Reproduced from Radio Times, 2 November 1934 / BBC Genome
The Melodramatic Elephant in the Haunted Castle was made in collaboration with John Whelan and People's Company. It told the dramatic story of the Coronet as theatre, cinema and night-club. The project had a curious genesis. It started in 2012, when I tried to remember a film I had seen as a 14 year old, a horror film screened at theABC Edgware Road. The film with its visceral supernatural murders, inspired by Dario Argento's influential shocker, Suspiria, made a deep impression on me at the time. However, over time, I completely forgot what the film was called; while still being able to vaguely recall certain scenes. Decades later, I tracked down the film at Westminster Archives, looking through back copies of newspaper listings. The recovery of that memory as a film called Terror (1978, released in 1981), emboldened me to artistically connect with the lost cinematic spaces and experiences of my youth. My Terror ABC had long been demolished. But I discovered the Coronet in the Elephant and Castle was once an ABC cinema and was being threatened with closure. This was a perfect opportunity to explore my love affair with cinema.
The Melodramatic Elephant art project was initially framed around the actor-manager Tod Slaughter, noted as one of the greatest (and greatly under-appreciated) stars of melodrama. He provided a more obvious link to my interests; the intersections where theatre and film, horror and melodrama, meet and diverge. However, I deviated from this focal point when I unearthed the poignant story and medical records of Victorian actress, Marie Henderson. Her life and death, were so poetically linked to the Coronet and her ghostly presence in the building was a perfect medium for threading time across the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. She was also a completely unknown story, while Tod Slaughter was already a minor footnote in film history. I handed over these schematics to John and the People's Company and they created a spectacular last-ever theatrical event for the Coronet.
This blog will provide some context to the original ideas for the project and a sample of art work that was generated. In the process, we doff our cap, to the achievements of Tod Slaughter's 50-year career across theatre and film, radio and television. He seemed to be born with melodrama in the blood and was still performing it with relish and abandon, when he died of coronary thrombosis in 1956. Tod had an-end-of-career swan song, impressing the critics and a new generation unfamiliar with the creaky trappings of stage melodrama. A short performance on BBC TV, prompted over 3000 letters asking where Tod's plays could be seen. They recognised the sincerity of his quaint performance in an era that was shifting gears from the Method to the Kitchen Sink.
I want to also track-back to Tod's theatrical heyday. We can pin this down to the year, 1927; the last of his three-year tenure as actor-manager of the Elephant and Castle Theatre. He mounted what should have been a routine production of Maria Marten, scheduled to last for one week. Maria Marten or the Murder in the Red Barn was well known to Victorian theatrical audiences and was based on a sensational real-life murder, trial and execution that occurred in Polstead, Suffolk, in 1827-28. Tod's production became one of the hits of the season and was seen by over 100,00o people across 115 nights. The West End audience flocked south of the Thames to witness this old-time drama being presented in a fresh way. I particularly like the reviews that describe the audience: a mixture of the local Southwark working-class, eating oranges and drinking stout, boisterous in their interaction with the performers; while seated cheek-by-jowl, with the mannered ladies and gents, using viewing glasses to scrutinise the on and off-stage shenanigans. You can imagine a humorous culture clash. This was a moment of significance: melodrama being resurrected in a theatre that was on the brink of conversion to a cinema. All this research was percolating in my mind, unlocking a range of cinematic ideas and storyboarding.
The West London Observer, 1943
Newspaper image © Successor copyright holder unknown. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk
Set model box for Sweeney Todd, 1993
Sketch 1 from a storyboard, The Elephant in the Haunted Castle
Tod watching Hitchcock's The Lodger (1927) while being stalked by a serial killer
22 x 30 inches, Oil pastels, 2013
Sketch 2 from a storyboard, The Elephant in the Haunted Castle
Tod as William Corder in Maria Marten being directed by serial killers
22 x 30 inches, oil patel, 2013
Sketch 3 from a storyboard, The Elephant in the Haunted Castle
Tod, seated, watching the burning of the Elephant and Castle Theatre
16.5 x 23 inches, oil pastel, 2015
Narrative storyboard for The Elephant in the Haunted Castle, 2015
Tod became a minor British film star of the 1930s and early 40s, often appearing in adaptions of his stage plays. These "quota quickies" were made on shoe-string budgets. Modern audiences would grudgingly call them camp but cheerful. Film scholars have analysed certain films in terms of their social dimension, the themes of capital and labour. In terms of performance, Tod is ripe and fruity in his portrayal of villainy. One moment, the patriarchal squire, lusting after a country wench. The next, with his yeast in the bun in the oven, he chuckles before "polishing" the wench off to an unmarked grave. This is all set within a narrative that has basic motivation and plotting; however, this brings me reassuringly, full-circle, to the Terror I witnessed at the ABC that exhibited similar tropes.
