2014 June: ArtsLav Opening, London Live and Great Satisfaction

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Yesterday was the private view of our show and it was just fabulous. We are really proud of what we’ve achieved. We began by pulling together the final pieces of the installation, did a lot of cleaning in the space, and printed copies of our press release with a map of all the works. The previous night K’s cousin, who is an electrician, helped us install spotlights that would highlight our works in the evening. We played the jazz music from a speaker and the acoustics of the space were optimal, spreading the sound equally throughout, creating a comfortable ambience. Along with these we used candles to highlight other dark corners, and by the time evening fell the space glowed from underground, and what was once a rather depressing and clinical looking room actually looked inviting. We were incredibly nervous, not knowing what to expect, when the show was about to start, at 7pm. My face was burning hot, I was almost in a panic, because my installation was not fully configured as we drew nearer to the opening. Normally I can keep quite cool and calm when things get stressful, but I was so excited and nervous that my hands were shaking when I tried to screw my apparatus shut. I was surprised just how anxious I felt. Anyway, the first guests were of course our families, who helped with putting the final pieces together. We took a sorry looking cabinet and tried covering it with serviettes. There we poured out the wine and displayed the beer, and it looked quite attractive in the end. In fact the whole place seemed surprisingly cozy.

So by this point I realised that we had tried our very best with this show, taking every opportunity to learn new skills and “set our roots in the trade”. Then I calmed down a bit because I realised that in the end that was the whole point – learning, failing and getting wiser. And I felt so proud of how much we had learned, it was definitely a big step for both of us. So we waited for guests to show up and they very quickly did.

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Before you knew it, the place was absolutely full, the jazz was creating good vibes and people were enjoying themselves. T and I found ourselves constantly engaged with people asking about our work, half of them complete strangers. It was an amazing feeling, to have put together such an event. See a video of the opening here!

Some were interested in buying T’s smaller works. As for me, a man approached me asking about my work, and he turned out to be the first artist that exhibited at Artslav. He then invited me to join him and his art collective in a group show, quite enthusiastically, I believe for this coming Autumn! It is so exciting to be invited for such a thing. He described his work and I enjoyed it. He said he would come later in the week to exchange his and his friends (also artists) contacts.

Getting new contacts is also an invaluable consequence of this project. We left a sheet where guests could leave their details and comments, and were just thrilled with how many did. It was difficult to keep track but we think at least 100 people came to the opening. For a good couple of hours it was constantly full, with new faces appearing consistently. We had calculated the amount of drinks needed well, as by the time we closed, there was one bottle left. The atmosphere was so merry and exactly what I dreamed the London art world would be like before coming here.

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Over time I was learning just how to engage with the guests, I was pretty timid in the beginning, uncertain whether I should leave them alone or go and talk to them. I felt increasingly comfortable and found myself speaking the truth about my work to anyone who was interested. As I repeated my ideas each time someone new expressed a wish to know more, I found myself articulating what I thought better and better. It was an incredibly educational experience.

My friend went out and came back with some pizzas, without asking, he just did, and he brought it to me and I was so grateful cause I was starving. Upstairs on the patio island that encircles the gates of Artslav, in the middle of the road, we had a table bench which we had borrowed from the pub across the road. There we sat at ate and found ourselves completely relaxed and enjoying the evening.

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At around 9-10pm the crowd decreased in number a bit, and there wasn’t as much squashing. It was calmer but still buzzing. Around 11pm we started taking down my electric works (I have to bring the devices home each day to charge them, as we weren’t able to connect them to a power source within the gallery). We sent people over to the pub The Dog House, where we had arranged for a jazz band, The New Jazzmags, to play.

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About a week ago we had a bit of a squabble with our gallery manager, because of a miscommunication. He thought we wanted another band to play before the jazz band, and arranged with his friend’s soft rock band a gig slotted in before. This was sprung upon us, and then The New Jazzmags found out there was a band playing before them before we had a chance to inform them. They seemed a little peeved about it, and we appeared unprofessional for not telling them. So on our opening night, the rock band arrived, and unfortunately they were okay, but not terribly good, and created a break in our jazz themed transition from the gallery to the pub. The biggest problem however, was that they were playing far too loud (this was beyond our control). The neighbours complained to the pub, and by the time our jazz band arrived, the pub was forbidden to play anymore music! What made this all the more bitter, was that our jazz band were doing us a very generous favour by playing. First of all, they charged very little (covered by the pub), and second of all, they were travelling straight from a gig they had already played that night and were probably tired out already!

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However, they did not blame us as they understood it wasn’t our fault, and we proceeded to have a very humorous and enjoyable conversation outside the pub, while all continued as normal inside. Then T asked apologetically if they at least wanted to see the exhibition, and that if they so wished, we would open the space especially for them, recreate the atmosphere of the earlier evening, and share out the last of the wine.

