Making mischief at LDF17: how we created Private View at The Conran Shop
It is an exhibition opening like no other – lasting three weeks and an (intentional) disaster before the doors were flung wide to the unlimited guest list. Private View at The Conran Shop is open for another week, with a workshop hosted by the brilliant Charlotte Mei this Saturday, so there is still a chance to experience the installation.
For the second year in succession, following last year’s A Load of Jargon, It’s Nice That and The Conran Shop partnered on an installation that transformed the window’s of the Kensington store for the duration of LDF. Private View combines set design, story telling, products and chaos to create an energetic exhibition filled with a cast of characters to provide an irreverent take on the nature the industry curio that is an opening night.
We caught up with the collaborators on the project designers Arc Two, writer Michael Crowe and art fabricator Howling Hands, to find out more about the process of realising an art exhibiton for an artist that doesn’t even exist…
Michael Crowe – Writer
Michael developed the voice of Private View’s fiction artist LT Meillassoux. He created the opening statement to the exhibition and the names, and descriptions of the artworks.
What were the first thoughts when you were approached for the brief?
I knew it would be fun. Initially, we were going to have Terence Conran as the artist, loosely based on Duchamp’s Étant donnés which he worked on secretly for 20 years. In Terence’s case it would’ve been a whole lifetime of sculptures/etc made in an unknown/hidden wing of The Conran Shop (possibly while wearing the mask from Phantom of the Opera). After discussing with the team at It’s Nice That we realised we could play more freely with a completely new person.
Where did the inspiration for LT come from?
The book An Encyclopedia of Fictious Artists which is full of little bios of invented artists from stories by 280 writers like Pasolini, Woolf, Balzac, Perec was an inspiration; also Andrea Fraser’s amazing mocking performances of cliché artists probably added to the character. LT is essentially a mishmash of various artists with a tiny bit of Nabokov’s hapless Pnin thrown in. Lots of LT’s character was created just to drive up the level of horror-humour of things going wrong, for example, he’s a wildly successful, somewhat pompous artist because the more self-important someone is, the more fun it is to watch them fall down the stairs.
What is the artist doing now?
He’s probably sobbing in front of a Jack Vettriano painting of Bono.
How hard is it to overlay a fictional narrative onto a commercial space? What were the challenges?
I needed to think of a reason why a supposedly hugely successful artist who could click his fingers and get a show at MOMA, Tate Modern, etc. would want to suddenly show in this particular space. A little backstory solved that (longtime bezzie-mate of Conran, also explosively inspired by something he saw in the store decades earlier). The artworks had to incorporate items from the store, and my descriptions had touch on why LT would work with those materials but after hours of pacing up and down and torturous thought I pulled the answers out of my arse. Speaking of which, there was the temptation to be overly silly, which I reigned in mostly, but I should say that the one piece of feedback I got for the whole project was to perhaps change my reference to “Bananaman” in one of the artwork captions. In many ways it was the perfect job!
Do you have any great stories from Private views that you wish to share?
Lenka Clayton and I had a show in Paris a few years ago at Le Plateau and there was a delicate Ryan Gander sculpture there, displayed on the floor. I told my little niece Anna not to touch it. She nodded then went over to it and kicked it, knocking it across the room. The invigilators ran over and in the chaos I asked Anna what happened and she said, “You said I couldn’t touch it, you didn’t say I couldn’t kick it.”
Aoife Blair and Tea Mulabdic, Arc Two
Aoife and Tea developed the overall exhibition, working with Michael, Oliver and the It’s Nice That team to create a concept and then realise the characters and artworks that would bring the idea to life.
How did it feel to create works for a fictional artist? Have you done this before?
We’ve done this before but in a different format. Whilst working on shows at Secret Cinema and others we always devised and designed a narrative around the characters that ties in with the plot or content of the show. So we are pretty familiar with working with fictional characters and their stories. This was really important for the development of the characters that populate the space too.
What is your creative process used to get an idea out of the sketchbook and into reality?
Every project is different. For this one, initially we worked with It’s Nice That on fine tuning the concept and aesthetic of the overall exhibition.
Once this had been decided, there was a lot of experimenting as all of the artworks were to be made out of Conran’s products. Some of the pieces such as the Sunrise Stack and Deconstructed Chairs we commissioned, as well as the characters, and others we made ourselves.
Which works are your favourite and which posed the greatest technical challenges?
The characters are our favourites, we spent a lot of time thinking about how they would work in the space physically and narratively. It was important for us to get that tongue in cheek balance right as well as how they interact with the artworks and the space as a whole.
There is a bit of a back story to each of them. We based the woman on Patsy from Ab Fab and found out later on that there is even an episode filmed in the shop! So that was perfect.
We knew from the start we wanted them to have this glossy, plastic feel, like giant versions of train model people. Ollie our sculptor did a fantastic job with this.
What is the juiciest piece of gossip you have every heard at a private view?
[Aoife and Tea responded to this question with a very funny answer that, sadly, is unpublishable]
Oliver Hipwell – Howling Hands
Oliver produced the mannequins that inhabit the space – including a snoozing security guard, an unruly child, a perished reveller and an Sloaney art aficionado affectionately named Patsy.
How did you react when first presented with the idea for the brief?
Excitement was my initial reaction. It’s really refreshing when you get such a playful brief with challenging and sophisticated makes. I was also pleasantly surprised that all the initial ideas made it through to the realisation phase; I was passionate about making all of the characters so was satisfied that nothing was culled, as is so often the case.
What was the process you went through in order to create the characters that inhabit the space?
There was a lot of general fabrication with creating the limbs and bodies. It’s always great to get back to basics with armature wire and pipe cladding! What really sells the characters though is the life casting; the heads and hands were moulded and cast from real people. As soon as we added these elements to the figures they sprung to life.
Which is your favourite?
It would be hard not to say Patsy! All of the elements came together beautifully and her oblivious expression was perfect.
Were there any particular challenges you faced when creating the life-sized characters?
Giving the costumes the look of wet emulsion was probably the most challenge aspect of the figures. Ultimately using combinations of bio epoxy resins and emulsion paint worked well and made the costumes rigid and durable.
How do you balance the reality/fiction – how far to can you push an idea or character so that it still feels plausible, but retains a sense of caricature?
By using the life cast elements you are able to push the other conceptual elements, like the wet and glossy paint effect, which they are covered in from head to toe.
Has anything untoward happened at a private view you have been to?
That would be telling….