Mare street? There’s a giant banner on Mare Street right now. Is it a banner? A giant banner thing covering the entire facade of Space Studios on Mare Street (Hackney, London E8) was unfurled back in January. We’re in mid March now, the banner is there for a few more days (until the 19th), the banner is apparently inviting more speculation about the future of the somewhat frustrating art space that’s housed in the big white building behind said banner thing. The banner is of the canvas type used in front of large-scale construction projects, on it is a series of images drawn in that computer-generated style used in property development brochures to represent the future of a given site. The banner features an image of a swimming pool, some kind of tropical garden and another of those willy-waving skyscrapers that are violating London right now, alongside the imagery there’s a rather large slogan: “The future’s future is in construction.”
“An Idea of Progress” is a piece of work by Ivan Argote, a 31-year-old artist from Bogotá, Colombia, an artist who currently lives in Paris. As well as the giant hoarding the project comprises of an exhibition of film and collages, well actually no, besides the frontage, there’s very little in terms of an exhibition, there’s a couple of almost half-hearted collages featuring slogans anyone down at Sweet Ways could have come up, and a rather unexciting video on a wall mounted widescreen television next to a rather bored looking receptionist who doesn’t want to respond when you ask him where the rest of it is, seems the rest of the big space that is Space is currently closed and this is all there is to this current exhibition.
As a rather pro-active artist based in a studio directly over the road on Mare Street, directly over from the big white Space space, it has to be said, the under use of that potentially glorious (and seemingly heavily funded?) building is at best frustrating. Don’t know much about Ivan Argote, not sure how much he knows about living and working under constant threat here in East London as gentrification and development swamps the once creative heart of Hackney and clears most of that creativity out? Maybe his view from the outside looking on adds a different dimension? Maybe that was the thinking? Has anyone noticed that big banner or do people just half see another construction site banner? There’s construction all around the Space building at the moment, one more banner is no big deal, has anyone even noticed? People can be observed walking past the front of Space from over here across the street, not really seeing too much in terms of engagement, not many people stopping to look, not people engaged. And I’m not really sure how much an artist from South American based in Paris can understand about what’s happening to people, to communities and spaces in East London right now? He’s certainly an interesting choice, wonder what he actually brings to the debate? Shall we go try the video again? Why isn’t it on-line anyway? Surely in this day and age is should be on You Tube? Maybe it is? Space really aren’t that big on information. Does any of this engage with anyone living, working or just walking along on Mare Street? Has anyone on the 48 bus noticed the banner? Does Space ever really engage with anyone much?
“Over six months Argote visited construction sites across East London and interviewed residents, asking them what they thought about the developments going on around them; whether they liked them and what they would put there given the chance”.
Did he go to Vyner Street? Does he even know what Vyner Street was? Did he ask any of the displaced artists currently being forced out of their galleries and work spaces? The now empty Trampery next door to Space? The artists and designers were recent victims of massive rent hike? More importantly did he really ask the locals? Did he ask Tracie who volunteers at St Joseph’s Hospice just along the road from Space? or Julian from the Hare? Tracey was a regular at Cultivate when we were in Vyner Street, so was the Cockney Foot Model, don’t know if Julian ever came in, serves a decent pint while he tells it how it is though (and he has got a framed Denis Law Shirt on his wall)..
“None of these people consider us with all this disruption” said the Cockney foot model the other day, “they couldn’t care less about any of us who grew up around here, so rude and disrespectful” I love the Cockney Foot-model, she doesn’t hold back, always a delight to meet her on Mare Street. Apparently Ivan Argote “combined his findings to create a fictional structure that he says represents the real desires of local people”.
Iván Argote’s new work An Idea of Progress includes an ambitious large-scale banner covering the facade of SPACE Mare Street and, in the gallery, a film and series of sculptures. The project is centred on the metaphor of the construction site as a contemporary urban monument to power and progress. The development site —encircled by a glossy hoarding promoting a fictional, inaccessible lifestyle— is presented as the symbol for exploring the complexities of gentrification. This global epidemic is not solely specific to Hackney, but is an on-going issue that has been present within the east London borough since the 1970s.