I'm not sure how accurate the press releases were in describing Tod as Europe's first horror star. The Face At The Window (1939) is a rare example of melo with "horror" motifs. I don't think the conventions of horror meant anything to Tod. He was not the director of any of his films, whereas he was fully in control of all the theatrical productions. You get a better sense of the quality of these when you listen to a radio broadcast or a vinyl pressing. The films are also more truncated and diluted for the Board of Censorship: at the end of the film version of Maria Marten, the hanging of William Corder is off-camera; a more explicit sequence had been shot but did not find its way into the final print.
Also of interest is Tod's theatrical productions of Spring-Heeled Jack. In the play, Tod plays the villain lurking in the trees of Epping Forest. He then swoops down to plunge a hypothermic syringe into the leading lady and chuckles over "Two and half pints of lovely blood." I'm not sure what Jack was planning to do with the blood. Is this a plot where our beloved NHS is transfused by the private sector of blood merchants? We have comic accounts of Tod wearing a harness under his costume, attached to wires and being yanked up into the fly loft by the stage crew; springing in and out of scenic trees and occasionally just left dangling in mid-air when something went wrong. Melodrama, horror, comedy - all rolled into one!
Let's leave the final image and word with Tod as Sweeney Todd. In total, he played this role over two thousand times. At the end of most productions, there would be a speech and then an invite onto the stage for anyone who was tired of life. Does anyone want to try the murderous barber's chair for comfort? Tod was ever the practical joker. Not many took up the challenge. However, one day, as recounted by Tod, a man came forward, saying he had a row with his wife and was sick of life. So he sat in the chair and was about to be thrown under the trapdoor and onto the mattress beneath the stage, when his wife shouted out from the auditorium. No, don't do it! The quarrel was settled and their relationship patched up (we would like to think!). This is almost a comic form of melodramatic therapy. It also neatly illustrates how the audience had a very direct emotional connection to the world of Tod.
"It is grand to be playing at the Hackney Empire again (in 1954) before I pass into the limbo of forgotten things."
Tod is in the limbo of things. He is not forgotten.
At the Battersea fun fair, the crimson sun hangs over the big dipper.
Do not stand up. Hold tight.
The rush of sky against land, holding hands, giggling.
Toffee apples and candy floss; pocket picked as the Mod-Rocker's brawl.
A child, lost and found as their balloon floats across the river.
Wetting yourself with joy at the water chute, then hiding your peed crotch in the Ghost Tunnel.
The coconuts are all shy of their targets and prizes: goldfish or doll puppies.
Too old to hold hands in public: the lip stick on the glass, the cross necklace is thrown away.
The haunting sound of an Irish harp, busker, with no pennies in a cap.
The power station pumps out smoke that slowly drifts across the park.
Good night sweet memory, tinged with sadness of the fun fair.
The Fun and the Sadness of the Fair
Artists book, 21 x 10 cm
Oil pastels, pencil
This is an abandoned film that was being shot from the Mourne Mountains to the city streets of Belfast from 2003-2008.
There was a narrative thread:
A student who came from a farming background becomes a political activist and drug dealer. Under a shroud of mystery, they are reported missing. One year on, we pick up the narrative, as a family member, ex-bobby, recreates their last known movements. Murder, suicide or a staged death to start a new life?
Audio from a lecture room:
"It has been argued that there is no fundamental difference between fiction and history.
What we know about Julius Caesar - Et tu, Brute? or "καὶ σὺ, τέκνον"
Is derived from a long catalogue of narrative forms;
Storytelling about him that has been rewritten by each generation.
We know as much about Caesar as we know about Molly Bloom.
Something is real but not necessarily what the historians are telling us.
Your man, Derrida, said: "il n'y a pas de hors-texte."
There is nothing outside the text and we should add mobile texting.
All our lives are made up of texts that also function as personal anecdotes.
