Jacob Moss, Curator of the Fan Museum talks about his exhibition Street Fans.
In 2015, I welcomed Paris-based street artist Codex Urbanus to The Fan Museum, where I have occupied the role of curator since graduating from MA Fashion Curation in 2010. Codex proposed an exhibition of fans designed by street artists, having already organised a similar project at the Musée de l’Éventail, Paris (sadly, since closed). Animated discussions gave rise to a pioneering project uniting 1 fan maker and 29 street artists. The fruits of this unique liaison – 54 contemporary fans – formed the nucleus of a colourful and celebratory show at The Fan Museum.
From the outset, the concept of linking fan making with street art – tradition and modernity/establishment and anti-establishment – I found intriguing. Taking to the streets of East London I began to familiarise myself with street art, an artform previously unknown to me, and discovered a vibrant movement counting innovators, mavericks and provocateurs amongst its ranks.
A cast of leading artists was soon assembled and introduced to project fan maker, Sylvain Le Guen, arguably the most gifted of fan makers active in Europe today, honoured in 2015 by the French Ministry of Culture as a Maître d’Art.
With the ‘cast’ in place, I set about ensuring a meaningful collaboration and encouraged artists to attend workshop sessions with Le Guen and attend viewings of the Museum’s 5000+ collection of fans. From the outset, each artist demonstrated passion for the project and engaged well with the subject of fans and tradition of fan painting. Unconventional ideas flowed freely, unhindered by the technical and commercial constraints which often influence the work of professional fan painters. It is worth remembering that artists who’ve not made fan painting their speciality have, at various times throughout history, produced fan paintings. In this respect, the street artists participating in the project followed a path already taken by salon-exhibited artists, post-impressionists and modern artists. Indeed, The Fan Museum has in its collections fan paintings by Gauguin, Sickert, Giacometti and even Salvador Dali.
Arming each artist with fan papers, arc shaped templates and written guidance, I waited expectantly for work to begin arriving at the Museum. The unwrapping of the latest package became a moment to savour. The diverse modes of expression were inspiring: the arc modulated, enhanced and disrupted. Curvilinear tangles competed with geometric compositions; typographic scribblings evoked hieroglyphics; demonic felines came with elliptical peep-holes; buildings spun violently around a vortex.
Le Guen worked with sensitivity and creativity to bring each artwork to life, the artists’ unconventional ideas prompting the fan maker to work in similarly imaginative ways. Each design became a point of departure to be enhanced or personalised in some form or another with materials and processes tailored perfectly to match. Nathan Bowen’s distinctive London skyline, for example, made even more patriotic when mounted on sticks painted red, white and blue; Jean Faucheur’s ghoulish skeletons given a humorous twist when paired with bone-shaped sticks.
In what would be a series of ‘firsts’ for the Museum, a Street Fans crowdfunding campaign launched on Art Happens, the Art Fund’s crowdfunding platform for museums and galleries. Seeking to raise £14,000 toward the overall cost of staging the project, the message to potential funders was clear and consistent: help The Fan Museum unite two disparate spheres of artistry for a pioneering project aimed at renewing interest in the craft of fan making, identified by the Heritage Crafts Association as at ‘serious risk of no longer being practiced in the UK.
Over a period of just 33 days, staff and volunteers at The Fan Museum worked systematically to reach the funding target, publicising the campaign at every opportunity on social media, TV and local radio. Overall 151 donors contributed more than £15,000 which was set against the cost of producing the 54 fans displayed and a series of project-linked outreach events. Aimed squarely at engaging new audiences, The Fan Museum partnered with University of Greenwich, Lewisham Southwark College and Greenwich Market for a series of creative workshops. In total over 200 people took part in outreach events, many of which subsequently visited the exhibition and gained a newfound appreciation of fans and fan making.
Street Fans is at the Fan Museum, Crooms Hill, Greenwich, London, 19 September – 31 December 2017
Find out more about Art Happens, the Art Fund’s crowdfunding platform for museums and galleries
Read more about Jacob Moss
Apply for the MA Fashion Curation course