Monday, 3 August 2009

Main Yard and the Wick

Artist Simon Foxell lives and works in Main Yard Gallery, a tucked away artist run space in Hackney Wick. jotta caught up with him in the lead up to the Hackney Wicked festival to find out the ethos behind Main Yard and Simon’s thought on the future of Hackney Wick and its artist communities.

What is Main Yard Gallery and are they getting involved with this years Hackney Wicked?

Main Yard Gallery is an artist run space in a former print factory. The space is primarily used as a studio, but it is great having a large space to explore the exhibition/curation side of producing the work. It's useful as an artist to have an insight into the way exhibition spaces can alter the work, and what can be done with the spaces when there is no business element in place. While of course we wouldn't object to work being sold, that is in no way part of the concept behind the space. It is entirely focussed on the added freedom and experimentation that running your own space can offer. We usually invite other artists to show with us when we exhibit, and we don't impose any real limitations on what people show - we base our invitations on what work we’ve seen and people we consider to be good artists and then let them get on with it, so we never know exactly what a show is going to look like until its done.

We place great emphasis on curation, maintaining absolute freedom for the artists is very much part of the psychology on the space. We have plans for film nights, performance nights, and to perform plays written by friends - some writers, most not, just to play with the uses of an art space and really enjoy the process. We also want to have an exhibition of just one piece that is a collaboration between say 12 artists of all disciplines just to see what happens.It may well be disastrous, but that in itself could be interesting. We have the space, so we want to push its possibilities.

We are getting involved with Hackney WickED - it's a great idea, and also gives us the chance to be part of something bigger which is exciting. For our show for the festival: The Mountain of Fire and Miracles, we have said to the artists involved “This is the title, take it however you want,” so we really have no idea what to expect from some people. But we trust them....

What attracted you to work in the area?

I was lucky and listened to a recommendation. When I moved to London from Brighton I knew I wanted a live work space, and a friend of mine said "Look around Hackney Wick." So I did and loved it. Then I moved away for a while and ended up in Hackney Central. I came back to the Wick in January this year. Being back after some time has really made me aware of how good this area is. Not just working in close quarters with other artists which has so many benefits, but also that each warehouse is part of a larger network and by having it all on your doorstep you become more engaged. There are loads of artists living in Hackney Central, but they don't make their work there and they don't exhibit there. The Wick has both of those facilities, and it creates a stronger community. Also its hard to be lazy when people are making work all around you. I think its really important for development to feel like a small fish in a big pond and the Wick offers that. It makes me work so much harder!

For a newcomer to Hackney where are some good places to start?

Art-wise Vyner Street is a good one stop shop, then there are some great spaces in Bethnal Green and Mare St, and of course places like Schwartz and Elevator in the Wick, and James Taylor Gallery in Homerton. For socialising, the usual suspects would be the Dolphin on Mare St for late drinking, The Dove and Cat & Mutton on Broadway market, the Victory on Vyner St, and all of Shoreditch of course.

Is there still a squat scene here?

Probably, but very little these days. The squat scene was alive around here when it was just some shabby industrial estate without much industry actually occurring, and people owned buildings that they had kind of forgotten about. Now it's a shabby industrial estate well known for being full of artists who want to live in former industrial spaces, and no-one who owns a building around here is going to forget about it. I suppose it's 'artist gentrification', if that exists - enough artists move in and every owner of warehouse can market it to them and we lap it up. Our place has some DIY plumbing and no central heating, but we love it for the price and the amount of space, and the landlord doesn't have to lift a finger. With that kind of easy money on the table no-one is going to leave their building empty for more than five minutes, and the demand is so high for spaces in the Wick that they don't need to.

Does Hackney have its own creative ideology?

I don't know if it has its own ideology as such, but energy undoubtedly. It has the faciilities and the population to support all kinds of creative channels and ventures and when you have so many creative people living in one borough it keeps the momentum going. It's so hard to keep motivated when you are the only one doing it, and while it can be daunting to sit in London Fields on a sunny Saturday and think 'fuck, half of all these people here are probably artists', it's actually a great thing, because it keeps a buzz and an atmosphere that personally, I find very conducive to work.

I’ve read that your live/work space is being demolished in preparation for the 2012 Olympic games do you feel this reflects a wider problem and if so is this an unfair compromise?

YES it is unfair! Well fairness might not be the right way to view it – it's short-sighted and ignorant. As for the demolition, we don’t know what's going on now. There is a demolition order on the building, and it was meant to be pulled down last year, but it's gone quiet. We are hoping that as the Olympics are haemorrhaging money they have decided to make cut backs and we might be one of them. But it will go eventually. They don’t want people coming to London in 2012 and finding we don’t have air-con on the tube, that we haven’t pedestrianised as many streets as we should, or seeing what the East end actually looks like. The cool press is always wittering on about where the new Hackney is, is it Deptford, Peckham? Who knows. But there won’t be a new Hackney Wick because there isn’t the space. The new Hackney Wick will be a soulless cluster of cheaply and quickly constructed flats to make the area look more civilised. Buildings near by have already started to be demolished, and so many people are going to have to leave, because even the buildings that survive will probably become more expensive because of the new smartness of the area.

I hate that we are living in a city that has no interest or respect for its creativity until it becomes marketable and can be valued. Until then its worthless it seems. There are over 600 artist’s studios in the Wick, which apparently makes it the largest concentration in the world, and this isn’t worth keeping? That is part of the aim of Hackney WickED. The organisers want to raise awareness about the area, because there isn’t anywhere else that can support the number of artists there are around here and it deserves and conservation order.

Any advice to graduates and start up studios or gallleries who are interested in moving to the area?

Just do what you want. The only real obstacle to any of these things is procrastination. The rent we pay is the same or less that any room you're going to find in Hackney Central and if you want to start a space, find one, get a part time job to pay the bills and you're started. I quit my full time job because it was getting in the way of making work, and now scrape by part time, but its worth it to do what I want to do. I take no issue with people wanting more money and we all have to pay what we owe, but then tear the damn credit card up if causes you that much hassle! Finding warehouses that artists can afford to live in, in communities where other artists also live, is going to become more rare as time goes on, and while there is far from any guarantee that it will pay off, for me, or for anyone else that tries, we might living in the last stages of when this kind of thing is going to be easily possible, and you have to do it while you still can.

By Monique Jackson

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