First Thursdays

East London’s art scene is known for its dynamism, vibrancy and cutting-edge talent. But the sheer number of galleries, artist-run spaces and studios can be overwhelming. Luckily, First Thursdays – a programme of late openings across the area on the first Thursday of each month – exists to guide art-lovers and showcase the variety of exhibitions and other events on offer.

The Whitechapel Gallery runs London’s First Thursdays; but the highly successful format has been recreated in different cities across the globe including Ontario, Seattle and Cape Town.

There are a number of ways to experience First Thursdays. For a more directed evening you can follow the Whitechapel’s bus tour, or one of their recommended walking tours. Otherwise, you can choose your own selection from the list of participating venues. For an even more laid-back approach, simply wander around the most ubiquitous art post-codes – for instance Redchurch Street or Vyner Street – and see what you stumble across!

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Crowds spill out onto the curbs of Redchurch Street.

Last night (Thursday, 7th August 2014), Vastari took advantage of the mild summer weather to explore. Even in August – the quietest month in the art world calendar – there was still a lot to be seen.

To begin, a late opening of Wonderlust, a solo show on Mark Andrew Webber at Londonewcastle Project Space. Matching the geographic basis of First Thursdays, Webber is known for his typographic city maps.

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Mark Andrew Webber, London Black/Red, Linocut print on paper, edition of 100.

At the heart of the exhibition is a brand new map of Berlin, and visitors are encouraged to participate by collectively hand-burnishing prints.

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Close and Far: Russian Photography Now, at Calvert 22 Gallery, also had a topographic focus. But here, photographs rather than maps are deployed to explore notions of place and identity.

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The exhibition shows the work of young Russian photographers: Alexander Gronsky, Olya Ivanova, Taus Makhacheva, Max Sher and Dimitri Venkov, alongside rediscovered photographs from the early twentieth century by Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky (1863-1944).

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Map showing contemporary borders and selected locations visited by Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky between 1909-15. Created by Calvert 22.

Commissioned by Nicholas II, the last Tsar, to photograph the Russian Empire, Prokudin-Gorsky travelled for six years and documented disparate locations with pioneering colour technology.

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Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky, Group of workers harvesting tea, between 1905 and 1915. Courtesy of Library of Congress, Washington. Image source.

Encyclopaedic in scope, these historic images are juxtaposed with contemporary scenes of post-soviet Russia. In fact, Max Sher's Russian Palimpsest series (2010-ongoing) also aims to photograph Russia’s vastness.

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Max Sher, shopping centre, Ulan Ude, Russian Palimpsest, (2010-ongoing). Courtesy of the artist. Image source.

These scenes of the contemporary Russian everyday alternately reveal and mask the layers of history.

First Thursdays will be back in September!