This week, we asked Outside In artist and Ambassador Carlo Keshishian to talk about his involvement in Circus in Terminal 15; an exhibition now open at RR Gallery, Kensington Park Road, London.
“It isn’t clear who coined the term ‘thinking outside the box’, but whomever it was, I doubt they would be disappointed with its application in regards to me addressing Chutima ‘Nok’ Kerdpitak. The one woman workforce is one of a kind for sure, I have no doubt. This character is singular. Her achievements are mind-boggling, to say the least. There are many prescribed terms that come to mind when considering Nok and her ‘mission’. Another that I think is suitable, and that returns to my mind when I see her working is ‘there’s a method to the madness’. How these exhibitions get put together and the distances they travel are near miraculous.
As an artist, I approach the Circus Terminal and Uncooked Culture projects as a surfer. They function as a series of waves. Some are more unpredictable than others, but they keep on coming back in one form or another, and in the midst of everything, I ride these waves. They affect everything they come into contact with. They carry me from here to there. In the last couple of years, I have been seen in France, Spain, Holland, Slovenia, North and South America, Thailand and New Zealand. Eighty-five or so artists rode that wave, and all crammed into one suitcase. I reiterate, this touring and metamorphosing exhibition measures as a sort of strange art world fantasy. An impossible but very real thing that has been and is happening. It is admirable when local community artists gather together and work together to put on exhibitions, but the way Nok’s operation combines local artists and artists from around the world, in a community context – merging communities that are oceans apart – into one travelling community, is a wondrous thing. I think an interesting reason that this has somehow become possible is by making showing the work a priority, at all costs. Nok is responsible for selling more than a handful of my limited edition prints in various countries, but I would be surprised if there is any profit in all this for Nok. I mean, monetarily. Travelling the world and helping artists, putting them in motion and circulation across the globe, is quite an enriching process in other ways which in the long term are more valuable than disposable money. I think the almost haphazard approach to just going with the flow and somehow being in contact with a hundred associates and organising them all into your suitcase is a real life rubix cube that Nok aligns with her eyes closed every time. Ask her how she did it, and see if she can tell you!
My first recollection of the project is that not long after I’d completed my Step Up workshop facilitator training with Outside In. I forget the year now, but perhaps around three years ago, I noticed an artist networking website on the internet and that it looked quite newly established. There were just nine or so artists on there at the time of discovery. I think one or two of the artists on there were artists I’d met doing the Step Up training, or from Outside In. That was the incentive to join, as I’d seen many of these artist network sites around the internet before but they often are quite stagnant and confusing. This website, however, truly was a surprise!
To be honest, I haven’t actively been using the site since initially signing up and posting some images of my art work. I noticed that there would be a meeting though, and that it would be in London. At the time I wasn’t even sure where the people (person) who ran the site was based as there were artists from various countries signed up as members. I curiously went along to the meeting at The Tabernacle near Notting Hill. There was a panel discussion with a few people, and an audience made up of about two or three times the amount of panelists. It was a rather eccentric affair and this is how the journey has continued to this day. After the discussion, I viewed the exhibition which contained what I saw as a room populated by too much art work. The work of around 15 artists or so, with no room to breathe. Fast forward a few years and this same space has recently been used again to exhibit near a 100 artists’ works with several works by each artist. It’s not that there are no rules, just very different and fluctuating rules! While it’s not how I would curate a show myself, the Circus Terminal context has taken on a life of its own over the last few years, and there is a real energy moving through it unlike anything I’ve experienced before. There is no hierarchy, people can get as involved as they like and take on the roles they wish. The shows are built on trust and a mutual respect between artists, and when Nok hangs the works and prints and cuts out the hundreds of labels, one or two handfuls of people emerge in order to help out, and it gets done just in time for the openings. The approach reminds me of a quote by one of my favourite ‘Jazz’ musicians, Horace Tapscott, when he made clear what the music being created in his community was about: “Our music is contributive, rather than competitive”. These ethics ring true with the work that Nok is carrying out.
I spoke with Nok upon meeting at that first meeting/exhibition and Nok told me to send her some stuff and that she’d show it at the next exhibition. From the strength of online communication the Circus Terminal exhibitions found ‘hosts’ in different countries and with every country visited, local artists would contribute to the exhibitions by providing art works or organising events to coincide with the shows. Their additional works then would continue to travel with the rest and the amount of art works and artists accumulated in the course of visiting the various hospitable organisations willing to host across the globe. Often a few artists from one country will tag along and make the journey to the opening at the next stop, and thus a cross pollination occurs. I’ve met some interesting people and come across some wonderful art work in the process. I’m very happy to have discovered and purchased drawings by Edward Woltemate Jr, for example.
Having never been to Holland, and after turning down several opportunities to visit since my teens, I thought I’d go along and contribute to the Circus Terminal show at the Amsterdam Outsider Art Gallery. I decided to run a collaborative painting day a few days after the opening.
It was a sunny Sunday and a casually run operation. In attendance, I was very fortunate to have Julia Sisi over from the Canary Islands, and Liz Parkinson all the way from Australia with me to begin creating a world on this canvas, which we’d set up outside the gallery in the garden. It was wonderful working (playing) with them, while Circus Terminal-related performances were taking place around us thanks to Catherine Goodwin and her cohorts. Over the course of that afternoon, some local artists contributed to the canvas as well as Gareth Hughes also over from London. We left the canvas in the gallery and over the next few weeks, more artists contributed in our absence. A year and a half later I finally saw this piece complete as the tour came full circle and it hung at The Tabernacle in London, where I first came into contact with the project. In between, I also physically took part in the edition that took place in Piran, Slovenia. Farad and Verena had driven over from Austria and we hung some large pieces by Farad in the show. I’d never met them, but at the opening, Farad and I did an impromptu improvised musical performance, where he was shredding on the guitar and I was doing some live drum programming/sequencing from my laptop. Again, I ran a collaborative painting day, this time on a very large canvas set up in the courtyard outside.
Exhibitions aside, there are many stories that can be told about the goings on of Circus Terminal related partying, but come along yourself and experience this first hand as this probably isn’t the place to reflect on these tales! It was somewhat amusing however, sitting at a 1980’s style Metal bar with long forgotten and more obscure rock anthems blasting through the system, drinking a pint in Amsterdam one evening while Nok had fallen asleep at the table, unaffected by the uncompromising volume which was disturbing my tinnitus.
Circus in Terminal 15 continues until 14 March at the RR Gallery, St.Peter’s Church, Notting Hill, Kensington Park Rd W11 2PN London, UK.