Who We Are, opening night, Hackney Wicked, July 2019 – There are so many conflicting thoughts in terms of Hackney Wick and the tenth annual Hackney WickEd weekend, of course it should still be happening, of course it can’t be allowed to just fade away and of course it has to evolve as the destruction and the soulless gentrification goes on. Most of the unique beauty of Hackney Wick and Fish Island has gone now, the people, the scrapyards, the industrial spaces, the art spaces, artists, but all of this is old ground now, we said most of this two years ago when the big Hackney WickEd Group show happened over the river in the vast emptiness of the (still empty) Here East building, we’ve said it all several times before on these fractured pages over the last five or six years, all of this really is old news now. But this year those new-builds are standing tall, the towering arrogance reality is there for all to see now, great big buildings almost mocking the art spaces and the community that still survives and it really isn’t possible to write about any art show or event in Hackney Wick without addressing these things. There are so many battles still going on, different ones now as corporate versions and notions like the laughable #WickWednesday are imposed by the developers and those who’s vision is a more sanitised controlled policed version of what was before. Sure, Stour Space is still there, the old Space studio complex is still a beautiful warren of artist studios, places like the old Peanut Factory are still standing and still in use, Grow survives, but the axe hangs over most of the spaces, artists still in studios talk about the worry, so so much has gone now and when new art spaces are built it stinks of expensive tokenism and controlled policed spaces for designers rather than artist’s spaces and the organic d,i,y that made the area so so special. So so many people have had to go but this is all old ground, this is old news, there really is little option other than to carry on with whatever is left alongside the new visions of the developers and the joke that is the Olympic legacy and the corporate versions of boards around the building sites, we all either just go or we try to work with it in some kind way, we try to tell then Who We Are…
But the new is so heartless, so so soulless, The Trampery, or one of the buildings that are part of the Trampery complex is where the Who Are We group show is happening, the buildings in that particular area are pretty much complete now, those hoardings that have been up on the “sales suite” declaring it to be “true to spirit”. Rather hard to like anything about the complex of Trampery buildings and the sickening sales blurb around them, hard not to be cynical about the Mayor of London logos or any of that yellow branding. Hard to feel comfortable about being part of the group show that opens this Year’s Hackney WickEd. It isn’t that the show isn’t good, that the diverse group of artists isn’t exciting or that curator Anna Maloney and her team haven’t done an excellent job in pulling together another impressive event when it would I’m sure be far easier to just give in or give up, but there something jwrong about this space, something that doesn’t sit right about the whole thing, maybe it was the open speech from the Trampery founder (didn’t catch his name), maybe ir was some of the horseshit shovelled, the patronising nature of it all. this space and these buildings are nowhere near the spirit of Hackney Wick or the WickEd weekend whatever he may claim in his speach, this is a takeover, a cleansing and hosting this event this weekend stinks of tokenism/ Rhere’s some kind of crap about how he came to a WickEd weekend a half-dozen or so years back and knew he had to be part of it, but this isn’t being part of it, this is replacing it, and yes, sure. I’m a participating artist, and I’m not party to any of the financial aspects and who’s funded what in terms of the rent for the space for the weekend (I can tell you the artists haven’t been asked to contribute financially), but we didn’t really know where the show was going to be until almost the very last minute, we were just invited to take part in this year;s Hackney WickEd group show. There are all kinds of whispers about the space suddenly not being available or hire costs being inflated at the last minute, rumours in the week leading up to the show of the venue having to be switched to the old Baths, something isn’t feeling quite right about any of it, something of the the self-declared “Regeneration architect, the impact entrepreneur, the futures thinker” about it all, the “futures thinker” said pretty much the same about Vyner Street when he came in and destroyed that community three or four years back…
We didn’t know where the show was going to be until the last minute, on-line the address is still being given as the railway station right up until the very last day, then we’re told something about the House of Hackney Wicked, no one really knew where or what that is. Details were vague, I guess it didn’t take a genius to workout that the official Hackney WickEd group show would be happening somewhere like this, there aren’t many alternatives to the new builds now. Somehow the group show in the Here East building on the other side of the river in 2017 didn’t feel quite so wrong as this one right in the heart of Fish Island does, or maybe it was just the opening speech from yer man in the comedy trousers, him from The Trampery that made it all feel so wrong? That speech about how much he loves it all when really he’s just walking all over it in the same way that other “supporter of the arts and artists” did down Vyner Street. I guess if a big show is going to happen then it has to happen in a space like this now, the alternatives have all been knocked down, This space where the show is opening is about to be fitted out, right now, I guess we should say we’re lucky that the building is still a building site and not quite ready for whatever it eventually will be. I guess this is how it is now, grab a building while you can before in becomes another of those mysterious places that aren’t for the likes of us. The Wick was such s beautiful place when it really was alive with D.I.Y, spirit and communities making things happen, there is still some of that, you can still find it but things have changed now, (I told myself 2017 was the last time for me, not sure what I’m doing with a painting on the wall of this show in 2019, lots of conflicted emotions).
