Last month’s First Thursday was shut a little early, last month’s First Thursday marked two years of Cultivate in Vyner Street , here’s some thoughts on Two, on two years and last month’s First Thursday….
So the Two show came and went, Two, a two week group show marking two years of Cultivate in Vyner Street – well we thought it deserved to be marked, two years is some kind of achievement isn’t it? Two, a show and a landmark celebrated by some, ignored by most. Yes, it did deserve to be marked, two years is an achievement – you try keeping all the balls in the air for that long! Two years of non-stop cultivation, two years, right there, right smack bang in the middle of East London’s infuriatingly interesting Vyner Street. We always saw the running of an art space on our artist-friendly terms as an artistic statement in itself, all the engaging, the open door invites, the questioning, the welcoming, the Dellerbites of banner waving, the art-sharing, an outlet for artists who might otherwise be denied, an exercise in communication and community while down the street they hide behind their unmarked unfriendly unwelcoming big black doors. Art community, artist community, East London community, Cultivate has been one great big two-year-long non-stop show, even the hangs have been open and public, all far too public for some we know. And yes we know we haven’t got everything right, but hey, I think we got a hell of a lot more right than we got wrong, and if art galleries are just for the few and art is nothing but a trading commodity for dealers, agents and unfriendly mostly-closed galleries then what is the point? Yes we know it can’t be open to every person who calls themselves an artist, there has to be some kind of curation, an exercising of quality control, a polite no that can sometimes offend. We’re as picky as any gallery, maybe even more so (it is after all very easy for anyone who can afford it to buy expensive wall space in some of London’s more cynical artist-exploiting “galleries” and art fairs – you know the names, beats me why you let them get away with it, ever get the feeling your bring cheated artists?)
September First Thursday marked two years of Cultivate – this time there were no naked, honey-covered, red men hugging people (and that really wasn’t us anyway, it was just something that happened outside our door the night we opened, the dry-cleaning bills were a little unfair, it really wasn’t us guv, we’d have brought along a far better band that the one playing in the back of that Luton van that night).
Two years on and this First Thursday there was no mad three hour rush to get a show up, no mad rush to get a closed-down gallery space cleared of rancid old beds, bits of rusty rubbish and re-opened in one afternoon (before we took it on, the space where Cultivate currently resides had been a gallery several times over, immediately before we took it on the corner space had been closed and used to store a landlord’s old beds and such for around three months, before that it had been a gallery that only ever seemed to open on a First Thursday, for the rest of the month it was locked – unless by appointment – lights always on so you could see the art through the dirty windows, never actually open).
Two years ago it was a bed-clearing rush to get things open, this time there was no last-minute artists coming together to get something done, no mad adrenaline rush of art hanging and sadly in some ways, no gang of energized artists coming together to make it all happen. This time, two years on, it was more of a planned, considered, curated set of paintings, pieces, and people, it was a considered press-released show and a marking of something that (we think) deserved to be marked. If pushed we’d maybe say we were a little disappointing that some artists have seen Cultivate as nothing more than an exercise that involves just dropping off work, checking the photos on Facebook and then turning up at the end to see if we’ve made a sale on their behalf or not. If there’s one thing that has disappointed more than any other over the two years, it would be the fact that artists, on the whole, haven’t got more involved and shown more commitment to a space that so many of them have benefited from, we had hoped for more of an artist collective would form around the Cultivate idea. That it wouldn’t be such a heavy, time-eating, life-stealing workload, that more of you would have wanted to contribute a bit of time and help make it happen, a collective effort… A couple of hours to switch off would have been refreshing.
Two years then, I think we almost pulled it off – achieved something against the odds, showed some exciting art, introduced some exciting artists, threw out a few questions, challenged a few notions, (probably annoyed a few people), made a few sales, made a few mistakes, learnt a hell of a lot, watched a lot go on. For two whole years, a non-stop always-open two year ever-evolving art show – a (very) small group of artists doing it ourselves – no support, and no trust-fund before you accuse or assume – some have – just a great big working class chip on a broad shoulder, a DIY fanzine-based punk rock ethic, a dose of determined bloody-minded anger (John Lydon was right, anger is an energy), that and the always present booming welsh voice of an inspiring man and treasure of a painter called Peter Prendergast nagging in my head and driving things on.
Something to do with needing to do it rather than just wanting to do it, you have to really need to make art, not just want to be an artist. Art doesn’t owe anyone anything, no one is owed a living, no one was forced to claim the life of an artist, it is a need rather than a want though and art is needed. So, no support (we didn’t ask for or indeed expect any, just pointing out how it is, some do assume we have arts Council funding or local council support or some such thing, no, no support…), no support, no nest egg, no acknowledgement, well not from the closed-door, closed-paged, unfriendly, unwelcoming, far too cosy London art scene and a media too comfortably lazy to bother even looking unless you’ll commit to a lot of brown-nosing andm in far too many cases, an upfront advertising budget with them first (getting the art media to even open an e.mail press release is an achievement!). Yes, they do blatantly come and ask got money before they will cover you.