This is not necessarily true, as obviously, somethings are true;
That ghoulish head skating past the window right now,
The underclass who face poverty and premature death
Or the student loan and its implications for your survival;
All these represent aspects of the real world.”
Images are now presented as open-ended, encouraging the viewer to replay and reconfigure, making up their own story, characters or mood in a variation of a black and white silent film.
The Metamorphosis of Vine to Wine
Charcoal, 78" x 57"
"Three bowls do I mix for the temperate: one to health, which they empty first; the second to love and pleasure; the third to sleep. When this bowl is drunk up, wise guests go home. The fourth bowl is ours no longer, but belongs to violence; the fifth to uproar; the sixth to drunken revel; the seventh to black eyes; the eighth is the policeman's; the ninth belongs to biliousness; and the tenth to madness and the hurling of furniture."
From the play Semele or Dionysus by Eubulus, c. 375 BC
I never knew my grandfather, on the Greek side, but am named after him, Constantinos;
His nickname on the island was Barba Chedeli.
He cleared all the stones from the valley to grow crops that were sold at the market.
Built his own house, furnace and wine press where grapes were crushed underfoot.
Drinking in moderation, but enough to loosen the poetics of song and dance.
In the face of war and famine, he was quite simply, glass half full.
I thought I knew my father, a Pole.
But he could never talk about the war and famine that exiled him to England.
Vodka was never enough to loosen the poetics of song and dance.
He loved me but I don't know if he was ever truly contented.
No words in any language could quench his half-empty thirst.
The mist drifts down the vineyard and into the corridors of the mind.
This is the story of four bowls plus one and four.
Drinking rituals executed with no particular rhyme or reason, beginning or end.
An Existential compulsion.
Top, left to right: Ruin of house built by Konstantinos Christofis, oven and wine press
Bottom: Valley of rocks cleared for cultivation of crops, Oinousses
Musical refugee as the city of Smyrna burns
24x20" charcoal 2009
A cafe in Smyrna where a Greek lad brazenly sings about killing and raping the enemy;
And as he staggers home, drunk, after closing hours, a knife is plunged into his stomach.
He dies in the arms of his sister asking for a glass of water.
The heavens finally open to provide relief to the unseasonal temperatures.
The family are sharing a heady brew, performing the last rites with a night vigil.
Tomorrow they will gather their strength to bury the elder.
But the stomach of the corpse starts to rumble and the children laugh, contagiously.
They and the dead have not eaten any food in three days.
The radio broadcasts convey the indifference and desperation of the phoney war.
The family decide to bury their prized possessions, including a crate of wine,
Little suspecting that the Nazi's will plant a colony of new forests on their land;
At the same time, neighbours are either executed, or forced to wear a yellow triangle on their back.
Bound and gagged
23x19" Charcoal 2010
The student on the Intercity 125 has a Cold-War identity crisis.
Tucked in the breast pocket of his 1940s herringbone overcoat is a 50ml bottle of Glenfiddich
And a notebook of Ted Hughes-inspired poetry written under the pseudonym of Marian Evans.
The wonders of a comprehensive education and full-maintenance grants;
With enough left-over change in the other pocket to fund decadent posturing.
Thatcherism hasn't fully fucked up or revolutionised the country, yet.
Every time she cooked a meal, pasta alla wild fungi, cooked in red wine,
Trying to worm her way to his heart through the stomach:
His stomach ached and gassed for several hours, kiss by kiss.
Lilac Wine by Jeff Buckley was playing in the background.
There is a lone child in the other room of the flat and it is hungry.
With bottles scattered behind pot plants, cans crushed under sofa cushions,
She has had too much to drink and vomits up a meal of alphabet vegetable soup.
And now still retching, trying to divine the significance of letters in the sink...G...M...T....
Suspense with suspenders
24x20" Charcoal 2009
It's a hen cruising night at Camden, three over the clock.
Sat on the edge of a kerb stone, dress semi-hoisted, bladder overflowing,
She wants to leave her piss stain for all the zombies in town.
England have been knocked out of the World Cup.
Then. Commotion. Club-crawlers are alarmed.
But as her eyes refocus, there is a female death-metal band running down the street.
She laughs at this godforsaken photoshoot and dribbles more pee.
Instinctively. Fingers. Instagram.
He has a name in the art world for creative notoriety in the manner of Francis Bacon:
Violently bragging about who dares wins, fuelled by drink more harmful than cocaine and heroin.
Not to be outdone, his partner has left him for an Amsterdam retreat.
