(Our favourites) Judy Blame, Princess Julia and Louise Gray on the ICA Off-Site exhibit

A Journey Through London Subculture: 1980s to Now
Art | 30 September 2013
Text Thomas Davis

Judy Blame and John Moore beach combing under Blackfriar Bridge, 1983

If you haven’t got round to it yet, you really ought to visit A Journey Through London Subculture: 1980s to Now, the incredible off-site exhibition from the ICA at The Old Selfridges Hotel in London.

The project housed within the cavernous industrial space, situated directly above the Selfridges Food Hall – yes, you can pop down and grab a bottle of VOSS for the bus home – runs until 19th October, investigating the connections between London’s creative past and present. Revisiting the moment when 80s counterculture entered the mainstream, an exploration is made drawing on similarities with today’s emerging art scene.

Alexander McQueen, House of Beauty & Culture, Tom Dixon, Jeffrey Hinton, Bodymap, St John, Martino Gamper, Julie Verhoeven, Giles Deacon, Louise Gray, Princess Julia, and Judy Blame are amongst the 60 influential figures from London who have been involved in the project, which brings together a wide range of imagery, videos and installations from across the worlds of art, fashion, graphics, craft and design.

Spread out over fifty vitrines, alongside video works from the likes of Jeffrey Hinton (see one of our earlier features on Jeffrey’s contribution to the V&A’s amazing Club to Catwalk exhibition) to installations and billboard-sized images from Michael Clark, the project brings together a wide range of multi-disciplinary practice, reinforcing the idea that differing art forms can exist in the same space at the same time.

This intersection of disciplines and decades provokes questions such as the relationship between Alexander McQueen and performance artist Leigh Bowery and from Bowery to his contemporary Trojan, to artist/poet David Robilliard and swiftly onto Gilbert & George.

Can the salvage work of Andy The Furniture Maker connect to Martino Gamper’s reassembled chairs or the designs of Bethan Laura Wood? Can we extend the social influence of former nightclubs to artist collective LuckyPDF, or venues like Vogue Fabrics and Cafe OTO?

You could easily find yourself also asking why Princess Julia displayed a cock cast in purple rubber in her “muse” vitrine, alongside an overspilled ashtray or about Louise Gray’s collage-like visual jamboree trademark of embroidered fabric, headwear, polka dot boots and accessorises. Scroll down for word from both as well as the inimitable Judy Blame.

The path through the entire exhibition really is a visual assault – so take your time, read up and go in prepared to absorb the journey undertaken by London’s alternative scene, projecting the exploration emerging artists have in common with their countercultural creative heroes.

Vitrine by Princess Julia, based around the title “muse”, photography Mark Blower

Princess Julia
“…fag ends, the court summons for fare evasion and the rubber penis cast…”

“The ICA Off Site project started as a seed of an idea inspired by Trojans drawings which were exhibited in the Reading Room at the ICA in 2012. Later artist Nicola Tysons photographs of Christopher Nemeth, Judy Blame and John Moore foraging on the banks of the river Thames in 1980 surfaced, once again inspiring us to further enquire on the relevance of this simple task. The idea of something reemerging, the ancient clay pipes, debris and other artefacts they found began a line of enquiry. The idea of lost and found… and the way ideas and people have continued to inspire and interact with future decades and into the present. Finding ways of expressing yourself whether it be by art, style, film, music or architecture and the personal accounts of archivists and collectors at the ICA Off Site soon revealed a creative route through London’s counterculture which at once was both fascinating and inspiring.

Apart from advising I was also asked to curate a vitrine, quite a daunting prospect. Initially I chose the theme of ‘muse’ which I thought would narrow down the options! Basically I started my vitrine with a photo booth picture (really the only form of instant portraiture at the time) of myself as a teenager. As I rummaged through my own personal archive I began to add gifts and artifacts that have inspired me and reveal something of a life spent as part of London’s creative scenes both then and in the present day. I also liked the element of humour as part of the equation. The St John ashtray complete with fag ends, the court summons for fare evasion and the rubber penis cast which is infact part of the work of artists Sue Webster and Tim Noble’s ‘shadow’ work (it’s a cast of Tim’s cock), they gave to me as a birthday card. Originally it was signed but due to handling the signatures have rubbed off, they have assured me they would be delighted to resign the cock!”

Judy Blame, House of Beauty and Culture vitrine (detail)

Judy Blame
“I was working with [John] Galliano and [Christopher] Nemeth at the same time. Now that’s Fashion!”

“I did the show because Princess Julia asked me. It is also a rarely documented period of British culture. Myself, Dave Baby (artist) and Alan Macdonald (Fric + Frack) just collected what we still had left from the House of Beauty and Culture, things that were made there or influenced by the time. Not having everyone involved with us was a little strange, especially John Moore, Fritz and Chistopher Nemeth. The reason I made the ‘smack’ badges was because we were shameless artists and experimented with everything we could, including our drug rubbish.

The Galliano crown was for one of John’s shows and made with Fritz (of Fric + Frack). I was working with Galliano and Nemeth at the same time. Now that’s Fashion!

You have to understand that period for me was so exciting. The people, the art, the clubs and parties. It all gelled. Word of mouth! We all dressed up with what we had or made, not told what’s cool by some blogger! I couldn’t single out a few. It’s all relevant.

The one thing I do like about the exhibition is that it’s so personal. The little things that spark a memory. Remember that the people are the important thing, the creativity happened because of the guest list. We all supported each other and new ideas exploded onto action.

I think it’s important for people to see that everything came from us, not a contract, not a machine, not a schedule. We lived it!”

Louise Gray
“…sometimes the best things come from absolutely nothing but purely wanting to create.”

“I loved being asked to be part of the show – I have been influenced by the early 1980s and by many people who worked, lived, danced through this time .

I obviously didn’t live through it myself, but I have gauged that there was a huge amount of creativity. And I like to see that it spurred everyone around to do the same, like if you wanted to be a designer you made clothes and sold them in Kensington Market; if you wanted to express yourself you went out to be seen. I just think there is a huge amount of DIY attitude that bolted the creativity – not just designers and photographers but artists and personalities.

Jude Blame says no to nostalgia and I know what he means there, you have to continue. But you have to understand the past to create, especially if you want to be your own person as well as learning as you go. The important thing is to continue and be prolific as you can – that is inspiration for anyone. [Christopher] Nemeth, Judy, Michael Clarke, Trojan, Leigh [Bowery], Charles Atlas, [Princess] Julia, Bodymap, it’s endless. I think they are all fabulous and I think it is important that they all are being looked at again at this time when everyone really needs to see that sometimes the best things come from absolutely nothing but purely wanting to create.”

ICA Off-Site: A Journey Through London Subculture – 1980s to Now
13 September – 20 October 2013
The Old Selfridges Hotel, 1 Orchard Street, London W1H 6HQ



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