At this moment in time Wilma has taken part in 13 shows since our first back in October. There’s been some good and bad but we’ve learnt a lot along the way. Throughout the exhibitions and artists’ interpretations our scope and ideas of what Wilma is and can be has grown. In this post I want to look at what has worked, what hasn’t and why.
Firstly I want to look at Brian & Mark’s rendition as it felt as though it was the first truly successful Wilma Presents event. Their idea stemmed from Martin Kippenberger’s ’Paris Bar’. The painting seemed to write it’s own importance into art history by Kippenberger placing himself right in the centre of it. Kippenberger wore several hats at once; one is as a curator, over seeing what he’s installed on the café’s gallery wall; the second as an artists and the third as a fan of it’s infamous history. It was this painting that Brian and Mark used as their jumping off point for their Wilma Presents…
What they did was continued the conversation that Kippenberger had begun. Throughout the evening they were both producing, curating, serving, conversing and hosting which was a really exciting interpretation and one we hadn’t experienced before. Up until that point we hadn’t had a self contained piece of work, we had always been the last minute addition to a show, an after thought or a table with free bar tenders but with their work it had finally taken the step of becoming a work within itself.
They immediately added a new scope within the project that neither Will nor I had imagined. Their interpretation broadened our own ideas of what Wilma could be and that’s what we’ve always wanted from this project, artists exchanging ideas and informing different approaches to one another’s practices. As much as Wilma is a collaboration between Will and myself, it’s a collaboration between Wilma and the artists and what we enjoy the most is when an artists is able to highlight or show us a new avenue, a new interpretation and a new means of how to interact with it.
This happened again a couple of weeks later when Ani Mkrtchyan approached us about building a new Wilma. An idea that we had toyed around with but hadn’t found the right avenue to exercise it and when Ani’s proposal fell into our laps, it felt right. This was the first request we’d had that challenged us to redefine what Wilma was rather than the other way around. Ani had proposed a group show with Ting Hsu, Ian Barrington, Hao Chun Hsieh and Cedric Migroyan, all of whom had developed a friendship and strong working relationship together, which was a great place to start an exhibition from.
This invitation allowed us the freedom to break away from the original structure which was long overdue. We had become burdened by it and felt it was time to start to break away from it and this was the perfect chance to begin to do that. Wilma has never been overly precious but Un:Pact exemplified this by it’s use of materials and all for one and one for all attitude.
Their practices are so diverse from one another that the only feasibly way to show their work side by side was to change the parameters of how they display it. As part of their concept they wanted their work to speak the same language and fit the same aesthetics; the language they decided they could work within was text and cardboard. Their ability to not put their individual work first and commit to a single idea that would challenge their own practices was something that Will and I had always wanted from the artists that we’ve worked with but seldom seen happen and for it to be put to us was great. Another aspect of this project was their ambition, to not only take over the MAFA space but to totally change it and make it their own. This is the same approach that seems to make Wilma function at it’s best.
Another step in Wilma’s progress occurred on the same night as ‘Un:Pact:’ by 3rd year BA artists Lewis Newby and Sarah Entwistle, a night that Will and I dubbed ‘double whammy Wilma night’. They had reached out to us asking if they could use Wilma for their interim show which we found compelling as it would be the first time we had two simultaneous events.
They initially set out to paint a car which they had given themselves plenty of time to achieve. They planned to come in at the end of each day in the week leading up to the show and work on it. Cutting a long story short, they ended up leaving it up until the last minute (about 3 hours before their show began) and what they produced in the end was much more interesting, dynamic and succinct idea to that of it’s origins.
Their idea was based on J.G. Ballard’s novel ‘Crash’, later adapted into a film by David Cronenberg. The plot is simple really, its protagonists becomes sexually aroused by staging and participating in real car-crashes. Their lackadaisical approach ended up giving their work a frenetic energy that the protagonist was seeking, making it a success in my eyes. We have also found this method to have scope; the quick and instinctive choices that fast projects offer seem to force the decision making into a more reactive direction and one that we were/are keen to explore further.
That idea was put to the test shortly after the double whammy Wilma night by Martin Newth. He and several other tutors from Chelsea had worked in collaboration with the Academy of Fine Arts in Katowice. ‘Parallax’ was the result and it documents two collaborative exhibitions, in Poland and London, and includes 10 essays that form a dialogue exploring the nature of the art school, its history, future and intersection with society.
Martin had invited us to do the bar and gave us a copy of the book ahead of its launch and asked if we’d be interested. We immediately knew that we would as we thought it would be a great chance to begin experimenting with new Wilma’s but said we’d give it a read and let him know. After reading the essay’s it was clear that we could develop a few ideas that we had been interested in exploring. We particularly found Katrine Hjelde’s essay ‘Ha-ha: The Parallax of the ‘Exhibitionesque’ interesting and felt that we could utilise her metaphor for British landscape gardening and it’s ability to tame nature as a way of testing out what the physical structure of a bar could be, what it could look like and play with it’s interactions.