They are cursed to fantasise about each other in hangover and high mushrooming cloud.
The cuts and bruises still fresh on their respective bodies.
There is a trade war between China and America.
Tree as a thorn in my eye
(Set design after Wojciech Has's Saragossa Manuscript)
23x19" Charcoal 2010
Donning hat and coat and slipping on dancing shoes.
Le freak, c'est chic or is it the Can-Can?
His or her mind is shifting in time and place.
And this is the first time you fully recognise a problem with hearing and balance.
All those drunken conversations and couplings, fading to static and then silence.
The flesh, still willing, spinning you on the dance floor; until the world falls from grace.
Your life was foretold in the opening sequence of the film, Le Plasir (1952),
Where a masked young dandy celebrates life on the dance floor, then collapses.
How is that possible?
Perhaps, if we cut out the liver and rip-off the facial mask,
Everything in the spurting toxic blood will be revealed as both ancient and Science-Fiction.
L-R: Three generations: Konstantinos, Constantine and Kazimierz Gras
View of Bramley House (foreground), Silchester Estate high rises and Westway from the 17th floor of Grenfell Tower, 2015
If you put your ear to the ground, what can you hear?
Perhaps Counters Creek - the subterranean stream that flows down from Kensal Green
And threads past Silchester and Lancaster West Estates in North Kensington, London.
If you start to excavate Lancaster West Estate, what fragments do you unearth?
Possibly cups and saucers made by the Victorians and still serving post-war descendants.
These are buried in the slum clearance of the 1960s and 70s.
Now open up your inner being and listen to not just the stream and shattered shards,
But the cries of people who were displaced by the town planners:
During the first phase of redevelopment in this area
Decades before the building of More West and the cladding of Grenfell Tower.
The last words uttered, in-between sips of tea and beer.
Here is one of those distant voices that rings loud and true:
"To whom it may concern
Having received your notice of your intention of developing this area
And your formality to ask me to object,
I SHALL, most sincerely, object on the below grounds:
1. Before I bought this property on Talbot Grove, I came to your Town Hall in person enquiring into any future development. A map was taken out, overlooked and I was informed that you had no immediate plan. I purchased the property.
2. After purchasing the property, I spent what is a large sum of money, to me (over £500) to insert a damp proof course, where after I was able to have a closing order removed.
3. I bought the property for private and undisturbed accommodation for my children. If their home had to be taken away, it would re-open a sore of housing accommodation and restrict their movements.
4. I have NO CONFIDENCE in the Kensington Town Hall. I have a genuine grievance which I believe is equally reciprocated by the Town Clerk and his colleagues. i have been in my opinion cheated and my feelings were expressed in various correspondence to him, Colonial Office and other officials, all to no effect.
5. As a negro, I have no status, I have NO ONE to whom I can go for sincere advice. NO ONE to whom I can seek redress.
6. If my property has to be taken by the Town Hall, I am sincerely afraid that it will be priced to suit the Town Clerk's wishes.
I DO SINCERELY OBJECT
North Kensington, late 1960s; consultation meeting regarding redevelopment
Reproduced from Community Survival in the Renewal Process, PHD by Derek J. Latham, 1970
That was 1966. Here is another, less anguished, but equally desperate voice from 1971:
Re: Town and Country Planning Act - 1962
Proposed Development at Lancaster Road, W11
Our main objection is that we fear not enough compensation will be paid, to enable us to purchase a similar property where we can live and carry on our business. A change of business will undoubtedly cause difficulties to our business. We feel that in running the Oriental Casting Agency, we are rendering an important service to the Entertainment industry by supplying them with mainly Afro-Asian artists. We are the oldest established Agency of this type in London, and we provide a livelihood for many Afro-Asian actors, actresses and models etc. A change in address would have considerable effect on the growth of the business, which has, in the past few years, been very marked.
We have carried out numerous improvements to the property that was purchased in 1964.
We would like to make it clear at this early stage in the proceedings that before we could agree to the development taking place, we would insist on the following points:
a) Either we are provided with an alternative house of a similar type and condition, suited to our requirements.
Or we are provided with adequate compensation.
b) When and if we come to an agreement with the G.L.C. over this matter, we will be allowed at least ten months to enable us to make arrangements for the transfer of our business to the new address.
