After meeting at Brighton University, artists Samuel Levack and Jennifer Lewandowski moved to London to set up The French Riviera, a gallery-cum-workspace on Bethnal Green Road. Their latest exhibition, Les Télévisions – which opens tomorrow – exhibits the work of a dozen or so individuals, on ageing, found analogue televisions in the gallery’s window space. Behind the stack, the pair will guage people’s reactions on the street, keeping the gallery closed throughout the show’s month-long duration. Wonderland sat The French Riviera down to sift through their exciting concept.
When did you acquire the space and how did the project take off from there?
It was our studio three years prior to it opening as a gallery. We opened in February, and Les Télévisions is or fifth and final show for the year.
How many screens will be on display?
Probably 13 in total. We’ll stack them on top of each other – mainly in the large window, and a few in the side window. All the films will be on rotation – so it’s not as if it’ll exhibit one artist for each screen. A couple of the TVs are black and white too, so that adds an interesting twist to things. Inevitably, two screens will be showing the same film simultaneously, too. It’s going to be quite a chaotic visual overload.
The footfall past the screens every day will be enormous…
Exactly. The gallery’s location is a massive part of the decision to do the show – it’ll reach so many more people than a usual exhibition. It feels slightly festive, too – Christmas lights from a shop on the high street. We really wanted to do a group show – but our space is too tiny to cater for that, so this was a neat alternative.
What inspired the concept?
We started thinking about old TV repair shops, and the idea that the space be transformed, aesthetically, into an old junk shop. There’s a real one further down Bethnal Green Road that’s really great. You wonder who’s having their analogue TV fixed anymore – but I love the mystery of it. We walk past it all the time – it’s quite a cool, old fashioned, authentic-looking shop.
How does Les Télévisions compare to the shows you’ve run in the past?
The last one we did was really closed off – it was a full installation and the windows were blacked out. It was a totally different feel to the installations we’d put on before – and it feels great that again we’re trying something totally new.
What information is offered about it, for the passer-by?
Well our website is there, in vinyl lettering. After moving in, we soon realised that you can hear people’s reactions on the street in here. I like the idea that you can kind of see us in the background of the piece, too – you know something’s back there, but you don’t know quite what. But for the opening show, the gallery will be open. Maybe we’ll occasionally open it, though – keep it a bit loose. We heard a couple’s reaction the other day through the window – a guy and a girl, asking, “is this real?”
Where did you source the footage from? Is it the work of people you know?
Yeah. We grouped together some artists for the project, and let them create their own footage for it based on the idea we proposed. One of them, a guy called Nick Pankhurst, pulled a piece of art through a film lens, which both projects and records the moving art [watch his piece, In the Deep Dark, below]. It’s amazing. We not only facilitate and curate the works, but formulate it as part of a larger concept that is our own. So the reaction we’ll get from it is interesting to us on a number of levels – people respond to the separate art works as well as the overall concept.
Words: Jack Mills