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Forbidden

18 January 2015

I love Guerilla Galleries. No, really. They make great things happen. Their eclectic exhibitions seem to amplify the most compelling aspects of strong contemporary art. They are accessible, engaging, thought-provoking and inspirational, sometimes flirting with controversy but never at the expense of quality.

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Gallery space with red curtains through which performers enter

FORBIDDEN

I’ve been privileged to attend past exhibitions both as a ticket holder – 100% Nude, Art & Protest – and as a performer – Random Acts of Artistry 2. During their first exhibition of 2015 I would be both, immersed in all things ‘FORBIDDEN’:

FORBIDDEN is an exhibition that discusses and dissects what is unacceptable and why. It will test how liberal we really are in more ways than one. Coming up with solid societal themes has never been a problem, but exploring them is the challenge presented to artists. Good art should create numerous talking points and we expect this exhibition to be no different.

Most people rightly claim to be ‘good’ – whatever that means. Not breaking the law perhaps, holding few or no prejudices, exercising tolerance, patience, respecting the opinions of others, could sit snugly on a list of attributes ‘good’ people share. But it is not what you don’t do, but why you don’t that comes under scrutiny.

Presented over three days with more than 25 new and emerging artists, London’s 10 000 sq ft Daniel Libeskind Space will host this intriguing exhibition of contemporary art.

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Torso‘ by Minju Kim / ‘Taboo‘ by Jamie Ashman

BIBLIOCLASM

On Wednesday 7 January I would take my place as a regular paying customer, whilst on Tuesday 6 January and Thursday 8 January I was to participate in the performance installation ‘BIBLIOCLASM’ by Peter Jacobs:

“When truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie.” – Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Censorship is older than publishing. From ancient times to the present day, ruling societies, patriarchies and their petty functionaries have sought to censor, ban and even burn books that have challenged established orthodoxies on the grounds of sexual morality, religion and politics – and a plethora of other smokescreen reasons that obscure these three fundamental keystones of social oppression.

BIBLIOCLASM is a group performance in which naked readers will give voice and presence to books that have been deemed socially corrosive, politically incendiary or otherwise offensive at some point in their history.

“Any book worth banning is a book worth reading.” – Isaac Asimov
Performance: 60-70 minutes

Tuesday night – VIP Private View

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Doors for the first night’s VIP Private View at the Daniel Libeskind Space were to open at 6:30pm. Our performance of BIBLIOCLASM was set to begin at 7pm. As the performers arrived they were welcomed at the door by supreme Guerilla, Tony André, and shown around by Peter.

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Night time orgasm‘, ‘Lunchtime orgasm‘ by Didi Mx / ‘Untitled’ by Miguel Ivorra

Our performance space was a capacious room upstairs with stark grey concrete walls enlivened by diverse paintings, photographs and sculpture. At its centre, on the floor, a large perfect rectangle had been marked by thin pale masking tape. In the middle of the rectangle lay an Afghan rug, around which we would read aloud excepts from our banned books.

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BIBLIOCLASM performance space

Before the first VIP guests arrived we scattered our books upon the rug and retreated downstairs, out of the gallery to a small side room a few metres along a corridor. We undressed – 10 of us in total – and waited for our moment to arrive. Most of us had worked together in art installations before. Veterans of art.

At the appointed time, Peter began a slow walk out from our room, through the gallery to ascend the stairs. He picked up his book and began reading with natural voice from page one. Martin followed shortly after, then Jane, and one by one we each made our way into the rectangle and collected our books. I was the backmarker.

Over the course of what turned out to be an hour and twenty minutes, each of us read the opening pages, a selected middle section, and the closing pages of the work we had chosen. Individual readings lasted two to three minutes. There was no formal hand-over between readers; our telepathy worked.

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Photograph by Miguel IvorraBIBLIOCLASM gallery

Sometimes we had a large audience, sometimes even responsive. Mostly numbers were in single figures – which was perhaps our fair expectation – with people joining, leaving and returning throughout. Sometimes for a few moments we were alone, still slowly pacing the floor, pausing in quietude, and reciting once-forbidden literature with clarity and purpose.

Peter had started with ‘One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich‘ by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn; Martin followed with ‘Ulysses‘ by James Joyce, and Jane read from ‘On the origin of species‘ by Charles Darwin. Diverse works followed. Thomas had chosen ‘Last exit to Brooklyn‘ by Hubert Selby, Jr.; Roy picked ‘Harry Potter and the philospher’s stone‘ by J. K. Rowling.

Chas and Cy – hardy perennial fellow collaborators – chose ‘A clockwork orange‘ by Anthony Burgess and ‘Catch-22‘ by Joseph Heller respectively. Chris opted for ‘Lolita‘ by Vladimir Nabokov, while Ian had selected ‘The catcher in the rye‘ by J.D. Salinger. My own choice was a personal favourite, ‘The Master and Margarita‘ by Mikhail Bulgakov.

