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This month I wrote an article about Georgia Hayes’ exhibition at Transition, Sing Out Loud for the Hackney Citizen.

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On the 11 January Georgia Hayes’ Sing Out Loud opens at Transition Gallery, celebrating colour, paint and imagination with large-scale figurative paintings.

Whether the setting is the opera, safari or a museum, Hayes’ canvases are a window onto the magic realism of an imagination. “The paintings feel completely observed from life and completely invented by a free imagination all at once”, writes Barry Schwabsky in an essay to accompany the exhibition.

When I ask Georgia Hayes how she came to painting, she answers: “When I was a child my favourite thing was making a mark on white paper, an excitement I still feel.” That vital pleasure communicates itself to the viewer in every bright sweep of paint.

When she was younger Hayes was not allowed to go to art school but she “was always dreaming anyway”. At thirty, with a young family, Hayes found herself finally able to study at adult education classes under the teaching of Roy Oxlade.

Her simplified graphic style is often attributed to her late training, a style which, as Schwabsky points out, might “at first glance, be mistaken for aesthetic ingenuousness.”

But Hayes  is adamant that, “it is a mistake to think I am self-taught – although I started late, that teaching encouraged me to look for and value original ways to work rather than trying to acquire academic skills, which is the usual way of teaching art.”

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Georgia Hayes’ artistic influences read like the personal plotting of a route through a vast national museum: “Egyptian, Mexican folk art, Early Italian fresco, Hajj paintings, Indian miniatures and Spanish Medieval illuminations, also Manet, Matisse and the late works of Picasso and Philip Guston.”

These interests are collected and curated into the museum setting of many of her paintings; cabinets of crocodiles and boxes packed with canopic jars displayed in museums of fishing, singing and dancing.

“Museums have a slightly stagey reverential feel that appeals to me,” says Hayes, but her settings aren’t museums in any dim, dusty-cabinetted or conventional sense: her own feeling of child-like wonder brings them to new life. The exuberant colours of her figurative paintings are display cases for animals more commonly found in the zoo, her visitors are dressed up for podiums in hot pink platform shoes; nothing is as we might assume.

“When the painting needs it, I am happy to borrow other things/characters that come to my attention and put them into the museum space.  Odd things which I come across or am thinking about at the time often seem to fit happily into the museum.”

dancing cajun

Beyond the frivolity of the gaze there is a tipping into the sinister too. Never explained or fully revealed: much comes to rely on our own reading. In Cathy Lomax’s essay, ‘To Paint Is To Be,’ she describes the “imaginative joining-up-the-dots of seeing” involved in Hayes’ paintings, where bizarre menageries and cabinets of curiosities are disarrayed by obscure narratives.

But do we need to try to make structure and sense of her graphic nouns? Hayes invites us to relish the pure joy of looking: perhaps there is a joke, a touch of nostalgia, a memory dipped in fantasy, but all we have to do is look.

Roald Dahl once urged, “above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” Hayes’ way of looking at the world, with the glitter of vibrant oil paints, is one which draws magic and the surreal into the foreground.

Sing Out Loud will be on at Transition Gallery from 12th January until the 3rd February. For more information: http://www.transitiongallery.co.uk/

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This is a copy of an article I originally wrote for the Hackney Citizen on the film-inspired exhibition, Still.

As the cold weather creeps upon us the Hackney Picturehouse and the Transition Gallery will be collaborating with the perfect antidote to the autumn gloom. Still, an exhibition inspired by ‘the moving magic of film’ and the ‘new reality’ which emerges when we halt this movement, will be taking place across the two venues from the 7 to the 30 September.

Mix art and film and you have the perfect visual comfort food. The relationship between these two mediums is entirely one of indulgence; a film director playing with the luxuries of light and the full spectrum of sensory effects comes closer to producing a work of art than a slick Hollywood blockbuster, and, as we find in Still, artists using film as inspiration find themselves falling prey to a consumptive obsessiveness, a hyperbolic fanaticism.

