Punters at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


MADA! The DA! Collective at 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008
@www.ravishlondon.com
http://www.ravishlondon.com/dacollective/index.html#mada

MADA! Beginnings
http://www.ravishlondon.com/dacollective/index.html#madabeginnings

One night in October 2008, fifty yards from the heavily guarded American Embassy in Mayfair, and directly opposite Corrigan's, a Michelin starred restaurant, a young man started to climb a ladder positioned against the wall of a six storey Georgian mansion. Clambering up on to the balcony, the man was pretty sure this Mayfair mansion was empty. His associates, stood below, had been watching the building for six months, putting put tape on the keyhole to see if anyone was using the front door and regularly peeking through the letterbox. Now, on this cool October night a push on the balcony window found a freedom of movement which caused a jump of joy in the congregation of hearts below. This was the first step in the realisation of an artistic vision, in the creation of a small piece of London Art history.


For with one push, MADA! the brainchild of artist Simon McAndrew was born. McAndrew an artist in his twenties (click here for photo) had previously lived in Paris working as a hairdresser.. There he came acrossChez Robert an art squat located in the centre of the city. At Chez Robert he met and fell in love with his future long-term partner Bogna. Together they decided, after a short stint in Japan, and having moved to London in 2002 to create a London equivalent of Chez Robert. In 2005 they found their first place, a 6 storey building on Kensington High Street. Here they formed what they called the the DA! collective Although the name has favourable associations with Dadaism, a surrealist artistic movement from the 1920s, it was derived from two letters left on the shop front of the building they squatted. McAndrew explained, "On the front windows were the words ‘closing down sale last day’, but by the time we got to it the letters were peeling off and all that was left were the letters DA". McAndrew and his partner lived in the building for a year, converting it into an exhibition space and making a cinema in the basement. They attracted more people into the collective including long-standing member Stephanie Smith and went on to find sites in Knightsbridge and Tottenham Court Road before finding their Mayfair spot.


On gaining entry to the Mayfair mansion at 18 Upper Grosvenor Street the collective were to find thirty rooms, a large lobby area and a beautiful wooden spiral staircase, which led to the top of the property. The property had no carpets or furnishings, but did have chandeliers and luxuriantly thick curtains hanging from ten foot windows. 18 Upper Grosvenor Street was one of many Georgian town houses built for the aristocracy at the beginning of the eighteenth century. It was built and owned by the Grosvenor Estate and Duke of Westminster. Apparently at the time the collective moved in the Grosvenor Estate had leased it to a company based in the British Virgin Islands. The leaseholders, apparently, whilst paying for the lease, did not have an immediate use for it. This may seem unusual but it has been said companies commonly purchase and sell leases on Mayfair properties as part of tax avoidance schemes, meaning several of Mayfair’s properties are empty at any one time.


MADA! Occupancy
http://www.ravishlondon.com/dacollective/index.html#madaoccupancy

The DA! collective, in founding MADA! worked to ensure the building could be used for artists. The collective maintained twenty-four hour occupancy of the property. Lacking money, they adopted what McAndrew called freeganism scavenging on fresh vegetables discarded at New Covent Garden market and supermarket bins.


Ensconced in their new premises DA! raised a black anarchist flag from the balcony. As described by Paul Harris of the Daily Mail, 'A 21-year-old woman in a mask and a raggedy mini-skirt stood on a balcony overlooking puzzled passers-by, and read aloud a statement about liberty and legality. DA! announced, pragmatically, that the building would be 'relatively free from the constraints of institutions'. McAndrew invited artists into the squat through word of mouth and the internet, but was also aided by the national press, who were particularly fascinated by the squate. McAndrew said his vision for MADA! was to invite artists in, giving them the freedom to roam free.


MADA! Shows
http://www.ravishlondon.com/dacollective/index.html#madashows

There were, to my knowledge, two art shows put on at MADA! One on the 8th November and another on the 21st.


8th November 2008
http://www.ravishlondon.com/dacollective/index.html#madashow8thnovember2008

It is difficult to describe the sense of excitement that built up prior to the first show on the 8th November. News about the project had hit the national newspapers. I was excited about seeing the inside of a neglected Mayfair Georgian Town House, excited about seeing what it feels like to be invited into an artists’ squat, and interested too in seeing the exhibition. It was like the ultimate Open House experience.


