Monday, 8 March 2010

Market Estate Project

On Saturday me and the lovely Eva-Jane went to see some art.

An old school friend of mine (and I'm talking Primary and big school, so we go back a long way) called Rich White, is an artist of some serious ability. Rich makes quite brilliant, epic work; usually large, usually vigorous, usually from found materials, usually robust and hardy; Rich is an artist who always has dirt under his figure nails and if you squint, you could confuse him as a very lean steel worker.

I like Rich's work not because he is an old friend but because it is excellent and it always manages to make me feel small, not an easy thing to do to a 6ft 6in man, clocking in at 15 stone. It nearly always looks as if it was hewn by the hands of giants, it has a visceral feel, a roughness.

Whenever I can get a chance to see Rich's work in the flesh, I do and Rich was one of the many artists that were involved in the Market Estate Project. In a nutshell, the Market Estate was a typical 1960's London housing estate and as time moved on, it became a breeding ground for crime, disaffection and typical inner-city living. The solution was to knock it down and build new houses but before this site of murder and death, drugs and crime was to be torn down, it was to be turned into an art installation, part homage, part art opportunity. So 75 artists, 66 site-specific projects, 20 vacant flats, and one soon to be demolished 1960’s housing estate all came together.

As we wandered around the old estate it brought to mind the many estates I've strolled around in the past, either as a kid, behind my childhood home in Nottingham, or as a youth worker, or when I used to live on one when I first moved to London in 2004 and called Camberwell/Peckham borders my home. Never mind the times I stumbled into one, taking a short cut they may not have been as good an idea as I thought it was.

As you walked in, a man was hanging from a building for dear life...

And it got me thinking that all this art was all well and good but I couldn't help but feel a little uneasy, as if in the face of all these peoples homes, all this history and all the trouble that had afflicted these homes, it felt somehow flippant and glib. Perhaps it was the annoying arty types I saw there (maybe I was one), like those loud, brash tourists that shout down their cellphones when in military cemeteries, or at Holocaust Memorials. I felt like class tourism, rich folk coming to look at where the poor folk lived: low ceilings, tasteless decor and stairwells that must have be a haven for terror.

It's funny, a friend of ours lives just opposite and has done for some time, she found it funny that people were coming to such a shitty old part of London to gawp at where the poor people lived. You could argue that people were there to gawp at the art ,that was put where the poor people used to live. Fair enough.

What was most fascinating perhaps was the unintentional art, the stuff that was an echo of the residents, the things left behind, the heavy security doors and messy graffiti, never mind the bullet holes in the safety glass.

It was a stimulating experience, art in a crime scene, not sure if it was appropriate, not sure if that even matters; it'll all be knocked down real soon, art and non-art, what was on purpose and what was not and as the place is ground into the dirt what it was will only exist in those that experienced it.

I'll leave you with some pictures of what Richard contributed...


  1. Hey Dan, cheers for coming to show.
    I agree about the class tourism - I heard a lot of people making glib remarks: 'Ha! I've just slipped in Council Estate Piss!' being an example, and this made me feel quite uneasy. I didn't want to be associated with something perceived as disrespectful to the residents. I got the impression that this was the first time a lot of people had ever been to a housing estate and they were treating it as a novelty.
    I know for a fact that the artists were very sensitive about the issue of glamourising or sensationalising the location. The organisers actually lived on the estate, and the residents were heavily involved in the project from the start - many offering their flats, memories and possessions for use by the artists - in particular, Jimmy Watts (the Estate's oldest resident) for Clarisse d'Arcimole's installation in his flat. Although I felt her execution was rather obvious (the old typewriter and bare bulb with Jimmy's voice reminiscing, and his old super-8 movie) it made for a very touching tribute. And Jimmy was also there for a while, answering questions and providing a commentary on his commentary!
    I think we (the artists) were trying to both celebrate the lives and times of the location whilst at the same time acknowledge that it was a troubled place, a building that didn't really work, and now it is being reborn.

  2. Hey Rich, thanks for stopping by and making things a lot clearer.

    Although I must say, I never thought the artist had been guilty of what I was suggesting, it was the spectators and only a few that made me feel ill at ease, my own presence also had that effect.

    I think the artists did a great job, those viewing the art, perhaps less so.

    Thanks again Rich.

  3. It sounds and looks interesting as an installation as well as raising some possibly unintended consequences and quite powerful feelings.

    When I visited Christiania in Copenhagen (the freetown) I had some similar feelings about how were people reacting to the situation of the commune and then had to take time to think through my own values.

    Powerful stuff when the exhibits can be a catalyst for so much more.

  4. Well, that's the joy of art isn't it I suppose and long may it continue...both feelings and art!

  5. That man hanging onto the building stayed there all day!


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