Fade in. A city landscape. We hear questions being asked by a range of people. Tentative answers are given in response.
I'm moving onto Lancaster West estate, what is it really like?
It's the largest estate in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, nearly 40 years old with lots of friendly people and the flats are well-sized. It's in the ward of Notting Barns.
Is there a strong sense of community here?
It's hard to be objective. The estate is run by the TMO and pioneered the first resident-lead management board for an estate in England. It's a shame there is no current resident association, but groups are forming or reforming. There is also the critical voice of the Grenfell Action Group.
Want to smoke some weed?
No thank you, I'm a bit busy with my art at the moment.
What is a community artist?
Amongst other things, one who works on social issues and works collaboratively with the community.
This is a replay of the type of conversations I've had on the estate.
Incidentally, I'm the community artist.
After 4 months, I feel at home with what some residents call the forgotten estate.
What can I contribute to its tales of woe and wonder?
How do we hear voices that are never heard?
What stories are worth telling?
Are we myth making, rabble rousing or hopefully coalescing the community?
What is this? Where is this? It's worth while mapping this territory in more detail.
Lancaster West is 1200 homes scattered over a large site - they built with a flair for space in the 70s.
The various parts of the estate were never unified with concrete decking as the original architects had envisaged.
This design would have synchronised with the nearby Westway and underground.
Cars that fly in the sky and commuters that are tubed, on this section, in an elevated train.
So why not have people walking in the sky?
"The deck may be thought of as the deck of a ship, in so far as it is the roof on which one can walk,
And other superstructures or buildings either penetrate or sit on the top of it." (60s Masterplan)
Decking only now survives wrapped around the tower block.
It offers a pleasant promenade to look down on the green and the recently built academy and leisure centre.
Let us meet some of the residents.
The lady who does yoga in her flat and dreamily looks across to the horizon and the London Eye.
She tells me there is a solar eclipse this week and it's effecting the geo-politcal balance.
The community gardener who has just seen himself in Visions of Paradise at the Portobello Film Festival.
He is waiting for the bearded wonder upstairs to rain down on his garden.
He talks about the estate as a black and white film in which there is a sudden shaft of colour.
Does this colour represent his Wizard of Oz thunder storm?
I mention to him a B&W film that I had a starring role in and which deployed a lightning flash of colour. Great minds!
Another resident says I should be making a film about the refugee crisis.
He also adds that we should not let anyone else into the country.
Are there refugees making the perilous journey to our new world and who might end up on this estate?
If they arrive and get lost (see previous blog), they could ask the postman on his beat.
He clearly knows his way around but is busy complaining about boys interfering with his trolley.
Listen to those other voices.
Some are asking when will the Grenfell tower improvement works end?
Others - when will regeneration really begin?
What does the future hold with all the changes being planned in the area?
I attempt to crystal gaze into the future as I listen to voices from the past.
The wonderfully named Moo-Cow Bakery on Avondale Road was concerned about the impact of planning blight.
That was in 1966 and Lancaster West estate was in the pipe line.
The swinging milkman of this era was probably revelling in changes to society.
The inner walkways on the estate were actually designed to allow his float to deliver milk to the doorstep.
Jump cut to other voices.
I see a man served with a compulsory purchase order and his cri de coeur to the authorities:
"As a negro, I have no status. I have no one to whom I can go for sincere advice including the Colonial office."
There is correspondence from the Oriental Casting Agency who were located at 239 Lancaster Road.
The owner fears the impending redevelopment will displace his business and not compensate adequately.
This firm specialised in supplying Afro-Asian artists to the entertainment industry.
I wonder if they provided the cast for the magical film Leo The Last that was made in 1969?
Leo was set on Testerton Street as it was being slum cleared for the building of Lancaster West.
The themes of the film (race, housing and community relations) resonate with the contemporary world.
The past is still living memory.
There is a large online community of former residents who cling to prelapsarian Notting Barns.
Sharing intimate stories and photos on the Born in W10 and W11 Facebook groups.
They have bitter sweet stories to tell about their proud working class origins.
And how their home lives were shattered for the building of the estate.
It was Harold Macmillan who said "You never had it so good".
Migration, austerity. Forks in the path, left and right.
Is this old news or new?
