Dan Beesley at Doomed Gallery

Ken Flaherty’s Doomed Gallery in East London has a rapid turn-around of exhibitions of provocative new work. Thursday last week opened a show of “six new and emerging artists from across two of the UK’s most vibrant and cultural cities”, namely London and Leeds. One artist whose work really grabbed my attention was Dan Beesley. His mixed-media works hit me with a surge of wildly Dionysian energy.

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Beesley’s work is situated outside of any obvious genres, but has pointers to Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst. Duchamp’s ‘ready-mades’ were found objects that he put forward from 1915 onwards, culminating in his infamous urinal (Fountain, 1917), and were supposed to be an interrogation of the very idea of man-made art, which Duchamp regarded as “unnecessary”. It was, however, an intellectually bankrupt move by Duchamp since it told us nothing and went nowhere. Only when the found object is subject to intervention do we encounter the interesting process that we call ‘art’. Beesley displays chunks of furniture from his studio that have subtle and ambiguous interventions. In fact, the naturalistic chaos of the works makes it largely impossible to tell where the found object ends and the intervention begins. And in this respect he reminds me of Ernst, who would begin a picture with the naturalistic chaos of dripping paint, or frottage and grattage, and tease an image out of it. Beesley resists the temptation to follow Ernst and make order out of chaos, and leaves us to confront natural mess unfettered by reason.


Daubs of paint, drips of candle wax and a felled candle, a key imprisoned by some glue-like substance, stencilled geometric forms, … the irresistible beauty of natural disorder. It was the Romantic era that formally recognised that the ruins of a castle have a greater aesthetic appeal than an intact one: naturalistic chaos is neither pure chaos, like Jackson Pollock’s meaninglessly random drip paintings, but neither is it the deliberate product of a thinking mind. It is a work that dances on the edge of chaos but withstands the vertiginous pull of the abyss.


Beesley studied Fine Art at Leeds College of Art and Design. He is now based in Leeds and works across multiple disciplines. Several of his earlier works on paper can be seen on his Tumblr portfolio, danteonline.tumblr.com. These are interesting but not match the power and authenticity of new mixed-media pieces shown in the No Frills show at Doomed.




Doomed Gallery, 65 Ridley Rd, London E8 2NP.



Open Exhibition at the Sentinel Gallery

Above: The Sentinel Gallery, Wivenhoe, from the gallery web site.

Open Exhibitions are great for artists who are not yet ‘established’ as they allow individual works of merit to reach public attention (and, with luck, to be bought). Established artists, of course, can also use Open Exhibitions to enlarge their audience. But it is the new artists who stands to gain most. Many (but by no means all) of the artists in this Staying With Art group are not so established that they have an arrangement with a gallery for regular exhibitions of their work.

The Sentinel Gallery is a new but highly regarded gallery in Wivenhoe, Essex. This is a small fishing town, about an hour outside London, with an unusually high concentration of artists, writers, and other creatives. The Gallery was created a year ago by Pru Green, a potter who previously set up the Gwili Pottery in Carmarthen. It was an uphill struggle to create this strikingly modernist purpose-built gallery space in the old part of Wivenhoe. (And ‘old’ here means very old. The nearby house I am living in dates back to the Sixteenth Century.) Designed by architects Laurie Wood & Associates, the Sentinel Gallery demonstrates modernist design at its best. A human-scaled building that nestles unobtrusively between trees and existing buildings, it adds value to its environment. The fact that it is not on the High Street, but is in a quiet lane alongside the railway, has probably helped it win acceptance in the local community.

To celebrate its first birthday, Sentinel is holding an Open Exhibition entitled Select, and had its vernissage yesterday. By midday people were queueing to get in, and the gallery was packed with art-lovers shuffling around the hundred or so works in the Open Exhibition.

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Opening reception of the Sentinel Gallery’s Open Exhibition, March 5. Photo © 2016, Reka Komoli

Given the nature of the exhibition, it is not surprising that there was a wide range of styles and subject matters. Nevertheless, there seemed to be two recurring themes: the countryside, and abstraction. The majority were paintings, with a minority of photographs and sculpture. One picture that stood out was a photograph of Walton Pier, in Walton-on-the-Naze, about fifteen miles from Wivenhoe, by Reka Komoli (who is the photographer on the Staying With Art project).  To allow room for anglers, the pier broadens out at its end, and the wooden floorboards form a beautiful pattern of organic geometry, and this was Reka’s subject, a picture entitled The Geometry of Fishing.

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‘The Geometry of Fishing’, by Reka Komoli, at the Sentinel Gallery. Photo © 2016, Reka Komoli

One of the regulars at the Sentinel Gallery is Jill Desborough. I love her dark pictures that depict a strange other world. This time she had two sculptures. One was a minotaur, apparently sunk in existential angst, entitled Solitary.