Conducting interviews with Hackney residents, Argote attempts to discover what might be an actual desirable addition to Hackney. He combines these findings to create an equally fictional structure, yet picturing real and local desires. The depicted building sits in contrast to appropriated images and phrases from current hoardings in Hackney to humorously scrutinise the absurdity of the displays and their associated jargon: what exactly is the ‘future’s future’? Argote’s hoarding at SPACE examines the power and potential in illustrating an alternative and collective development.
I don’t know much about Ivan Argote, he might well have something valuable to add to it all, I live and work right across the street, you could probably say I’m out at galleries and trying to actively engage with art and people more than most, and most of the time I have no idea what’s going on at Space or for that matter what Space is actually about? Now and again they throw up something interesting on their walls and then leave it there for a few months when really everyone one who wanted to see it saw in the first two weeks. Vagueness is what Space is mostly about. And who knows what the banner that most people are walking past is actually about? A fictional construction? The end of Space in Mare Street? If only Space was a little bit more involved and engaged – they’re never that forthcoming or friendly whenever any kind of engagement or conversation is attempted. Ivan’s view of East London from the outside might be interesting? If only he and it had engaged a little more, not seen one person glance or give it a though when I’ve been watching, I guess some of us are too busy worrying about the latest rent hike or the two month’s notice we’ve just been given to try to find alternative accommodation? “The East End isn’t for those who were born and bred here now, they don’t want us” said Foot model, it doesn’t feel like the East End is for people like me any more either. Pete, calls them professional coffee drinkers, what do they do all day? Pete took on a street of houses with a squatting community in the 70’s, he and his collective saved a beautiful street from destruction, I wonder if Ivan spoke to Pete? Pete can keep you going for weeks on end with stories of life around here, he’s a real part of the community..
“I first came here in August and returned every month,” says Ivan (talking to the East End Review). “By observation and by talking with people I started noticing the aggressiveness of property development in East London. It’s way more violent here than in Paris. In Paris the market is more controlled, for example there are restrictions so that owners cannot raise rents more than five per cent a year”. .Now that would be something to voice, I think the Trampery complex that housed a web of artists and designers, a big building right next door to Space closed when the landlord increased their rent by 400% (rumour is Nike are taking the building over and made an offer the landlord couldn’t refuse, something about wanting a cool place for their workers to be based next to all the artists and such who no longer have spaces to live and work because people like Nike and Mr Future Thinker took over their spaces).
The once very creative Trampery space and the Look Mum No Hands bike cafe underneath has been empty ever since they were kicked out back in September, no sign of Nike yet, just an empty space and the fading window notice right next to the Space banner. Meanwhile the new builds going up everywhere, the ones with expensive flats none of us can afford to rent, the new buildings that all get bough up by overseas investors who then rent them for as much as they can get away with, all have empty concrete shell spaces underneath them, they’re supposed to be replacement gallery spaces or retails spaces or creative spaces (I assume building them is part of the deal when planing permission is granted?), but no one can afford the business rates let alone the excessive rents so they all remain empty, most of them remain as empty shells, some of them, like the ones at the front of my building, for half a dozen years. Did Ivan or Space ask anyone about those big blue doors directly opposite? Did they even notice them? Pete gets very animated about them, the rats love them, the homeless who were squatting in there got kicked out and bigger padlocks were put on, just pigeons and rats in there now… .
“In Bogotá they’re developing new neighbourhoods. I remember when I was little boy in Bogotá there were empty fields. But it’s different because there’s not this gentrification phenomenon – the city is actually expanding into the countryside.”