Council minutes tell us there were at least 6 petitions mounted by Lancaster West residents.
I was struck by the 1981 petition when 238 residents wrote to the Health and Housing Committee of RBKC.
It 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.
We understand these insects constitute a health hazard and we are taking legal advice.
We may consider withholding our rent and rates until those insects are eradicated from our estate."
Suffice it to say, praying was not enough.
Residents visited the town hall and dropped live cockroaches onto councillors in a meeting.
Fast forward to a drawing event held on the 4th July.
Young children on the estate completely reinvent their home environment.
Concrete and bricks morphed into an art world - theme park ride - battle zone for Spider Man.
Many thanks to the following children: Zaid, Cameron, Abdul, Ilyas, Jonayd and Sara.
Especially Mehdi who told several stories to illustrate his drawing.
"Once upon a time there was a boy on a boat and he went into space - a flying boat.
And he eat the King Alien and then the alien eat him.
He went back to earth running. He lived happily ever after."
I also like the way Mehdi described his story telling skills.
"I made two stories up. I use my imagination. I press the imagination button."
Let us end, by returning to that first question.
A lady who was driving along Grenfell Road, spotted me filming and stopped in her tracks.
She was moving here and what was the estate like?
I didn't mention any biblical scenes pertaining to cockroaches or an apocalyptic movie scenario.
Was she moving into one of the new flats being created as part of the £10 million regeneration for Grenfell tower?
Does she have children that will one day use the nursery or boxing club on the estate?
She is the future and may that future be born free of insects and disasters.
Lancaster West is approaching 40 years of age.
This is potentially a starting point for a midlife crisis.
If we need spiritual guidance, our mystical community gardener, Stewart Wallace, should have the last word:
"Sometimes the weather's miserable. You have to see the colour in it.
Be happy. It’s easier. Just look for a tiny bit of happiness."
When post and pizza deliveries, family friends or council reps, come and visit Lancaster West for the first time, they have to navigate the complex lay out of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea's largest estate.
Are you going to the tower block - Grenfell tower? Not to be confused with the four adjacent towers that are on Silchester estate. By a smidgen (ask a pigeon) this is the tallest structure in the area. So whether approaching by train or bus or foot, it should be the landmark to orientate yourself. The tower currently has scaffolding and building works. However since the regeneration, the entrance has been located to the upper walking deck and the floor levels have changed.
Okay. You didn't actually want to visit the high rise. So are you going to the finger blocks? This is the charming local expression for Hurstway, Barandon and Testerton, the low level housing blocks. Each one radiates out from the tower and has at its heart, a simply splendid swathe of grass. Perhaps you didn't notice that these units are actually built above street and ground level garages. You don't really want to end up down there if you can avoid it.
Are you lost?
As we are temporarily lost, perhaps I can take advantage and guide you on a historical diversion.
Both Grenfell tower and the finger blocks were the first stage of building for the estate and illustrate the design ideals of the 60s architects, before 70s politics (oil crisis, three day working week, labour shortages) and changes in thinking to estate building took hold; this is not to mention the complicating factor of the former Victorian baths on the site of the estate, which became listed for several years, before eventual demolition in the early 1980s.
As you travel around this estate, you do so partly by elevated walkways or walks built into the middle of housing units. Many of the decks have now been removed. However an understanding of their origins might make our journey around the estate more comfortable.
Do you remember Peter Deakins? He was one of the original architects of the estate who we met in a previous blog. He talks ruefully about the early masterplans where blocks were unified by walking decks above ground level and segregating people from traffic. At the centre of this modernist vision were a shopping arcade and business offices. These were never realised; however one section of underground garages was subsequently converted into Baseline business units.
The estate was planned in the 60s, build in the early 70s and only fully completed by the 80s. The latter stages of the project were taken over the borough architect and other firms who were building lower density housing and these can be glimpsed at Camelford, Clarendon and Talbot Walk and also at Verity Close. The estate has also incorporated housing stock that was build before the 1970s. Also of interest, the original architects convinced the council that the area being redeveloped should have an element of housing for young professionals; this comprises the co-ownership houses at Wesley and St Andrew's Square.
This is all good background material. But where would history be without art.
