Tuesday, 9 October 2012


The longest-running and most broadly-spanning of the monthly late-night openings, East London's First Thursdays came round again last week. Visitors were welcomed (often with a glass of beer or cheap wine) into a breadth of exhibitions extending from Hackney Downs’ E8 to Canary Wharf’s E14, from the EC1s of Clerkenwell over to the extreme-easterners of E15 - all until the ripe old hour of 9pm.

This month I bypassed the trendy-artistic hubs of Hoxton and Shoreditch to visit Bethnal Green. Just down from Cambridge Heath train station, multi-purpose arts and events gallery Oval Space were showing Joint Ventures, an exhibition to showcase the collaborative practice of seven different artistic partnerships. The works are varied: of watercolour, C-prints, video and Super8, photography, sculpture, installation  and performance, none forego representation. Perhaps the diversity of the works is due to the focus of the exhibition on process rather than product. Interestingly however, the process of collaboration itself is not evident from the pieces’ appearances, neither do any of the participating artists treat it explicitly as a theme.

Two particularly ambitious works caught my attention. Xavier Poultney and Hannah Barton hired a walk-in cooler into which we were invited to walk, one by one, with only a small, handheld night vision apparatus as an ocular guide. It is pitch black, and the temperature is -20°C. In other words, you are near-blind, alone, and it is extremely cold. After gaining confidence to move, you crash into a box in the centre, or think you see something on the wall. Temporary terror strikes when, briefly, you cannot find the handle to the door. Lost in this nothingness, even your body seems to have dissolved; I kept trying to find my shoes through the weak eye of the night vision monocular.

Elsewhere in the exhibition, a work by the ARKA group (a collaborative practice between Ben Jeans Houghton and Matthew de Kersaint Giraudeau) also plunges us into darkness. Viewers are invited to put on a thick felt hood and ‘listen to a conversation between themselves and the universe’ through large headphones, holding a small meteorite in their hands. The meteorite is heavy, and warm from the previous person; the rumbling voice (male) growls: ‘you cling to the rock, as it clings to you’. Again we are made to pause and think of our relation to our environment, this time on a galactic scale.

Of course, not all of First Thursdays’ visual offerings will be as stimulating. Just up the road The Arch Gallery exhibited Jonathan Parsons’ slightly bland colour-pencilled graphics and A-Level standard symbolism (letters spelling ‘live’ or ‘evil’ depending on your position in the room and dripping with red paint); nearby Cell Project Space showed a video by Mark Aerial Waller, which was either terrible or brilliant, I couldn't decide (have a look for yourself here).

Whatever your conclusions, First Thursdays provides excellent exposure for lesser-known spaces and artists. The next will be, perhaps predictably, on Thursday 1st November 2012. See this map for participating spaces...plan your trip well!

NIL, Xavier Poultney + Hanah Barton 

Beginnings, The ARKA Group

Joint Ventures runs until 14th October 2012.

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