HACKNEY WICKED, Hackney Wick Open Studios Weekend, East London, July 28th-30th 2017 – The overriding image that will remain from the 2017 Hackney Wicked weekend now that it has been and gone, besides the delights to be found inside the still existing art studios, besides getting to see Erin Lawlor’s bold paintings in the space they were created in, with the marks where they were made still on the floor, besides seeing inside James Fauve Walker’s studio and the marks made while he’s making his art, besides all that, the overriding image from Hackney Wicked in 2017 will be of the many cranes and the empty spaces where the buildings and artists were living and working were still standing when last year’s Wicked took place, the images of the empty spaces where people once lived and worked and made things. And even more the images of the imposing cranes looking down on the destruction of the many demolition sites, even more than any of that, the images that will remain will be of those offensively glossy shiny corporate boards around the soon to be impossed new buildings, the aggressively slick glossy boards openly selling the social cleansing and setting out the new sanitised vision of a complete take-over of a once very special place. A once special place where so many different people lived and breathed and shared a community and so much..
Of course Hackney Wicked 2017 was still about the art and the artists and the people of the community, it was still about the welcome provided as we’re invited to explore the spaces, to explore the open studios and the art and the homes and the communal kitchens of those still hanging on in the once beautifully organic Wick, but more that ever, this year’s Hackney Wicked was about the destruction of communities, about the social cleansing, it was about the putting corporate greed way way before the lives of people, about those glossy boards (and shame on the artists who have collaborated and allowed their art to be used on them!). Hackney Wicked 2017 was about the feeling that, even more than ever, the likes of us are just not welcome around here anymore, it feels like one final last stand before those still hanging on have to go. Hackney Wicked 2017 feels sad….
Friday’s somewhat controversial group show and big opening event that was the official start of the weekend up at Here East, the group show put together by Gavin Turk along with long-standing Hackney Wicked organiser and Wick-based artist Anna Maloney appeared to be about trying to build some bridges. In terms of the art, in terms of a simple art exhibition in the big Here East space, Friday’s opening and the show that went on throughout the weekend was a resounding success, but did it achieve anything? Will it achieve anything in the weeks and months to come? Will it open more of a dialogue? Will it change the somewhat arrogant attitudes of the architects, the developers, the seemingly uncarring local council or the London Mayor or the Olympic Legacy people and the destructive greed merchants intent on ripping the heart and soul out of one of the biggest artistic creative communities in Europe? Opinions are split, should the show at Here East have even happened? There’s open hostility from some, the cracks are appearing when really, right now, more than ever, the artists and designers of the wick and the wider city need to stay united Cracks are appearing in the once very united community but then these and are very worrying trying times, people have survival on their minds. Are those complaining about the show really offering up anything much beside angry protest as an alternaive? Anger that at this point, might be seen as destructive itself? Surely the Wick as it was can’t be saved now? The spaces are going or have gone already, people have been forced to go, surely alongside the anger there has to be a dialogue, surely there’s has to be a coming together? An attempt to develop some kind of positive for the artists alongside what’s inevitably going up? or should we jsut all paste up angry posters and then f**k off? Is that’s really all that’s left now?
Talk all night at the opening on Friday was of where people are going to have to go next or where people have already gone, most seem to agree that we’re all being pushed out of London now, that there’s very little we can do to stop it, but where next? Do we really give up and leave the country? Does Berlin care more? Will Portugal welcome us? Rents are already rising on the English Coast? Is Margate still an option? Can we even think of trying to hang on here in London, does the capital city want any art or creativity or soul or spirit? Does London want anything like the creative energy of Hackney Wick? A creative energy that has added so much to the city and the reputation of the city (as well as the economy) over the last fifty or so years? Or is it all about a santitized corporate socially cleansed future dream of a plastic shopping scheme? No place for free-thought or creative flow, just a place for those who can afford to buy in and then get on with their conforming and consuming? A heartless artless London full of arrogant buildings for those who can afford them, not for the likes of us. Don’t the new people moving in want any art? Dont they want culture, soul, creativity? Surely there’s more to life than plastic looking buildings and identical cups of coffee from hundreds of identically expensive coffee shops? Surely the people moving in want to be excited by a glorious piece of original art hanging on a wall, by a beautifully animated film of by a piece of woven textile that isn’t like all the “stuff” in the sanitised chain shops in that shopping centre just over the river beyond the Olympic Stadium onthe other side of that vast vast Here East complex? Surely everyone want creativity? Surely they want more than just “Stuff”?
Hackney WickEd is an annual art festival, it happens over one glorious weekend once a year in the middle of the summer, a celebration of a community and an open invite to come explore and experience the art, the design, the print making, the animation, the textiles, the contemporary paintings made in the living breathing studios and the magical spaces. Hackney WickEd is supposed to be a joyous event, a big art party, a welcome in, a come and explore. This year (even more than last year when in still felt defiant), this year, as wonderful as some of the art in the still surviving spaces is, as magical as it is to explore the Bridge Riley complex and get to talk to painters like the afore-mentioned James Fauve Walker, a painter who has been based in his studio here in the Wick since the early 70’s (and incidentally one of the many artists more than willing to be part of that Inside Out show at the attempt at dialogue up at Here East), as magically exciting as all that is, this year Hackney Wicked really doesn’t feel that joyous.