Cultivate has not been about the establishment art world, it has not been about the art-school way, it has not been about that tiny little self-indulgent middle class closed-door uncomfortably-elite world. Cultivate has been about an alternative, about people, about reality, about engaging, about defiant survival, about a little bit more than drinking cheap wine with your small circle of very loud ex-art school mates at an unwelcoming private view. Cultivate has been about personal sacrifice, frustration, about fun – art and fun, two words you don’t often see together, Cultivate has been about walking it, about doing it, trying to enjoy it. And inevitably Cultivate will be a failure, the doors will once again close, the white stenciled name on the front will be painted over and it will all be forgotten about – for now it is there, we know it is there, the bus drivers know it is there, one or two artists will know it was there, the ex-foot model pensioner who says she knew the Krays, and who says she loves to come in, knows it is there – she tells great tales about how the ultra-fashionable, too cool to have a sign Bistrotheque was a slaughter house and how blood really did run in the street back then.
So we made it through two years, and indeed two years of First Thursdays. Two whole years down Vyner Street, and once again on the First Thursday of Septemver, for the Two show, as is the case on every First Thursday, our corner gallery space was alive – a space alive with art, alive with voices, questions, people pointing, alive with hundreds of people checking the art, checking out the colour hung on our uneven white brick walls. Hard to count, how many people? Big crowds of (mostly) enthusiastic people coming (from all over London and points beyond), all kinds of people, all shapes and sizes, – high heeled, training shoed, polished leather, big boots, paint-splattered, brown brogues – all coming to explore the special thing that is the atmosphere and the art in and around Vyner Street on a First Thursday evening. This September First Thursday the street was as packed and exciting as always, as exciting as that very first Cultivate night two years ago, probably more so? Exciting and alive until the rather officious police closed us all down somewhere around 9.30pm – I guess the police did have a point, the arrival of a rather unwelcome, far too loud and rather annoying intrusive sound system accompanied by a leach of an illegal bar run by people with no connection to any of the galleries or artistic endeavours of the street – a sound system really is not what we needed, people just turning up and exploiting the situation to make an easy penny is not what we want – several of us gallery people had asked them to go away or at least turn it down and be reasonable before the Police and council officials did the job for us. First Thursday as an art event was pretty much over by the time the law turned up – “move along please sir”, “what’s going on here? First Thursday, never heard of it”. The evening was pretty much over, they killed the after show socializing and the vibe of what had been a fine evening full of freshly opened galleries spaces and exciting shows. It was mostly over by the time the authorities closed us all down. The repercussions though, we’re still suffering the repercussions and a constant flow of council officials with different coloured clip-boards and tittles – in the two weeks since September First Thursday, we’ve been accused of renting out spaces on the street, of encouraging an “outbreak of graffiti all over East London”, of organizing a series of “illegal raves called First Thursdays”, we’ve been photographed on a daily basis, hit with all kinds of official threats, legal bits of paper, “surprise” visits – you kind of get the feeling that the Tower Hamlets council are in league with the closed-door galleries in really not wanting people exploring and enjoying culture in their borough, that they don’t want us to be there. Art, art galleries and events like First Thursday are one of the few things that actually get people excited in this downtrodden borough – something to nurture and celebrate, not hinder and harass surely? Strangely, it seems the police, despite the big crowds, had been blissfully unaware of the good natured events of First Thursday until someone decided to spoil things and called them. Surely it can’t be true that the pub that benefits so so much from the efforts of the artists and galleries called in the authorities? Surely their once a month profits made from that packed out bar is more than enough, surely they wouldn’t shoot at their own great big complaining Cockney foot like that? The crowds coming to First Thursday, and indeed visiting the ten or so galleries in and around the street throughout the rest of the month, must be a more than healthy financial benefit to the shops, pubs and cafes in the locality. The shop keeper at the top of the street tells us he loves First Thursday, that it keeps his business alive. The gang of angry waiters and chiefs from the restaurant around the corner who lost out more than any of us when the council and the police closed things down early, were not too happy about the state of things either, word is they would like a word or two with those behind that illegal bar that muddied the waters for us all. October First Thursday is going to be interesting, it will probably be our last as Cultivate, as it now stands, in Vyner Street, it probably is time for us to go now. Has it been a triumph or a failure? Probably both. Where shall we take Cultivate next? Watch this space, we always saw it as an idea that would evolve many times in many places.
Two was a two week group show to mark two years of artist-run cultivation on our corner. Two years of our artist-run space right in the middle of the art establishment thing that is Vyner Street. Two years of Cultivate.
Two featured a specially selected and Invited group of artists, a mix of the art of artists who have worked with us and excited us most over the last two years, as well as, in the now established tradition of Cultivate, an artist or two who probably hadn’t shown work in Vyner Street, Cultivate or indeed East London before. Two marked 70 shows/events. 104 weeks of always being there – no closing down for summer holidays, no months off in winter, no sitting behind closed doors. Two years of shows and a diverse program of exciting creative challenging art, artists and ideas.
CULTIVATE is currently a gallery space based in one of East London’s busiest art streets, Vyner Street. Cultivate is mostly run by artist and reluctant gallerist Sean Worrall.
Originally intended as a six month experiment, the open-door gallery art-space on the corner in the middle of Vyner Street is loved by some, loathed by others, it has excited, annoyed and we’ve enjoyed sharing the art of hundreds of stimulating artists with thousands of enthusiastic visitors. Two marked two years of exploring, experiencing, sharing and doing things on our terms. Two years of surviving on our terms and actually doing it. We’re rather proud of (most of) the achievements so far….
Sean Worrall – artist and (reluctant) cultivator