Whiteley’s: The House To Thomas Langley’s Big Windows at The Arcade Project


All Photos : Miro Arva

The solo exhibition of Thomas Langley titled Big Windows situated on the 1st floor of Whiteleys Shopping Centre at the Arcade Project opened its doors on the 8th of September and continues until the 8th of October for Frieze Week. For the show, ‘Big Windows’ Langley brings together labour and leisure for an exhibition of paintings and sculptures that he recently completed during two separate residency programmes. Huma Kabakci talked to both Anna Skladmann who runs the Arcade Project and Thomas Langley, leading up to their exhibition.

HK: This is your second exhibition in the artist-run space ‘Arcade Project’ on the 1st floor of Whiteleys, once you planned Goia’s show did you know the following exhibitions right away or do they develop in a more flexible manner? Do you have a yearly programme? 
AS: The shows are a response to my immediate artistic surroundings through seeing what artists can engage and open a dialogue with the unit itself. We are temporarily housed inside a historic shopping centre that is living its last days, so it is a public space inside a decaying commercial complex and there is a programme set up until the end of the year. 

Can you tell me more about your involvement with Arcade and Working Project? Do they always collaborate together or have a link? 
Working Project has kindly been hosting us since the beginning and we try to challenge each other’s ideas creatively through weekly meetings. Once the large studio became vacant we collaborated together on hosting a two-month residency programme for Thomas Langley which appeared quite fluently in run up to show ‘Big Windows’ and also gave him the opportunity to continue his studio practice for his upcoming show with Marian Craemer in Amsterdam.  

Are you hosting anything interesting with Thomas during Frieze week?
For Frieze Week, Thomas Langley will run open studio events with special guest appearances from Hand poked Tattoo collaboration with Left Hand Luis (@lclebre) and Howlin Hands (@howlinhands), to The Launch of Shit Factory an In-House clothing collaboration with Alastair Knowles-Lenoir and Musical Performance by Nelson Parade (@nelsonparade).

Can you tell me more about how you were exposed to Thomas Langley’s works? Was it through the RA? How did the conversation evolve into an exhibition? 
I saw Thomas Langley’s final show at the RA this summer:  ‘(Pipe) Dreamer’ and ‘Big Ask’ were a clear comment on what it means to be ‘just’ graduating from the prestige institution. In conjunction he turned one of the units in the historic Piccadilly Arcade into ‘Plastic Factory (no place for me)’ in which he produced a hybrid commercial artistic situation in which the artist becomes brand ambassador and entrepreneur commenting on the notion of the highly glossed art fair. It fitted perfectly to experiment in the setting that we currently find ourselves in and combining aspects of the ‘gallery vitrine setting’ together with the artists life in the studio. 

Thomas, in your body of work there is always a play of words and the title ‘Big Windows’ doesn’t only have a site-specific response but also a pun to it. Can you expand on how the exhibition title developed in relation to the space and the bodies of work that you are exhibiting?
When we talk about windows in reference to painting, we cannot help but think about a landscape painting. But when we consider contemporary practices, the work can be viewed as a window into the artistic experience of the maker. There is also a dad-joke pun in there: “shops with big windows being able to see you coming so they can rip you off” or something…, which relates to the whole discussion of value. There is an interesting relation between value structures in contemporary practice. For instance, material value doesn’t necessarily mean the artworks are good. A work can be made out of gold but still be a terrible sculpture, or it can be made out of scrap wood and it can be an amazing sculpture. So those value structures, or ideas about value, come out through conversations about art as a window or a lens. Especially being in a shopping centre (since the Arcade is in a vitrine space), there is an element of re-appropriation in the work, so that brings out value again. When you talk about the value of craftsmanship or how long it took you to make something, this is another value judgement. Those were all the elements I was interested in, and there is of course an element of enjoyment… and for me the enjoyment in the making. The question of “whose value is at stake?” also interests me. Is it me, the maker, or you the audience? The scales of how you judge, and on what basis you judge this value, is an interesting thought. 

Were all the works made for the exhibition Big Windows for the Arcade Project made at your residency at the Working Project or before?
All of the artworks displayed at the Arcade Project have been produced during the Z.U.T. residency in Lisbon. Having said that, it all started there and finished here so, actually it crossed two residencies. The ideas were formulated in Lisbon but finished here in the studio.

So, the two residencies fed into each other?
Exactly.

Talking about what value is and the use of ready-mades in your work, especially the shorts, can you expand on the reason to why you are drawn to working with already existing objects and materials?
Ready-made things have got a power that they are charged with, they are associated with some sort of fetishism, and it is this fetishism of a man-made, pristine thing, that is transferable into art objects. In my work they are not just pure re-appropriations, they are always affected in some way: it could be a surfboard that I bought that has been spray-painted, or these shorts that have been painted.

Can you talk more about the relation between your paintings and your sculptures? I guess that fetishism you mentioned, is carried out in your wall-based work.
Yes definitely, even in my relation to making paintings. They are becoming more modular. So, it would be one painting across several supports, there are paintings made over several large birch plywood panels placed over head height and butterflied into a corner – a new architectural interventional or even sculptural interest The idea of affecting space with painting but in different ways , including expanding wall-based work to free space. The painting element is always there, because even these objects/materials also become painted. They are all there to support each other. I do work with making collections of things. For example; the show at the Arcade is a specific collection of objects, the show at the Royal Academy School show was four very considered works in one place, and the shop ‘Plastic factory (no place for me)’ was over-filled with stuff. 

As Anna mentioned you are also doing something coinciding Frieze, I guess there are so many events that are happening at that time. Can you expand more on why were you interested in organising an event during Frieze and how the idea developed?

Since I am not at Frieze, and don’t have gallery representation there, the idea that Frieze is happening and that Whiteleys is quite close to the fair was one of the key reasons. Running Frieze events that are not really a part of Frieze, that are like satellite events in the hope of hijacking some of the footfall is exciting. The idea of tattooing my works on people is an interesting thing… it is like you are claiming your work on someone, and they are volunteering to have it etched onto them. It is not a wall-based thing or a sculpture; it is a whole different thing. It is like the ultimate tag, or ultimate collector depending how you look at it. 

And it stays on forever so even the experience is temporary, the tattoo stays there.
It is an ephemeral event, but it is a permanent tattoo. 

‘Buy Mum A House’ is a phrase you used in RA but also in your new body of works. How does repetition plays a role in your practice and what does this phrase mean to you?
So, the ‘Buy Mum a House’ phrase derived from spending time at the RA studio. I was questioning what it is that I am here to do. I was questioning, “what do I actually want?”. My mum doesn’t have a house, she hasn’t had a house to call her own for long time, and she is sick. She doesn’t get any disability benefit, so the whole work is approaching the idea of responsibility and the parental shift that can happen when you have people in your life that you care about and that are in need . My mum doesn’t have anyone to support her, so part of the idea was that it is about the notion of what it consists of a selfless action. One of the reasons I wanted to approach this was that it was real and urgent rather than complete play time which has been an attitude I have and still in fact try to sustain in the studio when working. In a way ‘Buy Mum a House’ is a campaign… It gives me a format but also the material interest is something important to me. The material decisions play an important role in painting for me. 

About Mark Westall

Mark Westall is the Founder and Editor of FAD magazine, ' A curation of the world’s most interesting culture' [PLUS] Art of Conversation: A tri-annual 'no news paper' AofC - Issue 1 Autumn 2018