The Inside Out show and the opening Friday night event – already covered on these pages back on the morning after the night before – that opening night event, for all the questions and conflictions it throws up, the opening on Friday has to be seen, in artistic terms at least, as a great big success. And it continued to be so over the weekend, people engaging, people following their maps and finding the place, exploring the art and then joining the workshops, asking questions about what was happening. All kinds of people asking about the art, reacting to Rebecca Feiner’s powerful “Art Not Here” piece strategically purposely placed right by the front door of the show by the under attack Mr Turk, who in turn spent ages talking to people about the art in the show, about his art, about the space we were in and about what was going on. What the hell do you want him to do?! Start joining in with the knocking down of the buildings and voting Tory like Tracey did? There’s far too many artists adopting an I’m alright Jack attitude once they start getting somewhere near being succesful, I for one thank Gavin for at least giving engagement a go, not sure if he has everything right but some bridges do need to be built, thanks Gavin, thank you very much, it is appreciated.
So yes, the Inside Out show was alive with big crowds all weekend, busy with people from the surounding areas, alive with kids making badges and prints, drawing, stitching, asking about art, people asking about the plight, asking where we were going to go? Telling tales of their East London and their Wick, sharing photos of the “Art Not Here” piece, I met one older lady who said she loved art at school but hadn’t done anything since, said she was a pensioner now and how it was silly to even think about it, I saw her later making a print in the workshop next to the gallery, she said she was going to put on her wall and if her husband didn’t like it then “stuff ‘im, he can go to pub for his tea”
Last year Aida Wild and her gang of (street) artists and print makers added so much to the positive nature of things with their massively creative “attack” on the outside walls of the long-since-empty and locked up Lord Napier pub that still just abour stands by the railway station that funnels the visiting crowds in to the Wick and Fish Island every year. Last year the old pub was surrounded by buildings, music, art, creativity, it was a focal point. This year the building is just about still there, almost marooned and surrounded by the pecking swooping cranes of the building sites. Last year the excitement of the outside walls of the pub were one of 2016’s artistic highlights, this year the pub looked a little sad, the walls mostly untouched other than the natural evolution of tags, bits of graff and the occasional paste-up that have been added since last year’s event, the remains of the marks of last year are still there, the marks of some of the artists already gone are still there, looking tired now but still there, the sight of the Lord Napier, one of the artistic highlights of last year, untouched this year, almost deliberately untouched this weekend? is a sad one.
There may still be lots of art around, a lot of colourfully stylish graff as well as bits of street art, but there an overwhelming feeling of depression, of loss, of anger, and not much defiance now. Aida Wilde was one of the stars of last year, this year she and her gang have refused to be part of the official event and instead chosen to protest against the event itself. against the organisers of the festival and Gavin Turk (“Gavin Turd, Community leader”). A lot of what she and her fellow artists are saying is right of course, the Gavin Turd bit seems childishly silly! Some of what she says is right but there surely has to be dialogue, there has to be positives offered by us the artists alongside the protests, the Wick is changing, the reality is that it can’t be stopped, but it surely still can be influenced in a positive way?
The future of the Wick and Fish Island, of what happens over on the other side of the River Lee where the speedway track once was and the ghostly Here East has now imposed itself on us can surely still be influenced? Some of what Aida and others are saying with their “un-official installations” is right, and yes there is something very very wrong about the people taking selfies in front of the cranes, something very wrong about the new breed of middle-class coffee-drinking beard-growers just wanting to party and pose in front of “the cool street art” as they pass through without seeming to give two hoots about what is happening to the community they’ve been invited to explore.
The whole weekend is a series of conflictions and artists feeling uneasy, like something is ending while most can’t be bothered with even trying to see or understand what’s going on or what wrong with the pidture thet’re taking to put on their social media feed. Who cares, where’s the Prosecco bar? Look at me on Istagram, aren’t I cool and edgy hanging out with the street artist. It feels like people are posing for selfies in front of a car crash while the bodies are still inside the damn car! Or maybe in front of that ship that’s sinking, it feels wrong. Things feel very wrong this year…
This year it does feel like “welcome to the destruction”, it does feel like this is about the erasing of something special, about the replacing of something vital with something bland and sanitized. it really does feel like the Wick is being socially cleansed. We’re conflicted, we’re feeling sad, we artists and designers and musicians and dress makers and animators are not quite feeling defeated but we are thinking that our collective time in this capital city of ours really is up now, that everything positive about this place is going to be gone for good very very soon. Look at that vision of the future on those boards that they’re trying to sell us, look at what they’re doing to this place and this city for f*** sake!
