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On Monday evening I went to see Gilbert & George in conversation with curator and writer, Marco Livingstone at the White Cube. It was for the re-launch of their 1971 publication, Side By Side and I was filled with admiration for their love of books and printing but also for their incredible powers of self-promotion.

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As a marketeer, with a particular focus on digital marketing, it was fascinating to hear about how they promoted themselves before technology; spreading the word about their work through their postal art works, publicising where they would be eating every night and putting all their details in the telephone directory (although they claim no-one has ever contacted them).

At the end of their talk I got an opportunity to ask them about their thoughts on social media, but they informed me that they were totally anti-technology: “We walk past people on their mobile phones and all they are talking about is what they are going to have for dinner.” Then it makes sense, to Gilbert & George, technology, mobile phones, social media: all of these things are so momentary, ephemeral and at odds with the printed material, with real books.

It was incredible to hear them talk; passion and humour. Living sculptures. Living legends.

Here’s an article I wrote for CAN on their passion for the printed book.

sidebysideOn Monday 10th December Gilbert & George launched an edition and re-print of the now incredibly rare ‘contemporary sculpture novel’, Side By Side, at White Cube, Bermondsey. Gilbert & George were in conversation with writer and curator, Marco Livingstone talking above all about their passion for books and printed materials.

Each of the 2000 copies of Side By Side are bound in a hand-marbled, unique linen cloth cover. With perhaps more than a hundred copies laid out on a table draped in black cloth at the White Cube the psychological seductiveness of the edition becomes clear. I find myself in a turmoil of indecisiveness; which cover will I choose? Do I want gilt letters on the binding or black embossed letters? But this is really the most minor of details when compared with the choice between marbled covers: a red Mars-dust swirl? or an earthy pattern of mustard-highlighted land-masses? or a pale, delicate wash of charcoal greys and rain marks? Each have an inexplicably diverse appeal. I see people leaving the table with four copies in their arms and yet somebody suggests that there is really no difficulty in the decision at all – people are drawn to one single book.

Gilbert & George talk about the collaborative process of marbling the linen, the two artists switching between choosing colours, dropping them in the liquid and dipping the linen to be marbled. George explains that in some ways this is an automatic process and yet each cover also represents something of what they were thinking and feeling at the time. Your choice, he confirms, says something about your personality.

What Gilbert & George present is something of a polemic on the book as object. Side By Side’s new marbled covers take inspiration from the marbled end papers of old bindings; the designs are looser, unstructured when compared with the precision of existing designs and bindings, a random product of moments of thinking and feeling. But there is a homage within them nevertheless which expresses a bibliophilic passion.

In 1971 Side By Side was published in an edition of 600 by the Koenig Brothers but it quickly became a rare and valuable item and Gilbert & George were disappointed to discover that copies were not to be found in art libraries and public collections, they had slipped out of common reach. This re-printing is a testament to their belief in books as ‘democratic’ objects, “you can buy them, borrow them and lend them”, explains George.

They have always designed and published their own books, hefty tomes of the complete pictures, but Side By Side was their first publication. They recall sitting in the Wimpy Bar at London Liverpool Street station with their photographic plates propped up at the end of the table as they composed the texts for their pages. Something of that life is re-printed here, 70s Wimpy bars and a lingering vision of east London as experienced by two young artists, in this ‘facsimile’ edition.

Side By Side is “divided into three chapters as sequences of double page spreads linking the typographically elegant texts with a single image, each page complementing and informing the other. The first chapter, ‘With Us in the Nature’, is a celebration of being alone – together – in the countryside, with strong overtones of Romanticism. For Chapter Two, ‘A Glimpse into the Abstract World’, brief but poetically ornate texts are teamed with hand-drawn, very abstracted, imagery. The final chapter, ‘The Reality in Our Living’, provides the gritty urban flipside to the bucolic idyll of Chapter One, the black-and-white images fleshing out the words of the Flanagan & Allen music hall song, ‘Underneath the Arches’, the soundtrack to the celebrated Singing Sculpture that they had first presented in 1969.”

And yet, the 2012 edition is also something entirely new, packaged in those tempting and disorienting marbled linen covers. This Side By Side is a very contemporary and poetic ode to the book as object. Watching all these people poring over covers and leafing through pages I wonder why more people aren’t making books like Gilbert & George, books to fall in love with for their touch, their feel, their absolute aesthetic luxury.