None of this matters tonight though, on with the show, my thoughts as an artist taking part don’t matter, this is all old news, most of the old buildings are gone, the spaces have been taken, the new ones are mostly already up, bland blocks, fancy looking places, soulless looking places, laughable sales pitches, There are still lots of building sites, there is still some strong graff and bits of street art, the old Lord Napier pub is looking tired now but there is still some colour on some of the streets and it isn’t that the fight is completely lost inside or out, more that the inevitable has pretty much happened and the deal now is to either try and work with it or, rather like Vyner Street, give it all up and stay well away.
The name of the group show is a rather inspired one, we are still here, well some of us, and this is who we are, all kinds of people from all kinds of places, all kinds of accents, still some kind of community whatever the current state of play – “Turbulent political, physical and environment times are creating major shifts in what we’ve known, how societies operate, and how we define ourselves and our identities as human beings. This state of instability, or perhaps transition has created much food for thought and given rise to different templates of being. It is this moment in time that has inspired our official Hackney WickED Group Show for 2019, we ask you to consider: Who are you? Who are we? Be it in a personal context, local context, national context, global context or a universal context as just particles of energy existing across multiple planes”, who are we? We artists who still work here, or we artists who still feel some attachment to the place and the people and the buildings and the walls and the things that have been shown very little respect by those who have taken the place now,, it is more important than ever that artists stick together, that we say who we are, where we are, the who, what, where and how.
The invite was thrown open to the artists of Hackney Wick then and now, we didn’t really know where it was going to happen or who else was taking part until two or three days before the event, on the Wednesday before Friday’s opening the venue really was a building site, there’s artists wondering around Fish Island trying to find the actual space, the fact that Anna and her WickEd team, aided in a small way be some of the artists grabbing a paintbrush or a sweeping brush, managed to pull such an expansive show together really is something to celebrate, it really did look a little like an impossible task on Wednesday afternoon two days before the opening. By Friday evening there’s a rather impressive event alive with rather a lot of art, by Friday evening there’s a rather happening art event, a strong statement is being made, there is still something here, it might be happened in a less anarchic way now, that speech from Trampery man makes us cringe, awkward glances, the security and the fact that you can’t get in if you’re not on a list and you’re bag is searched again and again (spray paint freaks them out a little, they can’t find the nozzle so it must be okay), is a little annoying, there seems the be a little paranoia involved in letting the Hackney Wick art crowd in to the nice new building, things aren’t quite sitting right, we’re on enemy territory, organiser Anna Maloney makes a fine speech of her own though and this is a damn good show, a damn good coming together. There’s something like fifty artists – painters, printers, video artists, photographers, performers, lights, cameras, action. It isn’t about picking out individual artists or pieces tonight though, that can all happen over the weekend in the daylight, this is about a group of artists, of people, still here, still painting and filming and sculpting and building things, it isn’t the night to pick things out although it might be a little surprising to see one of Aida Wilde‘s “I gentrified…” prints framed and up on the wall, Alice in Hackneyland’s very pink Portia Munsonesque table looks rather good there in the middle of the floor as does another of those big Vinay Hathi bags – Sports Direct this time rather than Primark – but tonight isn’t about picking out pieces or artists, tonight is the opening night of the Hackney WickEd 2019 weekend and there might be a conflicted thought or two tonight and not everything feels comfortable but we are still here. Here’s some photos, part two and the weekend proper along in a moment, Hackney WickEd is off and running, stay tuned, more in a minute.. (sw)
Click on an image to enlarge or to run the fractured slide show