Sluice is a brand new art fair that made its debut in Mayfair this October. Named after the underground waterway that connected the space to Frieze, Sluice encourages comparisons between the two very different fairs. Not only is Sluice’s layout different, with a departure from the conventional booth format, its networking ethos is far more democratic, presenting a challenge to more nepotistic ventures. The organisers, Ben Street, and Karl England, wanted to explore exactly what it is to be an art fair, with a result that is highly self-reflexive. This aspect was undoubtedly interesting, but what about the art itself? Would the pieces hold their own, or would they get lost in the fun of the fair?
One of the first pieces that greeted you, in the larger of the two rooms, was a textile donkey that masturbated when you pulled a string. It was the children who braved it first, before running off – seemingly oblivious – to other interactive exhibits. This added an unsettling dimension to the proceedings, and prompted chatter amongst bemused spectators: some of whom laughed, whilst others said it was all ‘a bit wrong.’ Either way, it was the inclusive appeal of Sluice that made such a discussion possible. The artist (Joshua Raffell) also engaged in the dialogue, but rather than prescribing meaning, he provided intriguing insight on the process behind his work. For example, he told me that he sewed his provocative objects in front of an audience at Studio 1.1, which added yet another level to an already complex piece. This was just one of the ways in which Raffell took advantage of the Sluice platform, and yet his challenging use of medium made his work more than capable of holding its own.
In contrast to the concise approach of Raffell, Man Somerlinck had chosen to arrange his artists’ paintings in the manner of an antiques shop. They were overlapping, and propped against the wall, which induced a kind of “snooper’s” mentality. Rather than wandering around in a trance, as one is inclined to do in a pristine, uniform space, Somerlinck’s arrangement made you want to rifle through the paintings, playing on the satisfaction you get when you stumble upon a “find.” Viewed in isolation, his signature pop-up stalls are not only visually striking, but a shrewd sales device. However, with so many extraneous details to take in at the fair, his pieces made slightly less of an impact that they would usually enjoy.
David Kefford’s sculpture also struggled somewhat within the fair context. Due to its challenging nature, it required a level of concentration that was difficult amidst the general hubbub. As you looked closer at the sculpture its components metamorphosed, and hinted at their violent uses: one end of the hockey stick was subtly sheathed with a surgical glove, perhaps rendering it a probing device, whilst the other suddenly resembled a battered, seeping wound. Although the violence of the piece provided an interesting juxtaposition with the “fun of the fair,” it was one of the rare occasions when the booth format would have been preferable. Nonetheless, it was still a highly disarming piece, and one which I pondered long after the fair was over.
Alex Pearl’s Collection of Sculptures, including Grey Vegetation, and Domestic Love Sculpture.
Equally thought-provoking was Alex Pearl’s collection of sculptures, made on a micro-scale from house-hold objects. For some critics, such traits are mere bi-products of the recession, presenting the artist’s exclusion from the commercial arts world. Whilst this is true to some extent, I am more inclined to see them as an act of defiance. Similarly, the Hornby figures perching on tins, the melted toy cars, and arbitrarily placed torch, can be regarded as trivial objects: the actions of someone who is otherwise unemployed. But isn’t there a degree of freedom, and indeed inspiration, that comes from such a status? Marginalisation gives you the space to play – something which Pearl’s work, and the fair as a whole, was testament to.
Clearly, Sluice has a great deal to offer, thanks not only to its organisation, but the calibre of the art itself. The real question is whether it will maintain its egalitarian approach, or be forced to impose a more rigid agenda as the number of entries increases. Either way, it will be interesting to see how the fair evolves.