The Oriental Casting Agency. I suspect they might have supplied the plethora of Afro-Caribbean actors used in Leo The Last; the powerful film about an aristocratic slum landlord who is radicalised by his poverty-stricken community and whose townhouse is destroyed in the process. It had just been filmed on Testerton Street prior to that being demolished for the Lancaster West estate.
Testerton Street, west side, 1969; where all houses are painted black by the set designers of Leo The Last
RBKC Local Studies and Archives
Walkway at Lancaster West estate built over Testerton Street
Left: Salambo Mardi (acted by Christine Richer)
Right: Leo The Last (acted by Edward Daffarn and Constantine Gras)
Oil pastels, 16.5 x 23"
We can trace a line of community protest through official and non-official channels. The ones that are officially recorded, pre-internet, are the petitions taken to the town hall. They tell a story of how residents organised themselves and attempted to shape the urban development of what was to become Lancaster West estate.
Petition 1, June 1968
A petition was presented by Cllr. Douglas-Mann, urging the council to consider the plight of residents living within the boundaries of the development scheme who were unfurnished tenants. The recent housing survey undertaken by the Notting Hill Summer Project had shown that there were 167 furnished tenancies and all the families living in these cramped rooms, often without heating or water, were in need of being rehoused. Social workers and community organisers were raising this as a major concern. This petition was signed by 1,194 residents with 538 within the development area.
The council at the time was under no obligation to rehouse furnished tenants but would consider cases of genuine hardship. The priority was given to those on the waiting list.
Petition 2, June 1969
The following statement and petition was handed in to the Deputy Town Clerk by Mr J. Denham of the Lancaster Neighbourhood Centre. He and 30 children and 2 mothers had marched from North Kensington to the town hall.
"To the Council,
We are told that the infant mortality rate of our borough is 40% higher than the average for the other London boroughs. We feel that child care in this borough is as good as in any other. Our conclusion is that the bad and often insanitary housing prevalent in North Kensington, overcrowded conditions, and lack of playspace and amenities constitute a direct threat to the health and happiness of all children in North Kensington.
In view of this we urge:
1) That there should be more provision made for the rehousing of large families under the Lancaster West Redevelopment Scheme
2) That no family shall be evicted under any clearance scheme, whether they are furnished or unfurnished tenants
3) That North Kensington should be considered a housing emergency area and that all available local and national resources should be mobilised to see that every family in North Kensington has a decent house.
Lancaster Neighbourhood Centre."
The council generally regarded furnished tenants as mobile and of temporary duration, but would consider for rehousing those were who were long-term residents and who had genuine hardship.
Petition 3, Nov 1974
Cllr John F. S. Keys presents a petition protesting at the conditions of the roads and footpaths around the Lancaster West Redevelopment Area. This was signed by 250 local residents. "We call upon the council to take immediate action to eliminate the danger to pedestrians, cyclists and motorists."
The Council noted the concern and although this was beyond the normal resources of its cleaning service, would consider the possibility of introducing an Environmental Code of duties for contractors.
Petition 4, July 1978
A petition signed by 135 residents and children of Lancaster West Estate calling for more open play spaces in the area.
The council believed the residents were not aware of their plans to include more play spaces in the development.
Petition 5, May 1979
Cllr. Ben Bousquet presented a petition from tenants of the Lancaster West estate urging the council to reconsider their policies of switching off the central heating at estates at the end of april and extending services until the end of may.
Petition 6, November 1981
A petition was presented signed by 238 residents which contained the following "prayer":
"We the undersigned residents of the Lancaster West estate demand that the council gives priority to resolving the problems caused by the plague of cockroaches, bugs and other insects in our homes. Further, we understand that these insects constitute a health hazard and we are taking legal advice to our rights against our landlord, the council. Meanwhile, should nothing be done we may consider withholding our rent and rates until those insects are eradicated from our estate."
The council noted that cockroaches had gained a foothold in ducts and pipes at Grenfell Tower and Camelford Walk and were responding to this. Although a pest, they have little medical importance beyond the psychological effect of their unpleasant appearance. It was difficult for the council to access flats as a blanket treatment would be carried out to prevent further spread; legal forced entry might be required. The other insects mentioned are thought to be ants which appear from time to time on the estate. Tenants would be left to deal with this themselves.
Edward Daffarn reading from a petition handed to the RBKC Scrutiny Committee, 2015
Petition 7, January 2016
Grenfell Tower Residents address RBKC Scrutiny Committee
The residents had invited me to attend and document this meeting.