Approaching the mansion on the 8th November was a strange experience. The street around Upper Grosvenor Street was quiet you wouldn’t have known there was an art squat exhibition on. It felt a bit strange knocking on the door of the property. The group I was part of were greeted by people who were a little wary, I think because the national media had misrepresented the intentions of the collective, and had claimed the collective were going to host a party. However, it was very clear, on entering the building; this wasn't going to be a party. There were people in the lobby acting like receptionists. We were told the show would be finishing at 11. There was a sign saying 'no drugs'.


In general, the atmosphere in this dusty old dark mansion was relaxed and chilled. Punters were sitting down in groups chatting, and supping beers, whilst art student types and designers moved around the building with grace, affecting an air of wonderment and enchantment, with their Gucci handbags hanging from shoulder. The audience was a mix of middle class trendies and poverty stricken crusties.


One artist spoke to me with the speed of the machine guns owned by the police guarding the American Embassy round the corner. Eventually he asked me for a beer - I gave him half the can I had in my hand. Later on three beers were to be lost by the party I was travelling with. This occurred whilst we were sat down in a darkened room listening to a guitar and violin ensemble. As we rested our beers on the floor, the metal tacks in the bare floorboard had sufficient gumption to burst through the cans – producing beery fireworks. When we stood up to leave, someone might have been forgiven for thinking we were on an incontinents' support group night out.


There was a variety of musical events on offer throughout the mansion. A guitar and violin duet in one room covered in autumnal leaves, a drumming session in the other. On the ground floor two old pianos in the lobby were being played simultaneously – releasing a beautiful melody – rather like rain falling. People looked relaxed. The whole thing reminded me of an episode of Heimat.


Man gets intimate with the banana theramin at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


In other areas people were projecting video images on to the walls. Given that most of this stuff was art students who were, I assume, still finding their feet, it wasn’t breath taking – but doing it in a six story Georgian town house was stimulating– I couldn’t have asked for a more refreshing Friday night. The most amusing and interactive item on display was a theramin – with a plastic banana mounted on to it. It made children of us all.


The gig was closed at 11pm – as advertised. Punters were reluctant to go, but did so with civility. A small guy came round, the antithesis of a Mayfair bouncer, and asked people, politely, if they would care to leave. Some were disgruntled, ‘I’ve been asked to ask politely’ stressed the young man. In a neighbouring room a bearded man with a beer can in his hand was stood up, singing and swaying with his eyes closed, jamming with a guy with a guitar in a jester’s hat sat hunched against the wall. ‘We don’t want to go, we don’t want to go,’ they sang. The exasperated diminutive bouncer remonstrated. The bearded man, determined not to hear this cajoler, closed his eyes and continued ‘Go home. No drugs’ (in relation to the sign put up on the ground floor: ‘no drugs’). I decided to play by the book ‘Fair enough’ I replied to the young’un ‘we all knew we have to leave at eleven when we came in here didn’t we?’ and the guy shook my hand. I felt a sense of respect gained, which had all but disappeared one hour later, at which point I was still in the building, on the second floor, playing with the banana theramin.


Peeps getting ready to go home at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London



It is interesting to hear other peoples account of the evening. Heleana wrote, "I was immediately immersed into a labyrinth of video art installations and performance arty stuff. Behind every door there was a surprise: looming abstract sculptures, an unbelievably loud jam session that was actually on the fourth floor but sounded like it was right next to me, some impossible-to-deconstruct experimental films… London’s preview whores rubbed shoulders with tweedy Mayfair locals, squat party frequenters and journos, who wondered around silently taking pictures.


Girl taking photograph at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


Spinning Chandaliers make sparlking light effect at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


The grandiose spiral staircase transports visitors through the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


Opulence manifest at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


Geezers taking it easy through the lense of one of the exhibitions at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


Guitarist and violinist playing music at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


Projection at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


Avin a Fag at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


A Light Show and Banana Theramin at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


The Kronenburg Alliance consider the consumption of cigarettes at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008,Ravish London


Piece of art or a piece of litter which has attached itself to a nail on a wall at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


21st November 2008
http://www.ravishlondon.com/dacollective/index.html#madashow21stnovember2008

Three weeks later the DA! collective hosted a second exhibition, bigger and better, and better attended, thanks to the publicity the first show and constant media coverage had built up. This was the big one, the pinnacle of the MADA! experience.


