exhibition review_london subculture

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A Journey Through London Subculture: 1980s to Now.

ICA at The Old Selfridges Hotel, London,

13 September-20 October 2013.

It’s always exciting to visit a new venue, particularly a space that’s not regularly open to the public and that seems to materialise solely for a specific event. The Old Selfridges Hotel is such a venue, a considerable space that is seemingly swallowed into the block-sized, column-fronted monolith of Selfridges, Oxford Street.

An inauspicious doorway on a side-street, a run-down, crumbling staircase, lit by bare bulbs hanging from exposed electrical flex. The architectural condition of the building self-constructs the exhibition threshold presenting an aesthetic (often marketed as ‘rough luxe’) that has become all too familiar with the capital’s burgeoning pop-up culture yet maintains a sense of edginess.

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The stairs open onto an expansive first-floor space stripped of any period furnishing or architectural detail. Exhibition cases and plinths are made from raw OSB, video equipment stands on the packing cases in which it was delivered. The exhibition landscape is configured by these vitrines, arranged in precise series throughout the gallery.

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The cases form the spatial and curatorial structure of the exhibition. Each case represents the work of a certain artist, or group, often curated by another party with a close creative association with the exhibited material. The quality of the cases is variable, and the material on display largely selected from collections of ephemera, biographic relics and personal artefacts, accumulated rather than curated.

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More than 70 cases feature a selection of London’s avant-garde from the early 1980s to the present day. It’s not made clear, either in the exhibition or the accompanying publication, who made this selection or what their selection criteria might have been. The exhibition publication features a fascinating and spontaneous genealogy of the exhibitors, indicating potential links between them. Although these connections are the central premise of the exhibition the designers have not attempted to translate them into the exhibition’s spatial configuration.

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Fashion contributions make up a significant proportion of the content, ranging from The House of Beauty and Culture to Meadham Kirchoff and Christopher Shannon. SIBLING’s inclusion being the main display of actual fashion garments.

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I found the earlier work most interesting and resonant, revisiting the contributions of Mudlarking, David Robilliard, BodyMap and John Crancher, pictured below. I lost interest once the YBA’s emerged. I was re-engaged by footage of J W Anderson and Louise Grey’s recent runway presentations. I spent most of my three visits fascinated by old footage of Michael Clark & Company and BodyMap’s anarchic fashion shows as, it seemed, did the greater part of an audience who were probably toddlers when these artists first appeared.

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Curated by Gregor Muir, designed by Julia.

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Installation photographs © display_mode, courtesy ICA and featured artists.

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