Despite living less than 2 miles away from the Factory Project, the journey to get there was an adventure. It took me almost an hour travelling by bus and train, as I decided to avoid more expensive route by water and air. Knowing that this project was one of the attractions during Frieze Week, I was expecting another institutional narrative pretending to use an unusual space to present the same boring and outdated artists in a new context. But I did some digging, and it turned out that it was a large collaborative project aiming to provide emerging curators without a permanent space an opportunity to exhibit on a large scale. I got pretty excited as it's not very common to see so many independent creative participants working together on something that big. However, I must admit that once I finally got to wherever my GPS took me, I was pretty sure I was about to get kidnapped. There was no one else but me and some abandoned warehouses. Some black arrows on A4 sheets of paper were glued to windows, but they didn't look too convincing. Saved from my darkest thoughts and uplifted by the arrival of my friend (and a comrade in arms), we squeezed between the huge rubbish bins and entered the building.
As we walked into the first room, what struck us the most was the number of people with professional photographic equipment. It felt as if they were documenting a ground-breaking event in the art world. We scanned a QR code near the entrance with details about the artworks and artists, but only after a while, we realised that there were two exhibitions in this space. The Haze Project occupied the bigger and brighter side of the room focussing on sculptors using various materials like fibre, clay, silicone, wood, led lights and everyday objects. The one curated by Pacheanne Anderson was hidden between columns and concentrated on queer, Black & British artists. Despite the visual differences, the shows interacted with each other. They highlighted the diversity of contemporary art, starting from the exploration of materials to serious political and social themes.
The Haze Project exhibition at the Factory Project
However, only when we went down the fire escape stairs to what might seem like a cemetery of artworks, we realised why this project was so unique. It didn't only occupy the post-industrial space but embraced it. While walking towards the Skip Gallery part, we passed various painted doors, metal parts and even what looked like an old container with someone working inside. It wasn't easy to guess what's art and what's not. A sculpture, strangely fitting to the landscape, of what could have been a human's body in a black bag by Hayden Kays (Snith, 2021) made me feel like a discoverer (but also a bit worried). The question 'is it art?' asked to the point of boredom changed into games of 'Can You Find a Label?' and 'Shall I Take a Picture of It?'.
Snith, 2021, Hayden Kays
The next stop was a big hall. The Factory Project team created a very effective environment where the viewer couldn't see where one exhibition was ending, and another was starting. All artworks formed one whole, and you could have seen the collaborative process in presenting more than one hundred artists. Arranging the works of one artist in different places in the room did not create chaos but a sense of dialogue between practices. I was most interested in Catriona Robertson's work Fisillity: Holding it all together, 2021, made mainly of metal pipes and concrete. It seemed to emerge from the raw walls, giving a site-specific nature to the project and being like a bridge between the architecture and other artworks in the middle of the hall.
Fisillity: Holding it all together, 2021, Catriona Robertson
I felt comfortable despite being surrounded by monumental installations, vibrating parts of some sculptures, and a crowded audience around the performing artist. Something about the way the works were arranged, or maybe the presence of artists and the casual atmosphere, allowed me to reflect more deeply on what was happening in this factory. From the outside, the place seemed deserted, but once inside, you found yourself in a place filled with colours, shapes, laughter, music and conversation. Now, as I sit comfortably on my sofa and write this review, I believe the people I saw in the first room with the big cameras and backpacks were right. The Factory Project was a ground-breaking event. The dialogue between curator and artist vs audience created an agreement to ‘what art is’ and that the art world doesn’t need the authoritative guidance to do that.