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People of Print began as a library and directory of designers, both local and national, which Director Marcroy Smith set up in 2008 after graduating from university in Brighton. But its presence as a collaborative collective on the London design scene has been growing as POP have begun taking live print workshops to venues and events all over the city.

Smith’s talent is for creating the perfect collaborative partnership by putting people together who he knows will work well. This often means throwing something a little unexpected into the mix, like spoken word poet Adam Kammerling who POP teamed up with for live printing at the Victoria, Dalston.

It sets POP apart as a fluid network of designers, willing to work with everyone and anyone and to follow creative new directions. While the focus has largely been on screen printing so far, Smith hopes to move into fashion and textile. He wants POP to explore the many possibilities of print, its diversity and range, bringing this to fresh audiences in engaging ways.

While Smith has seen his own design work take a bit of a backseat, the business has been expanding and going from strength to strength. POP recently ran t-shirt printing at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Somerset House Design Fair event and they held a live workshop with Levis on Regent Street. Future clients include Monsoon, Republic and the Cartoon Network.

The next step for POP is to get the online directory in print. Smith is working on a publication which will include interviews with many of the designers and studios, a kind of print bible that will promote a whole community of designers.

The ultimate ambition is for People of Print is to move into a studio, a physical location which would be both a base for the company and a resource and work space for many young designers. From here the community would have a centralised location and permanent resources.

Smith has designs on setting this studio up in Hackney where many of the exciting designers he has collaborated with, such as Heretic who have a studio in an old nail factory in Stoke Newington, Open who work in De Beauvoir and Hoxton’s KK Outlet, are based. Smith notes that many of the designers he studied with in Brighton have now moved to London, Hackney is just one of many creative hubs where designers are putting down roots.

www.peopleofprint.com

This is an article written for the December issue of the Hackney Citizen.

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This month Stephanie Wehowski’s white tower of mushrooms, Stupa, marks the end of the WW Gallery’s year-long showcase and experiment with public art, the Patio Projects.

Last year the projects began with Eva Lis’ Mudman just as the London Riots were breaking out across the park and in the neighbouring estate. But the overriding message has been of the strength of locality, connections and conversations.

PP13: Stupa is simultaneously supernatural and organic; the perfect dichotomy for a summation of the Patio Projects, which have offered residents extremes of both the hauntingly familiar and the strikingly bizarre.

This dichotomy, whether the echo of the local birds flitting about Hackney Downs Park (the duplicitous magpies in Kate Davis and David Moore’s Pica Pica and the many hundreds of mummified pigeons in Delores De Sade’s The Form of a Thing is the Outcome of all it Endures) or such delights as the gruesome saccharine display of Flora Parrott’s sugar fingers and Lucy May’s kitsch wax kebab: has certainly been a talking point.

A neighbour of the Patio Projects, Ben Spaull, commented: “I’ve lived above Patio Projects for a little over a year now and feel saddened to no longer have the chance to advise visitors to “turn left at the pub, and walk straight ahead until you reach the mudman / teepee / giant kebab”. PP never failed to inspire conversation among my houseguests, but also from curious passersby. I guess the neighbourhood will just have to find something else to talk about now.”

Some of the neighbours have got involved in the projects throughout; Otto the ginger cat has continued to spread his mischief, unravelling Evy Jokhova’s Stringscape and spreading his plastered paw-prints out onto the street from Hanae Utamura’s CONSTRUCT.

Mike of Ries Wools, Clarence Road, has become something of a seasoned art critic and many of the PP artists have anecdotes about his creative suggestions. Mike explained: “I like seeing what the artists are doing, and I like to make suggestions to help them improve it.”

The Patio Projects have represented a localised social history and have been a frequently surreal documentation of a Hackney neighbourhood. The Three Sisters pub at the end of the road has hosted the overspill from all of the cold and wet PVs, and has offered an equal refuge for artists enduring the weather as they install.

The Projects have been best when they do more than just let the neighbours in, when they have reflected and absorbed the very atmosphere of the locality.

Kirsty Tinkler’s Face/Off and Jokhova’s Stringscape were both inspired by the rich architectural legacy of the East End of London, and were different kinds of patchworks of the urban landscape facing and surrounding them. These public art works came to belong to the place, to the street, and so it’s fitting that at the end of the month they were taken apart and destroyed.

