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The Children of !WOWOW!
by: OliverGuyWatkins 13 june 06
It’s a cold November night in Peckham. Already there is a queue of about 200 people outside Area 10’s vast warehouse space, and the doors won’t open for another hour. Inside, industrial gas heaters attempt to pour warmth into the five below zero atmosphere. They work, if you stand within three metres. A number of people are rushing around trying to put the finishing touches together for the closing party of this week long !WOWOW! showcase. A chain is formed to unload ten thousand bottles of cheap beer and five hundred bottles of even cheaper whiskey, from a white van into the makeshift bar. The bar wasn’t there two hours ago, it was constructed out of pallets and loose MDF sheets that were left by the Timber merchants that once occupied this building.
This, however is slightly out of step for the usual !WOWOW! event. Firstly the building being used is actually a council funded arts space, not a derelict theatre, tile warehouse or even former Kwick Fit garage. Matthew Stone, the man who tends to organise the ‘Children Of !WOWOW!’, is conscious of this, and a little worried people may see through it. The evening passes, however, with nearly 1500 people who drink and dance blissfully unaware that this building hasn’t been broken into and exploited before a major redeveloper pulls it down to erect another block of affordable housing.
The police, as ever are present, but nowhere near the extent they were back in January on Peckham Rye. They ask politely for the music to be turned down at midnight and keep a watchful eye on the weird and wonderful characters that have come out of South London’s woodwork. They are, by now, more than knowledgeable about !WOWOW! and its events. The last time they had to intervene was because the daughter of America’s president happened to have joined two thousand art and music lovers celebrating their creativity. Again the police stood and watched, but did take over the security duties and stopped anyone entering after 1 am. This, they learnt was a mistake. Primarily because they suddenly had 800 people gathered at the base of Peckham Rye, with nowhere to go. All was calm, and the legend was well and truly born, with whispers of CIA agents attending a squat party held by artists in Peckham spreading all over the capitol.
These parties may be the reason !WOWOW! has become such a cult in two small years, but behind the music and dancing are a group of artists whose intention goes much further than recreating the New York warehouse party scene. At the core of this ever growing community are a number of graduates from Camberwell, Goldsmiths, Central St Martins, The Royal College and Slade Universities. The elusive Matthew Stone has begun to appear on a regular basis in the back pages of Art Review, as well as his work has been picked up by commercial galleries such as Sarah Meyerscroft. He is now looking to conquer Europe by leading the ‘children’ to a show in Berlin in May.
Alongside ex-Camberwell student Matthew, Slade graduate Gareth Cadwallader has developed his own style of Abstract work strongly influenced by the early work of Philip Guston. He has already sold to photographer Mario Testino, amongst others and is working on his first solo show towards the end of 2006. Fellow Slade lady Boo Saville lived in the shadow of her sister during her days at University, Slade tutor and artist Jenny Saville, but has left with a fascination in the world of monkeys. Her delicate paintings and drawings claiming her a slot at the Affordable Arts fair in late 2004.
Adham Faramawy has developed as a video artist since his final show at Slade, and has created pieces for Super Blow magazine as well as a film for Cassette Playa which was screened at ‘Side By Side’ in Tokyo. He also works closely with !WOWOW!’s queen of fashion Tara Grant, who graduated from Central St Martins and now designs accessories for Topshop.
The show at Area 10 in late 2005, curated by Cadwallader, featured all the !WOWOW! regulars. Saville, Stone, Faramawy, James Burrforth and Ellie Tobin displayed alongside the ever growing ‘family’. Including a cameo from Camberwell tutor and man of the running taps Mark Macgowen, and the 7 tonne vehicle emblazoned with ‘Truck Art’ that has appeared everywhere from Trafalga Square to the Venice Biennalle in the last year.
The exhibition opened the most ambitious project yet. A week long event, staged at Area 10 and a number of smaller venues around Peckham. The week included a ‘Greasy Spoon Art Salon Breakfast’ hosted by Lali Chetwynd and Zoe Brown as well as a ‘Stolen Cinema’ event which screened cult movies hired from the local rental shop. As Cadwallader says ‘I don’t know if its good to boast about that as it may be illegal, but it was good fun anyway..’
A surprise art event was also held by another South London ‘collective’ called O.I.M and a lecture from Macgowen and Chetwynd entitled ‘How Can We Change The World and What Is There To Be Done?’ was hosted at Camberwell College Of Art. Around all this !WOWOW! found the time to build stages, host a play (Richard Elms’ ‘Factory Dog’) and finalise performances from 13 bands on one night.
