The problem with Frieze Week ’18 by Sian Matthews

 

That title is a little misleading because I did actually have a really great time at Frieze London. It has been over a month now since the fair and I have had plenty of time to contemplate it all, although there is one thing that has been playing on my mind that I would like to discuss. But let’s start on a good note! This year was my first time attending the art fair itself, although I have explored the sculpture park in previous years, and thanks to Sweet ‘Art I had a press pass!

This year Frieze week had a huge focus on women in the arts. Frieze itself commissioned some large-scale artworks, installations and performances such as Tatiana Trouvé’s ‘The Shaman’ (pictured below) a 1.2 tonne bronze tree and water pump. It was one of the first things I saw as I went into the fair and it definitely commanded the attention it was receiving.

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At the other end of the fair there was a curated section of stands showcasing the work of 9 female artists who had used their work as a form of political activism in the 80s and 90s called ‘Social Work’ I quite enjoyed Social Work as it was diverse on all levels, including race, age, backgrounds and even mediums and subject matter. The section included artists such as Nancy Spero, Helen Chadwick, Berni Searle and Ipek Duben; artists who use the female experience and themes of sexuality, gender, alienation and identity to challenge both aesthetic and political conventions. It worked really well and was an insightful look into the practice of some very influential artists. I was also lucky enough to wander past just as Sonia Boyce was giving an interview about her work! (I won’t lie, I felt a little starstruck!) It was fascinating to listen in and hear what she had to say about the motives and messages behind her work and what she thought of Social Work itself.

The stand I connected with most in Social Work was the Pippy Houldsworth Gallery who were showcasing the work of Mary Kelly. ‘Interim Part 1: Corpus’ is the culmination of 3 years of documentation by Kelly of conversations she had with women of her generation and displays their words in first-person text panels alongside screen printed images of fashion ads and medical photography of ‘hysterical women’. It feels personal and almost candid in its delivery, you get the feeling you’re reading something like a diary entry, something you shouldn’t be reading, and I appreciated the fact I was being told something so intimate.

The one thing that really disappointed me about Social Work is that it was hyped up quite a lot beforehand, but then felt like it was squished into a corner at the actual event. I would have preferred it to have had a more prominent spot in the fair.

Another nice touch to the fair this year was a fund-raising event hosted by Tracey Emin in the form of a postcard auction, with the proceeds going to women’s charities. Although unfortunately I didn’t manage to catch any of it!

Elsewhere in the city, galleries such as White Cube, Victoria Miro, the Parasol Unit and even the RA celebrated women by opening exhibitions and installations of works by artists such as Yayoi Kusama (who I love but sadly missed out on tickets for!), Cornelia Parker brought her PsychoBarn installation to the courtyard of the RA, Heidi Bucher and her beautifully haunting latex skinnings, and Doris Salcedo (pictured below) at White Cube. Women really did take over London for Frieze week!

 

On the Friday night I attended The Other Art Fair which also had a whole section dedicated to female artists. They had their own building across the road from Victoria House which was designed to be a statement called ‘not 30%’ to draw attention to the fact women typically get only 30% representation in art fairs. I thought it was a great idea (although I wasn’t sure about segregating them in another building away from the main event), and there was a diverse selection of work, from painting and sculpture to taxidermy and even tattooing. I so badly wanted to get a tattoo by artist Emily Malice but I missed her by a couple of hours as Friday night was the only time she wasn’t there! (maybe next time!)

Whilst we were there we also met two recent graduates who had turned their stall into a fun and inviting participatory project.  As Illustrators, they were drawing visitors to the art fair as any animal of their choosing for a small donation, so obviously we had to take part! See us below as a cat, a leopard and a jellyfish!

 

Overall I think The Other Art Fair may have been more enjoyable on a social level. More interactive, more inviting, it was more appealing to a wider spectrum of people. Dare I say more inclusive?

All of this sounds great doesn’t it? Women finally getting the recognition they so badly deserve. So going back to my clickbait title, where is the problem?

