Various Small Fires

Artvehicle 13/Review

16th March 2007 — 10th April 2007

Every year the RCA curating course locks its graduating crop of young hopefuls in a mansion somewhere while they thrash out the details of their final show. There are an impossible series of paradoxes to overcome: how can 13 people with strong ideas about contemporary art collaborate on an exhibition without the compromises diluting the final event? It must be forward-looking, demonstrating interesting new ideas and it must be significantly different from the last few years' shows in all respects.

Various Small Fires fulfils the brief beautifully. Its unique selling point is the opening up of the Henry Moore Gallery. There are no interior walls to sully the huge area and they have opted for newly-commissioned works from relatively few artists. To demonstrate further how this exhibition and its curators are different they've chosen a nice short title and remained friends throughout.

Although the area is big and airy it's not as bright as it could be because Knut Henrik has put up a great big fence to echo the shapes of the gallery and stop us looking out of the windows. It is made from pine planks because he is from Norway and it is 2.40 metres high because that is the length that they come in from the shop and he doesn't cut them because it is a rule. It's a very convenient rule though. Thank goodness he didn't make a rule that he had to carry them all from the shop himself or that he had to buy everyone in the room a drink if he found a plank with more than five knot holes.

In contrast to this rather 'blokey' art piece is the exquisite and delicate Dreams and Thoughts by Koo Joung-A. Placed around the base of a pillar are 30,000 sticks of chewing gum. Looking like a tiny piece of Brutalist architecture built from Jenga blocks the fragility and beauty of the stacking and arranging is contrasted, once one is within a metre or so, by the cloying, sickly smell of 'double-mint'.

Carmen Gheorghe spent five days making a large abstract floor piece in brightly coloured sand. The composition used motifs from the work of Stella and Kelly but was interesting only because of its labour-intensive manufacture. Mid-way through the private view the audience was invited to don ridiculous shoe covers and trash the thing. A very naughty pleasure but after a few hours it was looking pretty good - like a huge day-glo Turner.

Kajsa Dahlburg's piece exposes how disrespectful of public property Swedish feminists are by copying all the scribbling from all the library copies of A Room of One's Own into one definitive version.

It was the performance by El Arakawa that really gave us the opportunity to see this new generation shine. Inspired by the rapidly constructed Super Bowl half time shows, the artists and the non-British members of the course, rushed to produce a photocopied catalogue and a rough structure from foam board, wood, sacking and Gaffa tape. Pink Floyd solos downloaded from the Internet accompanied this Heath and Safety nightmare. The artist deliberately assigned roles and tasks to the people with the least experience and then handed out ridiculous Japanese saws to make it more difficult still. In these heady days where curators get the glory and their pictures in the Evening Standard it was refreshing to see a group of people having fun, getting their hands dirty and taking more than a few risks.


Royal College of Art
Kensington Gore
London SW7 2EU

Daily, 10am-6pm

Various Small Fires —  Ei Arakawa Performance (1979 Pink Floyd as Reconstruction Mood) At Royal College of Art 2006 Photographer: Will Leach.

Ei Arakawa
Performance (1979 Pink Floyd as Reconstruction Mood)
At Royal College of Art 2006
Photographer: Will Leach.