Upon entering the exhibition space at Noble Studios, a sense of undisturbed familiarity is present despite the irregularities of the concrete entrance and the sharp reflection of pink neon lights. Ted Targett, the curator of Tempting Fake, brought together artists that had a direct relationship with and understanding of the existence of transitory space in order to communicate the idea of “looking back but moving forward.” The murmurs and whirs in the distance seem to direct itself back to the white partition walls and the works within, acting not as a distraction but instead as an embodiment of what Ted aims to achieve through the exhibition.
Ted handpicked the works on show. Many of the works on display reference history both in an artistic and social context. However, the visualisation of the past is achieved not only through innovative and unconventional methods but also by intricate and meticulous execution. This fine attention to detail plays with the idea of what it means to have works of art with finite and mundane associations, like a newsagency sign, gymnastic equipment, or old door knockers made from biscuits, in the context of an art gallery.
Speaking to Realf Heygate and Nathaniel Faulkner, two recent graduates of University of the Arts London, allows for an insight into the show from an artist’s perspective. Realf describes his piece as a summary of the themes he has been developing for the past year: looking at authenticity, originality and the ambiguity of those terms today. To him, this idea best manifests itself through painting, traditionally understood as a ‘finite, authentic’ art object. Working mostly with museum artefacts – which are also defined by their authenticity – as subjects of his painting, he explains the process of working on this particular piece for the exhibition. “So this painting is of a double page spread from an art history book. I often find that when artworks are reproduced in books, it becomes very distanced from the original objects. I’m interested if I meticulously paint from those photographs, does it reauthenticate those objects at all or is it another layer of distance away from the original object?”
Both Realf’s and Nathaniel’s works share a common ground in that there is an illusionary quality to them. “Having just come from Central Saint Martins, you can basically make anything you can imagine there,” says Nathaniel. His outhouse model is something that can be seen in a Wild West film. With countless folklore and myth around outhouses, this ‘prop’ appears in media more than it appears in reality and has been used as a way of referencing a period of history without having any actual truth to it. Although Nathaniel’s piece may appear to be a rickety old shack, it is just as meticulous and finely crafted as any other piece, with individual planks of wood hand picked and cleaned for each part.
The sculptural approach of the exhibition is obvious and the immediacy of the works make it even more so, even the paintings on the wall have a three-dimensional element to them. Keen to use everything the space had to offer, from metal brackets to temporary wall partitions, Ted looked how he and the artists could put their own influence on the space. An advocate of the idea that off-spaces give work more power, he worked with site specific artists, who are very current yet aware of history of art and society, which catered well to the theme and space. Everything from the floor to the ceiling was utilised and could breathe well.
Walking me through the show, Ted speaks about the rewarding experience of restaging and re-presenting the link between each work of art that he has curated. By using only graduates from the University of the Arts London and the many institutions within, and placing them in a nonhierarchical space, he celebrated the essence of collaborative and communal effort. Pushing the meaning of permanence in the context of art, Ted curates works of unfinished art, seeing the pieces as an extension of what is to come while constantly developing the notion of what an exhibition and space is. “A lot of the works here make you look up. Looking around and appreciating the history of the room, I wanted the show to be about not only the works but also the celebration of the space.”
Do you have a personal relationship with each of the artists? Did you have specific artists in mind when you were planning the exhibition?
I chose the artists exhibiting in Tempting Fake because they share similar themes and passion in their works – especially the notion of recalling everyday territories and then somehow displacing them. There are artists here whose work I first appreciated when viewing the degree shows and others who I have become good friends with over several years of shared experience. I was also keen to create an exhibition that is more intense than the vast institutional shows where works can become rather lost in their placement.
Would you say that London being a transitory city had an influence on the theme of the exhibition?
Yes, definitely. The show takes place in a building that has been first a printing press, then a distillery, and is soon to be demolished to make way for a new office block. Cities exist as repositories for the new and the next, but it is salutary that wherever there is a shiny tower, a dirty old building, and all the lives and dreams it once harboured, has met the wrecking ball. There is something about the possibly futile search for permanence, which interested me as a running theme for the show. A number of the works have the feel of prototypes in a process of completion. And if you detect something of the elegy in their work, it is because it has been commissioned especially for this space, at this time, as the demolition crew assembles. Noble Studios certainly doesn’t fit in the bracket of the ‘white cube’ phenomenon; pristine, precision-cut shoe boxes of space where we are invited to step out of time. When entering Noble Studios, you are invited to abandon supposed notions of neutrality and embrace an entirely subjective, ad-hoc relationship with viewing art and being in this place.
Where do you often find inspiration? Where did you find inspiration for this exhibition?
Inspiration is not hard to find in the urbanised landscape of London and in the ghostly nature of city life where it is not possible to be unaware of what came before and what, even now, is making way. Noble Studios being simply a pop-up made of partition walls seemed to work hand-in-hand with these ideas. Its banal imperfections are themselves curiously captivating. I was motivated to pick artists who would respond directly to the space, which resulted in eight recent graduates with an eye on history, but who make vivid statements about what is to come and what it is to be original.
What are some of your curatorial references?
I have enjoyed frequent conversations with curator Chris Fitzpatrick of the Kunstverein Munich. I have found working closely alongside other creative people permits an extended exploration into ideas and discoveries, with intense ramifications and reverberations. For my series of exhibitions for Numbered Editions, I am keen to emphasise time as a structural element – both how art can exist in the present physically and how it can have an eternal presence online. There is a fascinating overlap between the momentary and the momentous that I want to develop.
What is important to consider when you are curating a show?
I was acutely aware that the show would take place in a space which is about to be destroyed, and I chose artists who work in a range of scales and would utilise the fabrications of the gallery. Noble Studios is not an empty space; it offers fragments of its past lives, which are very much on show and visible. I wanted to make sure that the gallery’s history was as much a part of the exhibition as the art on show. I also concentrated on accentuating the tension between one piece and the next, how each artist’s work could somehow benefit from the pieces alongside. This produces an improvisational character to the show which can feel exciting and invigorating.
Could you speak about the transition from your fine art background to curation?
I am juggling between my curatorial ambitions and my own art practice, but the transition back and forth between the two feels quite natural. The distilling of a theme and submitting it to the scrutiny of a show is as rewarding as exhibiting my own works, and I think exercising as a maker as well as curating creates a satisfying and intense balance.
How was your experience experimenting with unconventional exhibition spaces?
For my next exhibition I will concentrate on the accessibility of viewing art. The online exhibition allows for more flexibility with timings and viewings, yet makes particular demands to create a sense of occasion. I want to create shows that adapt themselves to the environments they are in and, with the online exhibition in mind, I want to make it accessible over a defines period of time; the viewer will be directed to access at certain times through different streaming mechanisms. In that sense I’m trying to test the extents of a time frame, and what we assume as an arena for viewing artworks.
Interview and text Soeun Grace Ahn
Images Joseph Reddy and Jack Collis