Defining itself as being a “semi-fictitious collective of emerging and established artists, flutists and writers” RART was founded by fine artists Ita Maude Wooller and Leanne Elliot in 2009. It might be said that this definition puts Wooller and Elliot in danger of sounding amorphous, or even vague. This could be the case if you were unaware of the pair’s achievements to date which has won them admirers ranging from Gavin Turk and Ivor Bracka, to Jim Kempner, who describes them as being a “state-of-the-moment life force, radiating spontaneous, uninhibited joy”.
The partnership was founded at the beginning of a period of uncertainty in the UK. In 2009, the economic crisis had begun to set in, funding cuts to the arts council were looming, and brands were questioning their reliance on creatives. For its inaugural series of exhibitions, the Manifesto Series, RART addressed a new approach toward making and curating art. “To better understand what RART was, we decided on a program of art shows that explored new ways of communicating work,” says Wooller. “How can art be useful? Can we make the exchanges based around skills, practice and communication rather than money?”
Manifesto culminated in an event called Pause and Effect, a five-day exhibition that took emphasis away from selling or showing finished pieces, and placed it on conversation, and exhibiting process. Artists were invited to create site-specific works that were constructed live for visitors. “Contemporary art can have an awkwardness in the public sphere,” says Elliot. “We wanted to deconstruct that with a pause, where people could see the points of composition.”
RART adopts a similarly live approach across its other programmes. In its RART Order series at Bistrotheque, Wooller and Elliot pulled the process of life drawing out of its staid classroom environment, and placed it into a more convivial, and at times, unsettling scenario. “Life drawing was seen as being fusty and a bit stagnant, but drawing the form is the basis of both our practices,” says Elliot. “We wanted to provoke a reaction from people, they’d have to draw with both hands gaffer-taped together, with quills or using ice-cubes with their mouths.”
The subject of the lessons was live also. For each session RART invited a performance artist to give a guest appearance, these included Millie Brown performing Puking the Rainbow, and amateur wrestler Jamie Lewis Hadley, who smashed through a piece of concrete in an excruciating performance exploring the futility of masculinity.
More recently, RART showed work alongside Damien Hirst at Jim Kempner Gallery’s Bling exhibition in New York, and appeared in Kempner’s online sit com The Madness of Art. RART is in the process of putting together collaborative fashion pieces for Nike and Liberty's and are working on bespoke one-off signature piece garments with UMBRO. They will also be appearing in Bermonsey at V22 where they are undertaking a undertaking a "72 hour".
It’s difficult to predict what RART will try next. It’s more difficult still to understand their self-imposed label of “semi-fictitious” – even if neither of them know anything about wind instruments.