Inside the Mind of The Fleapit

Genie Harrison 9 March 2019

The brainchild of second-year Magdalene students Isaac Zamet and Harry King, The Fleapit is an art collective unique in its offerings. Speaking to Zamet ahead of ‘Fleapit Presents’, their annual exhibition held this year on Monday, March 11th, the unusual quality of the movement became quickly apparent: the collective functions on a limitation of limitations. Zamet fervently expressed the emphasis on the exhibition being ‘boundary-less’, with work unearthed and collected from whoever and wherever it might spring from; crucially including makers from within and outside of the university. The Fleapit aims to create a new cultural centre of gravity in Cambridge, capable of uniting all of its various inhabitants and institutions.

As we spoke about the motivating factors that prompted the founding of The Fleapit, Zamet’s passion for its rather particular ethos readily emerged. Referring somewhat unexpectedly to a book about particle physics, he likened the collective to the spontaneous appearance and reappearance of particles in a ‘universe of happenings’, as opposed to a ‘universe of things’. Spontaneity sits at the heart of The Fleapit, following the movement of unpredictable and ever-changing social centres of gravity, and responding accordingly.

As with last year, ‘Fleapit Presents’ is to be held in Cripps Court, Magdalene College. Given the importance of space to the production and curating of an art exhibition, I asked Isaac how The Fleapit plan to work again in the same space, and how the space itself related to the artwork being presented. True to his word, spontaneity seems key to the success of the night; he confessed that whilst the team have specific ideas about the displaying of certain pieces, there is no formalised plan for how the night will eventually look. Although he assured me, this by no means precludes his certainty that the space will be an exciting one. There seems an almost exhilarating liberation to the freedom characterising the exhibition, as the team will respond organically to the varying demands that reveal themselves as the different works come together.

Meeting more of The Fleapit team, I spoke to art historians Tom Smeeton and Lily Waterton about their role in the collective, and more specifically, in curating Monday night’s exhibition. In a manner similar to Zamet, they both asserted the importance of breadth for the collective, detailing the varied nature of the work that they have received during the submission process.

There is an emphasis on the exhibition not being politicised: with no particular agenda, The Fleapit is not looking for certain voices to be heard or issues to be addressed. However, they both assured me that this has culminated in an incredibly diverse collection, both with regard to the type of work (film, music, art, sculpture, poetry, performance…), and the various thematic engagements. Moreover, the exhibition itself promises to be diverse, extending beyond typical boundaries through the incorporation of performance (both musical and artistic), as well as being interactive. Waterton reveals to me that they are even building a set for one of the rooms.

I wondered whether this might feel daunting, both from the perspective of the team curating this expansive collection, and for the exhibition-goers. However, both expressed the excitement they felt as a result of the project’s enormity. The curating of this process feels incredibly unique. Both keen to unearth links between different individual works, there is opportunity for new ideas to be captured and contrasting themes to be drawn out as the exhibition comes to life. The creative process is prolonged to the very last second. Moreover, the vastness of the space itself seemed to incite excitement in the two, passionately describing the various different rooms and experiences they hope to evolve as a result.

As simultaneously a broad community and tight-knit team, I queried how the organisation of the night had unfolded, particularly given the lack of specific roles and committee members making up The Fleapit. Waterton and Smeeton’s response to this revealed quickly the ubiquitously trusting creative environment permeating the movement, allowing the individual to thrive within the realms of a team. For instance, remembering an idea he’d had regarding the display of music for the exhibition, Smeeton expressed the unquestioning acceptance he had been met with by his team. The co-dependency of the collective is evidently held secure by individual commitment and motivation, as well as a generosity of creative spirit.

The term ‘organised chaos’ was proposed by the two, enthusiastically engaging with the spontaneous energy that originally inspired The Fleapit. Indeed, Monday night promises to be an event fuelled by creativity and organic originality, pieced together by a group devoted to its sustained success. Talking to the team and coming to understand the various motivations behind The Fleapit, and more specifically, ‘Fleapit Presents’, the exhibition promises to be unique, innovative, and most importantly (as I am reminded by Waterton), fun.