Red notions, the art of selection, and when is a contemporary art event not a contemporary art event? Best go ask a rabbit…

The notion of an exhibition with a formal opening time and such is a curious one when that exhibition happens to be happening on-line rather than in a conventional white-walled building….


RED at Cultivate, Vyner Street,63; opening night, Oct 2011

The experiment that is Red opened just over twenty-three hours ago, so far it has been viewed on-line via both the Organ website and the Cultivate website by just over 5000 people, there a was almost 2000 in the first hour and yes there was a sense of an event opening as we built up to hitting the button, “opening the door” and seeing it go live at 6pm yesterday.  Twenty-three hours later and Art Rabbit has removed the event listing from their website while asking us to “please note that ArtRabbit is a platform for contemporary art exhibitions and events only”. We do know what ArtRabbit is about,  indeed that’s why we listed our contemporary art event on theit contemporary art website in the first place.  So is it a contemporary art exhibition or not? Certainly felt like it was as I was curating it, certainly felt like it when it went live and people reacted straight away. There was a real sense of people waiting for the exhbtion to start at 6pm, pretty certain the twenty-four contemporary artists involved think it to be a contemporary art event? Apparently mainstream contemporary art website Art Rabbit don’t think Red is a contemporary art exhibition or indeed a contemporary art event.



Red is very much a contemporary art exhibition, Red is an experiment (what do rabbits know about art anyway?).  Putting Red together was an experiment, watching the reaction is part of the experiment, selecting the art was an experiment, seeing how it works is an on-going experiment. Before the show went live I wasn’t sure about the notion of on-line art, I’m still not sure. I like t oencounter art on gallery walls, on street walls, I like to be able to feel I can touch the art, feel the bumps, the marks, anything else is better tha nnothing – in a book, on a TV screen, a computer screen, art is always best whe nviewed in the flesh, thee living and breathing in front of you dhating scale and smell and texture (and fault and inperfection).  Red is certainly isn’t meant as a substitute for a gallery show, certainly not something there in place of a physical show in a building (we’ve put on more than 150 of them now and we’ve no intention of stopping in terms of hanging painted canvas on gallery walls anytime soon), Red is there as a supliment, contemporary use of another medium to share an art experience.


Before the show went live and while we were still putting it together I wrote that “I’m still not sure how I feel about the notions of art on-line (I avoided Instagram for ages and ages), but then that’s why we’re experimenting with it and debating it here at Cultivate. I look at the numbers of people around the world who view the features on gallery openings and exhibitions via both the Cultivate website and in much bigger numbers via the busy Organ website – for instance over eight thousand people viewed the photos (and words) from the Kembra Pfahler show at Emalin Gallery in East London when the images (and words) were posted on the Organ website.  Eight thousand viewers during the week the review went live on the Organ website back at the end of last year.  I very much doubt if anywhere near a thousand people actually physically went to the show when it was on.  My own art website has already been visited by people from New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Singapore, USA and more this morning, nobody living in Singapore can see my art on an East London gallery wall unless they look at photos of the show on-line.


1; Artist: MADELEINE STRINBERG, Red (2011) Oil on Canvas (90cm x 90cm)

On-line art can never be a substitute for seeing most people’s art in the flesh on a gallery wall (or a street wall, or hanging in a tree, or…), there is no substitute for seeing art right there in front of you living and breathing, right there in the flesh, alive, the texture, the size, the smell – however, as artists, we surely can’t ignore the fact that most people see out art via computer screens can we? This surely has to be embraced doesn’t it? Surely we have to experiment with it? And so Red will open on-line next Monday on both the Cultivate and Organ websites, come and see if the experiment works”.

Red has been up for Twenty four hours now, twenty-four hours on from hitting the send button and watching it go live. Seeing it go live after searching through lots (and lots, thanks people, submitting art can be traumatic for an artist, I hate doing it, I rarely do), after going through lots of e.mail submissions and viewing lots of art, lots of exploring artist’s websites to try to get a sense of who they are and what they’re about (and NOT charging anyone to make those submissions, sure it takes up a bit of time but charging an artist just to submit an e.mail and an image to an open call, how cynical is that, plain dishonest cynical explotation if you ask me, although Beers and their hundred best whatever or Matt Roberts Arts, Roseline at Zeitgiest, that lot at Hundred Years gallery and a whole load more might think it a perfectly acceptable way to line their pockets and fund their next holidays or whatever they do with the cash they openly boast about making when they hold an open call).