This is a summary of the speech given by Edward Daffarn:
"Thank you for allowing the residents of Grenfell Tower the opportunity to inform the Scrutiny Committee of the ill treatment, incompetence and plain abuse that we have experienced at the hands of the TMO during the Grenfell Tower Improvement Works. I am speaking to you in my capacity as a Lead Representative of the Grenfell Tower Resident Association, that was formed through adversity, in the summer of 2015 with the support and encouragement of our local MP, Lady Victoria Borwick.
To back up the testimony of Grenfell Tower residents to the Scrutiny Committee members of our R.A recently conducted a quantitative survey of leaseholders and tenants to measure levels of resident satisfaction / dissatisfaction as a result of the TMO's handling of the Improvement Works. The findings of this survey are truly shocking.
The survey revealed the following facts: 90% of Grenfell Tower residents have reported that they are dissatisfied with the way in which the TMO has conducted the Improvement Works. The survey found that 68% of residents said that they had been lied to, threatened, pressurised or harassed by the TMO. The survey also revealed that 58% of residents who have had the Heating Interface Unit (HIU) fitted in their hallways would like them to be moved to a more practical and safe location.
As a result of the findings of our survey and with the support of Lady Borwick, the Grenfell Tower Resident Association is calling for the Scrutiny Committee to commission an independent investigation into the Grenfell Tower Improvement Works, not least, so as to prevent the traumatic experiences of local residents being replicated when the RBKC undertakes the Improvement Works to other tower blocks in North Kensington."
Link to full speech on the Grenfell Action Group blog.
At the Scrutiny meeting, the council agreed for an investigation to be undertaken on behalf of the residents. However, this was to be managed by the TMO.
I was artist in residence at Lancaster West estate from April 2015 - June 2016 where I interviewed all of the original architects about their vision for the estate. I was not allowed direct access to Rydon and the other contractors tasked with the renovation of Grenfell Tower. Although commissioned by the TMO to make a short positive film about the works and to produce an art work for the new community space, I found myself deviating somewhat from the brief, especially once I started to listen to and record the life stories of residents. For a previous project, I made art with residents from Silchester Estate that drew on the social and mythic parallels with Leo The Last. This time around, I felt more like Leo, the individual who is observing and then directly implicated in the ensuing struggle that was taking place between residents and TMO/contractors/council. The film I made was a one hour portrait of residents. This was visually admired by the TMO, but was rejected as not fit for PR purpose. The art work made by children during the Grenfell fun day also languished and was never displayed in the tower after the works were completed.
Silchester Baths photograph, protected during building works in the lift lobby at Grenfell Tower, 2015
It should be noted that throughout its forty-year plus history, Grenfell Tower only had one art work on display. This was an evocative archive photo of Silchester Baths, the Victorian building that was sited near the tower and which critically altered the original masterplan as it became temporarily listed before being demolished; it subsequently became car parking, green space and is now the site of the Aldridge Academy. There was never a description included with the photo to explain to newer residents why the Baths were of importance to the local area. I raised this with the TMO, but it was not important in the scheme of things.
With my ear and inner being, I hear and then evoke.....
Generations of residents living in houses at Testeron Road as they bathe their bodies and wash their clothes at Silchester Baths.
The Baths and houses were caught in the red line of Slum Clearance programmes.
A film maker took hold of Testeron Road prior to it being wiped off the map by the council.
A false posh house was build by the film crew and then cinematically destroyed.
Leo The Last tells us that we can't change the world, but we can change our street.
Out of a ruined landscape, Testerton Walkway was built, one of the three blocks of housing that radiates out from the tower.
Grenfell Tower was renovated from 2015-2016 with an artist employed on site.
72 people died in the fire on the 14 June 2017.
When I think of Silchester Baths, Testerton Street, Testerton Walkway and Grenfell Tower, they should all be an interconnected and positive inspiration for how we manage space and housing; how this relates to play, heating, the control of pests and the consumption of social cups of tea. We symbiotically draw our health and wellbeing from the underground currents. Alas, those currents contain an equal measure of bitter tears and spilt blood.
Tuesday, 25 July 2017 Grenfell Tower Inquiry
Consultation on terms of reference
A voice from the floor:
"Looking at Grenfell Tower is like peeling back layers of the onion. At the surface a range of issues about building safety and failure of services to respond adequately to an emergency and tragedy. Behind that is the history of contempt and neglect that enabled those building regulations failures.
