The last few weeks have been frenetic and fraught, the Elephant West team leaping from obstacle to unexpected obstacle in the run-up to the launch date. It turns out that opening a brand new building with a cafe, bar and full curated programme is quite a big challenge. Who knew? It’s been harder and more complex than I could have imagined, but also entirely thrilling. With our opening artist, Maisie Cousins, due to fly off to Mexico for an artist residency several days before the launch party, at one point we weren’t sure everything would be ready before she got on the plane. Sure enough, it all worked out in nail-biting, heart-palpitating fashion.
A tube strike on the Central Line and inclement weather forecast left us wondering how many people would show up for our opening night. We needn’t have worried; hundreds of people filled the building with energy throughout the evening. One of the guests said it was like the best kind of downtown LA warehouse party from the early days of the art scene over there—and I couldn’t be more happy with that. Our in-house cafe and bar, Fuel, did a sterling job providing the drinks; Bompas & Parr added some sticky, squishy Maisie Cousins-themed canapes, a three-tiered vibrating punch bowl and blue vodka shots that stained everyone’s mouths bright ultramarine.
So now we are up and running and open to the public, what to expect? After kicking off with Maisie Cousins, we then move onto our annual art prize shortlist show, with eleven artists selected by Elephant’s creative director, Robert Shore, the artist Shezad Dawood and yours truly. The shortlisted artists are an eclectic bunch; it will be a challenge to create a unified show in the space with such a wide cross-section of material, especially as we want to keep the space as open and flexible as possible, allowing for all sorts of events to take place each week.
“It’s been harder and more complex than I could have imagined, but also entirely thrilling”
How will Naomi Avsec’s delightful collaged creatures, skittering across the floor on their spindly, twig-legs, relate to Felicity Hammond’s super-slick, digitally rendered sculptural interiors? Catherine Howell’s map painting might spill out onto the ground in the same way that Marianne Thoermer’s textile eyes cry their woollen tears across the floor, but will they conflict with each other? Will Louisa Stylianidi’s sound sculptures interfere or chime with Realf Heygate’s meticulously rendered digital scan of a painted museum artefact? Holding an art prize show together depends on finding connections in the work; seeking incidental conversations and unexpected aesthetic or conceptual resonances. I always find it interesting how you can find, or create, these links in even the most disparate group of works—or perhaps it’s simply a matter of artists reflecting the times in which they live.
We kick off 2019 with a very exciting collaboration between painter Anna Liber Lewis, and musician Kieran Hebden, aka Four Tet. Anna and Kieran have been collaborating, mainly remotely, over the past six months or so and I can’t wait to see/hear what they’ve created together. Their installation will transform the space, immersing the audience in a visual and aural experience. Anna has also been working with the BalletBoyz on some improvised movement, which may end up playing a part in the show at some point too. It’s in experimental stages, and they’re just getting to know each other but the chemistry seems good so far. Watch this space…
“The idea is to have several commissions throughout the year: White City’s answer to the Fourth Plinth, perhaps?”
I’m also in talks with the sculptor Cedric Christie about a potential public commission, just outside Elephant West. The old illuminated petrol price sign is still standing near the road; instead of leaving it as a discarded and rather sad remnant of the old petrol station, this presents an opportunity for artists to do something interesting in the public realm. The idea is to have several commissions throughout the year: White City’s answer to the Fourth Plinth, perhaps? The great thing about it is that it is right on the road, giving us a way of engaging the passing public and encouraging them to come into the building.
Alongside the installations, we are planning an exciting and ever-changing events programme, put together by our assistant curator, Lucia Camela. From yoga on Tuesday mornings, to evening film screenings, panel discussions, to Friday and Saturday DJ nights at Fuel, the idea is for the space to feel welcoming and active at all times. We will be updating the events schedule on the Elephant West website as it is confirmed, so keep an eye on it over the coming weeks. We are a small team who are still to get used to working in and running the space, but we are full of energy and anticipation.
If you’re in or passing through West London please come along and see what we’re doing; in the early stages we are keen to hear feedback so that we can tailor the programme to meet the audience’s needs as we go along. Here is where it all begins.