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The Projects have certainly brought the community together in unusual ways and that’s rare in a world where we frequently find a restrictive formula for how art should be experienced. Four year old Lila was sad to see the meat gone, but then there were Penny Sadubin’s bluebells to be planted in the torrential rain, bringing mud and joy to other children. One anonymous passerby commented that, “If I knew this sort of thing was in art galleries, I would probably go more.”

Directors of WW, Debra Wilson and Chiara Williams sometimes found it difficult to convince residents to attend Private Views when the gallery was tucked away inside the flat, but bringing the art out onto the street has made it a little harder to avoid.

Every First Thursday over the year of the projects, a crowd has gathered on the street beside the patio, come rain or shine. This crowd has been just as likely to include disinterested residents as artists and gallerists.

The projects have each spoken to different people in different ways: Jokhova remembers the electricians who mistook her Stringscape for the telephone exchange, and Andy Wicks recalls that estranged from the banks of the Thames, Beached was transformed by imaginations from a mooring structure into a giant easel.

That’s the beauty of public art; there is no hand-out to dictate the deeper meaning, no gallery assistant to correct your assumptions. You can stop on the street to consider it for as long as you like, or judge it as you pass out of the corner of your eye.

PICA PICA by ME/WE productions (Kate Davis & David Moore) will become a permanent addition to the patio and ‘gift’ to the street, jointly donated by the artists and the gallery. A publication about the Patio Projects will also soon be published as a part of its legacy.

For more information on the Patio Projects please visit:: http://www.wilsonwilliamsgallery.com/patio.htm

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(c) Toby Summerskill

 

On Sunday 25th November, East London Fawcett Group (ELF) hosted an event to raise awareness of the challenges facing women in sport and to raise money for female boxers in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The event included a panel discussion, with guest speakers Kate Johnson, United States Olympic Medal-Winner for Rowing, Stylist Magazine’s Francesca Brown, Great Britain Long jump Athlete,Abigail Irozuru and Trecia Kaye-Smith, Jamaican Triple-Jump Athlete. The event also saw Naomi Gibson, Founder of women-only boxing club Girls in Gloves in conversation with young British Boxer and Artist Lucy May. The event closed with a film by Melanie BrownFighting for Peace: Kabul’s Female Boxers, which was introduced by Melanie in conversation with ELF’s Head of Fundraising,Dani Mason.

(c) Toby Summerskill

(c) Toby Summerskill

The film documents three young female Afghan boxers, Sadaf Rahimi, Halima and Shamila, as they struggle to pursue their passion for a male dominated sport in a patriarchal society. The event raised over £400, which will go towards purchasing new sporting equipment and a boxing ring for the girls in Kabul and inaugurates a Foundation focused on bringing the boxers to the UK where they have been invited to participate in specialist training.

The event raised important questions, such as what role and responsibility do parents have for encouraging sport in girls; why are successful female athletes trumped on sponsorship deals by their male counterparts; is sports coaching a man’s game?

Francesca Brown, who leads Stylist’s Fair Game Campaign and chaired the discussion, reported that women earning over £50,000 per year are more likely to play sports an average of 3 times per week, whereas those earning less than £15,000 are likely to have no involvement in sport. This highlighted the relationship between sport and class and an economic obstacle that forms just one of the many barriers to women’s involvement in sport. Panellists also spoke of creating a level playing field in schools and the disparity in the quality of sports education between private and state-funded schools.

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(c) Toby Summerskill

All participants emphasised the value of sport, referencing benefits for women including increased confidence, physical health, capacity for self-defence and general quality of life and happiness. Trecia Kaye-Smith and Abigail Irozuru were a huge inspiration to the audience, sharing the highs and lows from their careers at the top of their game. Olympic Medal-Winner and Senior Marketing Executive, Kate Johnson, shocked the audience by describing her experience on the starting line of an Olympic Final, worrying about fat showing – demonstrating the huge pressure to look good on even the most successful, intelligent and talented of women.

Hosts for the event, Margaret Pope and the Body Studio, will be driving the campaign and fundraising agenda forward by launching a Foundation to support sportswomen in developing countries in receiving the necessary training and equipment to reach their potential.

ELF volunteers will be forming campaigns and organising activities that respond to the challenges raised by the event. If you’d like to be involved email: eastlondonfawcett@gmail.com

(c) Toby Summerskill

(c) Toby Summerskill