Frieze Projects has always set the precedent amongst its contemporaries of reflecting upon its own context - the emporium of the art fair. It is the only fair to have founded and remain committed to a programme of commissioned projects alongside the usual maze of commercial gallery booths. The section is autonomous (to an extent) and is constituted as a non-profit, with it's own dedicated curator and separate sponsorship – since 2011 by the Emdash Foundation and previous to that Cartier. The projects commissioned, as with the Frieze Talks series, often critique the environment of the art fair as a context for encountering art.This visible reflexivity within Frieze suits it's image: founded by a major art magazine, it is a fair governed by critics. The value games that this throws up are at play in Frieze Projects: knowingly it holds the mirror up to the commercial market at play around it. Of course, this sustains a sort of feedback loop which is actually invaluable to Frieze Art Fair. By extending Frieze's narrative of critical awareness, subjectiveness and honesty, it flexes it's analytical muscle. Frieze Projects and the other, ever increasing elements of Frieze Foundation are an investment in the fair's broader identity as a trusted expert for investors, collectors, media and audiences, setting it apart distinctly from it's competitor fairs.
These projects at Frieze appeal not just to the expected audience of collectors, but returning to the event's routes as a magazine, they appeal to their readership. In fact, the majority of ticket-buyers at the fair purely attend the event as a spectacle and do not to purchase artworks. In either case the projects, as moments of reflection, have the opportunity to function differently for the audience. Sarah McCray – Frieze Projects curator from 2010-12 believes that the most successful projects: “remove you from the situation you're in and how you're looking at art”-1
In the case of Grizedale Arts and Yangjiang Group's commission for Frieze Projects in 2012 there is more at stake than simply acting as a retreat for Frieze's overloaded guests or offering a direct critique of the art fair environment. Titled 'Colosseum of the Consumed' this project creates new narratives on locality, which are key to it's functionality and support Grizedale's conviction that “art should be useful and not just an object of contemplation”-2. Both Yangjiang Group and Grizedale's use of narratives specific to a locale further this intention for art by rejecting the tendency in art, to abstract or summarise ideas which relate to culture and society. This is a major theme within the project and through taking this stand-point, the artists involved relate directly to the institutional politics already at play within Frieze Projects and Frieze Art Fair.
Working within real-life circumstances Grizedale Arts is based on Lawson Park Farm, near the Coniston Valley in the Lake District, North England. Adam Sutherland, director of Grizedale is a registered farmer and has been hands-on involved in the conversion of the site where they have worked since 2009. They hold residencies, events and community based projects on their premises Lawson Farm and in the surrounding area including the neighbouring village Coniston
Part of their recent involvement in the redevelopment of the nearby Coniston Institute has been ''The Honest Shop': an un-manned shop where the public is entrusted to leave a minimum price for food and other crafted objects, hand-made in the surrounding area. This project has been expanded upon at Frieze, with the 'Colosseum of the Consumed' pavilion and goods from 'The Honest Shop' are for sale to a very new audience. The shop's inventory has been extended to include several new artworks paired with performances and public events centering around food, which are free. Amongst many other events, a vermin flora and fauna dinner featuring squirrel and honey fungus, was accompanied by a performance by Kerry Stewart lying in a blacked out stall dressed as a fruit bat, squirming around amongst rotten fruit.
Both Grizedale Arts and the Yangjiang Group use food as a metaphor for an anti-elitist approach in art-making. Of course, this is a familiar strategy to the informed, gallery-going audience at Frieze which could be problematic at first glance. The blurring of social experience into the fabric of the institution, which was central to works like those by Rikrit Tiravanija and others associated with the Relational Aesthetics school, in the 1990's, was problematic because the distinction between artwork and institution become too blurred. The institution and it's representative (the curator/director) gathered the cultural capital of the work. Where those works could be hopelessly optimistic about the value of artist- created social spaces, 'Colosseum of the Consumed' escapes pigeon-holing into this trend in art, due to it's multi-layered antagonism of context.The intention of the pavilion seems more comparable with works from the 1970's like Gordon Matta Clark's restaurant 'Food'.-3 The design of the pavilion, with observation mezzanines overlooking the dining area and the ghoulish nature of some of the performances, like that of Kerry Stewart, share the sensibility of more metaphorical and surreal works, for example of filmmaker Jan Švankmajer.-4
The pavilion which houses this Frieze Project is a prototype cricket pavilion, was designed by artists the Yangjiang Group as a response to a request by Coniston Cricket Club (nearby Grizedale Arts) for Grizedale to help them design a new pavilion, one which would be multi-use, taking advantage of its the breathtaking location, possibly doubling as a holiday-let. Stemming from this origin, the wooden structure has a dining-arena - ground floor centre, the surrounding circumference is split into small outwards-facing wooden stalls. Stairs on the outer circumference lead up to two mezzanines on each side where you can look downwards into the centre of the structure which, for the majority of this project, is taken up with a large rectangular table which hosts food-related events.
The association created in the title of the work, between the cricket pavilion and colosseum builds upon the use of the pavilion as seating for spectators. The analogy between English and Ancient Roman culture brings about a commentary in general on western culture, while the connection drawn between a very 'English' sporting competition and the gruesome activities like gladiatorial contests and animal hunts seems to comment upon the predatory and competitive aspects within western culture. It also creates the idea that in this 'space within a space', viewers will have to participate,on their terms which are dictated by the building they have designed.
