We’ve all seen the social media hype, the glossy boards by the fancy new Hackney Wick overground station, the promo videos on Facebook and such, but what is Wick Wednesday? What’s all that about? Whoops, forgot the hashtag there, mustn’t forget the hashtag, whole marketing teams will have been in meetings for days deciding on the right hashtag Haven’t been over to Hackney Wick for a couple of months, the Wick is not that much of a walk from here, it was all a little too depressing last time we crossed the bridge from Victoria Park, it was really depressing actually Yes I know, this is a;; old news now, the ship has been sinking for at least a couple of years, the heart and soul has pretty much gone now, as have most of the old buildings, the art spaces, the studios, the venues, the skate park and the people. It feels like there’s dozens of towers shooting up now, those identical little boxes, the middle class hipster boxes, soulless things, every time we go there another street or another building or another old venue has gone. We’ve said all this before though, this is tired old news, the Wick that most of us loved in no more. That part of East London (like most parts of East London) isn’t for the likes of us any more, not for the artists. musicians and designers who made the Wick tick in so many colourful ways for all that time when no one else really wanted to know. The Wick isn’t for the car mechanics and the taxi garages now, not for the scrapyards or the textile weavers, not for the stone masons who worked alongside the artists who brought so much life back to the beautiful organic place. There was something very special about Hackney Wick, About the buildings, the people, the lack of through roads and traffic, the water, most of it has gone now, rapidly being replaced by the same soulless towers that you can see all over the capital city There’s no room for real life now, no room for the old Wick community that shared so so much, you know the story, you’ve read it here on these pages several times, this is old old old news, we’re repeating ourselves, the Wick has pretty much gone now. Sure, there’s a couple of the old art studio complexes hanging on, at least we assume they’re still there, Hackney WickEd didn’t happen this year so we didn’t get to explore the open studios and what’s left on Fish island this year (Hackney WickEd had been one of the highlights of the London art calendar for quite a few years, thousands of people flocking in from all over the city for WickEd weekend, it was brilliant)
I still live and work not far from the Wick, as a working artist it still almost feels like home ground to me, we haven’t been over there for a couple of months, too depressing. I spent about two hours wandering around by myself this week, just quietly walking around the place, just walking around looking for #WickWednesday, just looking for a hint of the essence of the Wick, or at least an open door an an event or two on the much-trumpeted third Wednesday of the month. Just me, quietly having a look, trying to find Wick Wednesday, trying to find the positive, what it actually felt like was me saying one last goodbye to a dying friend, it felt sad, I really wanted to find a positive, a future, a touch of hope, I really did want to find something. So much went on here, so many people, such a great community. and here come Creative Wick and their rather corporate looking #WickWednesday (remembered the hashtag that time), here they come, sloganing at us, inviting us to come to Wick on a Wednesday night and to “buy, eat, drink, play, look, learn, listen, watch, relax, sweat, chill, LOCAL” (the capital letters are there’s, local is in capitals on the fancy Creative Wick website), and on that very same slick looking website the Wick Wednesday people promise. “A day and night of special offers, exhibitions, events, performances…”. Okay so I have a down on what’s been going on over the last two or three years, I certainly don’t like the way the Major has handled it, I have nothing but contempt for the Olympic Legacy people. the Wharf did not need to be destroyed to make way for yet another bridge, and those Wick Wednesday boards around the station, surely they’re just rubbing salt into wounds? All done now though, we’re past the point of return, time to move on, let’s go see what can evolve, let’s go see what this Wick Wednesday thing is about, this is apparently the ninth month, let go explore the promised events, the art, the galleries, the performances, let’s go see…
So where was Wick Wednesday? Where the hell was it? Apparently it happens every third Wednesday of the month, Wick Wednesday #9 happened yesterday so the website tells us, Wednesday 15the August, besides the Sal Jones exhibition at Unit G gallery, Sal’s show was the real reason for the walk over to the Wick last night, besides Sally’s show, I can’t actually find anything open and happening on this ninth #WickWednesday. Walked around for ages, walked around the Wick, around Fish Island, I passed a small walking tour where the guide was pointing out photos (on those boards outside the station), photos of things that once went on in the area in the now destroyed buildings, he gleeful points me out as I past, “there’s Sean, he’s one of the artists from around here”, apparently me walking past was a highlight of #Wick Wednesday – there’s not much happening around here is there…
