There used to be an empty space above Selfridge’s famous Food Hall, a hotel in fact called The Old Selfridges Hotel, which has been invaded by a curious assemblage of art and artifacts. Works and memorabilia from creative people and groups exhbited at the ICA exhibition are a dizzying list of the avant garde and anarcho do-it-yourself-ism from the 1980s post-punk up until the present. Gilbert & George, John Maybury, House of Beauty & Culture, Tom Dixon, Jeffrey Hinton, Bodymap, St John, Alexander McQueen, Martino Gamper, Julie Verhoeven, Giles Deacon, Charlie Porter, Chisenhale Gallery, Lucky PDF, Vogue Fabrics Nightclub, Sibling, J W Anderson, Bethan Laura Wood, Matthew Darbyshire and Louise Gray are amongst the 60 influential figures from London’s creative scene involved in the project.
The ambitious aim of A Journey Through London Subculture: 1980s to Now is no less by presenting a distillation of their output in 60 ‘vitrines’ to allow the viewer to make a whole host of powerful connections: “For example, was early YBA, in fact, an extension of 80s DIY culture? Is there a connection between Gilbert & George through the artist/poet David Robilliard to Trojan and Leigh Bowery and from there to Alexander McQueen? In design terms, does the salvage work of Andy The Furniture Maker connect to Martino Gamper’s reassembled chairs or the designs of Bethan Laura Wood?”.
But what’s as interesting is how the end results have been received, and what that means for today’s creativity. Reading FT fashion blogger Charlie Porter’s piece is a great way to approach it as someone who has a vitrine there himself, and he describes the whole installation as “amazing” I sense largely because he has strong personal creative connections with many of the vitrines on display. And indeed there is something for everyone with a personal or even a professional interest in the pre-internet age culture to take away. But not everyone believes the lofty aims of the project to explore “counterculture today and what emerging artists have in common with their countercultural forebears” have been achieved. The Independent’s Zoe Pilger reckons the show would benefit from a little more ‘creative tension’ from the interplay of the subversive forces of creativity and mainstream commercialism. However, there’s less uncertainty of where the value lies from the exhibition’s driving force ICA Executive Director Gregor Muir who created the vitrine devoted to the very post-punk shark tank embracing Young British Artists, led by Damien Hirst and including a ping pong ball in a glass from Hirst’s first edition for the ICA!
But what does this all mean in 2013? Fortunately there is a generous series of events around the exhibition worth exploring, with inspirational relevance for today. For example a panel discussion with Princess Julia and Charles Porter on the role of fliers in the pre-internet age looks at the 1980s equivalents to today’s social media. And the events conclude with a Selfridges selection of upcoming designers, artists, animators with a presentation aiming to find the creative young people of today. As a overtly individualistic and iconaclastic show, it’s the responsibility of the visitor to take from it what they want, to make connections that make creative sense to them, and to use it to their own highly creative ends.
A Journey Through London Subculture: 1980s to Now is curated by ICA Executive Director Gregor Muir in collaboration with exhibition advisors Emily King (Curator and writer), Libby Sellers (Design Gallerist) and Princess Julia (Writer and DJ).
PS: And as to my own part in London’s subculture in the 1990’s they range from taking part in Reclaim the Streets, to Reclaim the Beach!