It was a performance début for BIBLIOCLASM. Peter had previously staged alternative literary-themed installations in Manchester and London but this was a newly realised presentation. Having worked on numerous projects with Peter as a fellow performer, it was gratifying to support his personal artistic vision now.

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Photograph by Miguel IvorraBIBLIOCLASM gallery

As each performer completed their final reading they stood silently on the rug. When the last reading was done we dropped our books and departed one by one, retracing our steps down through the gallery rooms. A smattering of applause came, and was appreciated.

After dressing we returned to the VIP Private View where we partook of wine and XT Brewing beers while chatting with enthusiasts who’d seen the piece. We hadn’t been perfect – I wobbled on a couple of Russian names in the first section, and the room was so cold that by the last reading I couldn’t quite hold the book steady – but we’d been very good. Day one of the three-day exhibition had gone well.

Wednesday – Clothing-optional ART Private View

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We’re inviting our guests to view the show naked should they opt to do so.

The clothing-optional evening had been a feature of past Guerilla Galleries exhibitions, and fitted in nicely with the ethos of FORBIDDEN. The effectiveness of an all-naked performance amid a largely naked audience would have been diminished somewhat, so BIBLIOCLASM was given the night off. I went along anyway as a paying guest.

I met my fellow art-collaborator friends Louise and Natansky in Costa across the road from the gallery before its doors opened. Natansky had four of her photographic works exhibited – including one each of Louise and me solo, and another of us together with absent friend Nefretari – plus a further two with herself as photographic model, and two more of her as an angel in Adrian Henderson’s oil paintings.

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Natansky with ‘Angel of the east‘ / ‘Angel of the west‘ by Adrian Henderson

We entered at 6:30pm, were greeted by Tony and mingled with other guests. Then in groups of ten at a time we were led away to take the option of being unclothed for the rest of the evening. Part of the invitation encouraged the wearing of masks too, whilst others wore wraps, socks, boots or sandals and – in one case – a shocking pink wig. Well, there’s always one, isn’t there, Scott?

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Photograph by Loredana Denicola, loredanadenicola.com

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Photograph by Loredana Denicola, loredanadenicola.com

Performers Chas and Ian had returned too. Other fellow models, art performers and friends from previous events included Keith, Dominic, Leonora, Chris and Adrian. The majority of people present had chosen to be naked. It was a chance to chat and, for me, to appreciate the art I didn’t have time to enjoy while performing.

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Photograph by Loredana Denicola, loredanadenicola.com

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Photograph by Loredana Denicola, loredanadenicola.com

Two of my favourite Guerilla Galleries artists were again represented. I’ve never met artist Jean-Luc Almond but I’m always drawn to his eerie portraits. His three works on display were expressionless and mask-like, with a textured unfocussed shimmer as if viewed through a waterfall or a night-time fog or encased in ice. ‘Untitled head’ was probably my favourite work in the exhibition.

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‘Untitled head’ by Jean-Luc Almond

Also once more represented was the brilliantly talented and inspired artist, Piluca. Perhaps more than any other artist exhibited, she always manages to capture the spirit of each exhibition’s theme and produce an original imaginative work. Whether intriguing, appealing or confrontational, she consistently creates striking, painterly works of love, care and skill.

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‘Home: where’s the heart?’ by Piluca

Towards the end of the evening I regrouped with Louise and Natansky. We had a plan. Inspired by our al fresco Public Bodies work in central London for Matt Granger, we decided to dash outside for two minutes and grab a handful of photos while nude on Holloway Road. It was an opportunist move by the three of us, without endorsement from Guerilla Galleries. We would be quick and would not be breaking any UK laws.

Nat pulled on a heavy coat and grabbed her camera, Louise dropped her wrap but kept her boots on. I remained simply as I was. Without further ado we slipped out the front door. First Nat posed us in an embrace in front of a bus shelter, and then sat us down in the shelter beside a willing (clothed) passer-by.

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‘Just waiting for a bus…’ by Natansky

We hugged a tree, and then made as if we’d argued and I was trying to prevent Louise running across the road. Finally we struck an elegant pose against the architecture of the building. All done in mere moments, we dashed back inside in search of warmth. Annoyingly, we’d been followed out by one unclothed man who took his own voyeur shots of us. More problematic was that we were followed back in… by the police.

We had done nothing wrong in law, and nothing was pursued at the time, but it was regrettable as their presence would become Tony’s problem. I was in another part of the gallery and didn’t find out until after they’d gone. Tony was an innocent victim so apologies were in order. He took it stoically but I felt rotten. Sorry again, Tony. Credit to the police for taking a proportional view and leaving quickly.