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‘Solitary’ by Jill Desborough, in the Sentinel Gallery Open Exhibition. Photo © 2016, Reka Komoli

Jill’s other piece here was her playfully black sculpture of two rodents, The Lovely Rats III.

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‘The Lovely Rats III’ by Jill Desborough, in the Sentinel Gallery Open Exhibition. Photo © 2016, Reka Komoli

It was hard to appreciate fully the works on display, of which there were about a hundred, without elbowing aside other art-lovers to claim some floor-space in which to stand back and take it all in. There were several pieces that really struck me as interesting, and we will be going back on a quieter day to peruse the show.

Meanwhile, if you are anywhere near Wivenhoe – the nearest big town is Colchester, and London is barely an hour on a direct train route – then you really should visit the Sentinel Gallery. The web site is www.thesentinelgallery.co.uk and they also have a Facebook site.

Brave new arts marketplace

Above: Furnas Lake Villas, photo © by John Uzee.

Computers: mostly helpful

The internet is overflowing with start-up tech companies with smart new apps that will supposedly provide what you need to make your working life easier, and help you sell your creative work. It sometimes feels like web sites and smartphone apps and ‘social media’ can suck the life juices out of the day, leaving you no chance to do anything productive. It’s what Robert Pirsig called a ‘gumption trap’ in his Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Computers! You can’t live with them, but you can’t live without them!

It’s reassuring if a new web site has been produced by someone who’s actually had real-world experience of the hard slog of creating and successfully marketing creative work. Suzana Barbosa, under the name of Suzana d’Amour, is a smoking hot singer-songwriter who for more than a decade has been singing in live gigs and studio recordings with Mike Dell (piano) and Randall Savoie (bass). You can listen to their music,  described as “theatrical pop with a rich blend of blues, jazz and cabaret” on Suzana’s web site, suzanadamour.com. (I’ve been listening to it over and over …) They have more recently formed the band Lumanova.

Now, she is focusing on helping other creatives collaborate and market themselves.

There are two projects: Mess Hub, which has been running for a while (messhub.com, also on Facebook), and MuSpot, which is due to launch very shortly (muspot.co).

Art entrepreneurship

Suzana has summarised her philosophy in these projects with a quotation from Frank Zappa: “I see no reason why an artist should starve for the rest of his life. I see nothing dishonorable about making money from doing something that you like to do. I don’t think that I, or anyone in a creative field, should be forced to work in a gas station during the day so that he can do his thing at night for a limited audience.” (Zappa interviewed by Anna Maria Stramese, Underground Digest, March 1968.)

One of the roots of Mess Hub is a residential space in the Azores, Furnas Lake Villas, which has been rented out to collaborating groups of creatives (pictured above). Created by architect Fernando Monteiro, the ten modernist villas are made from locally grown Japanese cedar trees, which were introduced to the islands two centuries years ago. One of the villas is owned by the architect’s in-laws Manuel and Helena, who rent it on AirBnB, while the other nine are rented out by Suzana for musicians and artists in the off-peak months.

From that, came Mess Hub, based initially in Copenhagen. Starting in March 2015, this has been providing workshops and masterclasses to help creatives become entrepreneurs; it also organises spaces for creative collaboration. One such space being the Villas in the Azores, another is planned in Berlin.

The workshops are described as two-day pop-up bootcamps. “During the workshops, musicians discover how they can monetize their talents, and turn the idea into an alternative revenue stream.” After the workshops, “musicians become part of a community of musician-entrepreneurs that is centred around becoming financially  sustainable”.

The masterclasses are tailored workshops, which “cover such areas as revenue streams, design thinking, branding, customer development, budgeting, storytelling, and value proposition design”.

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Suzana M Barbosa, founder of Mess Hub and MuSpot. Photo © Elaine Tavares

Going beyond the success of Mess Hub, Suzana is about to unleash the MuSpot. This she describes as being “like an AirBnB for artist residencies and creatives”. A lot of corporations and institutions have artists-in-residence, but how do you find those opportunities? Through MuSpot! It also facilitates a marketplace for resources, so that musicians and other creatives “can list, discover and book creative spaces around the world,” and it helps creatives to connect and collaborate.

I’ve not seen the prototype yet – but, from talking to Suzana, it sounds like a useful tool for independent artistes. It’s launching soon – and, through the web site (muspot.co), you can get on Suzana’s mailing list to be notified when it is rolled out.

This is obviously going to be a big job, but Suzana is working with designers and computer geeks, and later this year will be enrolling in a MA in Social Entrepreneurship at Goldsmiths College in the University of London. Sounds promising!




