David Critchley remembers 2B Butler's Wharf
Butler's Wharf was a former riverside warehouse dating from the late 19 th century, within the complex of streets and buildings immediately south and east of Tower Bridge. In the early 1970's many of the buildings in that area had been cheaply purchased by property speculators with a view to re-development. In London at that time, many housing associations and co-operatives were being formed to negotiate cheap rents for derelict properties in the interim period before demolition or re-development took place. Many artists lived and worked under these kinds of arrangements, and it was a group of friends who had met while at art college in the Isle of Man and Brighton who together rented a floor of Block 2B, Butlers Wharf in late 1975, later joined by recent art graduates from Newcastle, Leeds and Maidstone.
I remember the rent for the 3,000 square foot space situated on the first floor - with a riverside view - being £200 per quarter, which we split eight ways. The group's common artistic purpose was always evolving through dialogue as we progressed, but we all worked in time-based media: performance, film, video, sound, installation, photography, music, slide projection and light, either singly or in many combinations. In presenting art work to an audience we were all keenly aware of context, not least the physical demands of 2B with its 24 bays marked out by 15 one-foot-square wooden columns; a powerful environmental statement which had to be addressed. While we had initially rented the space as individual studios, it's location and the potential travesty of dividing up such an evocative space meant that we quickly agreed to keep it clear and use it flexibly - more of a time-space share, than simply a shared space.
On this basis, the first member to put on a live performance was Kevin Atherton in November 1975, and the good-sized audience who saw his piece proved the potential of the space and its location. There were many artists working in studios nearby, and a combination of word of mouth, individual mailers and the available arts publicity services of the Time Out listings pages and the Acme Gallery's 'Events' sheet soon put the space on the arts map as a performance art venue. In May 1976, regular Saturday evening shows began with presentations by members of the original group. These events were quickly extended by shows by close associates and then opened to all artists wishing to use the space for presentations of their work. By May 1978 when the building was closed down by the developers, there had been over 80 shows by more than 60 artists. Thirty had involved film projection, a dozen used video, a further dozen were sound pieces; many used light as a primary element, some were pure performance art, while many used combinations of several media.
The 2B Butler's Wharf 'group' as defined by those who took part in the first Group Show were John Kippin, Belinda Williams, Martin Hearne, Kevin Atherton, Mick Duckworth, Steve James, Dave Hanson, Alan Stott, Kieran Lyons, Alison Winckle and myself, David Critchley.
This group of people paid the rent, renovated and maintained the space, co-ordinated booking-in artists to stage events, and assisted each other - and the visiting artists - in the publicising and realisation of the shows. We also organised general publicity for the space through the Acme Gallery's Events sheet and Time Out .
Artists used the space on the basis that they would provide their own props, postcards and flyers, though we often helped and advised on where and how to get equipment, printing or materials - such as a lorry load of floorboards for a spatial sculptural installation or film projectors, video or sound gear. The many friends and close associates of the 2B group who were present at most events and meetings and who staged their own shows included Charlie Hooker, Maggie Warwick, Steve Partridge, Jane Rigby, Keith Frake and George Saxon.
The Art School System
It is interesting to observe how the art school system in the UK served to connect like-minded people. The fact that anyone aspiring to join a BA course at one of the UK's major art schools must first attend a one-year Foundation course in their home town meant that a network was established at the outset of most artists careers, far more comprehensive than in any other subject. In any one year in the late 60's and early 70's, towns the size of Brighton, Douglas Isle of Man, Newcastle, Maidstone or Stockport might have 20 or 30 fine art students doing a Foundation course. It was considered good practice to encourage foundation students to apply to different BA courses, so within a year the 30 students from each town had been shuffled to every corner of the country. This meant that each student was potentially connected with a thousand contemporaries through the conversational line, "So where are you from then...?", "Oh, do you know...?", and so on all over the country, as people started to make new friendships and re-connect with old ones. The fact that this happened year on year over the three year BA period opened up for any one individual a social map of mind-boggling proportions, even before considering the added impact of later MA courses, teaching posts and all manner of other collective initiatives.
The group of people who met, agreed to work together and initiated and developed 2B Butler's Wharf as a multi-media venue, were part of this process. The catalyst for this particular group was the Art College in Douglas, where Martin Hearne, Kevin Atherton, Mick Duckworth and Alison Winckle had met. Kevin went on to do BA Fine Art at Leeds, Martin went to Saint Martins in London, Mick to Brighton and Alison to Newcastle upon Tyne. Everyone who later became involved in 2B can be connected through these four people, through meeting them in Brighton, Newcastle, London or Leeds. In Brighton, Mick met John Kippin, Belinda Williams and Charlie Hooker; in Newcastle Alison met Dave Critchley, who in turn knew Maggie Warwick and Alan Stott from Foundation in Stockport. Kevin was at Leeds, where he knew Dave Hanson. (Alan Stott had been in Leeds too, but had not been an associate of Kevin's then). After Saint Martins, Martin Hearne went to Brighton to do a post-grad course which brought the Brighton group to the fore in setting up 2B after everyone moved to London in 1974 or '75.
In London, a post-college connection was the artist-run Acme Housing Association, (which had also been started by people who knew each other from art school in Reading). Though not everyone lived in an Acme house, many people connected with 2B had some form of co-operative, short life or squatted housing. It was the basis of many young artists' lives to live and work on a shoestring budget in a low-rent self-help housing-with-studio arrangement. In this way, in the Stockwell Acme enclave, Kevin Atherton had met Steve James, Steve Partridge, Jane Rigby, David Cunningham and others who had first met in Maidstone. It was from this connection, (after first meeting at the 1975 Serpentine Gallery Video Show ), that artists from Maidstone led by David Hall and from Newcastle led by Stuart Marshall worked together to set up London Video Arts, from 1976 onwards. Which is another story....
See also: 2B Butler’s Wharf' by David Critchley Readings, February 1977