David Birkin and Eloise Fornieles
Rabbit stew and a salad of Hawthorn flowers was not the kind of fare you’d expect to find in a run-down Hackney Wick warehouse. Neither would you envisage yourself standing face to face with a sweat-collecting machine, or a pink-shirted Richard Wentworth. But then, he was the tutor and is now the champion of the group of artists behind ‘Masterdrive’, the show that was launched with a wild flourish in at a warehouse in London’s East End last night.
For the opening’s three-course dinner, they all pitched in with the cooking then donned some rather Edwardian-looking grey aprons; all the better to serve it in. Rachel Howard, Keith Tyson and Conrad Shawcross were three of the sixty-plus diners.
Ed Fornieles and Ross McNicol seem to be the driving force here (excuse the pun), but the collective that live, work and orbit around the Wallis Road warehouse include Julian Mills-Arnold, David Birkin, Cushla Donaldson, Tom Farthing, Eloise Fornieles, Alex Groves, Michael Jones, Timothy Newson, Robert Rivers and Amelia Whitelaw. They’re all young and they all recently graduated from either Ruskin College or the Slade.
On arriving I was led by the arm into a rickety old freight lift that spat me out into a darkened basement. The floor was a sand dune at the peak of which sat a black-hatted Eloise Fornieles, looking every inch an extra from ‘White Mischief’. Framed by billowing white muslin she was staring at me from behind a table, a little bit too calmly for comfort. The candle on the table in between us cast some daunting shadows and the whole room seemed as if it was being buffeted about by the industrial fan on the floor behind me. We were ‘swapping information’- this is a Fornieles theme; this was a piece of art, a bit of theatre. I stayed for ages – absorbing the creepiness and (I think), swapping information. Then I realised the lift attendant (a younger Fornieles sibling – there’s hundreds of them) was still there waiting to take me back up, which made me feel guilty. No book, no chair had she, just the peeling wall of a cold freight lift to stare at. There’s dedication for you.
Back upstairs was the giant ‘Man Falling’, a recreation of the Robert Capa photo ‘Falling Soldier,’ here enacted and shot by Ed Fornieles and Ross McNicol. In the middle of the feast-tables was a copy of a giant sarcophagus made by Amelia Whitelaw. It was covered in what looked like horrible sticky slush-coloured foam and seemed all childish and wrong at the beginning of the night, but as darkness fell it took on the feel of ancient Greece. That could have been the wine though. A number of Robert Rivers paintings were peppered across the walls of the giant building. He paints blocky white areas over roomscapes so you just get to see perhaps the top right hand corner of a painting behind the abstract white. One large work sans white block showed a lone coffin and had the perspective and quality of a Michael Raedecker painting – long and deep and slightly skewed.
David Birkin’s triptych of long exposures and confessions stood out – each a portrait of a seated person getting something off their chest. The length of the exposure corresponded to the length of time it took to extract the full confession. Different strengths of blurriness. Clever and beautiful. And that Koons-esque sweat machine was an exercise bike built in to a giant glass box elevated on 3-foot metal stilts. The fluid end result of your furious pedalling is meant to trickle down into a central holding area underneath the box, complete with a valve, or udder, from which you can extract your very own vial. In a nearby open safe were a few vials already sealed with a royal blue ‘F’ and finished off with a royal blue ribbon. Why the ‘F’, I asked of the young Timothy Newsom, who made the piece. “It’s a form of currency. It’s F for freedom.”
It’s not often you see such organisational effort from a group of young twenty-somethings. Perhaps it’s the looming Olympic Village which threatens to wipe out the Wick’s warren of studios that’s gingering them up. They certainly put on a confident and unusual show. They’re optimistic, and young, but at least they do what they say they’re going to do.
Until 13 May
90A Wallis Road
London, E9 5LN
Open daily from 11am- 6pm
T: +44 (0)207 871 0539
Laura K Jones
Laura K Jones is a London-based journalist and a regular news correspondent for the Saatchi Gallery’s online magazine.