The Hive Mind Project

On Friday last week, I went to see Complicite‘s performance Encounter at the Barbican Arts Centre in London. But this was no ordinary visit to the theatre. I was there as part of a science experiment organised by Rita Carter, a world-class science writer who has created several well-known books on the mind and the brain.

The Hive Mind Project is a study of what is commonly called “crowd consciousness”.  On this evening, Rita was monitoring the brain waves of a group of volunteers in the audience, using simple EEG devices. The specific aim was to see whether our brains tended to react to the play in a more synchronised way when we are in the presence of other audience members. A control group will be watching the recorded play in isolation.

Unlike conventional medical EEG equipment, which has 256 channels of data, mobile EEG devices may have 35 channels or fewer. This particular device has only five sensors, arranged across the forehead, plus two more behind the ears, which are sufficient to characterise the electrical activity of the frontal lobes of the brain. Branded MUSE, it is manufactured by Interaxon, Inc.

The author, Peter B Lloyd, wearing the MUSE mobile EEG monitor. Photo © 2016, Reka Komoli

The Muse is so comfortable and unobtrusive, it is marketed by Interaxon as an aid to meditation, using a smartphone app.

Experimental subjects hanging out before the start of Theatre Complicite’s performance, unfazed by their portable EEG headsets. Photo © 2016, Reka Komoli

The idea of group consciousness has been around a long time, usually associated with the mystical idea of telepathic connection. This is something that Rita and I have had many long and heated arguments: she has an unshakeable confidence in the physical sciences, whereas I am equally convinced on metaphysical grounds that there are more things more in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in that philosophy. The conventional explanation is that the brain unconsciously picks up cues from other people – their laughter, their breathing, their body language, their bodily odour and pheromones. In this experiment, one of these channels of unconscious communication is blocked out, as it is part of the performance that everyone in the audience is wearing headphones to provide an immersive audio environment (in this case, the Braziliam rainforest). Whatever synchronisation of the group mind remains, in this case, it is not cued by listening to your neighbour’s breathing rate. This experiment is one part of the Hive Mind Project, which is seeking more volunteers. Contact them through their web site if you are interested.

The people behind the project are: Rita Carter, science writer; and Tom Seffert, independent researcher and EEG expert. Aiste Noreikaite was one of the assistants, who fitted my head-mounted monitor.

Rita Carter explaining the procedure to two control subjects, who were required to write down their reactions to the play while others have their EEG monitored. Photo © 2016, Reka Komoli
Tony Seffert, EEG expert, checking the set-up of one of the portable monitors on volunteer David Rawcliffe. Photo © 2016, Reka Komoli
Aiste Noreikaite explaining the EEG monitor to one of the subjects. Photo © 2016, Reka Komoli

On the Friday when I attended, the setting up of the experiment was recorded by two AirBnB hosts: still photography by Reka Komoli and videography by Evelyn.


Théâtre de Complicite, or Complicite as the company is now called, has been producing remarkable and innovative works since 1983. Encounter is based on Petru Popescu’s book Amazon Beaming. In 1969, National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre got lost among the people of the remote Javari Valley in Brazil. The encounter changed his life and raises a myriad questions about human consciousness – including group consciousness and the very nature of time and reality. In this one-man show, director Simon McBurney follows McIntyre’s trek into the trackless rainforest, using innovative audio technology to construct a challenging universe of sound.

Some of the things depicted in the performance reminded me very much of my own experiences in the Santo Daime rituals of ayahuasca. The structured bending of time, space, and consciousness is a difficult perspective to get across, especially to an audience embedded in Western materialism, but Simon McBurney did a good job of it.

I believe the performance is sold out, but you can watch it streaming live tonight only (Tuesday, March 1st) on the company’s web site www.complicite.org. I would definitely recommend it!


Connecting with creatives

Above: “taste the emptiness (oil on paper collage, 2013) by Hildy Maze from her web site hildymaze.com

The conventional way of presenting artistic works involves a distancing between the audience and the creative. For example, works of art are hung on the walls of a gallery and the viewers file past the photographs or paintings. In most galleries there is nowhere to sit and just be with the pictures for half an hour, let alone share a coffee with the artist. Books are published and the audience browses through the shelves, picks out the odd volume here and there, thumbs through it, and perhaps takes it to the check-out till. A play is presented on the stage, and the audience passively sits (or stands in the case of the Groundlings at Shakespeare’s Globe) watching the characters mark out their brief existence.

Occasionally there is a momentary connection with the artiste. At the vernissage, you might get to exchange a few minutes of chat with the artist over a glass of Cava (or a bottle of beer, depending on venue) before the noisy bustle pushes the artist into the next knot of admirers and inquirers. At a book signing, you might have a minute or two of social pleasantries while the author signs your copy of the book, and the queue of impatience lines up behind you. And, after you’ve watched a play at the theatre, it is unusual indeed to run into the actors or the playwright at the bar after the show.