Apparently Wick Wednesday is run by some organisation called Creative Wick, their Facebook page tells us they are “facilitating a permanent, sustainable, creative economy for local residents, businesses and institutions with an interest in the long-term viability and continued authenticity of the arts, culture and creativity in Hackney Wick, Fish Island and the wider East London area. By helping to increase current levels of economic resilience alongside the ongoing development of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, we aim to retain and grow the creative sector by building positive, mutually beneficial relationships with existing and future residential and business communities” – correct me if I’m wrong, surely, in fewer fancy words that that, isn’t that exactly what we already had until you kicked us all out and pulled everything down? If you want to talk about wider East London, come talk to me about Vyner Street and how there were fifteen or so working galleries, including the one we ran, until the Olympics and the property developers came along. People came to that wonderful street from all over the world, it was a hive of art and creativity, now all you find is a coffee shop, one gallery, a dying pub and a dead street. We had a thriving creative community of artists and designers down Vyner Street, we had the same thing on a bigger scale in Hackney Wick, you destroyed it all, and now you’re trying to package up a sanitised version and sell it back to us at three or four times the price
Three or four years ago the Wick and Fish Island were places still bursting with creativity, with people, with artists, designers, with studios, gallery spaces, recording spaces, with excitement. People making and doing things, creating things, internationally recognised artists and designers all doing their thing in East London, people doing it for themselves in the beautiful tapestry of old industrial buildings that had so so much beautiful character, that had so much history, so much heart and soul. And then came the Olympics and the bulldozers and the bridge builders and the corporate property developers and their glass fronted tower blocks and that are sold to overseas investment firms who buy them up and then try to rent them back to us at prices that one one from around here can afford even if they wanted to live in these soulless faceless heartless places, these arrogant new places, There’s a mock up hoarding wrapped around one of the new builds just over from the old Lord Napier pub,, an architects illustration, there’s nothing but shiny young white bike-riding people in their mock up illustration of how things are going to be. We are in East London aren’t we? There’s more than just young middle class white people here aren’t there?
And what of Wick Wednesday itself? isn’t exactly Hackney WickEd is it? 8pm and the streets are rather dead, beside the temporary instalment of unit G Gallery on Wallis Road (apparently they have the space until November then they’re homeless again), besides Unit G and a few of the newer hipster bars that are open most nights anyway, that and Grow – Grow still has the spirit of the Wick, Grow are hanging in the there – Besides Unit G and Grow, there’s really nothing to be found. There’s no open doors, no pop up galleries, no artist studios open for the evening, I can’t hear any music, I don’t see that many people out on the street,, it seems like most of the artists that are still hanging on here want little to do with the Wick Wednesday sham. And it is a sham, sure there’s the video on social media, the e flyers, the marketing, the boards around the station, the website, but there’s nothing much actually here, there’s just more and more tower blocks with sickening sales slogans wrapped around them. There’s locked doors and builders boards, unless you want to count the graff and the last bits of street art on the hoarding around the building sites, there is no Wick Wednesday, there is no substance, there’s nothing to back up the on-line marketing sham, nothing, is open, nothing is going on, Wick Wednesday is looking like a great big nothing.
Yes I know the Wick has gone, yes, I know this is all old news, yes I know we can’t have it back, yes I know time moves on and nothing is for ever, and yes I kind of advanced that argument myself around this time last year when we were doing that big Here East show with the WickEd people and Gavin Turk and such. One year on and I was probably wrong, in hindsight it wasn’t wrong to do that show, but no, the developers and the rest of them aren’t really interested in anything other that pushing everyone out and building as many towers as they can – they might use us artists as a selling point right now – hey look at all this cool art, what a bohemian place this is, come buy a shiny new flat – but no, the reality is they’re busy pushing us out, they don’t want us here, there was no chance of ever building bridges, I was wrong to suggest there was last year and we won’t be here when you move in to your shiny new flat in your heartless new tower. The Here East show was a great show, it proved people want art shows in the Wick, it proved that the people will come and enjoy if you let the artists do it themselves, but if you think you can package it up and sell it back to us wrapped in pink and white corporate boards and slogans worked out by marketing teams then no. You can try and market it at us, you can try and charge us three times the price for a slice of you tokenism, but no. And if you really are genuine about wanting to breath new life into the area you’ve destroyed, if you think you can market the Wick as a creative zone with things like #WickWednesday them at least make sure there’s some actual substance to it. If there’s nothing there to back up the glossy social media campaigns, the e-flyer marketing, the hashtags and the videos, if nothing is going to be happening or open when we come over on the third Wednesday. if you’re going to fake it, then people are only going to come once, then people like me are going to be cynical, then people like me are going to be angry, then people like me are going to question all the bullshit, people like me are going to tell it like it really is.
