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Anti Design Festival: as seen by participant Dave Charlesworth

I didn't make it down to the Anti Design Festival, but I was keen to hear how it went. So I asked participating artist Dave Charlesworth of Charlesworth, Lewandowski & Mann to write me up his thoughts.

Written by Dave Charlesworth

Speakers Corner By Alon Merron Part of M&M! Curated by Daniel Charny
Speakers Corner – By Alon Merron – Part of M&M! Curated by Daniel Charny.

Neville Brody‘s introductory rhetorical footing for the Anti Design Festival in press and in person circulates around a narrative of a “cultural deep freeze” that he perceives has lasted for twenty-five years. The inference of this could be that the arts were coerced into a greater level of financially independence under Tory rule in the 1980′s through different commercial approaches, including major spaces charging for exhibitions and the diversification of additional commercial enterprise. Later, generation yBa responded to sleaze and general right wingery by self-organisation and tendencies to push the limits of taste. Co-opted, re-branded as part of Cool Britannia, British artists and creatives found themselves comfortably ensconced in opportunity and funding under New Labour.

“Created initially as a direct response to the pretty commerciality of the London Design Festival, the festival will shift the focus from bums-on-seats to brain food, and from taste and style to experiment and risk.” So say the Anti Designers.

ADF entrance poster
ADF Entrance Poster

For me, creativity in its rawest form of production needs something to rail against, to bounce catastrophically away from, perhaps with New Labour we found a corrupting ally of check boxes and artistically compromising agendas, the prioritising of the accessible over the challenging, perhaps agents of culture saw the cash and lost a bit of their soul. And where are we now, where will we allow our new leaders to take us. The Tories and Liberal Democrats are duplicitous in their keenness to develop a US style Patronage of the arts. This culture, developed over a couple of hundred years, could make it difficult to separate the expectations of funders from the production of art works. In either state or patron funded models there are questions left unanswered about meritocracy, criticality and whether art can retain its ability to critique authority and the status quo. Yet the work desperately needs funds, it has the power to be a powerful economic driving force and a conduit for shifting social values, which without some agreed framework for the dispersal of funds could fall into nepotism and the closing down of opportunities to an even smaller cultural elite.

The Anti Design Festival (with its Arts Council funding), running from the 18th to 26th of September 2010, attempted to deal with some of these issues. The first space you encountered at the Anti Design Festival HQ at Londonewcastle on Redchurch Street, is haywire office space, replete with junked furniture former swivel chairs and stacks of filing cabinets. Every surface of this space is a space of exchange, computer desktops and screen savers, folders stuffed with print outs, secretive QR Code stickers that reveal secret messages once utilised. This is a space of exchange, an irreverent form of exchange where by crude diagrams and montages of genitalia are common forms of currency. Yet digging a little deeper you can reveal some intriguing moments of observational and design genius which are free for you to take away, possibly in exchange for a badly drawn penis.

redchurch front space
ADF Front Space

Redchurch font space detail
ADF Front Space Detail

In another space, the RADLAB, the exhibition continues to change and evolve as the week of the festival progresses. It opens with a makeshift political notice board in ‘Open Spike’, a manifesto wall designed by Martino Gamper, quickly joined by a series of design lamps all made using the exquisite corpse process, carbuncles of high design and makeshift problem solving seem to articulate the festivals interest in the recycling of materials and pre punk cut up processes. Later a snow card future-planning event hosted by Research Studios tests the viewers concept of the future of world events, straw polling our collective tendencies shifting between ‘ANARCHY’ and ‘Apathy’ eventually culminating in a skewed sticker-book view of the world map according to the patrons of Anti Design.

open spike manifesto
Open Spike Manifesto

Exquisite Corpse Lamp By Other Designers - Part of M&M! Curated by Daniel Charny
Exquisite Corpse Lamp – By Other Designers – Part of M&M! Curated by Daniel Charny

anarchy apathy
ANARCHY or Apathy – Research Studios

The final space in Londonewcastle contains a collaboration between my art group Charlesworth, Lewandowski & Mann and the BBC Research & Development Department. The space itself offers solutions and further problems in equal measure. There is a proliferation of post punk sigils, daubed expletives and bombastic graphic work stacked five images high covering two walls of the rear space. This salon hang has been generated through an open call process with artists turning up to show well into the middle of its install. There is a level of selection, those that don’t fit (quite literally) will be displayed on the ADF’s website, yet the eclectic make up of the works is remarkable. Viewers are offered a staggering and potentially baffling array of modes of production, aesthetic mannerisms, subject matter and inevitably quality; a flattening of design scenes and art worlds of establishment icons to those finding their voices. It is cathartic, confusing and un-precious, bold curating perhaps, but moreover a level of bravery on the part of the artist allowing work to be shown in a way that few will relish or be accustomed to.