Nicola Woodham’s video ‘Neon Alone’ is perhaps the best example of the blurring of genre-boundaries between popular film and art. Woodham has taken a single frame from Richard Curtis’ Love Actually and transformed it into a purely aesthetic cypher with its languorous movement through cinematic light, silhouette, shadow and luminescent spotting.  This repeated frame is entirely estranged from its Rom-Com context; it’s lost that warm, all-pervasive Richard Curtis glow.

Although the exhibition does look critically at the relationship between art and film, it is also not afraid of pastiche or parody. Paul Kindersley’s larger than life disembodied heads are a queasily comic tribute to the sticky gore of horror.

In Cathy Lomax’s ‘Film Diary’, in which she paints a single freeze-framed scene from every film she watches, there is no sense of discrimination. Despite being intellectually and theoretically engaged with film in her studies, Lomax is just as likely to be caught borrowing from Twilight as she might from an obscure masterpiece such as Vincente Minnelli’s The Pirate.

The exhibition celebrates our cultural immersion in a cinematic reality; stories, dreams, the living out of fantasies which might begin to feel more real than everyday life. Jackie Chettur’s meticulously constructed sets in hotel rooms come to resemble ‘the backdrop to a film we think we may have seen.’

There is a strange sense of de ja vu which strikes the viewer. Scenes and faces borrowed from films seem familiar but often lie somewhere beyond the reach of recognition.

The exhibition is accompanied by a special issue of Transition’s Garageland magazine dedicated to film. Each of the artist’s included in Still have contributed to the issue; Paul Kindersley revels in horror’s lust for blood and ‘schlock tactics’, Alli Sharma wallows in her infatuation with the Kitchen Sink aesthetic of social realism, and Jackie Chettur reveals the secrets behind her hyper-realist film sets.

Garageland 14 is, at heart, a collection of adoring love letters to film. Images framed on glossy white paper are like screens in which we might catch movement or a narrative, its content page reads like rolling credits, interviews run like scripts, a thumbnail strip resembles a storyboard. This issue of the magazine is edited and produced with all the visible traces of film fanaticism.

Still is totally joyful and honest about its passion for film and it’s this which makes it the perfect visual comfort. It’s the exhibition equivalent of the cinema on a rainy afternoon or a large bucket of salted popcorn.

Tonight the new issue of Garageland launches with the exhibition, Still, at the Hackney Picturehous and the Transition Gallery. I wrote an article for this issue and here’s an unedited version of a rather long tribute to the simple charms of the cinema. Garageland’s Film Issue is incredible and a bit of a treasure trove for fans of cinema. It’s definitely worth buying a copy here; all of the artists included in the exhibition, Still, have also contributed. It’s my first time in print in an art magazine too, so I’m certainly looking forward to getting my hands on a copy.

  ‘Non ti fare fottere dalla nostalgia, dimenticaci tutti.’ Alfredo, Cinema Paradiso

When I think of the local cinema which I grew up with, The Vue, Harlow Town, Essex, I begin to worry that cinemas might be dying out. Here the itchy faux red velvet seats and sticky floors no longer seem worth the over-inflated prices. Unnecessary legions of staff have already been culled as ticket sales have merged with popcorn cashiers, and I have often arrived to bleak Saturday evening closures, the forecast of cinematic doom. In this empty cinema which no longer carries the luxury of its emptiness, sell-out showings are an increasingly impossible miracle.

If there is anything I would like my local cinema to aspire to, it is the warm, nostalgic glory of Toto’s Cinema Paradiso in the 1988 film directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. In a small village in Sicily it is the Cinema, the Cinema Paradiso, that is the soul and beating life force of the community. The cinema is a democracy in which all of society find a seat.