Twenty-four hours on how do we feel? Not too bad (a little annoyed with that damn rabbit, but then anger is an energy and we do like energy). How do we feel after going through lots of art and finding that some things work on-line and some things just don’t – paintings from artists I know and like both as people and artists (and who have featured on the walls of Cultivate before in previous events), going through pieces that just didn’t work as flat digital images on a computer screen. Well taken photographs of paintings hanging on walls worked far better than flat soulless digital images of the very same painting cropped so the edges of the painting were the edges of the image, all flat and confined and tied down and sanitised and no sense of anything other than a flat digital image, like it was originally a flat digital image and not a living breathing three dimensional piece of art on a canvas. Flat lifeless cropped images of abstract art just didn’t work for me in terms of this Red show, neither did very obvious digital art, not for me, not in this show – digital art has its place, sure it does, nothing digitap excited me enough to include it in this show (might have looked excitingin a frame on a gallery wall though)


59: RED at Cultivate, Vyner Street, opening night, Oct 2011 (with performance from Marnie Scarlet)

Curating is so often about a gut reaction, about feeling right or wrong about a piece, or a combination of pieces. Sometimes it can’t be easily explained (and saying no to a fellow artist is never ever a pleasant thing to have to do, I hate that bit – most of the time artists are politely fine about it, sometimes a bit of abuse is fired back, but hey, no one likes rejection, I’d be tempted to tell me to piss off if I’d been rejected).  A piece of art has to work in terms of the whole show when that piece is to be part of a group show – I did actually remove one of my own a paintings, a painting I’m rather positive about when I look at it here hanging on the studio wall, it just didn’t work on-line as part of Red though, it didn’t feel right as we ran through the slide show. A lot of time is spent over the selection of art and the combination of art (and obviously there are some things that are just not going to be in a Cultivate show anytime soon and are going to get rejected straight away, we really don’t need to see anymore Star Wars imagery, enough already! Star Wars, the endless parade of spray painted Kate Mosses, bad Amy Winehouse paintings, fine singer and sad story but how many more bad painting of her d owe need?)

And so Red evolved as it came together, as fresh art came in via the open call, as people responded to the invites, last-minute submissions that looked good but just didn’t fit in with what we already had. Red evolved, we went with the flow, I think it works, just had another look, I’m still comfortable with it, I think the experiment has mostly worked, I think we’ll do it again in April, something black maybe? No Star Wars though, anyone submitting another blood Stormtrooper is banned for life, as is anyone who thinks painting a Rothko just takes five minutes with some oil paint and a pallet knife.


29: artist: JOANNA GEORGIADES. Title: Untitled (2012). Oil on canvas, 91cm x 122cm

Putting together a group show, wherever it is happening, on-line, in a basement gallery in Dalston, on a street corner in Vyner Street or a space in a graveyard over in Kensal Green or in a big London Fields warehouse, wherever or whatever it is, putting together and group show is always full of delight, stress, excitement, frustration and lots lots more besides. The challenge of getting the balance right, getting the whole thing to work as one whole, lacing it with energy and attitude (and a touch of defiance). I love curating shows, hanging shows excites me, I enjoyed putting Red together, ive enjoyed putting together a good hundred plus now, not quite got it all right yet, got more right than wrong though.