But behind that is the reality of discrimination. The process that decides who it is gets burnt to death and who sleeps happily in their comfortable homes. Many survivors have put their fingers on that underlying reality. They were given unsafe housing and the terms to make it safe refused or ignored because of who they are. They are by and large on modest incomes, black and from ethnic minorities or migrants.
This is not just about housing allocation in Kensington and Chelsea. Some of those killed were private leaseholders or private tenants. It's about how some people end up in worse housing, and then it's about how those people are treated as residents, as citizens, that they are effectively excluded from the important decision and that compounds their disadvantage. That's not just a problem in Kensington and Chelsea, but sadly there's nothing worse than Kensington and Chelsea."
Artist studio at Shalfleet Drive, 2015
A map of the listed buildings and structures in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
I added Silchester and Lancaster West Estate to the list as they were threatened with regeneration
Cameras used by the Gras and Christofis family from the 1950's to present day:
1. Agfa isolette II, Made in West Germany, C1950's, 6x6 film
2. Bilora Bella 44, Made in West Germany, 1958 4×6.5 film
3. Bronica Zenza, Made in Japan, 6x6 film, C1980s
4. Praktica MTL50, Made in East Germany, 35mm film 1986
5. Canon EOS 3. Made in Japan, 35mm film, 1998
I suspect my best photographs come from a black and white documentary project of Kensal Green Cemetery that took place from 2000-2010, amassing thousands of photos in the process. These have never been displayed before. I want to showcase my work by reproducing three of the more expressionistic photos that are enhanced with darkroom techniques. We conclude with a rare colour slide.
Selenium toned paper
Limited edition print 1/2
Beyond the tree
Limited edition 1/1
Classic Greek column topped out with plant growth
Experimental darkroom print
Limited edition 1/1
Two into one
Double exposure 6x6 negative
Unfurl a roll of paper to walk across the marsh grass fields of Kenilworth.
This is a landscape that once had an artificial lake to defend the castle
And where the longest siege in English history took place in 1266.
The medieval scream of arrows is not conducted into my middle ear.
But an image develops in the liquid memory.
Bright young things, mustering arms, on the footbridge.
A battle of poohsticks in the brook.
Laughter resonates even at times of civil war.
The paper curls back.
The Business Card game.
88 cards selected from 1985-2017:
The oldest being T&A Associates - International Networking and Marketing;
And the most recent, Quality Solicitors, with the bulk representing art and culture.
Object of the game
First shuffle the pack and place face down.
Draw the first nine cards and place in a grid of 3x3.
Reorganise the layout until you attain a state of visual and textual perfection.
Read text or conjure image: horizontally or vertically, backwards or forwards.
These cards were exchanged during a conversation between potential business partners.
The card allowed the tribal chanting and affirmation of a business or personality.
A call and response might be triggered by phone or email.
There might be a visionary mission or logo that inspired one to connect.
In all sincerity, 90% were joker cards leading to no deals.
I seem to recall only having a business card, hand-made, from 2008-10.
This was at the height of the financial crisis.
Elephant - Be part of it - Please call us now
A black and white colour photo of three migrants and an activist on a train
England is a tattoo on a body without a head
Climb - Meet
Victoria, Albert and the Mayor of this fair island
Laugh - Trust
As clouds circle over green pastures
If you need to believe, register with a drawing therapist
You are on a mission, but beware - there is no past and there is no future.
Baudelaire did not fly or Rimbaud die and Lemy Caution is missing in action.
Rendezvous: "Brown tie?"
Password: "And braces!"
I am waiting here for the French agent with feathered hat.
The phone does not ring.
I am distracted by the kamikaze dive of a demented fly.
In one hand, a book of poetry by Anna de Noailles.
The other to mouth, sipping champagne out of a cracked glass.
I spy a refracted card being delivered under the door.
This facet a clue? That one a trap?
At the Institute I am ushered into a meeting room.
The silhouetted outline of a man is framed by a monstrous clock.
It has no second or minute hands.
The machine activates and my brain quivers.
I come round on the floor in a darkened cell with a folder in my hand.
I crave to read the contents, but.... I... wake.
I... wake on a bench outside the Louvre which is turning inside out.
My memory has been semi-erased.
Was I.... a.... European son?
Painting 1: The Poet's Elixir After Baudelaire
Or in other delirious words: "Pretty witty twoon. Swoony noon loon."
