OWC for the record


FOR THE RECORD

 

It was only after our first exhibition in a commercial gallery that we were invited to do our first ever talk in an art school. It was standing room only when we arrived at Goldsmith’s College in New Cross. 1 We began by announcing “This talk is for losers only … for those of you who will not be taken on by a gallery at your final show …” which immediately provoked a noisy reaction as some students made their exit.

We talked with ‘infectious enthusiasm’ about the do-it-yourself strategy of Punk; the revenge of the dispossessed and the Return of the Living Dead. The Return of the Repressed and the revenge of Nature; the live threat to the Museum from dead grass (straw) and the unmanageable challenge to administration by the rearrangement of dead objects; and so on … demonstrated through the recent history of Art in Ruins from Our Wonderful Culture onwards.

We spoke in detail about self-organisation, self-promotion and the problems encountered working with resistant administrators and tenacious gate-keepers, fervently defending the status quo. There were gasps of disbelief as we told stories and named names, and shrieks of laughter as we described circumventing organisational nightmares.

We emphasised Art in Ruins’ conviction that all cultural production is both collaborative and public; and that originality, individuality and authenticity are nothing more than fictions. Finally, we gave them Art in Ruins’ (then current) Five Point Plan for Success:

  1. Collaborate … “avoid the loneliness of the suffering artist … and it’s cheaper”
  2. Don’t get a studio … “to pay for a studio you need to get a job teaching in an art school which means that you spend all your time trying to keep the job.”
  3. Don’t make just more art … “as you won’t be able to make work in the privacy of your own studio, operate publicly.”
  4. Get an attitude … “art is just a bi-product of an attitude to the world.”
  5. “With all the money you’ll save by not making art, not paying for a studio and collaborating with others … travel.” 2

“Have courage,” we declared dramatically “as losers … you’ve got nothing to fear but the chains of your own repression!”
The audience was both electrified and polarised. As a result, we were invited back to repeat the performance on half a dozen occasions over the next couple of years. 3
 

The following year, we went to collect photographs of our recent work from Edward Woodman, considered by many to be the foremost installation photographer in London at that time. 4 As we sat waiting in his flat in the Brunswick Centre, he announced that we should accompany him to pick up some prints from around the corner.

On the way, he then suggested that we go with him to an opening somewhere in Surrey Docks. After what seemed like an endless drive through the desolate Docklands, we found ourselves wandering around a Goldsmith’s student show in a makeshift exhibition space in a ‘warehouse.’

Apart from the obvious enthusiasm of the students and their friends, the atmosphere amongst the small audience seemed to us both tense and uncertain. 5 Although we were impressed by the ambition of the enterprise, we were slightly annoyed, and puzzled as to why we were there.

We grabbed a glass of wine. Edward Woodman came over and introduced us to Damien Hirst, one of the student organisers. We mentioned that we had organised a show called Our Wonderful Culture and he replied “I know … we should do something together some time.” 6

 

Away from the Flock 1994

Contaminated Colour Field 1988

Away from the Flock Damien Hirst 1994
Photo: Edward Woodman

Colourfield: New Realism Art in Ruins 1988
Photo: Edward Woodman

 
 

Sometime later, having arranged a meeting with Matthew Slotover to discuss a new art magazine we went and sat on the sofa in the empty front room out of the way of the chaos happening elsewhere at Billee Sellmann and Carl Freedman’s party. Damien Hirst came and sat down on the hearth of the open fire opposite us.
“We’re going to be in a show together … ” he announced.
“Are we?”
“Yeah … it’s going to be great. We’re going to share the whole of the top floor space … just us … at Cornerhouse, in Manchester … the culmination of the show” he went on
“What show at Cornerhouse?”
“It’s a group show and we’re in it together and it’s going to be great!”

We were slightly annoyed, and puzzled that he seemed to know something about Art in Ruins that we didn’t; that an exhibition had been arranged without us knowing about it and Damien (and others) seemed to take it for granted that it was a fait accompli.

Sure enough, a couple of days later we received an invitation to take part in a group show at Cornerhouse “concentrating on work with a figurative and an implicit narrative element but without a theme as such” curated by Gerald Deslandes.

We spoke to Simon Lee at Gimpel Fils who already knew about the show and was very keen for us to take part. We got the impression that everything had already been agreed and we had only a few days before material was needed for a catalogue. Nevertheless, Simon Lee’s enthusiasm persuaded us to accept the invitation despite our reservations and we duly sent off an image for the catalogue.

When we received the invitation card for Louder than Words, it arrived with a press release which introduced the exhibition as a “New Wave of young artists” whose work emerged “through such exhibitions as the British Art Show and New Contemporaries.” Clearly, this was not an accurate description of Art in Ruins’ recent history. We objected and inevitably withdrew from the exhibition. 7

We did, however, get a copy of the catalogue as a memento … of the failure of Art in Ruins to be appropriated into the ‘next new generation of Young British Art.’

 

Louder Than Words Cover

 

Louder Than Words - Amy Eshoo

Louder Than Words - Rob Kesseler

Louder Than Words
Nicola Petrie

Louder Than Words - Dean Whatmuff

Louder Than Words - Damien Hirst

Louder Than Words - Art in Ruins


Louder than Words
Cornerhouse, Manchester 1991. Catalogue Pages

Art in Ruins, Amy Eshoo, Damien Hirst, Rob Kesseler, Darren Lago, Nicola Petrie, Kate Smith, Dean Whatmuff

 
 

NOTES

1 This was at the instigation of critic and curator Jean Fisher and artist Andrea Fisher, who were teaching there at the time.
2 The first time we went to the Cologne Art Fair in 1986 we ran into Nicholas Logsdail of Lisson Gallery at the airport.
“What are you doing here?” he asked
“What are you doing here?” we replied
“I’m here on business” he said
“So are we”
“Artists have no business at art fairs.” he remarked as he walked away

3 As word spread by ‘pavement radio’ we were invited to do talks in various other art schools in London and elsewhere, usually at the request of students: “Well, the talks by Art in Ruins are legendary” Gillian Wearing
4 … and whose work was included in Our Wonderful Culture.
5 It has always been our impression that the students received little support from most of the tutors at Goldsmiths for the exhibition Freeze as it was a widely-held belief that ‘art students are not artists’, that ‘artists do not challenge the art world by organising their own exhibitions’, and that overt self-promotion is distasteful. Notably, Damien Hirst was rejected by Karsten Schubert Gallery on the basis that he needed to decide whether he “is an artist or a curator.”
As a result, despite the frozen gossip surrounding the now legendary Freeze we also recall that very few tutors and other art world figures attended the opening and that the exhibition only received one review at the time.

6 After a long conversation with Damien in the corridor of the ICA about Robert Rauschenberg’s erasure of a de Kooning drawing he agreed to contribute a work to be destroyed for our planned, but in the end unrealised, ‘Destruction and Disappointment’ show.
7 Unfortunately, in response to a review of the show, we felt compelled to write a ‘letter to the editor’ about the “Generation Game of promoting art as fashion.” (Art Monthly September 1991)