So yes, there’s that big board, one of those boards around yet another building site, a big pink and white thing – the corporate colours the Creative Wick marketing team have chosen – on that board there’s a list of places that are apparently open on #WickWednesday, besides the occasional bar, and the Sal Jones show at the temporary space that currently houses Unit G, none of the listed spaces appear to be open, nothing much is open, nothing seems to be going on That big pink board has a big marker pen scrawl on it, someone has taken a big marker pen and written “Sponsored by the wolves who don’t sleep, do your homework” on the big pink and white corporate board, meanwhile down at the bottom of the very same big pink and white board it reads “Creative Wick, sponsored by Telford Homes” – the wolves indeed, there they are, the developers responsible for kicking most of the creativity out! While over on Fish island, on the side of plush looking “Fish Island Marketing Suite” there’s more slick sloganising, more nauseating propaganda, if the slogans weren’t so annoying they’d almost be funny – “Vibrant – Enhancing nor replacing” reads one on the big boards on the side of the sales suite, “Eclectic – True to the spirit of Fish Island” reads another, a third tells us the development comes with a “Concierge, an on-site gym, and luxury Dinning”, yeah right, really true to the spirit! Nothing replaced there then, “Authentic” reads a fourth pastel coloured board, oh dear. What you are going to be left with here in a year or two, is a concierge on every door keeping the likes of you and me out of the fancy gyms and the luxury dining halls,, there will be no creativity, nothing spontaneous, just cold hearted artless towers and the uncaring arrogance of architecture, nothing fit for purpose, places that are just for the wholesome young white people depicted on the boards around that other tower block they’re building over there… 8pm on Wick Wednesday evening, where’s all the life? There only me on the street in the part of Fish Island, well me and the security man who’s busy telling me I can’t take photos of the boards (he won’t tell me why)
There’s not much art left in the Wick and on the island now ten, not much street art, there’s still a lot of graff, some really good graff, clearly the writers are still coming in on the weekends, I doubt if any of the writers are based in the Wick now, some fine writing though, I guess it will still be there until the builders boards have finally gone and the last of the caravans are cleared away, There very little sign of people like Sweet Toof or the paste-ups of Aida Wilde now, the old Lord Napier pub looks extremely sad these days, back in the summer of 2016 Aida and her team of print-maker paste-up artists turned it into one of the most exciting pieces of art in London. The walls of the old pub have always has been interesting, for years the walls were ever evolving, ever exciting, they look rather sad now, no one has touched them in a meaningful way since Aida’s crew last did in 2016.
But we have to move on, surely we have to stop moaning and move on? Nothing is for ever, we always knew that, the Wick was always going to evolve, it always has, East London always has, whole streets of art galleries and creative spaces have been wiped out by developers, but hey, before they were art spaces they were print works or factories, they made Matchbox toy cars over there, they invented Latex in that building, the space where our own Cultivate gallery was before the developers knocked it down and built a plug-ugly black of flats, before the artists squatted the empty space that eventually became Cultivate, it was a print works, they printed Sounds there, the old music paper, apparently musicians used to line up waiting for it to come off the presses so they could read the musicians wanted adverts first. The first time I went to the Wick it was for a filthy dirty rock festival policed by the local Hells Angels,at the old dog track – it really was, no one miss behaved that day – there wasn’t much art then, it was the last throws of industry, it was car repair shops, it was wastelands, the Lord Napier was still a functioning pub, Motorhead headlined, it was the early 80’s – these places will always evolve, but when I first went to Hackney Wick it was pretty much abandoned, the industry had pretty much gone, the buildings were falling down, no one much was interested in living there and so a couple of years later the artists started to move in, looking for cheap places to work, to live, to create, repairing the buildings, saving them, it happened organically, it evolved, communities were built, from what I can see, from what I can tell from speaking to the locals, the cockneys, the real East End people from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, they like it, they welcomed the artists breathing new life into the old streets and the buildings.
