Category Archives: social practice

The Village Table @ The Hat Factory

village table

To begin again by stating the obvious: you can’t eat art but artists have to eat. And so from early times, the hunters and gatherers of this world have shown a great degree of largesse towards artists.

But in recent decades, that same largesse has become a focus for the visual arts. Since Rirkrit Tiravanija cooked up Thai curry at 303 gallery in New York, it is no longer uncommon to be fed.

And one imagines that within the field of social practice, there is more need to be useful than to startle the world with a brand new idea. There are few new ideas in basic survival.

There is a basic element in The Village Table: good food, locally sourced, together with water from a stream. Given the amount of wine that sloshes around PVs, the stream water seemed important.

But beyond that functional appearance, the five-course menu in Luton was exotic with Japanese dishes mixed with English pickles and mitteleuropean Sauerkraut. Cabbages are in season.

And in terms of table dressing, the Village Table also deviated from pure function: black clay pickle jars made by Bedwyr Williams, a table set by Laure Provost, plates by Mark Essen.

An immense amount of work, in both studio and kitchen, comes together for these events. And since they travel from the Lake District home of Grizedale Arts, they are a movable feast (sorry).

It seemed important we were in Luton. Invitations came via Dominic from Luton, the artist who, along with 33 Arts, instigated the event and gathered the fortunate attendees.

And, in an unplanned gesture that took us from the sublime to the absurd, after the Kimchee soup and the Damson Membrillo, Dominic passed out a few Ferrero Rocher chocolates.

This brand, which became a byword for aspirational luxury in the 1990s, must have represented one of the few ingredients at this banquet, actually sourced in our post-industrial setting.

One could say more about this, because it was an evening where the North met the far East in the most maligned of small UK towns. The Village Table is a great leveller that way.

The Village Table is conceived and run by Grizedale Arts in Coniston, Cumbria. An event at The Hat Factory in Luton took place on 19 February 2016, organised by Dominic from Luton, aka Sunridge Avenue Projects, and local arts organisation 33 Arts.

Theodore Price, COBRA RES 1.9 (2015)

david rosenberg

For those of you blissfully unaware, COBRA stands for Cabinet Office Briefing Room A, and despite first appearances the acronym has nothing to do with James Bond.

COBRA meetings are convened by the Prime Minister in times of special crisis. And in the UK we tend to lurch from crisis to crisis; this in no way impedes COBRA’s evil-sounding mystique.

But since 2013, whenever the great minds in the Cabinet have got together for a COBRA sesh, an ad hoc group of artists and writers has got together to respond to the response.

This ongoing project, COBRA RES, is as shadowy than its inspiration, although artist Theo Price has curated seven editions. The latest is 1.9, a response to the refugee crisis in Calais.

It launched in East London last night, in the form of a book of flash fiction (ie; stories under 1,500 words). The prelude to this was a walking tour about the history of migration in East London.

Our guide was David Rosenberg (pictured), who knows all there is to know about radical politics in this part of town. He told us about the 1936 Battle of Cable Street as if it was yesterday.

In this part of town, former synagogues serve as mosques. Church of England schools observe Islamic holidays. And blue chip artists keep it real with townhouse mansions in Fournier Street.

He also filled us in on the Huguenots, French protestants who fled here in the 17th century to escape persecution and bring us the word, refugee, from the French refugié.

We got to Spitalfields with its faux bohemian bars and eateries. With names like vagabond and vintage, these throw into stark relief the historic trials of local Jews, Irish and Bangladeshis.

As David made clear: refugee and economic migrants are one and the same; incoming communities have brought us net gains; migrants in Calais have plenty to offer us here. So, why the crisis?

COBRA RES 1.9 contains 20 stories and the half dozen I have already perused are great. But perhaps I should declare an interest.  I was a contributor; still, you can buy the book here!

Simon Senn, Just Let Go (2012)

Athens: cradle of Western civilisation, and in more recent times the canary in Europe’s coal mine. On the face of it, the perfect setting for Simon Senn’s dionysian artwork.

Just Let Go is (so far) a single video loop in which three angry locals rampage the length and breadth of a concrete wall, starting fires and throwing black paint.

They are rendered anonymous by balaclavas and a motorcycle helmet, and go about their anarchic business with what appears to be quite some joie de vivre.

Well, the good news is that you can join them. What might have remained a diverting 53 second film is in fact an ongoing project allowing for frustrated folk worldwide to let off steam.

The low budget film comes with a low budget A5 flier: “Do you need to let it go?” it asks. “How do you personally deal with this climate of instability and austerity?”

It looks like the kind of thing you might stumble across in a local daycare centre. State-funded, you would think, if you came across it anywhere outside a gallery.

Indeed, Just Let Go, is registered as a non profit organisation. But in Switzerland, rather than here. This only adds to the play of shadows in a truly subversive work.

Each of the resulting films, and one hopes there will be some more, is more than an act of therapy. It is a warning shot to governments everywhere, all the more potent for its obscurity.

If Warhol said art is what you can get away with. This is art which lets non-art people get away with the unthinkable: riot, destruction, nihilistic frenzy and revolution.

It is at once the most artful and the least artistic thing in Bloomberg New Contemporaries, this year. Don’t wonder how it will all end. One doubts even Senn knows that.

So, as the flier says, to arrange a session please email:

Bloomberg New Contemporaries can be seen in the World Museum, Liverpool until 26 October 2014. It will be seen again, in a varied form, at the ICA, London, between 26 November to 25 January 2015.

Isabella Niven, Most Days You Will See A Pigeon (2010)

The pigeon is an unlikely emblem of civic pride. They are not lions or liver birds. They confer no distinction. Even towns have them. Even some villages.

But Milton Keynes is no ordinary place. Unlike most of the UK it is built on a grid system and the boulevards have numbers which reach into the hundreds. The car is king. Public life takes place in malls.

So it comes as less of a surprise that a current art project in MK is using the humble pigeon to draw attention to the apparent normality of the oft derided new town.

Residents have been invited to perch ceramic pigeons in a meaningful place and take a photograph. Here is Elizabeth Sabey’s contribution. The bird is on the prow of a second hand canoe she patched up over several months, all the while getting her own life back on track.

It’s just an amateur photograph and short piece of text. By way of a plinth it had an exhibition stand in a shopping centre, and a more recently a corner in a one room gallery in Brighton. Grand, it ain’t.

Moving, however, it is. It is clear hopes and dreams can take wing in Milton Keynes just as well as any other urban centre. Brightonians would do well to visit, and think twice next time they clap eyes on a pigeon.

This project is a collaborative twinning of Milton Keynes and Brighton and can be seen at Two For The Show (Part I) at A&E Gallery, Brighton. See gallery website for opening times, and visit to view a few of the birds in situ.