The structure is quite different to other architectural projects by the Yangjiang group. Progressing from Invisible to Unnoticed' - the group's studio construction in Yangjiang, China is a rambling structure built with no overall plan (or planning permission) and it serves to intentionally provoke local residents' prejudices and superstitions of underlying beliefs, like Feng Shui, and then in it's completed state, welcome the public inside as a social space in order to try and dispel them. 'Colosseum of the Consumed' is visually very different but seems to function similarly the the group's studio. It welcomes the art fair audience inside: encouraging them to take part in a series of encounters and events where artists, cooks and craftsmen can poke fun at the mechanisms of the fair. You can watch artist Bedwyr Williams dissect his 'Freelance Curator Cake' and take a piece home, or buy a cup of lemonade homemade by a boy-scout group up in Coniston, via Grizedale's 'Honest Shop'.
Yangjiang Group's collaboration with Grizedale Arts provides them with instances from day-to-day life, using food as a metaphor, continuing a narrative of locality and intention to subvert imposed or presumed limits within society, a concern throughout their work to date. Often using their own local context – the provincial city Yangjiang in Guangdong, South China the group take inspiration from everyday phenomena. A drunk man writing unintelligible code on the pavement outside a member's house becomes a mentor, he joins him in his intoxication and attempts to learn from him within this altered mental state. This is an attempt to confound the rules of the antiquated craft of calligraphy and bring it back to a powerful and subjective means of communication. It echoes traditional Eastern practices of advancement and this in turn questions the social expectations and structures in place that make this person an outsider and cast aside his unique perspective.
In this project Yangjiang Group take a step back, allowing Grizedale Arts to provide the content for the situation. The physical structure becomes about setting the dynamic in which interrelations happen, offering this as a spectacle. It creates the limits which their work can exist within an environment that is out-with their control. In turn, the invitees – artists and other practitioners allow the local narrative to become extended, sharing this with the audience, who are at close-proximity with practitioners; while the rest of the art fair creates a distance between these two agents.
In this way the pavilion seems to enter into a spiral of logic. When experienced in this context one should ask: who is using who and who relies upon who? Examining the foundation of the relationship between artist and viewer, is the viewer usually at the mercy of the artist? Situations like the art fair are interesting because of their commercial nature.They are environments created to buy artworks and the audience is empowered in this way. The terms of 'success' in this type of interaction between artist, their artwork and audience, is in the hands of the audience and purely based around what they choose to buy.The elitist element of this situation is in the first instance financial, the viewer must have the money to buy artwork in order to fully participate and these terms are dictated by the artist. If the audience does not enter into this system then they are observers within a spectacle.
However there are other criteria at play here, if the seller of the artist's work is in a more privileged position to choose between buyers, then potential owners must have other attributes that are considered. The value of this seemingly straight-forward seller/buyer environment, is that it exposes other influences that are normally concealed between these agents which also exist out-with the fair context. The autonomous nature of the Frieze Foundation can be thrown into question when beginning to pick at even obvious details of how it operates: for example if one considers how Frieze Projects is funded. The sponsor of Frieze Projects – the Emdash Foundation, is an individual patron and collector Andrea Dibelius. Looking through the press section of the foundation's website, Dibelius herself features as regularly as coverage discussing the trajectory and influence of work commissioned. It seems that her enjoyment of the social benefits of being involved with Frieze Projects are as much at stake as anything.
This of course is not revelatory but if one is conscious of the motivations operating here, it does draw attention to details which 'Colosseum of the Consumed' may be working with, rather than against. In this case, as one intention of the work is to subvert social systems at play in society and the work is situated within this very particular context: one is drawn back to consider if an intention of the work is not also to use the audience at Frieze who are entering into it's commercial role to it's own advantage? Perhaps, once the final Coniston Cricket pavilion is built, collectors will be tempted to visit and stay in the multi-use premises and visit this idyllic retreat.
This cannot be the only motivation for the pavilion at Frieze but it certainly raises sincere questions about the mutually reliant relationship between artist and collector, artist and audience - the conditions of this relationship and it's implications. A departure from previous Frieze Projects, such as Christian Jankowsli's Yacht and Richard Prince's '69 Charger, the pavilion is inviting the audience to engage first hand at the fair with a dialogue outside of that on offer and then secondly to come and see it in action, out in the real world.
1 Interview with Sarah McCrory – Dazed Digital 'Frieze 2011: Sarah McCrory'
2 Interview with Alistair Hudson, dep. Director, Grizedale Arts – Dazed Digital 'Frieze Week: Grizedale Arts'
3 “Gordon Matta-Clark's restaurant Food, opened with his artist colleagues in the early 1970s. Food was a collective project that enabled artists to earn a small living and fund their art practice without succumbing to the ideologically compromising demands of the art market.” - Claire Bishop, 'Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics' 2004.
4 Jan Švankmajer, a main influence of filmmaker Terry Gilliam, directed 'Food' in 1994. This film presented a series of diners who perform devious acts of consumption creating various body-metaphors to comment on: "how delicate social ritual and conditioning are effective masks for brutal self-destruction” - Michael Nottingham, 'Downing the Folk-Festive: Menacing Meals in the Films of Jan Svankmajer'