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An evolving sense of belonging

In 2015 I showed with the Other Art Fair for the first time. I thought that I would never be as nervous again, that it would get easier each time one did a Fair. In fact, the stakes get higher, the fear and anticipation bigger, and there is always – ALWAYS – more to learn.

I notice each time I do a Fair that my community grows. At the Affordable Art Fair, Battersea showing with Byard Art (March 2019), I became aware of an evolving sense of belonging. As I explored, chatting with other exhibiting artists, seeing work by numerous friends on the walls, it felt delightful to be able to congratulate various gallerists and to find points of artistic resonance and dissonance. Contrast this with early experiences of art fairs straight out of university where one wanders about with little concept of how to connect with a gallery, how to self represent or what a future career path might be.

Byard Art at The Affordable Art Fair, Battersea – Hannah, me and Roz (from left).

Two weeks ago I celebrated my tenth edition of the Other Art Fair through a shared and curated stand with Hermione Carline at Brick Lane. When you share a stand, you bring the best of yourselves to that experience – the different ways you each do things, whether that is in preparing for the fair, the stand plan, the interactions with visitors. Fresh out of the Affordable Art Fair, a half marathon and an intense few weeks of work, I was full of anticipation and a little low on bounce. I am very grateful for Hermione’s patience. We hung the stand together, we thought about the work, we listened as visitors responded in different ways. We learned about our individual practices -the subtly different visual languages we each speak. What matters, what doesn’t, where we each want to go next.

I was humbled by how many people travelled across London to support us. Friends and clients planned days out, coming to see what the collaboration was all about and to feed back their experience of the work. I met two new babies who have arrived since I saw their mothers last as well as numerous artists, repeat collectors and clients. Some individuals arrived out of context and it took me a little while to place why I knew them and how. This is always mortifying and the marble might drop even three days after the meeting. People are important so this can be distressing post fair. Notably at one Fair last year, I failed to remember my best friend’s name when I tried to introduce her to someone else. So if you are ever visiting – please do remind me who you are and how I know you – it isn’t personal, just the effect of seeing thousands of people each day.

Tabish Khan, The Londonist
Artist Simon Gross and Hermione Carline

For the first three days I forgot to listen properly. I was nervous. I was also soaking up a very distracting print by Hermione that throbbed with light and colour. It drowned out a lot of other conversations, noisy in its poetry. On the final day I had an extraordinary conversation with an art dealer and curator. It was immensely encouraging and nourishing.

As I prepare for The Other Art Fair in New York in May, I am struck by the excitement, the sheer “WEEEEEEE” of it as well as waves of fear that clench in the pit of the stomach. There are lots of firsts – shipping work (will it arrive? Will it arrive on time? Will it be damaged? Will it sell? Will I have to ship it back?), exhibiting in another country (what will people think? is it good enough?), as well as navigating financial risk and opportunities. And outside this, beyond it, above it – like a song- are the unbelievable kindnesses of repeat collectors. Those who have said they are coming to the fair and bringing people with them. The cross art form connections I made on my trip in November last year. The possibilities for an international conversation on art and our relationship to art.

Thank you to everyone who came to the Fair. Thank you to John Prebble particularly from The Poetry Exchange who gifted a recorded poem of Dreamwood by Adrienne Rich to me the following week. It was soul balm. Nourishing and beautiful.