Obviously this distancing of the creative from the audience becomes more inevitable as the audience swells. It is simply not possible for, say, Van Morrison to share a pint of Guiness with each of his millions of fans. And it can be draining for a very popular creative to try to respond in anything but a cursory way to all fans and interested persons. This, in the modern age of celebrities, is where the role of the journalist comes in. He can spend quality time with the creative individual, ask searching question, allowing time to ponder, backtrack, rephrase questions. And the journalist distils his insights into an article that we hope will be engaging, honest, and insightful.

Obviously, reading an interview in a magazine or web page, or watching a video interview, cannot match the fuller experience of a relaxed conversation with the artist. How often have you been changed in some way by talking with an accomplished artiste, or at least gone away with a lasting insight or image or thought that stays with you? A long conversation with an profound artiste can be a valuable thing, on a par with the work itself.

Bénédicte Gimonnet

I first realised how insightful it can be to get under the skin of a painter when I spent several hours in a hotel bathroom with French painter Bénédicte Gimonnet.  No, no, that sounds wrong! Let me explain. In 2008, the Red Dot Art Fair, London, was held in the Radisson Edwardian Grafton in Tottenham Court Road. Each gallery was allocated a hotel suite (which, for out-of-town exhibitors, doubled as accommodation at night). It was an ingenious cost-saving gimmick, but also created a more interesting space than the usual gigantic halls that art shows occupy. I gravitated to the hotel suite that was being used by one of my favourite galleries in London, Cynthia Corbett. As usual, there was wide variety of interesting new work, but I was intrigued by the biomorphically abstract paintings of Bénédicte Gimonnet. She happened to have been allocated the bathroom of this suite, and had made an effort to create a more salubrious atmosphere by constructing small wooden boxes around the toilet and the wash basin. As usual, I had arrived in the last hour of the last day of the exhibition, and I was hanging around in the bathroom talking with Bénédicte when Cynthia gave the order to pack up all the artworks and evacuate the suite, as the show was over. As I was there, I volunteered to help out with dismounting, packing up, and carrying out her paintings. This provided a great opportunity for an extended conversation about her paintings – her techniques, her inspirations, her thoughts, her interpretations. Her characteristic style of vertical streaks of acrylic paint on an aluminium sheet were suggestive of raw muscle fibres, or intertwining vegetation, or desert dunes, but never simply depicting any one thing.

Detail from FlaLinea (2008) by Benedicte Gimonnet

I learned vastly more about her paintings over these two or three hours than I ever could by just looking at them or having the usual brief chat that is possible in an art show. I ended up buying one of the pieces, which had pride of place above my red sofa in my London Docklands flat. (This is the sofa, that four years later, became my sleeping quarters when I rented my bedroom on AirBnB.)

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Benedicte Gimonnet’s FlaLinea in what became my AirBnB property (2012)

My point here is that having a long, relaxed conversation with an artist can provide a lot of insight into the work. Which is one of the two main premises of the Staying With Art project: that sharing the artist’s home for a number of days can give a unique access to the creative mind, as well financially supporting the artistic endeavour. And … the visitor is also more likely to purchase the creative work. (As I did!)

To be sure, not all creatives like talking about their work. But most welcome the opportunity.

Hildy Maze

I was reminded of this when I saw the paintings of Hildy Maze, who is an AirBnB host and member of the Staying With Art group on Facebook. When I first saw Hildy’s paintings, I must admit I found them rather inaccessible. But as I read up about her work on her web site (hildymaze.com), and online articles (e.g. The Awakened Eye, Investigating the Mind Through Art) I began to appreciate them. I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting Hildy, but through the vicarious medium of the internet, I have at least got a handle on the paintings and now I like them.

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Crossing the Waves / Inner Portraiture, by Hildy Maze, from her web site hildymaze.com

For ten years from 1978, Hildy studied under the Tibetan Buddhist meditation master Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, and Buddhism remains at the core of her art practice. As I understand it, Buddhism is centrally a careful and systematic dismantling of illusions. We suffer illusions about physical reality, about our personal existence, about our thoughts and feelings. And we find ourselves in what Morpheus called a “prison for the mind”. The enlightenment that Buddhism teaches is a liberation through seeing the illusions for what they are, and hence releasing their grip. That’s what I get from reading around the subject, anyway.

