Art Licks Weekend, whose third edition ended last week, has become the premier festival for Britain’s most significant new art. Strategically placed in East and South London, where the backbone of the city’s pioneering art scene lies, the sprawling festival had no main exhibition space. Instead, its events were spread over eighty venues across Peckham, Hackney and Deptford. Inevitably, even if one attempted to focus on one single area, there were too many shows to cover equally. The effect was compounded by the difficulty with which some venues could be tracked down unless one followed an appointed tour guide.
Along with the lack of a nucleus came the absence of a commissioned curator and a leading theme to tie things together - but this is exactly the point. In direct contrast to what 21st century globalised biennales have become, Art Licks offers the freedom and initiative for artist-run projects, curatorial collectives and emerging galleries to show their work to the public without the daunting voice of authority hovering overhead.
Following the festival’s fresh and exciting spirit, the participating artists, curators and gallerists made the best of every last nook and cranny available to display art. Collaborating with A—-Z, David Blandy installed an arcade game and a video piece in Four Quarters, a Peckham retro gaming bar packed with 1990s Sega Mega Drive consoles. A van in Choumert Grove Car Park, transformed by Cheep Drinks into a Duchampian Boîte-en-valise, hosted a likeable show of twenty young artists. More unconventional, DKUK presented an outstanding curatorial project turning a kiosk of Holdron’s Arcade into a hybrid of a hairdressing salon and an art gallery.
This is not to say this year Art Licks didn’t include art displayed in traditional exhibition spaces. AKRA’s installation at Hackney’s Space In Between was certainty one of the most discussed works. The exhibitions at Chisenhale and South London Gallery proudly followed. Most powerful of all, however, were indeed two projects shown in spaces that had nothing to do with white cube galleries.
Commissioned by The Ballad of Peckham Rye, Lucy Joyce created ‘Motorway Becomes Sea’, an enormous poster pasted on a billboard situated opposite Queens Road Peckham train station. Printed on it was a photograph of a motorway junction, the streets of which had been replaced by canals of crystal clear blue water. A video available online offered a complementary recording in which Joyce appeared simultaneously, via split screen, on a busy highway and on a serene beach. Unlike the visuals, the inserted sound was disorienting and almost unidentifiable: was it derived from the waves crashing on the beach or from the cars zipping by? Joyce calls into question the way in which our environments are constructed and navigated.
Dissimilar in subject, yet of equal dynamism was Jill Quigley’s exhibition with Seen Fifteen for which Safehouse 1, a run-down Victorian terraced house in Peckham, was ingeniously put back to use.
Fed up with the picture postcard cliché of the abandoned farmhouses near her birthplace in County Donegal, which usually form part of an elegy to a lost way of life, Quigley re-visited the cottages, interacted with them and photographed them in a startling and innovative way. Skillfully armed with her bag of stage-props and paint box, Quigley introduced glitter, feathers and threads into these former domestic spaces and painted sections of the interiors with pop colours. The paint drips and the fabrics she threw around stand frozen, floating in the air. The depiction of the moment of her involvement reveals an altogether different intention: Quigley uses photography not only to document absurd traces - a theme which has grown into somethings of a trend in contemporary photography - but also as a medium to narrate her vibrant and playful performances.
Yet in this particular show Quigley’s mischievous spirit wasn’t limited to the imagery. Her subversion continued as the exhibition space became an installation itself. Fluorescent duct tapes, webs of bright thread and colourful rainbows flooded the derelict Safehouse 1. Although such effects might initially appear to reflect the interventions enacted inside the Irish Cottages, Quigley avoided drawing parallels between the histories of the two spaces. Instead, she seemed confident that creativity might be equally expressed through dialogue, which is precisely why this show became a perfect ambassador of Art Licks’ mission. As Quigley rejuvenated Safehouse 1 and gave it a breath of fresh air, so did her intervention in the abandoned Irish cottages. Art Licks, too has reinvigorated London’s contemporary art scene.