On a more positive note, during the course of the evening Natansky’s photograph of Louise – taken during our Babylon photo shoot – had found a buyer. This was a fine endorsement of photographer, model, and the exhibition that gave their art exposure. Hopefully our brief excursion outside would mark the beginning of another positive for us all: Natansky’s PROJECT 2015.

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Sold! Photograph by Natansky, model: Louise

What was left of the evening played out with art, drinks and convivial conversation until the time came, around 8:30pm, to make our various ways home. In my case it was to get rested in readiness for a final performance of BIBLIOCLASM the following evening.

Thursday night – About Last Night

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The BIBLIOCLASM performers reassembled. We would be without Thomas and Ian but we had gained Ernesto. There be some book changes too. Roy would now been reading ‘A clockwork orange’ instead of Chas, so Chas read from the ‘Bible‘. Ernesto brought with him ‘Howl‘ by Allen Ginsberg, while our artist-performer and inspiration Peter switched to ‘Fahrenheit 451‘ by Ray Bradbury.

Compounding the previous night’s police visit, apparently there had been a complaint by a small number of students at London Metropolitan University – of which the Daniel Libeskind Graduate Centre is a part – about the visibility of naked people. This meant we could no longer begin with a walk through the gallery. Instead we were obliged to change behind screens in the performance room itself.

I had only noticed one student in the study area separated by glass from the corridor through which we walked on the first night, and he seemed quite content taking a few photos of us on his phone. There was no exhibitionism nor attention paid – we were simply walking from A to B. Still, events had combined to heap more woe on Tony so of course we respected the situation.

The Thursday night performance was close to perfection. Peter had conceived the piece to be audience-present rather than audience-facing, but we weren’t limited to muttering. Everyone breathed life into the words they read aloud. We moved unevenly about the space, pleasingly organic, within and beyond the boundaries of our marked area on the floor.

Visitors drifted in and drifted out, some lingered a while, but for longer periods were without any audience at all. This was no reflection on our performance; after two very busy sell-out days there simply wasn’t the same level of attendance at the exhibition for this final evening. Nonetheless, we once more got a small fluttering of applause. Peter had brought his vision to fruition, and it was excellent.

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The artist Peter Jacobs

We dressed, tidied our space and had a last drink before saying farewells and parting. We did not know where we might next meet or perform but we could be certain in our conviction that the journey would continue.

“At the sunset hour…”

This must have been a demanding exhibition for Guerilla Galleries to manage. Artists, patrons, co-occupiers of the building, and even the police had all demanded attention. In their darkest moments they could be forgiven for wondering if it’s worth the trouble and expense of staging exhibitions at all. I hope not.

We should take a pace back and look again in a clear light.

London is the greatest city in the world. Its reputation for creativity, energy, tolerance and cosmopolitan life is second to none. And it does not have that great reputation by chance. It has it because Guerilla Galleries and others like them are prepared to go to the edge, make things happen, deliver art and beauty, freshness and vigour, invention and wonder to this fantastic global metropolis.

Moments may be challenging in ways that could not be foreseen; freedoms exercised without intent to cause offence may yet be upsetting to some. But how do we develop as an all-embracing society if we don’t test our limitations? And with scarce access to government grants or business sponsorship, where would our wonderful original artists find a platform if the likes of Guerilla Galleries were not here?

We must not take for granted our fragile civilisation or cultural progression.

Sometimes we don’t see the small connections, the causes and effects. Sometimes we don’t know how lucky we are. And we are lucky! We are lucky to have the bodies, minds and characters that make London dazzle. Lucky to have Guerilla Galleries, the artists they represent, the art those artists create and the boldness of spirit that can bring it within reach of us all. So I say: thank you… and encore!

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Photograph by Natanksy, model: Steve

Featured artists included Jean-Luc Almond, Jamie Ashman, Simona Badu, Joseph Baker, Alex Becker, Ruth Bircham, Marc Blackie, Dr Bingo Bongo, Liana Bortolozzo, Leanne Broadbent, Paul Browne, Angela Chalmers, Joanne Clements, Hayley Fiddler, The Finsbury Park Deltics, Chris Francis, Silvan Gottschall, Adrian Henderson, Robert Hitzeman, Alice Holmes, Miguel Ivorra, Peter Jacobs, Harsha Jagasia, Don Julian, Minju Kim, David ‘Lusky’ Luscombe, Didi Mx, Michaela Mysakova, Elizabeth Nast, Natansky, Landon Peck, Phaedra Peer, Piluca, Charlotte Pollard, Ruby Quinn, Sylvestia Shillingford, Mario Sughi, Christian Turbato, Nara Walker, Peter White, Keeley Wynn.

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From → Art

One Comment
  1. boykog permalink

    Wonderful event, good ending regarding funding -seems people in authority keep it coy, and funds are sparse if any at all for all these events that inspire, raise and instill the power of human spirit.

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