‘It is an intervention on the land that would make the unsuspecting walker exclaim ‘ha-ha’, or, as more contemporary phonetic writing would put it ‘a-ha’. The ha-ha aims to provide the deception of a clear vista for as far as the eye can see from a specific view point, but then suddenly reveal itself at the last moment.’ This particular section of the text was what grabbed us, along with the diagrams of what parallax’s look like. We wanted to play with perspective, expectation and interaction regarding to the service of the bar.
When looking at a diagram of a parallax then you see it forms a long x shape that explains different perceptions. We felt that this was a bit on the nose but never the less a solid jumping off point for the physical structure of the bar. As well as a series of large panels to break up the space that would alter the viewers/punters perception of our positions within the ‘bar’ structure. We also want to push back against what the original structure does so well; pulling people in and allowing them to stay. For this one we wanted to build a structure that wouldn’t accommodate this and see if it still had the same gravitational pull as the OG Wilma. To do this we left no edges for people to rest on, we tired to make the space less inviting to conversation and tried to seclude ourselves within the structure and paint it a sickly pink and blue, the colours of the Parallax logo. We also tried to utilise Katrine’s Ha-ha research but instead of a discreet intervention that went into the ground, we wanted to place stairs in front of the bar and invite people to jump into the space, so we could ‘ha-ha’ at them.
What we found was that it still held its gravitational pull, to a degree, not as much as the original structure but it still held people around it. Some people found the ‘Ha-ha’ a bit of fun which was our intention and some merely ignored it. The panels offered some shifting perspectives but we could have taken it further by adding more and putting more thought into it if we were given more time. Oddly, we found that people came to the speakeasy style hole more to request and receive their drinks that they did the more open spaces which we didn’t expect but we’re interested by. Ultimately, this is the double edged sword of fast paced projects, you act and think instinctively but given the chance certain ideas could do with more time to mature. This version of Wilma was a good experiment and came at the right time but given more time each aspect could have been delivered to a higher standard. Brain said it had a look of Anthony Caro but it also looked like a first draft of a 90’s dating show set which is always fun.
Weichung’s piece ‘An elephant in the room’ is probably the piece that has given us the most room to grown within. An simple idea but one that has offered up lots of interpretations that we will be exploring in a few ways in the pending interim show. However, it began with Weichung’s request that we ask each participant to write down or draw their interpretation of what the elephant in the room was, fairly simple for some, challenging for others. A selection of posit notes and pens were available on the bar top and when someone came to the bar for their free drink, we requested they answer “what is the elephant in the room?”, a free service in exchange for another.
Some people were charmed by the simple request and would pause for a moment to think of an insightful or witty remark to jot down. Others became a deer in the headlights, not understanding quite what we were asking or why, their confusion mostly resulted in them sheepishly walking away without receiving their free drink. Even with encouraging words people would retreat to safe haven of the MAFA gallery where they could quietly observe the work and not be put on the spot. Other’s believed they were above the request and would tell us they were the curator or friends of the curator and ask if they really had to take part. Some were frustrated by the consistency of our question as we’d stipulated that with every drink must be accompanied by another answer. It was really interesting and completely unexpected to see how people weighed up the cost of their thoughts against a free drink. It was the first time we had played around with labor as a currency and it certainly won’t be the last.
Over the last six months we have begun to understand what is that we’ve built what we want from it. It’s a bit like when you start drinking as a teenager, initially your just happy to be doing it but eventually you don’t want to be throwing up white lightening on a golf course at 3 am, you’d prefer a nice drink with some good company. Along the way you develop your pallet, your likes and dislikes which is what we’ve done with Wilma too. It’s all trial and error and you have to go through the growing pains to understand what you want from other people but more importantly what you want for yourself.
Early on we didn’t know what it was or what we wanted from it and I think there were less imaginative interpretations as a result of that. Around Christmas time we realised that it wasn’t operating how we thought it would and the root cause of that came back to us and our interactions with the artists and our casual approach lead to uninspired shows. The works that we felt didn’t operate as well were the shows where the artists simply placed their pre-existing work atop it or turned it into a prop for the rest of their exhibition. Non of them were bad per se but moving forward I think we will challenge the artists more to try and collaborate with us as curators and encourage them to reframe their work within how Wilma operates at it’s best.
The main themes that have scope for further experimentation are currency and labor in various forms, new builds that are responsive to others work and challenging other artists to redefine their work within Wilma’s framework. These are our current concerns and we owe a lot of gratitude to those who have exposed these ideas to us through their work and interpretations.
Matthew Weir & Will Coups