The ICA supports radical art and culture. Through a vibrant programme of exhibitions, films, events, talks and debates, the ICA challenges perceived notions and stimulates debate, experimentation, creativity and exchange with visitors.
Founded in 1946 by a group of artists including Roland Penrose, Peter Watson and Herbert Read, the ICA continues to support living artists in showing and exploring their work, often as it emerges and before others. The ICA has been at the forefront of cultural experimentation since its formation and has presented important debut solo shows by artists including Damien Hirst, Steve McQueen, Richard Prince and Luc Tuymans. More recently Pablo Bronstein, Lis Rhodes, Bjarne Melgaard and Juergen Teller have all staged key solo exhibitions, whilst a new generation of artists, including Luke Fowler, Lucky PDF, Hannah Sawtell and Factory Floor have taken part in exhibitions and residencies.
The ICA was one of the first venues to present The Clash and The Smiths, as well as bands such as Throbbing Gristle. The inaugural ICA / LUX Biennial of Moving Images was launched in 2012, and the ICA Cinema continues to screen rare artists' film, support independent releases and partner with leading film festivals.
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Smiler: Photographs of London by Mark Cawson
- 12 October — 29 November 2015 *on now
The content of the exhibition focuses on a body of work that Smiler mainly shot between West London and Kings Cross. The exhibition consists of black and white images taken on an analogue camera.
“I used the camera like a storm anchor helping me to navigate and freeze a spinning world of change and flux.” Smiler
Against the backdrop of social and political upheaval, young people across the city were drawn to squats by the prospect of a place to live, but also by an identity and a sense of community. Smiler’s photographs document the people who lived in squats across the city, at a time when salvage culture was the norm. Moving from one community to another, between postcodes, Smiler captures a city in transition and documented people he met while himself “trying to manage a deep sense of alienation”. Entire streets of condemned housing sat empty across the city throughout the period - a situation that facilitated large communities to form in places such as Cromer St, the School House in Hammersmith and Queen's Gate.
Photography provided the perfect medium to capture the culture and community of these squat locations. Taking pictures, collecting photo-booth pictures and hanging on to found ephemera enabled Smiler to do this. His photographs reveal intimate moments of the squatters’ everyday life, from portraits that show snapshots of the creative identities and unabashed sexuality of his friends, to images that illuminate how they, as outcasts, experienced city life, capturing the rebellious and chaotic spirit of the time.
Drugs and squatting went hand in hand but music and art also attracted people. This was the time when Rock Against Racism was prevalent and The Clash played a high profile RAR gig in Victoria Park. DIY culture was a way of life before corporate culture and branding subsumed. Political movements shared spaces with artists, bikers, musicians, drug dealers and prostitutes.
With the housing crisis dominating the headlines today, this exhibition serves as timely reminder of how the city has transformed and poses questions about the direction it is taking. Smiler’s compelling photographs are a lens on London as a hotbed of rebellious anti-establishment sentiment and brings into focus how dramatically different the city feels today.
Smiler: Photographs of London by Mark Cawson is curated by Gareth McConnell & Matt Williams.
The ICA Fox Reading Room was made possible by the generous support of the Edwin Fox Foundation.
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