For years, the site which TACO! (Thamesmead Arts and Cultural Organisation) now calls home, was the control centre for the local Thamesmead power station, providing energy to the estate which the gallery now finds itself at the heart of. Eventually the power station was decommissioned and power was provided by a private, outsourced supplier. It’s a story that echoes the fate of many local community resources and artist-led projects which often find themselves priced out or evicted to make way for private developers. It is with a sort of poetic justice then, that this site has returned to its purpose as a resource (maybe even power supply) for the Thamesmead area.
The current exhibition ‘Can You Feel It?’ explores the polaric feelings of euphoria and loss which surround 90s rave culture and its legacy. Artist Joe Cheetham, known primarily for his works on canvas, has here created a gallery-spanning wall mural which depicts a number of beano-on-ecstasy style cartoon characters, straight from the pages of Viz magazine. Cheetham is interested in the moments where “everything looked like it felt [and] like it sounded – .... an aesthetic and musical convergence.” This convergence is evoked in the gestural and painterly qualities achieved through Cheetham’s use of spray paint, as well as the textural qualities produced by layering fragments of canvas over the walls themselves. This creates a feeling of movement from which the pleasure seekers emerge, marching perpetually towards but never quite meeting the utopian, psychedelic horizon at the centre of the gallery. It is these same moments that interested the late Mark Fisher, evidenced in his unfinished project ‘Acid Communism’ which was inspired by both the potential and failures of countercultural movements such as 90s rave. Fisher’s project is a constructive one but one which is also realistic about the corrosive nature of an alternative; the disturbing and unsettling undoing of our current reality. Perhaps this is what’s captured on the pained faces of Cheetham’s gurning revellers, or perhaps they are just late to the party; the swirling potential of the moment has already passed. Leaving the gallery (after perusing TACO!’s small but perfectly formed bookshop), I feel like something is missing; a nod to the feelings of loss, the ‘come down’ of rave culture maybe? Or a sign that the exhibition calls out for something more - a form of activation (a public programme perhaps) and an opportunity to dive a little deeper into the collective joy and rich history of 90s rave.
The infrastructure and ethos which underpins the production of new work at TACO! has its own parallels with the historical moment Cheetham’s work aims to explore; one of collective intensities, creative freedoms and reaching towards a better (in this case, creative) future. The organisation is built with a focus on supporting and developing the artistic and local communities which form around it. Projects provide artists with the space, funding and crucially, the time to research and develop projects outside of institutional and market restraints. Current projects with artists such as Frances Scott (a 3-year project to make a long form film about the composer Wendy Carlos) have open time-frames for presentation but frequently emerge in the public programme throughout their development. For example, this year Stott’s events include performances (such as Tom Richards and his Mini Oramics), talks and a regular film club. On the other hand, previous projects find a legacy through their sustained engagement with the Thamesmead community. RTM (Radio Thamesmead) a project by artist Sam Skinner, is a prime example of this. As well as setting up a live broadcast studio, the project developed a free skills training programme for local people in production and broadcasting, created a steering group to manage the station as a community cultural resource and developed a network of local broadcasters and content producers. It continues to broadcast out of the gallery’s kitchen.
TACO! joins the ranks of other exciting emerging spaces in the more hidden corners of South London such as Turf and Black Tower Projects, whose approach is community and collaboration centric. These spaces are invested in forming communities which act as support networks and resources for locals and invited artists alike, collectively restoring energy to and empowering those communities as they go.