The Cockney Foot model caught me in the line at the Cambridge Heath Road post office the other day…. “ere Sean, how are you?” she shouted, “I do miss you down Vyner Street, I loved coming in there for a chat and a look at the paintings, you ran the only friendly gallery in East London, I do ‘ate walking down there now, all building sites and dust and noise and knobs with beards and have you seen that bleedin’ coffee place in he old Irish gallery?, Taking the p or what, excuse my French, I don’t like to use bad language, but they make me want to swear, even if we could afford to drink in their fancy place, the way they look down their noses at us through the window doesn’t make us want to! Sad to see what they’ve done, I loved visiting you in the street. And I’ll say one thing…. (when the Cockney foot-model starts you need to set the next hour aside and not expect to take much of a part in the conversation, I could write a book about her tales, her and Tony Two Vans and the old guy from the printing works and the old school friend of the Cockney Foot Model and the big Rasta with the grey dreads who would raise a fist and shout “Cultivate it” whenever he passed), “And I’ll say one thing” she continues, “we don’t need no know-it-all knobs with fancy looking beards coming to the East End looking down their noses at us like we’re dirt under their feet, we don’t need no beards telling us what’s cool and trendy and what isn’t, the East End has always been trendy, we was always ahead of the curve! We was ahead of everyone in the West End in the 50’s with music and fashion, we was ahead in the sixties with the Twins and everything, we had the new food and the coffee houses and all the rock ‘n roll before the rest of ’em and we don’t need no trendy knobs comin’ ‘ere trying to tell us what’s what and who’s who, we’ve already done it all and a hell of a lot more, they wouldn’t ‘ave got away with all this disrespecting people in my day, we ‘ad beards long before they had beards I tell yer!”
The Cockney Foot-model, I won’t use her real name, apparently she was a foot-model for several shoe wear companies in the 50’s, “it killed me it did, making me wear those bleedin’ high heels all day while they take their ‘bleedin’ photos, ruined my feet it did”. She’d come in to Cultivate on the way to choir practice at St Joseph’s, part of the time it would just be an excuse for a sit down and a cup of tea, she knew “the Twins” of course, never said who “the Twins” were, no one does around here, she’d tell us so many tales, she’s occasionally buy a small piece of art “to brighten up me ‘ouse and make me smile, well what they going to do if I spend the gas money on a painting?”. She’d tell us all kinds of tales of the 50’s and 60’s, “they’d not be eating in that fancy restaurant over there with so much glee if they knew what went on there back when it was a slaughter ‘ouse and the blood ran out the door and down the streets. I still have nightmares about that place, I could never eat in there without feeling sick, the awful smell of death and the noise and everything, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a little bit of that blood wasn’t from a cow or a sheep if you know what I mean…”
“The thing about your place” declare the Cockney Foot Model in a loud voice to a post office queue that included a number what might be termed hipster beards and unfortunate clothing crimes, “is that you always had your door open and you tried to be part of the community, you didn’t try to tell us what was trendy and look down your nose, and you never had a ‘bleedin beard! We’re friendly people in the East End and we’ve always been bleedin’ trendy and ahead of things, if you’re friendly to us we’ll be friendly to you, you know that, this lot don’t…”
That’s the thing, it was always about opening the door and trying to engage, to be part of the community rather than imposing ourselves on a community. I’ve had the pleasure of Living in various parts of London for a couple of decades now, more than half my life actually, always considered myself a guest though, I’d like to think a welcome guest, a guest all the same, and when we were lucky enough to have that small gallery space on the corner for a year or two the open door and a welcome was a vital part. The door was open whatever the weather, the signs were outside and everyone welcome, the shoe model, the dog walkers, the bus drivers going to work, the art crowd,. locked doors and bells were not our way,. Vyner Street when it was at its best was about communities meeting and engaging, about interaction and conversation, it still was until the developers and the self-proclaimed “Regeneration architects, impact entrepreneurs and futures thinkers” moved in to arrogantly buy everything up and close the creative spaces down, arrogantly trying to buy out the people and close down the local pub where Tony Two Vans conducted his business very loudly on his two mobile phones where the families from around here regularly held their brilliant birthday party knees-ups and came over with a lump of cake and a paper hat. When we took over our long-standing gallery space in Vyner Street there was fourteen functioning galleries and such, when we were finally moved out by the developers, there were two left, one of them a rather cynically unfriendly place selling art as interior decoration