Later on, when we first opened Cultivate in 2011, a big part of what we were doing was the open door and regular hours whatever the weather, we wanted to make everyone feel welcome, it was a big part of the gallery to have the door always open and to welcome everyone in, even if they just wanted to shelter from the rain, sit down and have a cup of tea and five minutes rest, it was important that we engaged, important to the people who were born around here or those who had moved here before it was fashionable to do so (I first moved here in the late 80’s, the only reason was that it was cheep, we ware broke, it was our only option after art school, I accidentally moved to London). We’d talk to people at Cultivate, we’d try to get to know people, they’d tell is about the 50’s and the 60’s, people we made friends with, people like the Cockney Shoe Model (that’s the nickname we secretly gave her, she was brilliant, she’s been a shoe model in the East End in the 50’s), people like the old fighter pilot who ended up in a Japanese prisoner of war camp (he finally resolved his problems with the Japanese people after an art show we went with him to at the then Wilkinson gallery in Vyner Street) he’d tell us so much about life around here. Then there was Tony two-vans, and the guy who worked in the printers and the school teachers, and the Turkish guys from the taxi garage up the street,, there was so many people. The point I’m making is we talked to them, they were delighted when we did, it was about being part of a community, not replacing it, they’d tell us about how they welcomed the art community in the 80s and 90’s they likes people coming in and cleaning up the buildings,,making the streets being safer, but then came the property developers and the buildings started to come down and the East End families started to be priced out, the Bangladeshi community couldn’t afford to live in the area any more, the Cockneys were having to go to Essex, the coffee drinkers moved in, the DIY galleries started to come down, the studios were closed down, rents went up (and up and up),, the estate agents and the developers took ever, where the artists had been part of the community, the new breed created their own communities, they replaced rather than engaged, the Cockney show Model hated them. Oh look I didn’t mean this to be a long piece, I only went out to see the Sal Jones show and check out her latest paintings, and to hopefully find that Wick Wednesday was something positive, something rising from the destruction, something that could be good, but no, it was all marketing bluff, it was all sham and rather than a community evolving again, rather than new people working with those who were already here, rather than a new community respecting those who were already there and who has invested so much time and emotion in a place, like the artists did in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, rather than all that happening again, the creative communities are being kicked out, pushed out, replaced by the arrogance of architecture and the greed of property developers and their marketing teams. Feels like a cleansing, and this #WickWednesday nonsense and this Creative Wick bullshit appears to be nothing more than a front, nothing more than a sham, propaganda. At best Creative Wick is tokenism (and are they really brazen enough to stand posing for a photo in front of one of Aida Wilde’s protest posters on then post it on their corporate pink and white website, really!? Do they really not get it? Are they really that arrogant?. Sure, there might be the tokenism of a swish new (probably unaffordable) art studio or two as they try to package up the culture and sell a sanitised version back to us at three or four times the price, but really, the truth is they don’t want the likes of us artists or the car mechanics or the scrapyard people here upsetting the concierge and the fine dining and the middle class people on their shiny boards around their new buildings.
Wick Wednesday? if all you’re going to offer in August is one gallery, however good the show is, in a gallery that only opens for the one night and isn’t open at any other times unless you make an appointment, that and a few craft beer bars and yoga classes that were open anyway then Wick Wednesday is just a property developers sham. According to their Facebook page, Creative Wick is a “Creative & Cultural Economy Intermediary, Celebrating the Wick’s creativity in all its forms” sorry to say there appears to be no real substance to #WickWednesday, there appears to be no understanding of the contribution art can make to a real community, no appreciation of anything that’s happened in terms of art and people in East London in the last twenty or so years, nothing for the likes of us. I walked home feeling rather depressed, one last look over the bridge, I loved going to the Wick, i loved being one of the artists involved in the events that happened around Wick, it was something very special, it a shame there wasn’t any substance to Wick Wednesday, surely it doesn’t have to be like this? (SW)