Michael Whitby

Location: London
Website: paradiselost.org.uk
Bio:

The community centre has become as relevant to me as the gallery space. In a report titled The Great Transition (2009), alternative economic think tank, The New Economics Foundation describe a utopian world where people achieve greater autonomy, with more free time to make their own produce and pursue other activities like meeting up to show films they have made. With this report in mind, during 2013 I worked with Kingsley Hall Community Centre and ran a weekly community cafe aiming to provide affordable healthy vegetarian food, and a place where you could meet your with neighbours. It involved special events such as catering for the Bow Arts Trust open studios – where a group of 15 volunteers were involved in preparation and service, making food for over 500 visitors – and a special Christmas dinner in the hall which was attended by 50 people. Art and artists can be an operative part of a community; it is a social activity that is important to human wellbeing. An important part of my understanding of this is Anarchist and Socialist theory, such as Colin Ward and Gregory Sholette that see art as a political activism.

As an artist and curator I set up structures within which my collaborators and I work. I often consciously exaggerate the limitations of the situation suggesting the work – be that a space, a piece of equipment or a political/social scenario. I use juxtaposition and collage to bring together different formats and styles often in a deliberately blunt way. Lars Von Trier's The Five Obstructions (2003) has been a big influence in how I think about structures in art work but rather than the 'cathartic', even sadistic manipulations, I see negotiation of this initial set of rules is often the start of intense and expansive conversation about art practice and what it is trying to achieve.

In my film project 'Lost Dreams', based on the Hans Richter surrealist film Dreams That Money Can Buy (1947), I brought together artists with very different practises to make sections of a feature length film. I asked each artist to use the same 15 year old HI-8 Camera, and asked that all images be generated in camera. The Individual short film where then joined together by a section made in a improvised acting workshop, filmed at Kingsley Hall its history of religious activism and alternative political utopias influencing the outcome of workshop.

My gallery ‘Paradise Lost’ was a structure in which each artist could work with me to make an exhibition in my flat, in Bow, London. The gallery aimed to develop the work through a series of discussions between the artist and myself, and then open it up for a broader discussion within the community created by the gallery.This conversation would then lead into the next exhibition. Projects have been most successful when a properly collaborative relationship is established and ideas are able to flow freely and the authorship becomes blurry.

‘Retreat’ is a residential workshop I have organised annually since 2008 and has been based in various rural locations in UK. The workshop brings together a diverse group of artists, during the days we go on long walks and cook the evening meal around which each artist gives a presentation. It is an opportunity to meet new people based around the uk and europe.

Exhibitions:

Exhibitions/Projects
2014-2008 Retreat residential workshop organiser, North Wales and Cumbria
2011 Two Peacocks exhibition curated by John Walter, Gallery North, Newcastle
2011 Retreat: In The City two day workshop, The Art House, London
2010 Curator of Paradise Lost Gallery, East London. Including Bar Zsa Zsa – John Walter
Stranded – Jamie George, The Bear Pit – Richard Whitby, Unfortunate Objects – Anna Bunting-Branch
2008 Laputa City collaborative film project, Williamson tunnels Liverpool Biennial
2007 Stick*Stamp*Fly open submission exhibition Gas Works Gallery, London

Other Projects
2012-2013 Volunteer Chef, 3 Bees Cafe, Kingsley Hall community centre, London

Teaching and Talks
2013 Artist talk, Wimbledon College of Art
2012 Feral Space Symposium Union Chapel, London
2011 'Cicak' Film Screening and Q&A, Wimbledon College of Art
2011 Artist talk in connection with the Two Peacocks exhibition Gallery North, Newcastle

Publications
2013 Retreat Book Publication compiling notes, images and texts from the Workshop, self- published
2013 'going feral' Michael Spencer, Blue Pages Magazine, spring issue
2012 Retreat Book Publication compiling notes, images and texts from the Workshop, self- published
2011 Retreat Book Publication compiling notes, images and texts from the Workshop, self- published
2010 Postcard from Retreat 2010, Richard Whitby

Forthcoming Projects/publications

2014 Five day Projects Workshop, Wimbledon College of Art, London
2014 Retreat Book Publication compiling notes, images and texts from the Workshop