How we put on an exhibition.
Who tf are stoggaf, why did we put on an art exhibition? What led to that point? How did we even do something like that?
Ask a queer person in a city - humungous, large, medium or small what led them to attend their their first art exhibition, rave, sex event, or running group and they’ll likely tell you they ‘stumbled across it’ or a mate told them about it.
Rewind to 2014. A few queers met on apps and started attending queer parties together, beginning to properly discover themselves for the first time. Off they fuck to uni, and by the time they’d finished, there was a pronounced sense of ‘queer identity’ and wanting to live more experiences that represented them.
Okay great, but what does that actually mean?
In essence, they wanted to find cool queer shit to do in their spare time that broke the monotony of the ‘real world’ - of stacking shelves in Tescos, working long hours at a greasy Wetherspoons, or sticking pins in their eyes to add ‘spice’ to an excel spreadsheet in the office.
But the thing is, cool queer shit isn’t always very accessible to people into cool queer shit. Queer Culture has in many ways emanated from the throngs of societal vilification = aka queer culture was for many many years, underground. Even when ‘legal’ and ‘tolerated’ it never extolled its own virtues preferring to operate in parallel to the status quo and stay under the radar.
In some ways, it… kinda works right?
It’s a bit cool to say to a mate ‘I’m going to this amazing underground party in the midst of suburban zone 9.’ Or, ‘my mate is holding a limited run performance of his latest epilogues in some tiny theatre in Wood Green, wanna come?’
So if it’s ‘cool’, what the fuck are we trying to say?
Yeah great. It works, we agree, it’s part of what enables us as people to have these uniquely personal experiences that go towards defining us and the people around us.
But what about made up person ‘Alex’?
During their teenage years they’ve been coming to terms with their queer identity and beginning to embrace it. They left the countryside for the big city when they turned 18. They know they have an inclination that they want to discover 'cool queer shit', arts, theatre and more. But they don’t know what’s good to see, where to go, and who else might be interested in the things they are.
So they come unstuck and spend every weekend bar-hopping between Be-At-One, and TigerTiger with some acquaintances they barely know or who barely have any shared interests.
There’s not only ‘Alex’, but the artists, performers, creators, producers and everyone in-between that are creating stuff, but struggle to have a platform with a large enough reach to have their work and creative output shared among those with an interest in it.
At STOGGAF, we have been, and are both of those things, the people seeking those queer experiences, and the people creating them. STOGGAF was a bit unintended, but it came from a yearning to be able to share in a unified way, queer stuff that’s out there, and to support the people creating it.
We decided to start with a website and store, supporting queer visual artists. You’re probably reading this from that very store blog.
We launched the store roughly halfway through 2022 and we’re just getting started.
We see the STOGGAF store as the home for queer creators and queer artists.
Fuck huge sites like Etsy where as an artist, your content just gets lost among a sea of poorly curated and irrelevant content. When people think Queer Visual Art we want people to think STOGGAF. But we have a long way to go to make sure STOGGAF is as inclusive as it possibly can be for people within queer communities.
When the site first launched for example, we weren’t working with any artists depicting anything other than hyper-sexualised and hyper-masculine imagery.
It wasn’t an easy journey to get to even where the site has gotten to in 6 months, and that’s notwithstanding something we learned really early on…
Exhibition Lightbulb Moment
As great as an online home for queer visual arts is, we quickly realised that finding cool queer shit online is kinda hard - i.e. getting to us. When you have big search engines, and the lovely Meta / Facebook, that control the narrative (we can’t tell you howwww many fucking times an ad got banned from Facebook because some NIMBY Gammon accidentally stumbled and reported queer stuff for being “too suggestive”); that control over the narrative on their platforms makes it infinitely more difficult for us to succinctly share STOGGAF and get the message out there.
Notwithstanding the rant about platform totalitarian control, it’s also kinda obvious since that C***D (swear word we won’t use) that people want to be outside, among people, in the physical space.
(Fuck the Metaverse.) x
So we just knew, we had to do something drastic and dive into something we’d never done before.
Put on an exhibition.
Among Team STOGGAF we’ve got people that have put on shows, performances, directed stuff, made art, but never put on an an exhibition with a multitude of amazing queer artists. Fuck.
So, let’s just remind ourselves here - no one here at team STOGGAF has put on an art exhibition. Let alone a queer one. Hmm okay this might be a bit tough. First we spoke to the artists we were working with, all were super receptive and keen to be a part of what we were doing. ✅
Then we started with the easy stuff - a date, in the diary. ✅
Next the venue, We were actually super lucky with this fairly early on. Often people running any kind of event will spend agesss trying to find a venue. We trawled online. Some wouldn’t touch us once we said ‘queer art’ others were super keen to chat to us. But we wanted to find somewhere with the right vibe. Turns out the place with the ‘right vibe’ wasn’t even an art gallery or typical gallery space.