Acrylics and collage. 10 x 14"
Photo: Down and out in Paris
Hotel de Champagne et de Mulhouse, 1987
Advance Computer Institute, Rue du Faubourg-Montmartre, 1987
Folder 1986: Visnews
International news agency that broadcast the first daily satellite news service.
Drawing 1: Louvre, Outside In
Oil pastel and pencil, 22 x 17"
Drawing 2: Louvre, Inside Out
Oil pastel and pencil, 21.5 x 19"
Cléo de 5 à 7
Directed by Agnes Varda, 1962 and starring Corinne Marchand
Alphaville: une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution
Directed by Jean Luc-Godard, 1965 and starring Eddie Constantine
A blog entry inspired by seeing these films after an absence of 30 years; akin to waking from a dream.
I will overcome e-motion and travel sickness in search of past-tense, future-flex.
A year begins with John Whelan (pictured above) and myself sketching out a project plan and ends with an accumulation of Chaplin books: most of the pages well thumbed and words digested; some semblance of meaning extracted for artful purposes. But for a long period of time, I subscribed to the view that Buster Keaton out-classed Charlie. There is still a snobbish tendency to belittle the "Little Fellow," regarding his playful anarchy as a mere slap and dash; although, fair to say, this primal quality holds true to the early Keystone films. Funding permitting, a major arts project in 2019 will redress this balance and more. John and I want to commission ten artists, all working in different media, to explore the contemporary relevance of Chaplin's life, politics and films; rooting this in the community context of Lambeth and Southwark where he was born and bred. Imagine a month long festival of Chaplin-inspired art! We want to build on the Arts Council funded, The Melodramatic Elephant in the Haunted Castle (2017), where we imagined Chaplin meeting Michael Caine outside the Coronet Theatre in the Elephant and Castle.
Reading The Tramp's Odyssey, I was particularly moved by an interview Chaplin gave to a journalist from the New York Times in 1920. Chaplin was by this stage a global film star. His iconic image had evolved from the Satyric drunk into a rounded character who could command the high notes of comedy and the lows of pathos. The Kid in all its majesty was around the corner, arguably his first masterpiece.
Chaplin had also become mega-wealthy and powerful, calling all the creative shots in his own studio. But only a few years before he was a struggling performer on the stage, having endured the hardships of childhood in slum-torn Walworth and Kennington. Chaplin's parents were both music hall performers: his alcoholic father had abandoned the domestic life; his mother would suffer from psychosis. With no parents to look after Charlie and his brother Sydney, they both spent time in the workhouse.
In the interview, Chaplin recounts Christmas as a seven year old at the Central London District School for Paupers. Presents were being lined up on a table for the young inmates: tin watches, bags of candy, picture books. Chaplin had his eye on one particular object, a "big fat red apple". He had never seen such a beautiful fruit before and perhaps was motivated by a hunger that the institutionalised food could not meat/meet. When he was approaching the front of the queue, an elder pushed him out of the line and took him back to his room. Chaplin was haunted by these brutal words:
"No Christmas present for you this year, Charlie - you keep the other boys awake by telling pirate stories."
As it's the season of goodwill, let us rewrite history and surround Chaplin with apples and exotic fruits galore. The photo above shows the seven-year-old Chaplin (middle centre, leaning slightly) at the Central London District School for paupers, 1897. Reproduced from Wikimedia Commons.
What were those pirate stories Chaplin told his peers and which got up the snooty noses of the authorities? We can visualise him acting out cut-throat characters, obsessed by trinkets of gold. Perhaps this play had an element of the outsider, the Tramp that was to be.
I am also paying my own black and white homage to Chaplin with the following series of photos.
Fade in to the Church on the High Street, Willesden, the year of the Second Millennium. A cleric is fighting a losing battle to the world outside but maintains his sense of humour.
The Tramp wanders into shot with a new bowler hat, baggy trousers and overripe boots that was bequeathed to him down at the Clothes Bank. He is seated on the wall oblivious to the sign above his head. He tries to make eye and smile contact with each passer by. They avoid him like the plague.
The Tramp suddenly screams in silence. There is an attack in his jacket breast pocket. A circus of fleas from the previous owner of the suit? No! He pulls out a.......
The title card reveals it is merely the ringtone of a new fangled mobile phone.
Welcome to the year of Chaplin, 2019.