Hildy writes, “Out habitual patterns of passion, aggression and ignorance like roots of a tree that reach deep into the earth, reach deep into our minds sustaining a false security of who we think we are. By engaging in these patterns mind’s true nature is obscured.” Chogyam Trungpa was the first major exponent of Vajrayāna Buddhism in the West. Also known as tantric Buddhism, this is a highly mystical tradition that defies simple explication in Western concepts.  A key part of it is the empowering of the student by the overthrowing of illusory constraints. (It is often radically misunderstood in the West because of its antinomianism.) Anyway, when I looked again at the paintings knowing their roots in Vajrayāna – the so-called Thunderbolt Way or Diamond Path – then they began to acquire a coherence and meaning in my mind. Their fragmented surface forms spoke to me of the shattering of illusory concepts and revealed a deeper, trans-rational awareness.

I don’t know whether my reading of Hildy’s paintings connects with her own intentions in making them, but I certainly find that my personal appreciation of them is enhanced by knowing more about her life and her long experience of Buddhism. Hopefully, one day I shall stay with her on AirBnB and find out more.

Staying With Art

In part, the thinking behind Staying With Art is that engaging with creatives can make it easier to appreciate their work and to gain a deeper understanding of it. Of course, I realise that not everyone will want to see it this way. On the one hand, some art critics (for example, Gary Kennard – see his Open Letter to the Tate) believe we should be completely free to construct our readings and interpretations of creative works with being guided by curators or the original artists themselves. On the other hand, some creatives just want to isolate themselves from the audience and focus exclusively on the creative work. Therefore I would be very interested to hear people’s perspectives on this.

As a creative, do you welcome one-to-one engagement with your audience, or is this for you an annoying distraction? As a member of the audience, do you relish getting the artist’s insights, or do you prefer to formulate your unique personal reactions in your own space?


The art of raw chocolate in Brooklyn

Above: Illustration from Vanessa’s web site, © 2014, Gnosis Chocolate

One of the challenges of this new Staying With Art project is to delineate what counts as ‘art’ for the purposes of this group. Sometimes AirBnB hosts have practices that question the parameters I have set, and help to clarify what ‘art’ is. Or, at least, what I think it is.

In the Fall of 2015, I was visiting New York to give another of my talks on the history of the subway map, and as usual I was looking around for inexpensive and interesting AirBnB homes, when I came across a cool one described as “peaceful vibe, conscious décor,” which immediately sold the place to me. And then I noticed the owner, Vanessa, had a one-line profile saying, “CEO of Gnosis Chocolate“. Well, I had previously heard of the spiritual aspects of raw chocolate from the Urubu trance-dance group here in London, so the conjunction of “gnosis” with “chocolate” intrigued me. (In ancient Greek, “gnosis” denoted direct and transformative knowledge of the divine, as counterposed to “pistis” or faith.)

I learned more about Vanessa’s journey from her extensive web site and from chatting with her. She is a certified holistic health counsellor who studied with Andrew Weil, Deepak Chopra, and David Wolfe, and the chocolate project grew out of her work as a holistic practitioner. Just as Mary Poppins found that “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”, so Vanessa found that chocolate — raw, vegan, organic, and a lot healthier than Mary Poppins’ sugar — helped her clients take the herbal medicines that she recommended to them. In order to fine-tune the chocolate products to suit her purposes, she formed Gnosis Chocolate in 2008 (at the age of twenty-three) to handle the whole process from sourcing the cacao, through blending it with herbs, and administering it to her clients and selling it online.

Is chocolate an art form? Well, not the mass-produced Hershey and Cadbury chocolate bars. But raw, organic chocolate, prepared consciously through skill and intuition with ingredients sourced in person, I think this ranks alongside other recognised arts such as making perfumes and jewelry. There is a bias in western society towards visual and audio art, which neglects other senses — especially olfactory and gustatory. Look at the three core elements that make up what we normally think of as art: (a) a tradition within which each new work constitutes a statement in relation to what has gone before; (b) a skill that is developed through tuition and extensive practice; (c) a process of inward connection — which might be thought of as reflection, or intuition, or channelling; (d) an intent to express something to an audience. Those core elements apply to the raw chocolate creations that Vanessa makes, so it seems to me that they belong within the category of art.

Cacao has a shamanic tradition as a ‘teacher plant’ which has of course been eclipsed in western society by the vast corporate enterprise of mass-produced chocolate. Vanessa has brought to New York City – and, through the internet, elsewhere – a connection to that tradition of conscious, raw chocolate.

Vanessa has two AirBnB rooms in her tranquil Brooklyn home, which Reka and I found to be perfect when we stayed there, and she runs her chocolate studio from another premise: www.gnosischocolate.com.

One writer’s experience of AirBnB

Above: Copies of my first non-self-published book in the window of the New York Transit Museum Annex, Grand Central Terminal. Probably not possible without AirBnB. Photo © 2014, Reka Komoli.

