Camden Arts Centre

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London has a wealth of large museums and art galleries, mainly concentrated in the city centre. I always feel, when I’m down there, that they should spread out the concentration of works that they have there around the country, but that’s unlikely to happen – Britain is very London centric.

Although I like visiting the two Tates, the National Gallery and the like, a visit can sometimes be a little overwhelming and of late we’ve started exploring some of the smaller galleries, often located a little further out from the hubbub of the city centre, during our trips to the capital. I decided to take a look at another one of these during my visit to London last week. Although I was there on business I like to try to find some time for other things whenever I’m staying – there’s more to life than work and I I like to make the most of the opportunities travel with work presents me.

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The Camden Arts Centre is actually in Hampstead, near the Finchley Road tube station, and about 20 minutes walk from where I was staying. The building is a former library, which was renovated 10 years ago. It has a bookshop and cafe on the ground floor with gallery space on the first floor. There was a garden to the rear which is used as an extension of the cafe – but not on the day I visited when it was cold and it was pouring down.

The Centre describes itself as

a space for contemporary visual art with an internationally known programme of exhibitions and education projects, where a strong emphasis is placed on making art as well as showing it.

The Director, Jenni Lomax, was recently interviewed by the Guardian on their website.

It reminded me somewhat of the Bluecoat in Liverpool, both in terms of it’s size and the type of art featured.

During my visit there were two exhibitions showing.

Back to the Fields by Ruth Ewan

brings to life the French Republican Calendar in a new work made for Camden Arts Centre’s Gallery 3.

The room was filled with 365 objects representing the days of the year but based on the French Revolutionary calendar rather than our usual Gregorian version. It is said that “history is written by the victors” and the Revolutionary Calendar was designed to sweep away the past with its religious and royalist influences which were reflected in the calendar. It was also intended to be part of a general attempt at decimalisation in France, so although it retained twelve months (with new names based on the agricultural cycle) they were divided into three ten-day weeks with the additional days required to complete the 365 days inserted at the end of the year. It was used from late 1793 to 1805, and for 18 days by the Paris Commune in 1871. References to the calendar crop up in literature (Germinal by Emile Zola) and politics (the 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon by Karl Marx)

On the wall by the side of the entrance to the gallery there was a clock, but there was something different about it

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We Could Have Been Anything We Wanted to Be (2011)

It tells the time according to the decimalised Revolutionary clock  in which the day was divided into ten hours of a hundred minutes of a hundred seconds – exactly 100,000 seconds per day.

Inside the gallery itself the exhibits were arranged around the perimeter of the room

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The artist had selected an object to represent every day in the calendar – they included plants, animals (fish, crayfish and crickets) minerals and tools and other objects, mainly relating to agriculture. A leaflet was provided that identified all of the individual objects

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For Ewan, the Republican Calendar is an inspiring and innovative example of collaboration between artists and the state. Often cited as a ‘failed utopianism’, Ewan reconsiders the calendar as a complete artwork in itself, asking what can now be gleaned from this bold reframing of our daily lives. Presenting strands of subversive histories, her work reflects on how radical ideas have been transferred, absorbed or lost within popular culture, whilst reopening their historic continuity to the present moment. (Source)

I found it interesting trying to identify the different objects before checking the list provided. And as someone interested in French Revolutionary history the exhibits allowed me to relate better to the calendar.

Downstairs, in the corner of the cafe, there was another work by  Ruth Ewan  – A Jukebox of People Trying to Change the World (started in 2003). I’d seen this before at an exhibition at the Tate in Liverpool in 2013. It’s a CD jukebox with over 2,200 politically and socially motivated songs collected by the artist. Visitors were able to browse the catalogue and select tracks to play.

The other exhibition, being shown in the other two galleries, was a collection of video works by Portuguese artists João Maria Gusmão + Pedro Paiva. But this post has gone on long enough, so I’ll have to write that up separately.

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