Revive! at St Mary Magdalene Church, Rowington Close

The really lovely thing about having art shows in unusual places are the perks that come attached to these spaces. Galitzine Mackenzie’s latest show, Revive! has just finished at the Crypt of St Mary Magdalene in Little Venice and when I visited late on a Sunday in December it was to the glorious accompaniment of carols from above, a choir practising for their carol concert that evening. Like the relationships developed with the community via previous shows in the allotments in Highgate and the houseboat dwellers on Regents Canal, this is another exhibition which has community central to its game plan. Not only is St Mary Magdalene a practising church, rare when so many are being amalgamated or developed, this is a place which is fully committed to the arts, so much that the crypt is soon to be made into an multicultural arts centre serving the local community thanks to a £3.6 million Heritage Lottery grant.

I met Carolyn Barker-Mill, who has her studio in one part of the crypt a few months ago when Sasha and Olga staged the first part of the show Pompe, a procession along Regents canal, ending at the church for a series of performance pieces. Carolyn’s work MM was produced whilst working with renowned stained glass craftsman Thomas Denny. It’s based on identity of Mary Magdalene whom the church is dedicated to and also plays on the the feminine image and identity of celebrity culture using Marilyn Monroe as another icon with the same initials.

MM by Carolyn Barker-Mill

MM by Carolyn Barker-Mill

Adam Barker-Mill produced the most instagramable piece of art so far in the Galitzine Mackenzie cannon. His splendid work Glowb inspires unthinking captivated concentration from its audience, delighted by its peaceful light. This contemporary work sits in front of the staggeringly beautiful original alter, gilded and gleaming, which contains several versions of Mary Magdalene. Mary of Eygpt and 'The Ultimate Sinner' are among these. Allegedly Pope Gregory The Great fused many significant Mary’s in Jesus' life together to create one Mary Magdalene hence the many myths surrounding her. This was perhaps an attempt to belittle the presence of significant women in Jesus' life. Lucinda May’s piece is a reinterpretation of the plainsong notation still visible on the walls of Ninian Comper’s Chantry Chapel dedicated to Mary Magdalene. Lift was recorded in the crypt and is an appropriation of the chant, usually performed by men. Haunting and celebratory of the role of women, especially in relation to Jesus, this recalls the subtle autonomy of the Sisters and the origins of the church as a refuge for prostitutes and single mothers.

Glowb by Adam Barker-Mill

Glowb by Adam Barker-Mill

A total highlight was Hans Rosenstrom’s work. He produced the perfectly sight specific work Some Bodies Language. Sitting in a chair with headphones on I was almost alone in the crypt. Unexpected footsteps, rustles and breathing enveloped me. I felt claustrophobic which was heightened by a light pointing towards me, gradually getting brighter so my vision was almost blacked out. I believe in ghosts, having been brought up in an old house in the Lake District. This artwork reminded me of stories I heard as I grew up. The thing about ghosts though is that you can have both good or bad presences. The ones that people have told me about in our house seem to be basically good; steadying invisible hands holding ladders, a man in a brown suit who walks down stairs and disappears into a room with no other exit and a woman who presides over the garden who fits the description of my grandmother who died the year after I was born. This woman was described in court to my father who had to identify a statue some thieves being cross-examined had stolen. Some Bodies Language is a positive ghostly presence, bringing the viewer into the work as audience and participator. It is an embodiment of the church, a place which itself plays with the idea of space and time. The clever thing about the work was that it had been recorded and played back from the same place that the listener sits in. The sense of movement around the listener and involvement with the space embodies the churches values and beliefs of God as all omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent.

The Church already plays an important part in the community. Next week children from The Mary Magdalene Primary School will be making paintings based on those of Jonathan McCree whose work is attached to the floor. This discomposing form of presentation forces the viewer to walk with care across artwork that would normally be presented on the wall of a gallery.  McCree’s work is a playful exploration of the physical relationship between artwork and audience and scrutinizes the original use of the crypt as a space to store bodies before burial.