On the 21st there were several interesting displays including a nightclub with cardboard square tubes the size of tree trunks invading the space, so that you had to duck in and out and under them to move around the club. Next to that there was a room, which often had no-one in it, dark, with a big curtain hanging in the middle of it. When you drew back the curtain you found yourself in this strange space, where at the back by the wall there was a chair, lit up, and in between you and the chair, several knives hanging from piece of string from the ceiling.


On the ground floor one exhibition featured tights stretched all over the place, creating dendritic shapes. Elsewhere a girl daubed in pale blues and greens danced seductively, attracting bearded and non-bearded perves. She was, I would say, for many, the star of the show. In the basement there were a series of mannequins with interesting postures.


Tights Exhibition at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


Dancing woman at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


Dancing woman at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


Dancing woman at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


Dancing woman at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


Dancing woman at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


Dancing woman at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


Dancing woman at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


People chatting at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


People chatting at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


There was a physical interactive aspect to this exhibition. A maze of doors all stuck together was put together, forming various ramps and low ceilings that you had to walk over and under, all over the place. It was quite fun – though a health and safety type would have swallowed his tongue - but this was, arguably, a night to leave your clipboard and apprehensions at home.


We also got a look at the kitchen, which looked a dump with food strewn all over it, and unwashed pots and pans. There was a lot of out of date food - it has been reported that many in the collective go fishing in supermarket skips for such items. Mind you they were a discerning lot – a lot of the food was organic. There was a note about cleaning pinned to the wall.


Keyboard and Cous Cous, The Kitchen at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


Femme Fatale Buttersquash playing hard to get at the Kitchen at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


The Kitchen at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


Fighting Against Uncleanliness at The Kitchen at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


Outside, towards the end of the night, a police van pulled up. Across the street, outside Corrigans' restaurant, bouncers and super rich were looking across with a mixture of incomprehension and disgust. All the time, the same small guy, who had been ushering people out of the building weeks previous, was asking us to move on, still politely. He stressed the need for us to go quickly, so the neighbours wouldn't be disturbed, so DA! could continue putting on nights like this. We moved away briskly. The guy tried to shuffle a bin bag full of rubbish that DA's neighbours had left outside, closer to their own fence. He ended up disturbing it, some of its contents spilling on to the street.


Old Bill outside the Exhibition at at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London



This wasn't the way it was supposed to be, Modified Art, at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


Diva and Harpist, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


Exhibition or Visitor? at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


Manequin Exhibition at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


Manequin Exhibition at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


Manequin Exhibition at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


Manequin Exhibition at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


Can of Carlsberg Special Brew provocatively placed under the triangular roof structure from Islam Expo 2006, at the Da! Collective Art Exhibition, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, 2008, Ravish London


The End of MADA!
http://www.ravishlondon.com/dacollective/index.html#madaend

By the end of November the leaseholders had gotten an eviction order and the collective had left 18 Upper Grosvenor Street. A few months later however they found another property around the corner in Clarges Mews where the show continued.


References
http://www.ravishlondon.com/dacollective/index.html#madareferences

  • Paul Harris, Daily Mail, 7th November 2008, The £6million squatters: Artist gang flies the black flag of anarchy over Mayfair mansion.
  • The Null Device, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street.
  • Andy McSmith, Squatters take over 6 million pound house, The Independent, November 8th 2008.
  • The Null Device, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street.
  • The Null Device, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street.
  • Graham Tibbetts, Daily Telegraph, Squatters turn £6.25 million townhouse into anarchist commune.
  • The Da! Gallery website.
  • Helen Pidd, £6m house, 30 rooms, one careful anarchist collective: inside Britain's poshest squat, Group plan art installation after taking over Mayfair property dressed as builders, Guardian, November 7th 2008.
  • The Da! Movement website.
  • Phillip Case, The Sun Newspaper, ‘Dossers trash 6 million pound mansion: We’ve won the National squatter!", no date.
  • Time Out London, 6th November, Hot to Squat: inside the coolest 6 million pound mansion in Mayfair..
  • About Mada the Da! Movement website.
  • Da! Events
  • The DA! Gallery
  • Interview with Simon McAndrew in Libertine magazine, 2010.