But when you do get in off the streets and away from the building sites and the hoardings and the arrogant “No Graffiti here” signs and the social cleansing for sale hoardings, when you do get away from all that out on streets and you do get inside to explore the actual studios that are still standing (the ones that haven’t been locked by the aggressive developers with the art still inside them that is), when you do get inside then there is art, then there is that wonderful smell of oil paint, there are the wonderful marks on the floors of the cleaned up for the weekend artist studios. There are artists there to talk to, there’s print makers printing things for you, there’s sculpture and design and illustration and animation and painters and film makers. There are hip-hop crews dancing in Stour Space gallery, there’s an excellent painting that has appeared on the freshly prepared wall by the White Post Bar that might be the work of Jakub Kreft and Karol Madyjewicz (if our detective work via social media is correct). There’s still a lot of good art to be seen, not as much as last year, but then so many artists have already been forced out, so many of the studios have already gone – there’s no fresh teeth this year, but there still lots and lots of exciting engaging art, there is still great art to see, exciting paintings in the studios, there are good conversations to be had, there is still a community here – but I am still conflicted, I’m still not sure about that Here East show on the other side of the river and if I should really have taken part in it, I’m disappointed to see that the piece put up by the railway station by Aide Wilde (or was it Edwin? Probably the two of them). I’m disapointed to see it got ripped down so quickly, wonder who did that? Hope it wasn’t an artist? Surely it wasn’t? We didn’t even get to see it, here’s a “stolen” image or four from social media (click on one of them to enlarge it, I do like Aida Wilde’s art, I do like her anger and defiance…)
So anyway, Hackney Wicked 2017 happened in what was still left of the buildings, the was some great art, there some really great art, some good people, some excellent conversation, some heated debate, there is still community, people are hanging on, there’s conflicted artists, Hackney Wicked is still one of the highlight’s of the year, this place is still special, it should still be treasured, I guess it was still a party although I really didn’t feel like partying that much this year. As for that show at Here East, it was an event, it was a success in so many ways, I’m not sure who came along in terms of the developers or the Mayor or Olympic legacy people, personally I’m still not sure if I should have taken part in it? I really don’t like what I see of the vast wasteland that is Here East (and yes I did see actual tumbleweed blowing through with the corporate shuttle buses that just drive around in circles with no one there to actually use them), I’m not sure that any of the developers have any interest in the community they’re arrogantly tearing apart, I’m really not sure about how I feel about Gavin Turk setting up a studio there on “enemy territory” for the next few months? Those workshops looked so good though, maybe this is exactly where an artist like Gavin Turk should be doing right now? Maybe this is the perfect place for his studio to be? I’m conflicted, I’m worried, I’m really not sure…
I’m not sure about any of it, I’m saddened by what’s happening to the Wick, by what has already happened to places like Vyner Street, to this city, to what’s happening to the creative communities who have added so so much, I’m saddened by the destruction, the displacement, the arrogance. I’m conflicted, I’m trying to argue for dialogue, to try to find some way to co-exist, I’m trying to tell myself Gavin Turk is right to be up there and that I was right to take part in that show. We shall see, it might already be too late? I loved the Hackney WickEd weekend this year, gone are the days of dancing in the streets while buses try to squeeze through, or band stages set up on the roads of Fish Island, I don’t think anyone can expect it to still be quite like that? It was still special but the overwhelming image I take from Hackney Wicked 2017, despite the beauty and the energy found in the studios and of artists like Erin Lawlor, the image I take is of the cranes and of those arrogant billboards selling the social cleansing and that feeling that this really was a very last stand.
Some of the art and the events over the weekend were indeed wicked, brilliantly so, (it was still impossible to explore it all and see everything in terms of the art and the studios, sorry if we missed you out in the photos down there), but a lot of what we saw this weekend was very very depressing. I felt sad at the end of Hackney Wicked 2017, I felt rather depressed as I walked away from Here East on the Monday morning after the weekend with my art under my arm, I wonder where were all going to go, I wonder why those who control this city want to squeeze the life and the art out of it, why does all have to be so sanitised and soulless? Why does it all have to be about profit and greed? Why can’t it be about people, about creativity, about real community about sharing wonderful things like Hackney Wicked?
There was still some brilliant art though, loved those Erin Lawlor paintings and seeing them in her studio rather than in a gallery, loved being part of the Inside Out show and watching all the engagement, loved meeting so many people, meeting old friends and making new ones, loved the kids asking how to do that and wanting a go, loved Aida’s stall, loved the energy of that piece on the wall by the White Post bar, loved the Jim Jack sculptures and that animated film, love it! Hackney Wicked is always a special weekend, always special to be part of it, I do like living and working around here, I hope we can hang on for a little bit longer, big thanks everyone, I probably won’t see you next year but I do rather hope I will, I’ll miss living here…. (sw)
Click on an image to enlarge or to run the slide show and get a flavour or two of the bits we got to…..