Jonathan McCree

Jonathan McCree

To stage an exhibition in such a beautiful space is testament to imagination. This is perhaps a naïve word but one appropriate to this show staged in such a beautiful surrounding. The gilded alter and intricate stars on the ceiling of the chantry are juxtaposed with the rest of the large crypt which is undecorated yet still haunting in its scale and architecture. The whole space is concealed from the street by an unremarkable staircase, a metaphor perhaps for the Galitzine Mackenzie manifesto, revealing beauty in everyday places through these accessible and extraordinary productions.

Artists involved in Revive! Lucinda May, STASIS, Carolyn Barker-Mill, Pavel Pepperstein, Jonathan McCree, Hans Rosenstrom, Alan Magee, Col Self, Adam Braker-Mill, Niklas Gustafson

Curated by Galiztine Mackenzie

www.galitzinemackenzie.com

Written by Beatrice Hasell-McCosh

Closer To The Veg at The Fitzroy Park Allotments, Hampstead

The ordered chaos of the Fitzroy Park Allotments on the edge of Hampstead Heath has lately been peacefully invaded by the flapping of ring necked parakeets, the splatter of tomatoes, the ceremonial planting of a rare berry and the peaceful meditations which make up some of a series of installations and site specific artworks in a show entitled Closer To The Veg. So different is this exhibition curated by Olga Mackenzie and Sasha Galitzine that it has drawn the curious from all parts of London to see the 15 artists whose artworks span thirty of the plot-holders allotments.

Hermione Spriggs 'Parrot Pie' photo by Freddie Marriage

Hermione Spriggs 'Parrot Pie'

photo by Freddie Marriage

Mackenzie and Galitzine have a knack for bringing art to unusual places; the previous show from this curating duo, Playroom, was put on in a disused house on Greek Street. The idea is to entice those who believe art shows are for the art world or who wouldn’t bother coming to a regular gallery show with the exuberant, the crazy, the thought provoking and the magnificent. Their space is all embracing and wonderfully irreverent of art world norm. Mid tour of the allotments with Sasha and Olga we come across Mick Rand, whose book Close To The Veg inspired the title of the show, whose plot secret is, he says to ‘look after the ground’ rather than the plants. Take note aspiring plot-holders, his was a fecund paradise of edible delicacies. Many carrots and almost no stick stick were needed to bring the shows strings together according to Sasha. Mick who acted as go between with curators and plot-holders to begin with was endlessly positive. Resting on his spade mid dig, with a bucket of Naples yellow potatoes by his feet he declares ‘we need art as much as we need vegetables.’

Mick Rand, author of Closer To The Veg

Mick Rand, author of Closer To The Veg

Of the eighty-six allotments thirty holders have taken part and though a touch bemused at the wacky machinations of this gathering, they have clearly been drawn into the swing of things. Conversations with the plot holders revealed serious pride for their allotments, which stand (on the lower part of the hill) on land given by Kenwood House in the 1920s and land purchased under a compulsory land grab on the upper side in the 60’s. This is one of the most intrinsically British rights of passage for urban garden lovers across the land.

The communal setting of Fitzroy Park is all embracing and couldn’t be more in tune with the theme of the show. The pieces are vastly different, from the quiet flap of Hermione Spriggs’ parakeets standing sentry against invading hunter-gatherers (e.g. me, more on this later) and the peaceful camp of Dmitri Galiztine’s In a Survival Situation to a series of paintings executed in rapid fire and inspired by the plot they stand upon and a shed filled with long handled brushes who wish they were still trees. According to legend and the London Borough of Camden, the waiting list for an allotment here is on average around 40 years such is its popularity. John Donne famously said ‘no man is an island’ but lesser known is what came next: ‘every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less.’ This is all the more relevant in these Brexit filled times and most pertinent to this very inclusive show. The idea of being closer to the ground (and so the veg) will anchor us to stability and to what will always be there, the waiting list for Fitzroy Park proving this very fact. These island-like allotments form a whole that projects a powerful sense of oneness and rightness into the clods of Galitzine Mackenzie’s Closer To The Veg.