In Their Own Words
I have been lucky enough to spend time with Matthew Stone and talk openly about !WOWOW!, its past, present and future. Here is a sample of our conversations...
- Do you feel that studying at Camberwell was influential in your decision to start !WOWOW!, and if so did you find a number of like minded people from your experience there?
!WOWOW! began quite organically it was never a conscious decision to start a collective. It began as the name for an art-disco me and some friends put on in the back room of the Joiners Arms in Camberwell. We just wanted to have a party where we could do anything we wanted. What we wanted ranged from us Djing to performance led stuff. We were just happy to do anything we could that made us look like tits! Whether that was ritualistic magic, pigskin fatsuits, west-country grime or Black Sabbath on the accordion didn't really matter. We were our own audience. It seems that what !WOWOW! as a term actually means to some people has changed from it's original use and I think that's a good thing. We've always avoided defining exactly what !WOWOW! is, and this has given us the freedom creatively to be quite open and playful with what we do. We only ever initially referred to ourselves as the South-London art collective as a joke, but I guess mud sticks.
- The work you create features images of people dressed (or undressed) in various baroque poses, enlarged to billboard size posters. Who do you site as influences, and what impact have they had on your work?
The visual work that I make always features my friends. I'm particular about who I use and it's not just about how they look. They are my collaborators in everything and i hope that the high-esteem I hold them in becomes apparent in the work. A lot of the content is quite naturally directed by the people I photograph and in a literal sense if they weren't there nor would the work. I worship people that take a consciously creative approach to everything they do.
- Do you think the current climate surrounding the creative industries in Britain is reminiscent of the Pop Art era in New York where warehouse parties featuring art and music first came to prominence?
There is a feeling that the whole !WOWOW! thing is very Warholian. But as much as I think everyone can enjoy referencing or being inspired creatively by that time, it isn't all there is. The parties, exhibitions, and art squats that are happening in London are really exciting at the moment. There is a real return to DIY culture and with myspace self-publishing. But the best thing about it is that people are starting to do really exciting stuff, its not so much of a political thing and is now more of a particular entrepreneurial way of being. Which is as it should be. People are making and utilising seductive alternatives because they work and because its more fun.
Andy Warhol is my dad, I have a stupidly genuine love for him. I think however that I have quite a funny conception of him. I see a humanist side to him that I feel is glossed over by the majority of art history. I wrote my dissertation on the spiritual content of his work.
- How do you see the progression of !WOWOW!? Is there a point you would like to reach, or do you see it as a self-propigating force which will naturally evolve into
whatever it chooses?
For some reason I think that people think that I actually try to control what !WOWOW! is or means. If anything I try to avoid anyone concretely defining it in any sense. Whenever we read what people have written about what !WOWOW! is, its usually a mixture of utter hilarity and self-conscious embarrassment on our side. Hopefully it will remain a self defining and abstract entity that could stand for anything for as long as possible! As soon as you have a solid definition for what anything is, the mystery disappears and with it goes all other potential meanings.
- What has been the key to the success of !WOWOW! and why do you think it has attracted the attention of both the press and public so much?
I really don't know.
- You are very much the organiser of !WOWOW!, even though a number of other people are heavily involved, do you feel this is a role you wish to continue in, or would you prefer to spend more time creating your own work?
My involvement with !WOWOW! is the same as everyone else who feels involved; in that I take what `I want and need from it creatively. I have been more heavily involved with the practical side of organising some of the events, but we all have different roles and that is why it works.
- You have found a home in the area of Peckham, which currently houses a number of artists who are or have studied at Goldsmiths, Slade and Camberwell. Does the area influence your own creativity and also the growth of !WOWOW! ?
For me South-London was just an exciting part of London to be in, it always felt like our secret. It is very different to East-London. I feel that the artists who moved to and made Shoreditch cool in the nineties were coming from a different angle to the artists who are beginning to have a presence in Peckham, Camberwell and New Cross. I just like the optimism that's creeping in.
- Peckham is currently undergoing a vast regeneration plan. This has meant that a number of buildings are being re-claimed for development, has this made it easier for you to find spaces in which to host events?
We've always squatted commercial properties and they are often left empty for six months or so before planning is granted. We usually end up with agreements with the developers and have had great studios, homes, galleries and venues for parties! The flagship Co-op department store we had on Rye lane was epic! We probably had 2000 people turn up to the last event we did there.
- Many people are sceptical about movements such as !WOWOW!, passing them off as trends or imitations of previous scenes, what do you think makes !WOWOW! something other than just a passing fad?
I don't think it really matters if it is a fad. Its fun at the moment for those involved.
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