In January 1993, two young, freshly graduated artists were looking for a studio in the East London neighbourhood of Brick Lane, whose tempting bagel shops kept the pair from expanding the horizons of their search into other city districts. Unfortunately, no studios were available in Brick Lane, but the prevalence of shuttered empty spaces inspired them to try out a shop instead. The decision was taken over a curry and it took two days to find a space where a set of miscellaneous items were soon displayed for sale. T-shirts, ashtrays and mugs quickly became best sellers, in addition to other mobile artifacts and small scale commodity-esque artworks.
Photographs of both artists adorned the mugs, and the t-shirts wore slogans such as “She’s kebab”, “Complete arsehole” or “I’m so fucky”. Other phrases such as “Help me” and “So boring” decorated handmade labels on ribbons that people could use to call upon when trapped in a difficult conversation. Those sold out the first evening. Everything in the shop was produced cheap and sold cheap. The walls painted in magnolia responded provocatively to the omnipresent white of every gallery space. Furthermore, the affordability of every artefact on sale offered an accessible alternative for both sides – seller and buyer – to create, show and purchase art.
The two artists were Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin and the anecdote became an iconic story in contemporary art history, while depicting an everlasting situation that has concerned most artists to date; one of precarity and resolution. Their case was one of many of artists cooperating to seek alternative paths for their practice in the absence of accessible infrastructures. And, the by-product was a hybrid body of work in the limits between the art object and the consumerist object.
This line between the commodity and the art object is sometimes a grey zone. Both can coexist and support each other, as some artists engage with the aesthetics of commodification or appropriate commercial strategies in order to generate hybrid settings on the fringe of regular gallery structures. When combined, those strategies can influence one another and thus become a potential, not only for a critical approach but for the construction of new independent and empowering models. The artist’s is a lucky position, as well as a fucked one. Artists are so fucky, aren’t they?