The 'Closer to the Veg' Exhibition at the Fitzroy Park Allotments, London
The ordered chaos of the Fitzroy Park Allotments on the edge of Hampstead Heath has lately been invaded. It has been besieged by a series of installations and site-specific artworks in an exhibition entitled Closer To The Veg, so that it's now overrun with the likes of ring-necked parakeets. So different is this exhibition curated by Olga Mackenzie and Sasha Galitzine that it's drawn many curious Londoners to see work by 16 artists sprawled over the landscape. The co-curators' idea being to entice those estranged or removed from the art world to see their shows by exhibiting the 'exuberant, thought-provoking and magnificent'.
Of the 86 allotments, 30 holders have taken part and though a touch bemused at the machinations of this event, they soon fell into the swing of things. Conversations with the plot holders revealed a strong sense of pride in their allotments, which stand on land gifted by Kenwood House in the 1920’s - purchased under a compulsory land grab in the 60’s. This space is all-embracing and wonderfully irreverent of the London art world’s norm. Olga and Sasha have a knack for bringing art to unusual places; the previous show by this curating duo, called Playroom, was put on in a disused house on Greek Street.
Whilst touring the exhibition with Sasha and Olga we met the go-between between the curators and plot-holders Mick Rand, whose book Close To The Veg inspired the title of the show. His plot secret is, ‘to look after the ground’ rather than the plants and as a result his space was a fecund paradise of edible delicacies. Resting on his spade with a bucket of Naples yellow potatoes by his feet Mick declared, "we need art as much as we need vegetables."
The communal setting of Fitzroy Park is all-embracing and perfectly in tune with the show’s theme. The pieces were vastly different; from the quiet flap of Hermione Spriggs’ parakeets standing sentry against invading hunter-gatherers and Dmitri Galiztine’s artwork In a Survival Situation, to a series of paintings rapidly executed as they were inspired by the plot they stand on. According to the London Borough of Camden, the waiting list for an allotment here is so popular that it averages 40 years. Perhaps one can relate to the notion that post-Brexit, the idea of being closer to the land (and so the veg) offers a sense of stability, a link to what will always be there. With this in mind, Pavel Braila’s beautiful performance piece saw him use traditional British tools to hack through large sheets of blank paper, both literally and physically getting closer to the ground.
An allotment is a lovely thing on a hazy July evening in Hampstead and I was almost overcome by the temptation to pick one of the delights being grown. Thankfully The Little Yellow Door’s founder Jamie Hazeel provided some artfully-arranged vegetables for us to taste at the opening. One guest I heard cry in raptures that ‘of course I would be a vegetarian if I could eat like this the whole time.’
Talking of interacting with the vegetables, Jonathan Macree’s The Knowledge of Good and Evil gave onlookers the chance to slam the work, not with criticism, but with fruit as if they were medieval stocks. We all delighted in the sight of fruit splattering with such satisfying force against the artwork after particularly violent tosses. During the exhibition’s speed-dating event Pick Me I’m Juicy, the end of each five-minute slot was marked by the throwing of fruit to celebrate a new link with someone. Jonathan also saw speed-dating in the allotment as an amusing juxtaposition given that the, ‘idea of speed-dating is basically anti the allotment, which is a slow and beaucolic setting.’
Mick Rand’s friend in publishing once asked him, “write me a book about allotments and we’ll clean up.” Despite not “cleaning up” in the end, one can see why the allotment’s slow and measured pace was an attractive tale to tell. Though not an obvious setting for an art exhibition, it is entirely fitting for the artwork, which has grown entwined with the philosophy of the allotment itself. Initially some plot-holders like Bill and Charlie were sceptical about assigned works like Jonathan Trayte’s contemporary sculpture Monument, but they were soon asking the curators how long they could keep it.
These island-like allotments form a whole that projects a powerful sense of oneness, uniting a community. Overall, Close to the Veg's author Mick Rand perfectly sums up the exhibition, “the juxtaposition is really fantastic, art amidst cabbages and spuds. Everyone is invited to make what they will with that.”
Artists involved in Closer To The Veg: Matt Ager, Pavel Braila, Bompas & Parr, Ben Cain, Sol Calero, Lucy Evetts, Dmitri Galitzine, Alexander Glass, Pil & Galia Kollectiv, Zoe Marden, Jonathan McCree, Andrew Mealor, Paloma Proudfoot, Hermione Spriggs and Jonathan Trayte.
Written by Beatrice Hasell-McCosh (www.beatricehasellmccosh.com) for Arteviste.com
All photographs by Freddie Marriage