With this in mind Pavel Braila’s spectacular performance piece saw his use of traditional tools from Britain and Ireland to hack through large sheets of blank paper, literally and very physically getting closer to the ground. Retrieving the earth and normality from beneath the metaphor of the endless and all encompassing media blur obfuscating it.

Pavel Braila 'Paper Work'  photo by Freddie Marriage

Pavel Braila 'Paper Work' 

photo by Freddie Marriage

An allotment is a truly lovely thing on a hazy July evening in Hampstead with Pimms in hand, but even this art lover was almost overcome by temptation to pick and eat one of the delights being grown, something I’m quite sure is frowned upon in allotment code of conduct. Luckily for me and for the other veg lovers who attended the opening, Little Yellow Door’s Jamie Hazeel of recent emoji menu fame provided some truly excellent veg. Artful arrangement made it beautiful as well as utterly delicious, one guest I heard cry in raptures ‘of course I would be a vegetarian if I could eat like this the whole time.’ In emoji terms, all the fruit followed by the hands clapping and heart eyes smiley face, bravo Jamie.

Sasha Galitzine and Olga Mackenzie photo by Freddie Marriage

Sasha Galitzine and Olga Mackenzie

photo by Freddie Marriage

Jonathan Macree’s The Knowledge of Good and Evil brought viewers the chance to slam the work, not with negativity but with fruit a la medieval stocks, sending performer and onlookers back to childhood fair grounds and delighted attempts at knocking coconuts from their shies. His piece formed the central work for Pick Me I’m Juicy, a speed-dating event that saw five minutes with each person followed by a throwing of fruit to celebrate your new link with someone. The event was partly a joke in conception but its relevance appealed to Macree: ‘The idea of speed dating is basically anti allotment’ in this ‘slow and beaucolic setting’ speed-dating must become less speedy to imitate its surroundings. I must say this speed-dating doubter rather agreed as it turned out as ‘speed-friending’ with fruit. Much more civilized and way more fun.

Jonathan Macree 'The Knowledge of Good and Evil' photo by Freddie Marriage

Jonathan Macree 'The Knowledge of Good and Evil'

photo by Freddie Marriage

It was a publishing friend of Mick Rand’s who told him, ‘write me a book about allotments and we’ll clean up, it’ll be like Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch’. ‘We didn’t clean up’ said Mick with an amused grin, but I can certainly see what the friend was driving at, the slow and measured pace of this space is an attractive prospect. Though not an obvious setting for an exhibition it is entirely fitting for these series of works, which have grown up entwined wit allotment ideas and philosophy. In people terms, Bill and Charlie who Mick describes as old school ‘working class allotment stock’ in comparison to the work that stands on their plot: Jonathan Trayte’s ‘Monument’. First impressions were guarded, they would have ‘preferred the Venus de Milo.’ Of late however, they have been heard asking how long they can keep the artwork around. Mick sums it up perfectly ‘the juxtaposition is really fantastic, art amidst cabbages and spuds, everyone is invited to make what they will with that’.

Jonathan Trayte's 'Sausage'

Jonathan Trayte's 'Sausage'

 

Artists involved in Closer To The Veg: Matt Ager, Pavel Braila, Bompas & Parr, Ben Cain, Sol Calero, Lucy Evetts, Dmitri Galitzine, Alexander Glass, Pil & Galia Kollectiv, Zoe Marden, Jonathan McCree, Andrew Mealor, Paloma Proudfoot, Hermione Spriggs and Jonathan Trayte

Written by Beatrice Hasell-McCosh (www.beatricehasellmccosh.com) for Arteviste.com