- The Showroom
Artquest is a London based agency which aims to “encourage critical engagement and provide practical support to visual artists at any stage in their careers” and it has been doing so for ten years now. It was conceived in 2001 as a project of the visual arts department of the London office of Arts Council England (then London Arts) and University of the Arts London (then The London Institute).
Since its launch Artquest has built significant online resources (a quick look at the website today reveals opportunity listings, an Art Directory, a comprehensive How To… section, legal advice, and Artists Networks).
The 10 year anniversary party featured lots of booze (invited guests were encouraged to bring a bottle of wine, which was viciously attacked with spirits and turned into mulled wine or “admiral’s punch”), a lucky dip, book swap, and some tasty canapés, silhouette artist Charles Burns and a DJ. It didn’t really get started until we were drawn together in the downstairs space for awards and announcements. This section of the evening kicked off with a performance by The Vacuum Cleaner, “a collective of one” who stunned and amused the audience with what can only be described as a PowerPoint lecture with Valium. This engaging performance mainly featured political text on slides, read out by The Vacuum Cleaner, but also visuals in the form of photographs with political slogans in them or Photoshopped into them. Have a look at the website here, you’ll get a better idea than if I describe them, I’ve also included a few of my favourites in this article. My interest in political contemporary art and how artists can meaningfully engage with the enormity of a consumer driven capitalist society was quickly, directly address as The Vacuum Cleaner asked: how can I recover from my mental illness… when the world is mental? This echoed Colonel Gaddafi’s last cry of defiance: if the world is crazy, we will be crazy too! – which in turn recalls Dadaism. It was around this time that The Vacuum Cleaner entrusted the Valium to the audience’s care and asked for volunteers to take his pulse and keep a bottle of water handy. The Vacuum Cleaner website tells us that “By employing various creative legal and illegal tactics and forms the vacuum cleaner attempts to mock, brandalise and disrupt concentrations of power” – which they do, and it is here that the link between Artquest and the Vacuum Cleaner becomes apparent to the man on the street as The Vacuum Cleaner finishes the performance and gives a thank you speech to Artquest. In the speech he explains how he got into legal trouble for Photoshopping Starbucks signs and was referred to Artquest who were able to offer him legal advice.
Artquest is run solely by artists for artists and consists of only three part-time staff (and a temp). We need artists such as The Vacuum Cleaner more than ever to critique the absurdness of the world today. If Artquest helps artists of this calibre, and through its open source online resources it reaches out to any and all artists… then here’s to the next ten years.