What has been playing on my mind is the idea that all of this new attention from large institutions, galleries and companies is just a form of box ticking, it felt like they were just ticking women off their inclusion list. I am not really sure of the exact thing that made me feel like this, maybe it’s the fact that both art fairs felt the need to over-publicise their inclusion of women and make a song and dance about it as if for attention; to be seen to be doing the right thing instead of recognising the issues faced by female artists, educating themselves and making the necessary changes. Obviously, I’m not saying we shouldn’t shout about the needs and rights of women in this industry, its massively important to talk about it! There was just something about Frieze week that made me feel like the motives behind it were off.  As you all must know by now, 2018 marks 100 years since the first women in the UK won the right to vote. This means that women’s rights are very much the theme of the year. It means that right now equality and women’s rights seem to be a bit of a fashion statement unfortunately and these companies need to be seen to be doing the right thing or they face huge backlash.

While I think its amazing what happened at this year’s Frieze week, and I certainly do not want to belittle the success of the artists featured. I can’t shake the feeling that we should all be a little wary of the motives and the intentions behind this sudden push for women. I am worried that next year this will all go away and no real progress will have been made. I hope I am wrong.

I have taken a photo of an article written in the free art news paper given out at the Frieze art fair itself which I feel sums up my feelings well and highlighted certain points for you. I feel it quite clearly explains why the focus of this years Frieze week only felt skin deep.

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Let me know what you think, am I just being pessimistic? Did you visit Frieze or any of the other events going on that week and what was your experience? I’d really like to know.

A Women’s day Experience by Sian Matthews

I had a bad experience for International women’s day and it helps prove how far we still need to go.

A friend and I decided to spend IWD at a few galleries in London which were holding exhibitions and tours about women artists, the female gaze and the influential women who helped shape certain institutions. I hadn’t seen my friend for a while, I was looking forward to celebrating women and art with her.

The day started strong with a coffee and a catch up before moving on to the newly opened Richard Saltoun gallery in Mayfair. The first exhibition held at this new gallery space, ‘Women Look at Women’ explored themes such as feminine identity, censorship, gender stereotypes, sex and relationships through the work of thirteen international artists. The exhibition included beautiful but honest black and white photography by artists like Renate Bertlmann, Francesca Woodman and Annegret Soltau, as well as sculptural works by Helen Chadwick.

It was great to experience an exhibition, curated by a woman, working with female artists, feminine themes and the female gaze. You know, other then when Sweet ‘Art does it. For the most part I was impressed by it. The exhibition felt refreshing; it was clean and well thought out, and most importantly for the viewer, it was insightful and thought provoking. Of course, any exhibition has space for improvement, to learn and ensure you do things better the next time. ‘Women Look at Women’ could have been more inclusive. It could have included a wider, more diverse group of works, but it did what it was meant to do well enough for me.

After such a great start you will understand my disappointment and, honestly, outrage at our next visit.  This year for International Women’s Day, the Royal Academy intended to celebrate with ‘Feminine Futures’, a series of events and tours from the 1st – 10th of March.

We got to the RA at noon for the IWD tour, which was billed as an event that will “explore the lives of some of the important women in the history of the RA”. What we were greeted with however was anything but!

Before I explain why I was so disappointed, I should point out that this tour was one of six or seven delivered over ten days. The tour is presented by a different guide each day and therefore is different every time. For all I know the rest of the tours were spot on.

To start, the male guide took us into a small corridor next to a staircase which was decorated with photographs of the current eighty academicians. He pointed out Tracey Emin and Cornelia Parker and briefly spoke about them (they were the only female artists mentioned for the whole tour). He then spent the next 5 minutes talking about several of the men on the wall.  He made no effort to mention any other female academicians, he didn’t even mention Sonya Boyce, the first woman of colour to be made a Royal Academician, as recently as 2016.

Moving on he spoke about two paintings depicting some of the life drawing classes at the RA many years ago. These paintings showed female models being drawn by male artists and were themselves by men, although I cannot remember who. While standing in front of these paintings we were told that at this point in the RA’s history, women were banned from attending life drawing classes because it was thought that it objectified them. The guide also informed us that all female life models were from local brothels as it was inappropriate for women other than prostitutes to model nude. But according to him, all of that was ok… because they were paid a little more than their male counterparts.

