It feels strange moving into the 16th year of a festival that started life with nothing more than €1000 grant from the local council and the idea to create a platform for art that could exist outside of the traditional gallery system. It was the year 2000 and I was part of a small group of radical artists that had occupied a huge local abandoned brewery here in Stavanger with a view to creating an independent contemporary arts space. The founding group consisted of contemporary composer Nils Henrik Asheim, young architect firm Helen & Hard, Fledgling urbanist Kristin Gustavsen, new media artist Randy Naylor and a rag tag group of experimental electronic musicians, Dj’s, performers and outsiders looking for a home. It was as close as you could get to artistic anarchy in what at the time was one of the wealthiest cities in one of the wealthiest countries in the Western Hemisphere. I’d been in Norway for almost 5 years having relocated here in 1996 with nothing more than the clothes on my back and a few boxes of 12” vinyl. I’d been running small underground house nights in London whilst studying Fine Art at North London’s Hornsey College of Art, a school that was integrated into Middlesex University after the students rioted and occupied the building in 1968, partly inspired by the events in Paris and partly in protest at the state of arts education. Something we successfully repeated in 1991 until violently evicted by the riot police some days after.
A radical DIY attitude, part influenced by underground Club Culture, part by the success of Damien Hirst’s Freeze show, was sweeping through the capital. A diverse group of people from Casuals to Art graduates, Graffiti writers to emerging Dj’s converged at a dilapidated basement club called the Bass Clef on Hoxton Square, East London, generally regarded as a pretty dark and dangerous place at the time. The Bass Clef would soon be bought by Acid Jazz general Eddie Pillar and turned into the legendary Blue Note, a club that alongside an annual art event held in the square, inadvertently kick started one of the most successful gentrification projects the capital has ever seen.
There was an explosion of small DIY contemporary art pop up shows and events, none more influential than Joshua Compton’s gallery “Factual Nonesense”. Compton still in his early 20’s, was championing a new breed of artist including Tracey Emin, Sarah Lucas, Mat Collishaw, Gary Hume, Gavin Turk, Tim Noble, Gillian Wearing, Angus Fairhurst, and Damien Hirst to name but a few, his debut art party in the park “A Fete worse than Death”, is part of contemporary art folklore and an event that continues in his honour to this day (Joshua dramatically committed suicide after drinking turpentine at the Jean Michael Basquiat opening at London’s Serpentine Gallery in 1996 ). The Fete saw Tracy Emin set up a “Kissing Tent” and performance artist Leigh Bowery fake giving birth to a dwarf live on stage. A few months earlier, a couple of friends and I had donned camo outfits and broke into the building that had housed the Freeze show and liberated a large Hirst canvas, we’d offered to cut it up into single spots to sell at the Fete for charity but were unceremoniously turned down. We kept it in our hovel of an apartment until our little Greek landlady threw it in a skip after mistaking it for an old piece of kitchen lino. Oh how we laughed.
Goldie, graffiti writer turned drum n bass Dj/Producer was running the infamous Metalheadz club night and the cheap light industrial units in the area had became host to countless artist studios, rave locations, clubs and bars. It wasn’t unusual to find yourself on a dancefloor with the enfant terribles of both the art and music world. It was an exciting time of discovery for all.
In the meantime, under the influence of Marxian critical theorists and political activists such as Baudrillard and Deleuze & Guattari, I’d established a monthly night at the Institute of Contemporary Art merging art and experimental music. We commissioned small Fluxus like multiples to be given away during each event, and encouraged people to look at art in different ways. Which I guess was highly likely given that half the crowd were on ecstacy.
Alongside a few friends we’d created the art group “Phased” which, a short while after, took a call from a promoter in Stavanger, Norway requesting our services, they offered us the city as our canvas, oh joy. It was 1995. After a week-long residency and a wildly successful event, the other members of Phased boarded the plane back to London. I waved them off from the airport and as I rode back into town scanning the Norwegian countryside and mountains, realised I was starting a new chapter in life…I was 27 years old. Various clubs, gallery projects, exhibitions and dj residencies would follow, all hugely influenced by the experiences above.
The Numusic Festival was established in 2000 and Nuart would follow shortly after in 2001.
The rest, as they say…
Nuart images by Ian Cox