@ 2 Hoxton Street, artist and in this case curator, Mustafa Hulusi uses an advertising display unit to integrate the material actuality of in-situ, free-to-view, ephemeral street image-culture with the immaterial semio-capital world of social media. A curated diverse group of artists, which reflect London’s cultural plurality, are invited to explore the poster format, with no brief the output is highly subjective and ranges from ‘classical’ images to critiques to the historic UK state of violence as imbued in popular type font design amongst others.
Classical Poster by Yorgos Petrou
What defined the location of Hoxton?
The original poster display program dates back to the late 90’s, where the art scene in London was seismically from different today. Hoxton accommodated a multitude of artists studios and contemporary art galleries, so it was a natural location to embark on such a project.
It was around this time that I met the property co-owners whilst discussing a separate commercial billboard after which we eventually concluded the best thing would be to arrange some kind of artist’s display on street facing wall. At the time, one of the co-owners was working as a fashion designer, running her label using the ground floor shop as a boutique so it harmonized with the aura of what she was trying to establish.
Was there a specific brief? if so could you expand on this? If not, why the absence of the brief?
There is no brief as such. Serious artists don’t work to briefs, they have their on-going practice which is what I want them to elaborate when being involved with this project. The only rule is that I admire the artist and his/her work; have at some point met them and we have good rapport.
In terms of artist selection, I’m looking for a diverse group of practitioners to display to reflect London’s cultural plurality. In particular, artists from Latin America or the Middle East who are under-represented in Londons commercial art world.
Did the artists react to the site and create a site specific work? What were some of the intentions of the individual characters?
I select artists whose practice potentially lends itself to publicly consumed visual language. It may be a simple consideration such as an aesthetic style; Cedar Lewisohln iconic block prints lend themselves to the bombast of street signage communication; or conversely it can be more conceptual such Jose Carlos Martinat whose materialist practice critiques historic UK state violence imbued in popular font design; Olivier Richon’s photographic practice is inspired by codes of semiotic meaning at play between historical still life painting and image/text dichotomy within language of advertising; Daniel Gustav Cramers photograph of a canyon as metaphor of visual void or an absence, an act of withdrawal in terms of visual code.
Great Britain take care of yourself by Jose Carlos Martinat
To what extent does the space of the city influence and define the way an art piece is conceived in relation to if it is exhibited within the space of the gallery?
There are many influencing contextual factors that determine how a simple image is received. On the most basic level, a white cube gallery is quiet, has white walls and fixed lighting whereas the street context is normally subject to changing light quality; sound levels; temperature and humidity levels; surrounded by a variety of brick wall surfaces and with obstructing street furniture.
Central London was built by the Victorians during the height of the British Empire and this paradoxical imperial legacy is the subtext, always hiding just below the surface. We see this in London’s shift from a manufacturing economy to services economy.
What are the qualities of exhibiting ‘art’ within an urban setting?
An artwork on display to the general public has the advantage of exposure to a wider range of people than an art gallery so it is therefore more a democratic call to audience engagement. This doesn’t mean the work has to be dumbed down for mass consumption or populist acceptance. My project aims to puncture the visual pollution by showing how a more thoughtful, intelligent and poetic possibility may be possible.
Poster courtesy of Sicilian artist Salvatore Arancio
Do you see this project developing further? Are you interested in testing other London locations and/ or exploring the work of other artists?
I was inspired by two other art projects – one is Art on the Underground and the other was the recent weekly exhibition called Fig-2 at the ICA. The former commissions artists to display posters in areas that are used as shared transit on the public transport system and the latter was a weekly renewed art show that lasted exactly one year at an previously unused room at the back of the building on The Mall.
Did you contribute to the project in terms of producing a piece?
I did originally but then decided it was time to facilitate other artists to display differing visual codes that would be more engaging to differing audiences.
What where your hopes in terms of reactions by the citizens of London? Did you get any un-expected surprised?
Many people in that location work in the creative industries so have a visual literacy that gives them confidence to comment. When I’m in the area changing over the posters people often initiate a conversation about what’s on display and how they really enjoy the variety of images in their daily walk in the area. The route is also a busy (and often digested) road corridor to East London where public transport passes through and many friends/ acquaintances often catch a glance whilst on a bus of what’s new on display.
The fleetingness of the pictures on display was always about suggesting how ephemeral life can be, just passing by, a transient glimpse of something that may provoke a different thought than expected, allowing an openness of mind, of why we exist and what motivates our purpose.
Poster courtesy of Los Angeles based artist Todd Gray: using photomontages taken from his archive of images whilst acting as Michael Jackson’s documentary photographer, his work is fluent in cultural iconography, steeped in issues of corporate politics and racial identity.
From artist to curator, did you enjoy the shift in role?
It’s been some time now that artists need to don more than one cap to make progress within the field art. Whether its artist/curator or painter/performer, the roles are completely interchangeable and the more an artist involves himself in philosophically challenging tasks the richer he will become as an artist.
What is your take on the contemporary extreme consumption of imagery? Do we really see?
I think the addictive nature of social media has re-invigorated the static form of image culture that began in the late 1970’s – that is print and outdoor media (also cinema and television) as a way to induce a permanent distraction away from the real to the simulated. As Marshall McLuhan famous phrase, the medium is the message.
Le Connaisseur by Leyla Gediz
How does your work as one which attempts to arrest the gaze position itself in contemporary culture?
It is the The Situationists International critique on capital, that of a ‘colonization through the visual’ that was aimed on the premise of advertising; that is to induce a sense of lack in the viewer, thereby facilitating a stupefying act of unnecessary consumerism – whether it’s a product, service or experience. The film essay ‘Society of the Spectacle’ by Guy Debord was the one of the most succinct attempts to confront this theme. Other thinker such as John Berger in his seminal book ‘Ways of Seeing’ also examined this phenomenon. Here were classic Marxists texts which, though crude by today’s standards, are still regarded today as the foundation of a political awareness within publically displayed images.
Currently, the Antropocene posits the chickens have come home to roost and the environmental holocaust caused by this inescapable death drive of consumerism has pushed the earth in the direction of making it uninhabitable for humans, so within a space of a few decades a systemic collapse with be irrevserible.
My work asks is it worth trying to turn our image culture, from a weapon of destruction into a weapon of liberation?