Throughout the rest of the tour the guide spoke about not only the building it currently occupies, Burlington house, but also when it occupied the top floors of Somerset House and the National Gallery. He spoke about the architects, the owners of buildings and artists who have worked within the RA: all men, including Constable and even Churchill. It would have been far more interesting to tell us the little-known fact that’s among the 34 founding members of the RA there were two women! Mary Moser and Angelica Kaufmann.

A few times other members of the group asked about the role of women at the RA, which was met with the guide asking if any of us were artists and what our practice consists of. Both myself and my friend answered, explaining that we are installation artists with an interest in the work of the YBA’s. So we were already familiar with Tracey Emin who’s work he promptly explained to us as if we had no idea who she was. ‘My bed’ he said was a “product of her realisation of the mess around her” not exactly what I would call an in depth, insightful or accurate description.

'My Bed' by Tracey Emin

Right at the end of the tour, after someone asked about them, he briefly mentioned the suffragettes, how they had “slashed a couple of paintings in protest” basically referring to them as trouble makers who had ruined a precious painting. There is a lot of information to be found about this incident at the 1914 RA Summer Exhibition on their own website, surely a tour guide at the RA should be able to talk freely and in a respectful manner about this event?

Reading back through this it probably sounds like I am making this up. But I can promise I am not. You expect to come away from a tour of influential women at the RA feeling proud of what these women achieved in an industry that wasn’t always accepting, I expected to hear about how the women before me helped to pave the way for myself to be an artist and work in the arts today and instead I was told about how women had been mistreated by the RA until after WWII. I left feeling deflated, like we had gone backwards for an hour and honestly, I was angry.

Another point I feel I should add here is that on the 8th of March, International Women’s Day, the same day I was trying to celebrate with a friend. An exhibition opened at Tate Modern, all about famous “ladies man” Picasso.

After all of this I had just one question on my mind. How did such a small gallery in Mayfair, and countless other small organisations manage to get their shows and messages so right when the big institutions with all their money and resources get it so wrong? Do they not care? Do they not listen? It seems ridiculous to me and it highlights just how far we all still must go in not only getting, but understanding and respecting equality.

Ama-zine!; A Zine Guide to London. by Gwendolyn Faker

We’ve been building a zine library and working on our very own Sweet Art Zine. As we approach our zine release we thought we’d share our favourite hot spots! If you’re a collector or a maker or even if you’re entirely new to the medium there’s a zine out there just for you. Now let’s see if we can’t help you find it.

Wikipedia says; “A zine (/ˈzn/ zeen; short for magazine or fanzine) is most commonly a small-circulation self-published work of original or appropriated texts and images, usually reproduced via photocopier. Usually zines are the product of a single person, or a very small group…”

Now as much as we love wikipedia we prefer to get our knowledge direct from women with real life experience and first hand knowledge. We got in touch with Grrrl Zine Fair founder Lu Williams to talk about zines, zine culture, and what the Grrrl Zine Fair is all about.

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We visited the last Grrrl Zine Fair event where we were able to meet the makers and pick up a few TREASURES to add to our growing zine library. We did a little walk through to share with you, because it sucks to miss out!

 

Now, if you just can’t wait until the next zine fair we’ve got you covered. We’re going to take you across London to all the spots we know, are you ready?!

We’ll start in East London for the first leg of this zine odyssey.

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The Anarchist Book Shop; can be found with a little work at 84b Whitechapel High Street in the East End of London. Founded in 1886 is the largest anarchist publishing house in the country and oldest of its kind in the English speaking world.‘The book publishing arm (Freedom Press) has a history stretching back almost 150 years and has brought pamphlets by luminaries of the time to London audiences and beyond. In the modern era it has published every year since 1984,’ 

 

…except for between 2012 and 2013 following an arson attempt on the building.

It’s secreted down a narrow alley so it’s a little hard to find, obscured by a KFC sign next door. What you’re looking for is a narrow alley a few meters West of the White Chapel Gallery… it’s under the KFC sign. Now once you’re inside the effort you’ve put into finding it will be well worth it. It’s full (literally from floor to ceiling in some places) with flyers, manuals, books, pamphlets, zines, patches, stickers, badges, and much more. Everything you could ever need to start a revolution can be found between these walls. They have an extensive selection of titles on a huge variety of subjects(our favorite being ‘What About the Rapists?’). *You can check out a small selection of what’s in stock from their online shop, but we recommend visiting for the full experience.