In the film there is an incidental love story which brings a man from down in the stalls into the upper circle, a triumph of cinema’s power to move. Young boys masturbate on the front rows, and the rich spit down from above in a perfectly comfortable mix of high and low culture. On one hot evening when the theatre reaches capacity and a swelling, angry crowd are locked outside, the projectionist, Alfredo, works a minor miracle. By screening the film on the side of an apartment everyone is able to watch from the piazza. The laughs and cheers of the masses echo across the public square.

Perhaps in the same way that audiences have become desensitised to violence on screen, we have gradually become more immune to the simple charms of the cinema. A film is a spectacle in itself and yet now if we are to be coaxed away from our freeview boxes and widescreen TVs we demand so much more.

We need more violence and more horror to make our blood pound. We need dirtier, wilder, harder sex to get us aroused. In Cinema Paradiso when a simple kiss slips past the censors a violent tremor of excitement spreads throughout the audience; the intimation is explicit enough for this crowd to feel a thrill. But it would never be enough for us.

Our disenchantment could be said to have inspired something of a revolution in cinematic experience. Any objections to such developments might just be another case of the hang-up of nostalgia. Our hardened senses force greater creativity and have made the conception of events such as Secret Cinema and the Jameson Cult Film Club possible.

In a surreal simulation of the film world colliding with the real, events like Secret Cinema and Jameson Cult Films, bring characters and sets to life in full-immersion screenings. These events are opportunities to see our favourite films in entirely new ways. Cinema is reinvigorated by the realisation of a fantasy; to momentarily live within the fictional worlds which have the greatest hold over our imaginations.

The summer’s disingenuous promise to hold off on the rain has led to a mix of outdoor cinema screenings across London on roof gardens and rooftop bars, in parks, in the neoclassical courtyard of Somerset House, and in venues which are exciting for the fantasy and atmosphere they promise to bring to a film: the Nomad Roaming Cinema will be screening The Shining in Brompton Cemetery, the thought makes me shiver with the pleasure of expectation.  It seems we just can’t enough of the subversive twist these new themed cinematic events add to our appreciation of film. I am still soul-searching for a Grease inspired Drive-Thru where I can be ‘Stranded at the Drive-In’ with a young John Travolta lookalike. Perhaps I have spotted a gap in the market there.

Yet my most vivid cinema memory is a showing of the worst film I have ever seen in a small town in Romania. Here, Orange Wednesdays had fulfilled their marketing prophecy and the entire population had turned up for the event. It didn’t seem to matter that the film was embarrassing or that there were no glasses to watch in 3D. There was an air of collusion about it; we all knew the film was terrible and were complicit in it.  Like the Cinema Paradiso, the Patria in Craiova was a hub of the community. Here was cinematic pleasure in its most basic and undiluted form.

Despite my temptation to get carried away with all these cinematic happenings, secret clubs which urge us to ‘Tell no one’ and rare events with exclusive price tags and sell-out tickets, I also believe that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to get distracted from the real cultural threat.

If you search ‘save our local cinema’ on Google, a wealth of revolutions from below will appear. Preserving these venues is about more than nostalgia and a fanaticism for architecture full of character and history. It’s also about holding on to the spirit of the community as areas change and are subject to development. There is nothing I’d like more than to find that the Vue in Harlow Town could conjure enough magic and atmosphere to warrant its ticket prices and fill its seats, a real event for once. That would be the true triumph of the underdog, that classic cinematic trope and a genuine feel-good ending.

This month my article for the Hackney Citizen examined the real Olympic feeling outside of the official Cultural Olympiad. You can pick up a copy of this month’s issue or read the article here on my blog!

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The Transition Gallery looks out over a now iconic snapshot of East London; the Regent’s Canal with its own industrial rings reflected in the water, the trendy Broadway market running a counter-current to its right, and somewhere to the left,- out of sight beyond Victoria Park- the grand Olympic stadium. Taking into account the grimy traces of an industrial past and tangible evidence of regeneration and gentrification, the view from up here is decidedly positive.