Squeezed writing time

As everyone knows, it’s tricky to earn a living from any creative activity. The market-place is full of cheap thrills against which genuine art must compete. And creatives are often poor at marketing and business planning, or even just asking for money for what they create. It is therefore a very common practice for arts people to have a day-job that keeps body and soul together, but has little or nothing to do with their calling to express their soul in artistic form. Unfortunately most jobs are full-time or more than full-time, so they restrict creative time to a few tired hours between supper and bed.

In my own case, I was lucky to be able to work in software development. Although I was grateful for it, the job generally meant working late and commuting even later, It left the weekends for an unceasing battle between domestic commitments and trying to squeeze in an hour or two for writing. Eventually, in 1999, I put together my philosophical writings into two self-published books. Over the subsequent years, my sense of being stultified, sitting at my desk in an open-plan office churning out pages of Fortran computer code to pay the mortgage weighed against my yearning to spend all day inquiring into the nature of consciousnes, or following my new passion in the history of maps. To be sure, I was fortunate to be sitting at a desk and not sweating in a fast-food outlet, but the hamster-wheel cycle of working as much as possible to pay the mortgage and domestic bills and looking distantly to retirement when I could begin my real work of writing, became more rebarbative with each year. Anyway, stuff happened, and I found myself in a one-bedroom flat in East London with no work and no prospect of work (in a young industry were fifty-year-olds are dinosaurs), and no real desire to go back to the work-place anyway.

Enter AirBnB

I discovered AirBnB. I cleared out all the junk from my bedroom, and rented it on AirBnB, while I slept on the couch in the living room. Amazingly, it worked. Almost all my income for a few years came from guests, with a few extra quid from teaching English. Where I lived in the desolate margins of the docklands, tourism was unheard-of, so I configured my AirBnB service to be as flexible as possible: minimum stay of one night, free extra air-beds for extra guests, no cleaning or cancellation fee, and I often met people at the station, or sometimes even the airport.

As I said, it worked. I survived, and I published my first book on the history of the New York City subway map at the end of 2012, with an academic press in the States, and this year I will be self-publishing further volumes in the series. Last year, I sold my flat in order to travel, so I am temporarily not hosting. But eventually I shall settle down and host again.

For me, and I think for many people who are in economically marginal situations either permanently or temporarily, AirBnB can be a financial lifeline. Especially for those whose passion is for creative work that is not financially recognised in the marketplace.

I can understand the arguments of critics of AirBnB, who complain about landlords who effectively turn residential properties into hotels and reduce the available stock of rentable homes. But I do not believe that that criticism applies to the writers, artists, and performers in financial straits for whom the extra income from renting out on AirBnB a spare bedroom in the home can make a huge difference to their economic life.

But, beyond the success of keeping creatives alive, it seems to me that there is an untapped potential in connecting guests and hosts with shared interests in the arts. I know that some hosts in this group actively introduce activities – such as art classes – into the hosting service. It may be that that is something that could grow enormously. And just making the connection on the basis of shared passion is an unknown potential in the ‘sharing economy’. All of my guests have been wonderful people, but the few who shared my passion for philosophy have left memories of long and fascinating conversations.

So far, the AirBnB Group system has been a disappointment for technical reasons. But my own experience as a host (and, since then, as a guest) suggests to me that forming intentional communities on the back of AirBnB has real potential.

Categories for ‘Staying With Art’

To help search the Twitter posts, I am suggesting the following hashtags. These categories will also be used in setting up the full map-based interface for Staying With Art. The categories are all based on actual members of the group. If you have a category that is not included here, let me know! But we do have to strike a balance between covering all bases and keeping things under control. If we split 24,000 members among 24 categories, we should average a thousand hosts per category. But if we split them into a thousand categories, it doesn’t work!

Actually, pigeon-holing creative genres is a headache. For music, I’m suggesting the pragmatic Popular / Classical / Traditional triad, but in reality the list should be long and fractal. Well, if hosts start tweeting the hashtag #StayingWithJazz then that’s the way it is. This is an experiment, after all.  For dance, I separated Burlesque as it seems a distinct form of performance from Dance per se. For art, I am suggesting classification by medium: Drawing, Painting, Sculpture, Conceptual Art, but separating out Jewelry (wearable art) from Sculpture, and Bodypainting from Painting.  I felt that Digital Art needed a separate category as its mode of execution is so different; and Design is another discipline altogether, and from that I separated Fashion as a distinctive enterprise. (I don’t know where puppets fit it, but I once stayed with AirBnB host who ran a puppet theatre using his own hand-made puppets, so there has to be a category of Puppets.) Photography and Movies complete the set of visual arts. For writing, there is obviously Poetry, but I split prose into Fiction and Writing. Several members of the group play support roles for the arts, such as teachers and models, gallery owners and managers, and organisers of events, festivals, exhibitions; so we have the categories ArtTeaching and Galleries (the latter including transient displays such as pop-up galleries and shows). Crafts might be considered a distinct other half of the pair ‘arts and crafts’ but I felt that it fits the intention of this project. Finally, Drama encompasses all aspects of live theatre and spoken story-telling.