Whitechapel Gallery as we mentioned, is literally next door to The Anarchist Bookshop. The gallery is pretty notable; with displays, commissions and archive galleries that are free and open all year round, six days a week. The Gallery also hosts ticketed shows and past exhibitions have included work by Sarah Lucas, Keith Sonnier, Hannah Höch, and a recent takeover by the Geurrilla Girls.

The gallery shop is mostly books with zines here and there. Because it’s a gallery shop what’s on offer changes pretty frequently depending on what’s being shown. In the past we’ve found more than a dozen zines on the shelves.

From there it was on to Brick Lane Books, it’s on Brick Lane(duh!). A few blocks away there’s Beach on Cheshire street. Visiting the area in the week it’s pretty quiet, visiting on a Sunday when the market is in full swing is a whole other story…

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You can continue heading east into Hackney where you can get a real bang for your buck (pound?). If you visit Broadway Market you’ll find Donlon Books, Broadway Bookshop, and Artwords; three small but well stocked shops, all of which have some pretty rad zines. If you make this a destination on any given Saturday and as the name suggests you’ll find another market in full swing.

 

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The final stop in East London is pretty conveniently located as Banner Repeater happens to be on platform 1 at Hackney Downs train station. It’s an Artist-led contemporary art space: a reading room, and experimental project space, founded by Ami Clarke in 2010. Their reading room holds a permanently sited public archive of Artists’ Publishing which you can browse, and a shop that’s always changing but always filled with independently published books and zines.

Heading into the West ; you can visit the ICA, aka The Institute of Contemporary Art. Founded in 1946, the ICA ‘promotes and encourages an understanding of radical art and culture‘. Usually running a varied programme of exhibitions, films, talks and events. The book shop is usually pretty well stocked with a selection of independently published magazines. What you’ll find on offer here is a little glossier than your regular zine fare, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find a good old fashioned xerox’d zine on the shelves.

IMG_7040Near Tottenham Court tube you can also stop into Claire de Rouen. Focusing on art, fashion, and photography, the shop in another nearly secret spot (look for the all black door next to the betting shop). Selling beautiful print products in all forms, zines included. Once you’ve managed to find the entrance and make your way up a flight of stairs you’ll find a bright and cozy little shop. With soft light, fresh flowers, and music drifting from a record player at the back this place is hashtag aesthetic.

If you want to indulge your nerdier side(who doesn’t?) hit GOSH! and Orbital comics. Two of the best comic shops in London. Both stock a wide range of new and vintage/collectible comic books and a selection of independently published work. Whether you’re looking for that Archie VS. The Punisher cross over comic, a first issue Spiderman, or trying to get your hands on a copy of SNOTGIRL both of these spots will have you covered, they’ve even got offerings for the manga connoisseur.

Down South there’s The Feminist Library. Started in 1975 as a small collection of contemporary material it is now considered to be the most significant library of feminist material in England contains 7500 books of which 5000 are non-fiction, 500 poetry publications and 1500 periodical titles; many self-published, spanning more than 85 metres of shelving. The Feminist Library Book Shop is open on Saturday (12-5pm). They sell new and used books, periodicals and zines. They also serve coffee and cake and host readings and events.

There’s also 56a which got it’s start when the building was squatted. More of a political centre than a bookshop 56a calls itself an ‘infoshop’. It’s staffed by volunteers and they stock countercultural press. With works that explore everything from (trans)feminism, anti-colonialism, anti-globalisation, environmentalism, squatting, anti-fascism, No Borders, queer politics/organising, anarchism, situationism, autonomism, anti-civilisation, anti-capitalism, radical pedagogy, DIY, bikes, self-care, cooperatives, permaculture, consensus organising, to armed struggle, this place is a pretty radical (literally). They also have a zine library, open ‘til 8pm on Thursdays.

This barely scratches the surface of where you can find zines in London, those are just a few of our favorites.

Did we miss something? Would you like us to check out your zine or zine event?

x Gwendolyn Faker