Sometimes artists make it hard to grab hold of an essence of who they are, I kind of need to find an identity when selecting an artist for a show. We had one artist who kept on sending in submissions for the Red and every time it looked like the work of a completely different person, some of it might have been good but surely an artist needs to have a finger print?  After a while we just gave up on responding to him. And some artists are just plain untogether and set off alarm bells – avoid this person or there’s going or be trouble down the line – did we ever tell you the story of the so-called street artist who came, nah, we won’t go there again, but we do have this built in warning bell now, we can kind of see them coming, the ones who can’t pick up their art at the end of the show ’cause the dog ate their homework, or who think they should be in the centre of the room everytime and such – street art types are the worst when it comes to a suddenly inflated ego as soon as they get a few likes on Facebook or their latest stencil of a Stormtrooper get’s called “Da Bomb by some idiot from Dalston who thinks he’s from the Bronx, that and people who can’t get over the fact that they’re not in art school with their elite little gang from Chelsea or St. Martins anymore, get over it, most of us went, most of us have got over it, stop hanging around carparks in your little gangs conratulating each other and avoiding the obvious, there’s a whole wide world out there).

I like an artist I feel I can identify, who’s work has a personality, a finger print, that little extra thing that stops it from just being someone playing around with  paint because the once saw a Rothko painting and think they could easily do that, you can’t the mamn was genius, you’re probably not (actually we did have a genuis of a nartist shows some work in Cultivate once, but he was more interested in playing football and said he couldn’t be bothered with art, brilliant painter!).  So selection is mostly based on just the quality and personality of the art, on that gut feeling, that buzz of yes. We do like to see that the artist does have their stuff vaguely together in terms of simple things like a decent website and at least a semi-professional atttude and occasionally we will take notice of those warning bells that occasionally go off in out heads (there’s only so many times we’ll let an artist mess us about however good their art is), mostly it is about the art though and that feeling that the art is right for a particular show….


39: Artist: MARIA LINARES FREIRE. Title: Life Dynamics. Arylic on deep edged cotton canvas, 30″×48″

We wanted twenty artists for the Red experiment, we ended up with twenty-four, it was mean to be a simple on-line exhibition, a collection of curated contemporary art and an exhbition united by a theme so that it wotked as one whole thing.  You’ve got the art, the names and most of all you have the links to go find out more if someone or something has  interested you, I mean that Julie Umerle painting may look good on line but the photos of them in the gallry look more exciting and you’ve surely got ot go to her next show now, if you can, haven’t you?  .

Once again this was about artists coming together to make something simple happen in a positive and hopefully useful way, and hopefully this stream of dancing around archrecture while the lizzards bite your ankles has given you a little information in terms of the thought behind the Red show and Cultivate group shows and open calls and how things tend to come together here on the whole, artists making thinga happen our way while working with those who treat us the right way.


Black at Cultivate, 2012

So ArtRabbit tell us Red isn’t a contemporary art exhbition or a contemporary art event (while rather cynically trying to sell us advertsing space for our not contemporary event on their contemporary art website – they did row back a little later and went for that standard get out of it by blaming the intern excuse, always a good way out that one, and they did still stickby their declaration).  I don’t know, I kind of think the notion of an on-line art exhbition with a fixed opening time and the sense of an art event starting at a set time on a set day is rather a rather contemporary way of sharing art, certainly not something intended as a substitute for a physical show, more something that fits in nicely alongside, something that compliments the things we still do in physical formal white cubed art galleries and old falling down warehouses and under railway bridges or in woods or in glorious Hackney drapers shops or….

The number of people viewing Red on the opening day tell us it was an art event, views from Austria, Tanzania, Germany, South Korea, Ireland, France, Denmark, Serbia, Switzerland, Portugal, Greece, Taiwan, Brazil, USA, Romania, Italy and quite a few more places around this world of ours, places where people can’t get to our mostly London-based events in physical galleries, still Art Rabbit know best, we’ll leave the so-called art media to tell is what is and what isn’t a contemporary art event – as that guy in the red hat from that other art media website thing once said, “I don’t really care whay you artists think and I can’t be bothered with actually checking out these things anyway”.. On with the Cultivating and the creating, and if the art media are’nt on the case, well get on with creating our own media as well, you’ll find daily coverage of art music and all kinds of underculture that the self apointed London art medi mostly ignore over on the Organ pages, on with the it all, artists doing it ourselves…  (SW)

The RED show can be viewed here, the next one will be SOMETHING BLACK, it will open here on April 24th, if there’s anything wrong with anything here then we blame the intern, always best to blame the intern…


Cultivate’s second birthday show, Vyner Street, 2013 – slogan painted by Julia Maddison







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