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Exhibition opening on Saturday 13 January 2007 at 5pm at the Guy Hilton Gallery, 35 Fournier Street, London E1 6QE. Running to 28 January

Curated by Mark McGowan

with Brian Catling, the Centre of Attention, JJ Charlesworth, Sacha Craddock, Richard Dedomenici, Sarah Doyle, The Fucks, Marcia Farqhuar, Andrew Hunt, Mark McGowan, Harry Pye, Will Self, Bob and Roberta Smith, Stella Vine, Jessica Voorsanger.


The Independent Newspaper, 20 January 2007

by Deborah Orr

Sadness, swans and swimming lessons...


"On the lamppost outside the So Sad Show, a starving artist has taped up some shrivelled flowers in cellophane, in tribute to an imaginary roadside death. Or I think it's part of the show. Outside or inside the Guy Hilton Gallery, on Fournier Street, Shoreditch, London, it's hard to tell where art ends and entropy begins. Which is only fitting.

 

untitled by the Centre of Attention

The Centre of Attention, untitled, 2007

 

The gallery looks like a squat, semi-derelict and furnished from skips: crumbling, damp and mucky. The art is displayed chaotically inside, in a group show that takes sadness as its theme. A scrawl on the wall announces that Marcia Farquhar is sitting by the phone. Is it part of the show or has it been there for years? I call the performance artist in question, and she confirms that she's one of the exhibits. A framed A4 poster offers free swimming lessons for London artists on low incomes. This, I'm pretty sure, is for real. It appears to be the closest thing to a permanent fixture the building can muster.

There's the carcass of a swan on a makeshift table at the back of the upstairs room. Do I want to eat some swan? I don't think I do. Mark McGowan has eaten most of it already, anyway, in front of a load of television cameramen. They were disappointed, one and all, no doubt, that the artist's defiance of the law that allows only the Queen to eat swan, had not roused the ire of the Bethnal Green constabulary.

It's roused a performance poet though, who declaims from his notes on the evening's great occasion, to the polite applause and muted laughter of a modest gaggle of listeners. McGowan is pleased with the poem, in which Kate Middleton features with her Top Shop dress. McGowan's art is all about getting a reaction, so when he tells me that it's dreadful what the upper classes do to animals, and fulminates that they shoot stags, bury them in fiery pits and roast them with apples, I ask him what's not to like.

He looks a bit crestfallen, which is pretty rich from a man whose work has included kicking a crack-addict from Camberwell Green to the Maudseley hospital, dressing as a traffic warden then inviting the public to beat him with sticks, crawling the 55 miles from London to Canterbury with a rose clenched between his teeth, and attempting to leave a tap running for a year in an environmental statement.

McGowan's art is the sort that makes people fulminate about Arts Council grants, wasters and general artistic idiocy. Actually, though, he's good at what he does, which is to provide a momentary focus for the absurdity of life, and then see what happens next. He is as poor as any cock-eyed romantic could ever want an artist to be. A lot of the artists in the show have been on the scene for years - Bob and Roberta Smith, Jessica Voorsanger and others have been taking parts in anarchic exhibitions like this since the late 1980s when they exhibited in similarly makeshift spaces alongside unknowns such as Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas, Sam Taylor-Wood and so many others. Some, like Stella Vine, keep a foot in both camps, which is admirably tricky diplomacy, since one branch of Britart's financial schism offers such a powerful counterpoint to the other.

There's something splendidly courageous and uncompromising about these middle-aged-BAs still plugging away on the breadline, making art that's too conceptual to sell. And it's not about talent - it's willful. The refusal of cash is part of the point. "I have no money, which was fine when I was 30," one painting declaims. "But now I'm 40, I'm fucked."

One younger artist, Richard Dedomenici, is doling out black coffee with black milk. "It's going to be big," goes his pitch. "All the aesthetics of black coffee, and all the creaminess of white." Actually it's a solid-looking gunmetal grey. But it tastes all right. When we enquire as to purchasing niceties, the curator is flummoxed, and we leave a note asking the artist to get in touch. Artists, eh? You've just got to love them. And give them free swimming lessons."