The evening was perfect and we all went down, T, me, the band and some of the guests. The jazz went back on, the candles and the spotlights created a warm glow, and everyone started talking about the work. We explained to the band that jazz is a mutual interest of ours, and that our both our work, although very different in style, is largely based on improvisation. Additionally, we were both interested in the concept of a jam, which is pretty much what our collaborations are. Indeed, we call our collaboration projects painting jams. The playlist we were listening to, is indeed the very sound she and I play in our shared studio with N, K and P. (T was also very clever to think of placing the blue collaborative Jam painting on easels – bringing the studio into the lavatory).

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The front man of the band, a short man in his 50s, all of a sudden started playing his sax in the corner somewhere. So there he was, playing his sax, under the light of one of our spot lights, at the far end of the room. Next thing you know, they are discussing amongst themselves something, and asking us how many available power sockets we have: 2. They start bringing down instruments: a small drum, a keyboard, a trumpet, tambourine, electric guitar, bass – and they start carrying down the accompanying electrical equipment too, a great big amp! And in a circle in the middle of the gallery, once Victorian lavatory, in the middle of a street in Kennington at 2am, this great band starts playing jazz music in the dim light, surrounded by work, surrounded by T, the guests and I just looking on in awe at the whole experience. We went on till 4 am and it was just magic – there they were jamming right in front of our jam paintings. Everyone had their phones out taping it and I can’t wait to get the clips so that I can keep this amazing memory. The band even suggested collaborating with us in the future, mixing the music with our performances. We struck such a good friendship with them. We thanked them endlessly, but it seemed they enjoyed themselves too.

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That was our opening, simply wonderful. The next day, pictures started appearing on Facebook with all the highlights of the evening. We relaxed, because we expected that most people would come on the opening night, and maybe 3 or 4 on the next days of the exhibition. The next day I wasn’t invigilating at the gallery because I was having a day out with my family. But I came in the morning to install my film and sound works, and already as soon as we opened people started coming inside. That was when I was asked if I was selling my work, and the same person expressed an interest in buying my newest work: Plush, a blue A1 ink work. I had no idea how to respond how much it cost, and simply gave her my email so that I could send her my non existent price list.

So I left, and when I came back in the evening, I heard that in fact 53 people had visited that day! I was overjoyed. I was told that a professor in the arts came by and appreciated my drawings. He pointed at my small painting and said “that’s very good” and “I want that”. He left his card and asked me to get in touch. However, and as often happens, I never heard from him.

When I returned to remove my devices, I ran into our last visitor. He was holding a copy of my Railway Rocket Dog book, and appeared to have been crying. He said, “did you write this?” When I said I had, he said “it’s beautiful”. At that moment I realised it only mattered to me that some people understand my work, not everyone has to. He began to talk about it in such a way that I knew he knew exactly what I meant by it, and I felt all of a sudden that I was not alone. He himself designs furniture, and runs a gallery in New York. But the best thing about meeting this man was that he had a profound idea about my work. With the copy in his hand, he pointed at my series of Untitled Colours, and said, “to me they are each a Rocket Dog poem”. It blew my mind, something great was resolved by what he said. I reacted very enthusiastically and just stared back between the booklet and the drawings and knew he was so right and I was so thankful to him, as I don’t believe anyone has provided so much insight into my own work for as long as I can remember. I am going to give him one of the (now) Rocket Dog Poems as a gift.

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There was much excitement to be sure, and we were greatly encouraged to continue on our paths by the feedback of the experience. Our exhibition continued for a week, until a friend of mine, who interned at The Daily Mail, paid me a visit. We were alone, discussing the exhibition – by now the crowd had pretty much died down, and we were beginning to think about packing up. My friend began taping me explaining my empathy drawings with his phone, and later also filmed me drawing on a serviette in the latter style. He was doing that just for fun, but then he remembered that a colleague working with the Evening Standard was asking him if there were any “cool or quirky” events in London that she might cover. So the next day he showed that recording to his colleague, and she was interested in our show. The two of them presented the idea to their superior, who I later learned, works with the Evening Standard’s TV Channel “London Live”. London Live then contacted us and asked if they could come and cover us for a 30 minute segment on their show, London Go. We had to extend our exhibition to another half a week, and the gallery was very pleased about this press. They intended to come and film the work in the space live, and interview the artists, curators and gallery founder. And indeed we were on TV, which was a lovely way to close up shop. Unfortunately, there was no signal down in the underground space, and our work was not shown in the space. We were interviewed outside instead. The program would have been far better inside the gallery among our work, and what came out of the experience was not particularly beneficial for advertisement and so forth. But it was a valuable experience for T and I to be put in such a situation (watch the interview here). Nobody bought our work either in the end, but we never expected that. In fact, the exhibition exceeded our hopes, and at this point in our careers was a celebratory success.

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