or of the London riots through Gill’s photographs, a narrative underlies any aesthetic pleasure. It is this which makes mediation difficult: forcing Jeffreys to find himself lost for the words which would typically come so easily; and yet proves the success of his curation.
In the essay to accompany the show, the artist Colin Glen comments on his previous work as a photographer: “Your job as a photographer of art is not to be there, your job is to be absent.” Jeffreys reflects that he does not like exhibitions “where the work relies on the press release” and although he would, of course, like people to read his essay; Et Cetera does not rely upon his presence. Jeffreys may have initiated a series of conversations, across the stairway to the ground floor, or down in the lower ground floor between vitrines and walls and books, but the trick of curation is being able to leave those conversations, like any good host, without your absence being felt.
Et Cetera will be at Hoxton Art Gallery until the 24th May