Anna Choutova Loves BAD ART, And You Should Too

Artist and curator of the exhibition series BAD ART, Anna Choutova, speaks to Isabella Bonner-Evans about inclusivity, unpretentious enjoyment, and their latest show ‘Touch Me Baby’.

WORDS Isabella Bonner-Evans

Have you ever walked into a gallery and felt deeply uncomfortable, constantly observed by the prying eyes of invigilators dressed in all-black, the barely concealed CCTV cameras and the ever-obnoxious gallery assistant at the front desk? Don’t worry, as you’re not alone. Luckily, there is an alternative in the form of Anna Choutova’s ongoing and ever-changing curatorial project BAD ART

Rapidly becoming a stalwart of the London contemporary art scene, BAD ART was founded from the fringes as a way out of the stuffy, pretentious and stale atmosphere of existing galleries and exhibitions in the city. Since its inception, they have hosted a number of shows including a fully inflatable exhibition that can only be described as an acid trip in a bouncy castle factory – in a good way. BAD ART’s program is entirely unique and authentically accessible, aimed at anyone ready to let loose and enjoy a sensory experience where art is to be enjoyed rather than postulated over. 

BAD ART’s upcoming and unmissable exhibition, Touch Me Baby, focuses on bodily consciousness, physicality, intimacy and connection – it allows you to feel both emotionally and literally as you become immersed in a world of reaching fingertips, enveloping cuddles and tickling toes. Artworks will be on show by some incredible talents including: Sally Hewett, Rosie Gibbens, Tom Coates, Josie Ko, Daisy Collinridge, Dom Watson, Andrea Gomis, Lucy Gregory, Amber Khan, Ruth Faulkner, Ella Lynch, Annique Delphine, Marie Munk, Polina Shtanko, Taryn OReilly, Emily McGardle, Lex Franchi, Alivia Goldhill, Livia Harper, Rhianna Selley, Katy Howe, Jasmine Smail, Patrick Stratton, Naomi Feld, Lukas Wachtler, Klara Szafranska, Andreea Pislaru, Liva Donina, Weronika Wolinska, Romeo Steiner, Jordan Princiotta, Thomas Pilnik, Roberta Borroni, Sabina Speich, Katayoun Jalilipour, Olga Paczka, Kerensa Star, Marine Nouvel, Charlie Barlow, Nicole Clif, Carly Owens, Imo Sophia, Eve Shashoua (Fungal Fancy) and Luke Rollison. 

Ahead of tonight’s grand opening, which promises to be a truly tactile treat, we caught up with BAD ART’s founder Anna Choutova to learn more about the incredible BAD ART project. 

Image by Jess Newby-Vincent. Artwork by Millie-Beth Wright.

Tell me all about BAD ART, your exhibitions are such an antidote to the sometimes-hostile London Art World. How did it come about? 

BAD ART is my baby! It was born out of art world rejection and insecurity – all the feelings often experienced by young artists stepping out of their BA. I was naive, arrogant and, most of all, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I was struggling to understand my place in the contemporary art world (honestly, to some degree, I still don’t) and BAD ART was my protest project. 

I deliberately showcase work that might seem like it would be unlikely to be exhibited in a commercial gallery, including my own – whether that’s because it’s too vulgar or hard to sell. BAD ART shows are always short-run, creating a sense that on visiting you are part of something brief and special in a celebratory space where art exists purely for the purpose of enjoyment. The shows challenge unnecessary binaries between what is considered ‘high’ and ‘low’ art, while confronting our preconceived notions of what it is like to interact with art. We reject the white-walled clinical gallery experience in favour of something more unpredictable, interactive and fun. 

Past exhibitions we have hosted include Fandom, a show all about celebrity obsessions, Club Tropicana at Dadapost in Berlin, which looked at ideas of ‘paradise’ and how commercial industries try to sell it back to us, Hot Air, an exhibition made up of fully inflatable works, and Let Them Eat Fake, a dinner table of inedible delicacies offering a feast for the eyes.

The shows challenge unnecessary binaries between what is considered ‘high’ and ‘low’ art, while confronting our preconceived notions of what it is like to interact with art. We reject the white-walled clinical gallery experience in favour of something more unpredictable, interactive and fun. 

Anna Choutova

Touch Me Baby, your exhibition which opens tonight in London, sounds like a sensory and tactile fiesta! Tell us about the show. 

Touch Me Baby is an ongoing series of shows BAD ART has hosted in which we drop the velvet ropes between the audience and the art, creating an environment of playful touch and response. This version will be focused on hands and other assorted body parts. This show was partly devised in response to a collective feeling of heightened awareness of our bodies following the many different social distancing requirements of the last few years and frightening new restrictions of bodily autonomy as Roe Vs. Wade is overturned in the U.S.

Tom Coates, my co-curator beautifully describes the exhibition as such: We are aiming to create a show rich with a mixture of limbs emerging from every surface and corner of the space, not necessarily inviting touch but a feeling of being caressed by the art. Drawing on the history of the telling gesture in classical sculpture, the uncanny quality of body horror and the evocative stylised hands of cartoons we trust the show will be a stimulating alternative to more static and reverential art exhibitions

Why is it important to you to break down the invisible barriers between the artwork and the audience?

In order to bond the viewer, the artist and the art. When physical barriers are dissolved an intellectual dissection of an artwork becomes secondary, if not completely irrelevant. Touch Me Baby should be understood through our senses, not our brains. We believe this is the closest we can get to creating an inclusive art environment. 