and the other a big white cube with a locked door and no signs to tell anyone it was (and is) even there Still, the Regeneration architect futures thinker has a coffee pressing festival going on in his aloof coffee shop that now occupies the space where once a rather cutting edge and politically striking Irish gallery operates, the aloof coffee place where they look down their noses at the Cockney Foot Model and her friends when they pass by on heir way to Church (wonder if the African church is still down at the bottom of Vyner Street, that was brilliant on a Sunday morning). Tried talking to Space and the local press about what was happening down Vyner Street, no one was that bothered about the demise of the once unique besides the artists and the locals – the woman who walks the rescue dogs went and told the “futures thinker” what she thought at one of his Ted Talks, apparently Futures Thinker told dog walker things move on and the street wasn’t for her any more. Vyner Street has all but gone in terms of a creative community now, the hundreds of bikes and thousands of people gathering on a First Thursday is a thing of the past, the DIY galleries and the squatted spaces that no one else wanted to use are all gone. Still, there’s a coffee pressing festival going on soon, a coffee festival in the East End? Now that’s future thinking in full effect, that’s engagement with the community at how much a cup? Wonder if the Foot Model will go to the coffee festival? Wonder if the Foot model has ever been in to Space? What is that big banner about anyway? Actually I rather like the idea of that banner, I just wish there was a little more behind it, a little more engagement and involvement
Meanwhile further along Mare Street, just before it evolves and becomes Cambridge Heath Road and just before the post office that’s beyond the flower warehouse with the big Stik on the yellow door you find the mystery of Last Tuesday Society. Viktor Wynd has taken to using his window as an exhibition space in recent times Charlie Gates has her work in there amongst the reflections right now, Jackie Attwood was in the window before Charlie moved in on Mother’s Day. Rather enjoying the Last Tuesday window in recent times….
Charlie Tuesday Gates makes and creates a world of wonder and intrigue, dark hilarious – sometimes torturous….Strange but definitely beautiful.
Her work is rooted in a truly curious childhood spent on a rubbish dump accumulating, sorting and meticulous arranging endless amounts of other people’s dumped possessions, forgotten memories and abandoned lives. Gates’ use of taxidermy stems from her innate fascination with the natural world, of urban decay, the shifting of memories and imagination onto discarded possessions.Saving and recycling the seemingly useless and unwanted, transforming them into emotive and provocative assemblages where beauty and death collide with nostalgia and borderline insanity.
Gates went on to create ‘Sing For Your Life’, a multi award-winning and hard-hitting political comedy using animal puppets.
Her pioneering series ‘D.I.Y Taxidermy LIVE!’ embraced an entirely new medium of workshops and live demonstrations that simply didn’t exist before. Evolving from a tongue-in-cheek demonstration in 2009, this bizarre mix of performance, improvisation, storytelling, video and puppetry became a hugely popular and sell out show.
The greatest show that ever died.
Now Stik, he knows about community around here, there was another big stik up on the old chimney before that building, The Laundry, was future thought and developed and turned into a so called “arts centre” that no one here ever gets to engage with, first thing they did was have the much loved Stik blasted off, said it was nothing but “vandalism” and “nothing to do with art”. People really did love that Stik, people would stop and look up at the Stik on the tower and ask about it and smile, people are always asking about Stik’s people, they make people smile, now he knows about community and living in Hackney and ideas of progress, or being homeless and trying to survive here in Hackney, I wonder in your man from Bogota spoke to Stik?
The Idea of Progress exhibition opened on 21st January at Space Studios, 129-131 Mare St, Hackney, E8 3RH, it runs until March 19th. Wonder what we’ll find in the Space space when the banner comes down? Jackie Attwood was in the Last Tuesday Society window in January and February, before Charlie Gates moves in, meant to post some words and photos while Jackie’s delicate work was still there on the street. Right off to the post office and… (sw)
Footnote; Just stepped over the street to have one more look before posting this, one more look to see if anything else had materialised behind the banner in terms of the exhibition over at Space, 4.40pm on a Tuesday afternoon, they say the space is open, the lights are on, the orange door is locked, no one answering, no sign of anyone inside besides one guy walking past and taking no notice. Still not sure what that banner is about? I do know the heart and soul of Hackney is being ripped out and carved up by the developers and the future thinkers, still, there’s a coffee pressing festival coming up in Vyner Street sometime soon so what are we worrying about?
Click on an image of Jackie’s Window or the banner at Space to enlarge or run the slide show