  1. #StayingWithArtTeaching – art teaching (in schools, colleges, or freelance), life modelling, running art courses, and so on.
  2. #StayingWithBodypainting – specifically painting faces and bodies.
  3. #StayingWithBurlesque – burlesque dance as an artform, including belly-dancing.
  4. #StayingWithClassicalMusic – all forms of classical music or ‘art music’. (medieval, renaissance, baroque, classical, romantic, contemporary, atonal; orchestral, chamber, opera, ..)
  5. #StayingWithConceptualArt – art installations, performance art, art happenings, situationalism.
  6. #StayingWithCrafts – making dolls and dollhouses, dreamcatchers, doorchimes, model ships; also includes ceramics of all types (earthernware, stoneware, porcelain); also high-end confectionery; but not puppets.
  7. #StayingWithDance – performance dance of many kinds (ballet, contemporary, tango, flamenco, …)
  8. #StayingWithDesign – graphic design, architecture, and other creative design.
  9. #StayingWithDigitalArt – computer-generated artforms (distinct from graphic design).
  10. #StayingWithDrama – live theatre (stage acting, directing, playwriting, stage lighting, costumes, backdrops, street theatre) and story-telling, mime, and so on.
  11. #StayingWithDrawing – drawing with pencil, charcoal, chalk, etc.
  12. #StayingWithFashion – fabric design, garment design, fashion modelling.
  13. #StayingWithFiction – novels and short stories.
  14. #StayingWithGalleries – art galleries and art shows (gallery owners and managers, exhibition organisers, festival organisers).
  15. #StayingWithJewelry – wearable art (stones, metal, upcycling).
  16. #StayingWithMovies – film and video (filming, directing, producing, scriptwriting, film acting, running an art-house cinema).
  17. #StayingWithPainting – all types of paints (oils, acrylics, watercolour, tempera, and so on) on any kind of flat surface (canvas, board, walls …), also drawing; see separate category for bodypainting.
  18. #StayingWithPhotography – still photography (analogue or digital).
  19. #StayingWithPoetry – poetry (scanning or otherwise, literary or concrete, including prose-poetry, …).
  20. #StayingWithPopularMusic – all the diverse genres of popular music – jazz, blues, soul, pop, rock, rap …
  21. #StayingWithPuppets – making puppets, performing puppets.
  22. #StayingWithSculpture – three-dimensional artworks in any materials (but not wearable).
  23. #StayingWithTraditionalMusic – folk music, ethnic music.
  24. #StayingWithWriting – non-fiction writing (the work of authors, editors, journalists, bloggers, et alia).

I know that we commonly use the expression “the art of …” for activities that are not art. For example, the “art of cooking”, the “art of conversation”, even the “art of motorcycle maintenance”, … I hope it is clear from the above list that that is not what we are talking about here. Also, I hope it is clear that this is a group of hosts who are actively following an artistic practice. Sorry, but going to art galleries or watching movies – although these are commendable and attractive qualities in a host – are not what we mean!


The ‘Staying With Art’ Team

Above: The Staying With Art team, Peter B. Lloyd and Reka Komoli, on a wet and windy day on the Staten Island Ferry, New York City. Photo © 2015, Reka Komoli.

Peter B. Lloyd, writer & editor

My background is in mathematics and science, my but passion is for philosophy, with an interest in information design and the history of subway maps. I have self-published three books on philosophy, and had one book on the history of the New York City subway map published by Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT Press).

book covers

I have also had essays published in a series called SmartPops by BenBella Books

book covers 2

and a long chapter in a peer-reviewed  book on the philosophy of mind:

book covers 3

The project I am currently working on is a multi-volume history of the New York City subway map. Following on from the RIT Press book on Vignelli, these will be self-published. I am finalising the first of these volumes at the moment!

Reka Komoli, photographer

Reka is a professional photographer, currently studying for a Masters degree in Photography in the University of Westminster. Here are a few pictures from her portfolio:

Reka pics

On a less serious note, Reka also runs a highly popular Instagram account for the two cats Artemis and Apollo, @TheMaineCoonLife:

Artemis and Apollo


Welcome to Staying With Art

Above: A beautiful stained-glass house by Tom Fruin in the Dumbo area of Brooklyn, with Manhattan Bridge in the background (Kolonihavehus, 2010). It represents the kaleidoscope of ‘arts’ to be found in Staying with Art. Photo © 2015, Reka Komoli.

What is staying With Art?

