Pilot:3 isn’t an art fair, it’s a “live archive for artists and curators”. But programing this understated three-day event to coincide with the London art fairs lends it an air of revolution, and suggests a bold departure from the Frieze-regulated model of mass art conventions.
It’s free entry and there’s nothing for sale but the accompanying book. You walk in and the first thing you’re hit by is the emptiness of the space and the obvious absence of actual artwork. The homely rugs, lighting and cardboard box chairs (marked with “SIT”) and tables (“DON’T SIT”) save the space from starkness and make it clear that if there’s any art to see you’re going to have to do the work yourself. On show are 85 international curators and the 85 artists they’ve selected, but none has more than an A4 box file and a bit of laminated A4 paper to play with.
The archive set-up puts you back in the library, with no impetus to engage with the work but your own personal research interests, or just whatever catches your eye. The democratising effect is significant, as is the impact of dealing with the work on your own terms.
What goes into each box file is up to the artist, but it has to be documentation rather than actual artwork: a refreshing acknowledgment of the violence done to original works of art in a mass context like an art fair. Just as Art Monthly’s black & white photographic policy underlines the importance of experiencing artwork in the flesh rather than vicariously through glossy images, so Pilot’s ban on original work demonstrates that if you want a real relationship with an artist’s practice, you can’t get it in an afternoon. The box files are just truncated introductions, with sufficient information to get you started on the lengthier, in-depth research good artwork deserves and cannot enjoy in the art fair context.
The only firm criteria for nomination is that the artist must not be represented by a gallery at the time of selection. Though some turn out to have been picked up by galleries by the time the event comes round, it remains a fairly robust criteria for what it means to be ’emerging’. This is Pilot’s third year and it’s showing no sign of the wayward slippage towards celebrity on the horizon for this year’s newest fairs despite their claims to the contrary. Its structure is just too rigid to allow it. As long as there are only box files, only documentation, and only unsigned artists, Pilot ensures that the only spectacle in the show is the quality of practice itself.