Indeed, Transition’s exhibition, The End of the Future, is the only positive vision of the Olympics I could find outside of the officially endorsed Cultural Olympiad.

Taking her inspiration from the modernist belief that architecture really could change the way we live, curator Cathy Lomax really does believe that the Olympic redevelopments have made Hackney a nicer place to live. She wears her ‘Keep Hackney Crap’ badge as an ironic dig at all those cynics and disbelievers.

Yet beneath The End of the Future’s nostalgia there is still recognition of the “unpalatable corporate aspect” which threatens us with the “broken dreams of past Utopias”.

Playing on Michael Crichton’s 1973 sci-fi film Westworld, Scare in the Community’s exhibition at Xero Kline & Coma is an utterly dystopic exploration of the corporate consumerism of Westfield as a symbol of Olympic development.

For curators Julika Gittner and Jon Purnell, Westfield is “a ridiculous new build with its Battenberg architecture, huge buildings designed to look like a city-scape , and its own postcode, E20.” Westfield is an island estranged from the reality of the existing community which surrounds it.

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The feeling of disillusionment in East London is in part motivated by a fear of the unknowable Olympic legacy. In Westworld Ben Seymour’s video, OLYMPICFIELD, envisions the Olympic stadium of the future as an overgrown high security prison where potential WMDs are being produced.

The propaganda and conspiracy verged on hysteria with the Residence Gallery’s lecture from Dr Bill Aitchison, who believes that London 2012 signals the end of the world. The One Hundred Year Gallery’s alternative opening ceremony, The Apocalympics, was similarly foreboding.

These visions are bred outside of the stadium, where those who are excluded have only rumours to feed their impressions.  Cathy Lomax remembers thinking that there “would be an opportunity for small local galleries to be involved in the Cultural Olympiad, but it soon became clear that it was directed at a much higher level.”

While a group of galleries were meeting for a little while to make plans together, “this eventually dissipated.”  Big names like Rachel Whiteread may have succeeded in winning a public commission, but all those works which were not officially endorsed by the Olympiad, are confined to the peripheries in an exhibition of ‘Failure’ at The One Hundred Years Gallery.

It is this disregard for the existing culture of east London which justifies the vehement cynicism apparent in the tone of many Hackney galleries’ dystopian vision of the Games.  East London is famous for its art scene, but the Olympics has brought in an unfamiliar, officially accredited programme of culture which masks our real identity with a public face and showcase for tourists.

The Residence Gallery’s open submission exhibition, Botany & Botulism: The Olympic Legacy Zen Garden, has found the perfect metaphor for the difficult dual nature of the Olympics. Botany represents the beauty of regrowth, and Botulism, the hidden poisons which lie beneath the surface.

Rent increases and the redevelopment of studio spaces have meant that artists have moved on, and struggling galleries and project spaces on the fringes of the Cultural Olympiad are unlikely to see the benefits of Olympic traffic.

The Olympics are not for locals, they are a project for tourists. For Ingrid Z, Director of the Residence Gallery, the irony of the Cultural Olympiad is that a “great number of artists have been displaced by demolishing many studios and artist’s homes to make way for the Olympic park.”

Perhaps when all of the official events are over we will find that botulism has spread. For Transition it will be the memory, the nostalgia of a golden sporting event that remains, but for many the Stadium is already a condemned wasteland.  Ingrid Z hopes that “it will be artists who ultimately save the day when loads of empty spaces emerge in Stratford,” and then the artists and galleries will reclaim Hackney.

The End of the Future will be at Transition Gallery until 12th August

Botany and Botulism: The London Legacy Zen Garden will be on at the Residence Gallery until  the 12th August

Westworld will be on at Xero Kline Coma until 19th August

Failure will be at the One Hundred Years Gallery until the 26th August

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Here’s the full version of the article I wrote for the July edition of the Hackney Citizen:

As I write this, perfect summer’s evening that it is, the inaugural Fitrovia Lates and new Thursday night gallery hop is taking place in that other part of the city. Just as crafty TV programmers wouldn’t schedule the finals of Strictly Come Dancing and X Factor to clash, East London’s First Thursdays and Fizrovia’s Last Thursdays are not going head to head, but that isn’t to say they aren’t in competition.