Luckily for us the first venue we physically viewed, the railway arches in the iconic centre of Brixton - were a goer. It was this beautiful, super reasonably priced space for a small community group like us with a tiny tiny budget (funded purely by us and savings) and an unbelievably helpful and receptive team who wanted to help us make what we were doing, successful. Once we viewed it, we booked it instantly. ✅
The venue were even super chill when we accidentally ended up spending 4 hours there, pre exhibition being self indulgent and taking cute pics with the art - for promotion reasons of course.
Once ticket sales went live, and we had a few articles published in small publications such as Brixton Blog, the word started to get out among artists. Before we knew it, we had amassed 5 more amazing artists to display their work!
So things were picking up, the venue was sorted, ticket sales were starting to flow, we had one problem.
The issue with choosing a ‘vibey’ space, is that you a) can’t drill anything into rounded railway arches and, b) they’re rounded, even if you wanted to, try hanging up art from those orbicular fuckers.
It was time to build some walls. Luckily we had someone on the team who had helped design layouts for museums, but actually building them? Yeah, nope. We measured up with the venue who gave us some input as to what size the panels should be, at least 6mm of girth, use this kinda wood etc etc.
Sooo…. we rang a few wood suppliers (turns out you can order wood super last minute in London, yey) and the prices were much girthier than 6mm… So first mistake, we cheaped out and bought 3mm wood and propped it up with a couple of 6mm pieces for hanging heavier pieces. this saved on cost but trebled the hassle.
Hanging those MDF bastards to the timber frames we’d built without them warping was more challenging than tight-rope walking. Painting them also took an exceedingly long time, of course they just loved to drink and absorb the paint.
One of our lovely artists who provided us with their art the night before visibly gasped as she entered the space the evening before the exhibition…
Yeah it was still a building site. Panels were strewn across the floor being painted, we were shattered from doing booze and B&Q runs for last minute supplies, and the next thing we knew, it was 1am and we still hadn’t erected a single wall.
Once things got going they started to fly up, despite some interim screams that the walls didn’t appear to be sturdy enough to just ‘stand’ there. Some last minute tweaks and bracing secured that. Lawsuit crisis averted.
In-between the 2am panic for putting up walls, our glory-hole had called - he cancelled.
Well, the glory-hole itself didn’t quite cancel, but the artist behind it had. We’d had this crafty idea to build a dick drawing glory hole. No viva, oral or aural skills required here, purely a pen and paper and an artists drawing your dick.
Our rapid artistic director Kieran, had the scorching area to re-assign the bar area to be as a ‘dark room’, projecting a film and adorned with a ‘living art’ installation. Enter, rubber gimp.
Saturday, November the 19th came. It was barely 9:30am, 30 minutes before the exhibition start time and we were already exhausted.
As with any event, it’s always wise to expect the unexpected. Like, having to turn away your first attendees at the 10am start time because you needed a little bit more time to sprinkle the finishing gay magic touches… Or the fact that PayPal decided to fuck you over because you’re running an ‘unethical organisation’ (okayy?!!?!) and block you from using their card readers - good luck doing on the door tickets...
Buttt, we were starting to settle into the grove of things. In fact, the biggest achievement? People were actually fucking turning up. (small internal cry in queer).
Over the course of the day, 250 people came, we sold 300 tickets and 15 amazing queer artists got to showcase evocative, vivid and pensive queer pieces.
There were rumours and chatter over our latex ‘mannequin’ installation.
”omg was it a real person? I swear I saw it move!” - he was real. x
And people were not only hanging out at the exhibition for a couple of hours, they were coming back, bringing friends, booze, and having a dance around the pieces. We’d call that a success for a first exhibition!
The future of Stoggaf
Despite four hours sleep over 2 days, we were buzzing.
And we don’t want to stop at one exhibition once per year in Brixton.
We’re working on some stuff that abets our tenets of making queer culture more accessible and hedonistic.
A massive thank you to the core team:
Kieran, Kyia, Matt, Seb
People who got roped in along the way:
Kyia's bf, Anojan, Seb's housemate
Our fucking amazing artists in no order
Thank you to Club Silly for Hosting us
Thank you to Brixton Blog, GayLondonLife, Patroc and numerous University Queer Societies for promoting us.
Thank you so much for coming along for the journey so far, and please stick around for more. x