Staying With Art is a project to bring together AirBnB hosts who are artists, writers, or performers.

AirBnB and arts hosts

People who follow an artistic discipline often have to face a dilemma – to sacrifice art to get a day-job and earn a decent wage, or sacrifice home comforts to dedicate time to art. It’s great if you can get a job in the arts that pays you enough to live on, but many people in artistic fields have to muddle through with a mixture of causal jobs, artistic gigs, and doing without. AirBnB enables some people in this situation to add another source of income to the portfolio without having to sacrifice huge chunks of creative time.

History of this group

At the end of 2013 I set up a Group in AirBnB called Artists, Writers, and Performers. My idea was to provide a forum for prospective guests to find hosts who are active in one or another artistic field, and for hosts themselves to network with each other. At the time, I was a writer depending on AirBnB for my survival, and I thought it might be nice to reach out to others in a similar situation. I expected that there might be, say, twenty-four other people who would join. I certainly did not expect twenty-four thousand to join, which is what happened!

Unfortunately, the web software provided by AirBnB for the Groups was inadequate for such large groups. Both the discussion page and the list of members were so long, it was impossible to scroll to the bottom; and the rudimentary search function stopped working; and there was never a function for searching by geography or by art. So, Reka Komoli and I set up a prototype of some web software that would solve these problems. The problem then was to get the thousands of AirBnB hosts in the Group into the new system. I asked members to send me their details, and about a thousand did, but often incompletely, and then we faced the task of manually entering the details, and the whole process ground to a halt as other pressures on time made it impossible to spend hours every day transcribing host details.

No more AirBnB Groups!

But now … AirBnB have announced that they will shut down and delete all Groups on February 25, 2016. I think the Artists, Writers, and Performers Group is too good to discard, so I am prompted to action …

The birth of ‘Staying With Art’

  • I have set up a Twitter handle (@StayingWithArt) and I am inviting all members of this group to follow this handle. Then we can at least stay in touch!
  • I am also inviting hosts to post a link to their AirBnB page, with a hashtag indicating their artistic field, for example #stayingwithpainting or #stayingwithdance. This provides a very basic way to search for hosts with particular interests. You can put more than one hashtag in. For example, I would put “@stayingwithart Peter & Reka hosting again soon www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/433795 #StayingWithWriting #StayingWithPhotography”. (I’m the writer, Reka’s the photographer. But we’re not hosting at the moment as we’re travelling.)
  • I have also set up a blog (this one: stayingwithart.com/blog), which will hold general information, reviews of the works of AirBnB hosts in the group, notices of upcoming events pertaining to hosts in the group, and links to hosts’ web sites. In the ‘events’ section, I hope to put theatrical and musical shows, art exhibitions, gigs, and so on, that involve members of the group.
  • Soon(ish), we will have the all-singing, all-dancing map-based web interface online!

Who is this for?

This is only for AirBnB hosts who are sharing their main homes with guests. It is not for businesses who are running large numbers of separate properties. And it is only for hosts who actively pursue an artistic field in a fairly serious way. Hanging a few pictures on the wall doesn’t count; but running a public gallery while hosting on AirBnB is what we are interested in. Both professionals and serious amateurs are welcome, but doing a few doodles on the weekend does not cut the mustard. Anything that would normally be classed as ‘artistic’ is good: oil painting, writing short stories, ballet, burlesque, bodypainting, acting, poetry, murals, performance art, running an art gallery or theatre space … It does not include cooking, hairdressing, decorating, or living within a few miles of a museum.

Lots of people have tried to join the group who happen to live in a nice place and think it would be relaxing and inspiring for creative people. Sorry, that doesn’t count: the group is for hosts who are themselves artistically creative. Sorry if this seems hard. I have had to delete several really lovely hosts in gorgeous homes because they just don’t meet the simple criteria above. (Hey, you can always start your own group …!)


I plan to visit  members of the group and post reviews of their artistic work in the blog. (This is not a review of the accommodation, which is AirBnB’s prerogative, just the artistic work.) Reka is a professional photographer and will be coming with me to take pictures. These will be hosts I can easily reach, starting with London, including a short visit to Paris soon, and a longer visit to New York in April, and other places as we travel around.) (FYI Some of my earlier, non-AirBnB art reviews: Mr Smith, Angelo MuscoCompagnie Carbabosse, Anne-Francoise Couloumy, Alban, Light Attendance.)

As I cannot visit all 24,000 members, I will be welcoming proposals from any published writers in the group who want to do some reviews to be posted here on the blog.

  • Please Follow @StayingWithArt on Twitter and post with your AirBnB link and your hashtags (#StayingWith…).
  • Let me know if you would like to be reviewed in this blog; or if you would like to post reviews.
  • Let me know of any upcoming events relating to group members.