How do you think Touch Me Baby reflects on our contemporary moment of political unrest, digitally mediated existence and the pervasive cost-of-living crisis – all breading isolation and loneliness? Does it also connect back to the sense of bodily and intimate distance many of us experienced during Covid? 

Even pre-COVID, I felt a physical disconnect present in contemporary art spaces. This is literally reinforced by glass, barriers, alarms and invigilators, and mentally enforced by the sterilised, silent and ultra-serious tone of the gallery. Everything is put into place to ‘protect’ the art from the public, to elevate it far, far beyond the reach of our dirty fingertips. Art is to be regarded as a pristine object of virtue rather than a raw emotional outpouring by another human being.

Bad Art doesn’t exist to overthrow this traditional way of interacting with art, but rather to pose a question of… “yeah but have you tried it this way?”

We’re being pushed further and further away from our bodies, whether that’s through technological advancements, abortion laws, mandatory isolation or ever-changing and ever-unmanageable body ideals, it’s becoming more and more difficult to check in with our physicality – more than anything this exhibition is an exercise in mindfulness. 

Creating art is the ultimate exercise in mindfulness, to make something you need to be in tune with your emotions and your body. You need to be conscious of what you’re creating, the space it will occupy, and the physical energy being expended to create it, whether that’s breaking your back chiselling an immovable marble sculpture or frying your eye sockets editing a film for weeks on end. Whatever practice you’re into – your body works for it. Let’s show it some love! This exhibition goes out to my vital organs.

What has the process been like curating this large-scale show? How have you brought together such an exciting list of artists.

The concepts come together really organically – we discuss interesting exhibitions and art events, we send each other stand-out pieces of work and love to have a little bitch about what we think is lacking in the art world. We then start connecting it all together and see what surfaces.

Personally, I was really impressed with the ASMR show at the London Design Museum curated by James Taylor-Foster. It felt like an important show, and I noticed how it reached so many demographics. People want to be awakened in a multi-sensory way, now more than ever. We want our eyes to water, our skin to crawl and our stomachs to drop. Myself, Tom and Flora have all gravitated towards sculpture and performance in our personal practices, perhaps as a result of a desire for something more immersive, unpredictable and interactive in art. 

Once the concept solidified, we had a handful of artists in mind who fit the spec, and then it was just months and months of artist research via scrolling or doing the rounds and going to shows. I proceed to send artists some horrendously informal DMs about participating in BAD ART and then it all just started ticking along. 

We make sure to fill the space with art that approaches the concept in a variety of ways, some far more direct than others, such as a big soft hand sculpture that you can have a cuddle with, a work you can eat, and a work you can hear. 

Anna Choutova

Anna Choutova photographed by Brynley Davies

What works will you be showing? What are you most excited about?

There is so much work in the show, I don’t even know where to begin. We make sure to fill the space with art that approaches the concept in a variety of ways, some far more direct than others, such as a big soft hand sculpture that you can have a cuddle with, a work you can eat, and a work you can hear.  Some might offend you and some might excite you. Some you want to touch but can’t, some you don’t want to touch but must. It’s a total mad-house and it’s all about a collective experience. It’s hard to pin my focus on a singular artwork because BAD ART shows come together when everything is in the space as one large installation. All the artworks are upheld by their neighbours and together they form the most bizarre assembly you’ll ever see. 

Tell us about the artists and the artworks you plan to show.

I’m going to pick one, The Bench by Marie Munk. I love this work, it caused such a crazy stir on our social media, no work that we’ve posted EVER has had so much love and hate directed at it before. To me, this is a sign of a successful piece of art, in the same breath people will call it hilarious, disgusting, offensive, brilliant and bizarre. I am absolutely thrilled to be including it in Touch Me Baby. 

You often host a performance event during your shows. Why is performance art so important to BAD ART’s mission? 

This has been thanks to our newest co-director Tom Coates. Personally, I’ve always shied away from performance art, but that’s only due to my issues with control. I think performance is the ultimate form of unpredictable and unrestrained art. You just do know what the hell somebody is going to do. Tom totally opened my eyes at the last BAD ART, he organised this whole night and curated a handful of artists whose performances explored food. It was incredible and is an absolute cornerstone when thinking about the BAD ART ethos. We want the shows to feel alive.

What experience do you hope viewers have at your show? What might they take away from it? 

I want them to leave feeling excited. I want people to feel like they were a part of something special. The incredible art is the spine that holds this whole project together, but the energy the artists and art lovers bring is what truly makes these things electric. I can’t describe it… you’ll just have to come and see for yourself!

Bad Art Presents Touch Me Baby, 10 – 13 November 2022
The Bomb Factory Art Foundation, Unit 2, Boothby Road, Archway, London, N19 4AJ

Opening Night | 9 November 2022 | 6-9PM
Performance Night | 12 November 2022 | 6-9PM
Exhibition open | 10 – 13 November 2022 | 11AM-6PM
Follow to find out more: @badartpresents | | @annachoutova1

Isabella Bonner-Evans
Isabella Bonner-Evans

Art writer, curator and public relations specialist, focussed on platforming emerging talent across the visual culture sector. When not walking my dog in rainy East London parks, I can be found on my sofa writing articles for Bricks Magazine, FAD magazine, Art Plugged and Off the Block Magazine.

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