The Domesday Book listed the Manor of Walworth as being “five hides” in area (enough to support five families or to produce £5 in taxes). Some 950 years later, the grounds of this manor are lost somewhere here between Elephant and Castle and Kennington; just off the Walworth Road. But we are not looking for a manor or families to work its land. Amid the contrasting architecture of modern new developments and ‘gentrification’ and older Victorian buildings competing with post-war, brutalist architecture, we find ourselves crossing a flower bed in a non-descript well-manicured square, surrounded on three sides by newly built flats. We are hunting for something elusive; independently curated modern art.
Gasping for culture, having spent months in Coronavirus-related lockdown, the thought of uncovering new artistic gems and talent has proven too good to resist. As you arrive, you practically run through the small entrance door, ducking under the netting hung there. Your partner questions whether this is the right place, but as you step in, it is clear you have entered Narnia.
Haunting music fills the cavernous old swimming pool building, a monument to a long abandoned municipal dream – it’s a befitting venue to host one of the few remaining exhibitions from the struggling arts sector.
The building itself is magnificent in its faded grandeur, and although time has robbed it of its plaster and tiles, nothing could dimmish the majesty of its scale. Colourful exhibits dot around the room – playing with the buildings’ size and you feel like you are in a post-apocalyptic toy chest.
The artworks lack signs; yet there is an accessibility to the them that allows even an art-novice to enjoy and ponder. At the front there are QR codes, which will guide you around the exhibit, but it’s honestly refreshing to look at the art as it is – without justification or rationale – and understand what it says just to you.
There are individual gems in the artworks coming from a collection of 19 artists, early in their careers, although a couple have certain amateur scent. However, part of the magic also comes from the way they have expertly been curated by Thorp Stavri, a London based curatorial platform dedicated to supporting early career artists. As we entered the show Eric Thorp himself sits tilted on a chair behind the entrance desk, wearing a beard-beanie hipster uniform, greeting guests with a genuine smile.
It’s difficult to pick favourites in a show displaying so much diverse talent from 19 different emerging artists, but personal highlights for me were the work of Anna Perach, Jack Evans and Christopher Stead.
Stead’s “Things Fall Apart” dominates the room with its size, matching the buildings industrial scale. It’s a net which looks like it has been dragged from the bottom of the ocean, with fraying canvas and wires playing the part of fishing debris. It’s pretty – on a smaller scale, it could almost quaint – something you may see in a upmarket gift shop in a seaside town. However, the scale and the situation combined lends it a different, more sombre air. Looking at the tangle of netting in ocean hues, I couldn’t help but think of ocean pollution, climate change and a million David Attenborough documentaries – which, no doubt the intensely political Stead was eluding to with his title “Things Fall Apart”.
“Mother of Egg” by Perach is one of the most eye-catching pieces in the collection. Both powerful and vulnerable at the same time it shows a humming bird shielding an egg – representative of the duality of female archetypes. The sculpture’s bright colours and organic textures contrast gloriously to the industrial surroundings. It’s made with Perach’s signature “tufting” technique; the material at once the material looks moulded, sewn and fluffed. Looking at it, it’s hard not to want to run your fingers along the surface. In a pre-Covid time, the sculpture was meant to be worn, and there is something very satisfying about that – the piece is made to be touched.
Jack Evan’s work meanwhile is tucked unassumingly at the side of the room, which seems an appropriate place for the piece entitled “Land that Time forgot”. The humorous piece, which harks on consumerism and nostalgia, seems as if Evans has pulled it off from a wall in an Old Blockbuster’s. Stocked on the shelves are neat rows of semi fossiled VHS copies of “Jurassic Park” (purchasable after the show for £50), it’s initially witty, but also pleasing in the level of subtle detail. Each time I think I am done looking, my eye is drawn to something new – another little joke, an embedded fossil here, a splash of colour there. The work does not shout, but none the less it commands attention.
The Five Hides was my first proper art show post-lockdown, and it did not disappoint. The gigantic venue is beautiful in its own right, but every aspect was enhanced and challenged by work of so many young artists. My main critique is that the 30 minute slot you book is not nearly enough to explore each of 37 exhibits in the level they deserved. If you are lucky, you may be able to stay a bit longer if the next slots are booked, but I would recommend booking two if possible, especially since tickets are free, thanks to Arts Council England and through the continued support of Projekt and FAD Magazine.
It is curated by Thorpe Stavri. It features work of: Josephine Chime, Charlotte Dawson, Jack Evans, Katharina Fitz, Enam Gbewonyo, Ellie Hayward, Kate Howard, Alice Irwin, Thomas Langley, Shepherd Manyika, Anousha Payne, Anna Perach, Sean Rennison Phillips, Anna Reading, Ally Rosenberg, Corbin Shaw, Christopher Stead, Tess Williams and Hannah Wilson
About the reviewer
Jennifer Taylor is a twenty-something reader and art-lover based in London. She knows a thing or two about Kombucha and how to grow avocados. When not forgetting to water her (other) houseplants, she can usually be found with a book in-hand or else generally wishing she had a dog. She (occasionally) tweets at @JenTaylor300 and can be found on Instagram @jennifertaylor12