Our work is the first version of a series of works called ‘The Cut-Up’, an interactive digital and sculptural work which, through user interaction, mashes and remixes video content related to the activities of Anti Design Festival participants, the content is then fed back through a series of visual displays, projection and through a 3D ambisonic sound space. This is our first foray into a work that requires a level of audience participation, in this case triggered by motion capture. As has been alluded to before now, there is a tendency among ADF organisers to site Burroughs and Gysin as influence and archetypes of a creative process which incorporates many of the anarchic and destructive creative values that the festival aspires to. The Cut-Up is indeed a direct nod to this in name and action, an attempt to represent some of the activities of the festival through a random montage of cut up videos, recorded and live footage, which in turn are chopped and fucked about with to an implausible level. The Cut-Up shows you a circular rotating form wrapped with video but as videos collapse one into another over and over again, moments of recognition and understanding become few and far between, you are surrounded in a roar of broken noise emanating from ridiculous plywood furniture and the projection of a squalling sometimes beautifully violent form. The surface experience is seductive but as with the rest of the ADFs agenda, it feels like something more malevolent lurks below the surface.

cut up install view
cut up install view plus salon wall
cut stage plus projection view
cut up visual detail
The Cut-Up, a CL&M// BBC R&D collaboration (Install view, detail view and projection view)

During the evenings, The Cut-Up’s content disappeared and the structure of the stage became the stage for a series of lectures, talks, debate, discussion, noise, music and performance curated by Cecilia Wee. Wee hosts a number of her own events and at times hands over the floor to other curators and hosts which again creates a shifting of agendas from evening to evening. I have rarely been to such a sprawl of events under one banner that can claim to be a space of engagement for such far-flung scenes and areas of interest. Events curated by Cecilia Wee, Richard Thomas (Resonance FM), Emily Wolf, Jon Wozencroft (Touch, RCA) and Yomi Ayeni, take on themes and mantles such as Obsessive Classification Disorder, Auto Destructive Art, Electro Magnetism, London’s forgotten sewer spaces, Hooliganism and Ludwig II of Bavaria.

I found a stand out interest Yorkshire based polymath Tom Badley‘s presentation on what his view of what art would look like in 50 years time was a striking and sombre moment for me. Tom didn’t go into details on how he had come to his thoughts, speaking to him afterwards he made the allowance that his lecture wasn’t based on anything but gut instinct, yet his revelations of a pseudo-scifi near future where art was accessible to all as a practice, where artists had nothing to push against and everyone could express themselves in black and white computer renderings similar to the concentric circles and patternations which look a little like crop circles, seemed to make sense to me. Yet Badley’s vision isn’t drawn out of a cultural relaxation that has been forged in our attainment of utopia, rather it is formed in the resigned belief that reality as we know it has been constructed as a hologram by a myriad conspiracy of global finance and government.

This seems like a place to stop, though there were many other great activities and performances, other shows in other spaces, but unpicking the interrelations between them all could take an age. The more I think of the whole festival, the more I have come to think it as a speech, a call to arms that appears to offer an answer but whose real agenda is to confuse, trip up and place the proverbial amongst the pigeons. This certainly won’t be the last you hear of ADF, it is likely to rise again and may even attempt to inculcate itself as the shadow of the mainstream culture industry. Its rogue, a loose cannon, its unpredictable and unaccountable. It may be just what we need.

open spike detail

The Cut-Up has been shortlisted for the 2010 NEM Art Award and will be shown at the NEM Summit in Barcelona from 13th – 15th October. Thanks to Jeff Knowles and everyone at Research Studios for providing the images for this article and content for The Cut-Up.


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