Dazed & Confused began the scaremongering about our treasured local art scene with its provocative cover in May. ‘Is East London Dead?’ questioned a black figure dressed up like the Grim Reaper of the art world, a dodgy Damien Hirst rip-off. A few weeks ago The Guardian joined in and printed an article claiming that ‘East End galleries’ are being ‘forced to go West’ as the ‘local scene “dies”’.

The article suggested that as galleries like Nettie Horn and FRED Ltd continue to move away from Vyner Street and into Fitrovia, the hub of the London art scene is also shifting. This narrow piece of journalism mistakes Vyner Street for the breadth of the East London art scene and views sales as the life force behind all creativity.

Fitzrovia is the money maker, the new commercial and industrial hub of the art world. The idle art collector might favour the kind of constellatory art map that enables large sums of money to be spread over a small surface area at a time-saving pace, but what Hackney has to offer stretches beyond Vyner Street and justifies a little wandering.

The focus of many Hackney spaces such as [Space] on Mare Street, Cell on Cambridge Heath Road and Banner Repeater in Hackney Downs Station, is on exploration, education and experimentation. With talks and events, libraries and reading rooms, and warrens of artist studios hidden away behind the public walls of the gallery, these Hackney institutions aren’t just showrooms for established artists. They are driven by a desire to shape a continually developing critical dialogue. 

‘For us the “scene” is being in touch with the studio practice of our artists. This is still in East London,” writes Cell Project Space’s Director, Milika Muritu. While rents for galleries in Fitzrovia might be smaller than the inflated prices of Vyner Street, it’s unlikely that penniless artists will be renting studio space in the rich lands behind Oxford Street.

There is much more freedom to be experimental in East London with project spaces and artist led galleries supporting emerging practice and challenging ideas. While Muritu admits that income and sales are essential to the running of the gallery, she claims that Cell are making the shift to “assist artists’ projects in becoming a reality. Not always in creating a finite statement, but to establish the gallery as an exploratory space to develop knowledge that can be used in the future.” Not every gallery will take a risk on the infinite but this is often where the most exciting ideas emerge and is an investment in the future of contemporary practice.

The Transition Gallery on Andrews Road publishes its own zine, Arty, and magazine, Garageland, alternatives to the familiar glossies and inclusive of a lot of “irreverent” artist-led content. East London still has a powerful and alternative voice that runs against the current of the art world.  Director, Cathy Lomax, remembers publishing the first Arty: “It felt very empowering. It was the most basic folded photocopy format but this meant I had complete control over it which was very important.”

Unlike Hackney, Fitrovia has a name which already sounds like an exclusive destination. Its network of slick white spaces all conform to our conventional notion of an art gallery. Yet exclusivity is inevitably a way of alienating people.

Dalston Lane’s Fishbar Gallery deliberately avoided the white cube makeover, keeping the original wood cladding and shop front which recall the former life of the premises, when renovating their space. The Director, Olivia Arthur, says that they “were also drawn to the idea of having a shopfront. A lot of people have been using warehouse spaces and making galleries in them which can be great, but there is something special about having a shopfront, being in a little high street, it makes you more local, less exclusive.”

I always pop into the Banner Repeater on Platform 1 of the Hackney Downs Station when I am early or late for a train. The exhibitions attract all kinds of curious platform-dwellers and the reading room is a gentle invitation for anyone to drift in. The Banner Repeater is my local and I’m even currently sporting a ‘BR’ canvas bag to prove it.

The sense of locality is proof that these Hackney galleries are deeply engaged with the area, the people, and the artists and studios which surround them. If the alternative is the art tourists of Fitzrovia, then this “scene” still feels like a much more significant and exciting thing to be a part of.