Looking at the RBKC archives on the estate, my attention was caught by a reference to the appointment of Messrs. Kinneir, Calvert and Tunhill as graphic designers in 1972. They were tasked to create signage to enable visitors and residents to navigate around Lancaster West and Worlds End estates; both estates were built at the same time. Kinneir and Calvert gained fame for designing the signs used on the British motorway system.
I recently contacted Margaret Calvert to enquire about her work on the estate and she mentioned how they produced on site trial signs. But she was never sure how these were applied, if at all. I think we can clearly see the graphic designer's blue thumb print in the old signage that is still in place. Modern signs co-exist with the old. So you can stroll around and follow the signs into the past.
There is one signpost that I haven't mentioned. One pointing to the future. Many of the residents are seeing changes taking place to the local area and have grave concerns about the future of their homes. RBKC council is wanting to build more housing and to upgrade its housing stock. Complex and socially challenging signs in the making.
Whenever I cycle down to Lancaster West, I pass under the Westway (A40) and I connect the signage on this former motorway to the directional signs scattered around the estate. As a frenetic artist (not enough hours to accomplish all those tasks), I'm often seen running around the estate at 70 mph; there are no speed restrictions in place here.
Lancaster West estate is home to 1200 properties. I must not forget this as I re-imagine this space. It has a diverse range of people from all walks of life. I have the privilege of interviewing 6 residents as part of my film project. There is blood and tears and happiness invested in this built environment. No signs can fully communicate this. I am adding my own artistic layering. These will probably not help the post or pizza person. Better off following the conventional signs. If your a resident, the post or pizza is en route.
I have a childhood memory from the 1970s of watching BBC's quaint animated series, Mary, Mungo and Midge. Vivid are the sequences in the lift where Midge (the mouse) would materialise on Mungo's (the dog) nose and press the button to return back to their 8th floor flat in a tower block.
Fast forward to 2015. Residents of Grenfell Tower at the heart of Lancaster West estate are travelling up and down the service lifts; dogs included, but not mice. As they pass reception they find an artist at work sign. This is art in the context of other temporary disruptive sounds and sights as the tower is undergoing a major renovation.
A wall display of archive information charts the history of the estate from cult film Leo the Last to ex-footballer Les Ferdinand. But it is the blank canvas and expectant oil pastels that attracts the attention of younger residents. An artist has set the scene and engineered an atmosphere for fun and creativity. Many thanks to Elias, Mimi, Samar, Youssef and Wisal for conjuring this city landscape of reality (the buildings they live in) and fantasy (cosmic imagery). Mums are on hand, Fatima and Nadia, to provide additional encouragement.
This is the first sketch for designs that will hopefully be worked up into a 3x2 metre mural. I suspect the finished work will not look anything like this, but will probably incorporate simple elements of floral and architectural design made by the children. We are working towards sharing ideas and creating images. What art work would residents like for their tower block? Do they want an art work? Hopefully I can inspire them on this front. This is the beginning of my 4 month journey for an artist to become part of the community and vice versa.
In addition to this 2d work, residents will also be invited to help me make a film about where and how they live. The archive display has already resurfaced memories from long-term residents of what life was like before the estate was built in 1975. Those Mary, Mungo and Midge memories will need to be brought bang up to date.
The entrance to the Architecture Gallery at the V&A has a classic marble staircase. It echoes to the sound of history.
On the 19th and 20th November 2014, I held a film screening and paper folding workshop here. Visitors approaching the space would have heard the following sounds and voices.
The sound of WW2 bombing, glass shattering and the percussive dub of the Notting Hill Carnival.
This reverberation in a usually quiet location caused a few raised eyebrows and the volume had to be scaled down.
North Kensington residents reminiscing about good and bad days, post-war poverty, multicultural experiences, poor housing and the British sense of humour.
An American who lives in London and who viewed this section of the film programme commented about the shocking poverty and how in the good U.S. we never had it so bad.
A filmed conversation with Joanna Sutherland, project architect at More West housing development. This is where I am based as V&A Community artist. She talked about: "What we are seeing ... is the threat to communities due to the expense of living, not just in central London, but all areas of London. I think there has been a growing interest in the last ten years, if not longer, of how communities evolve and what's important within a community, whether it's through schools, a community facility, a church. And I hope that this project, Silchester and the wider area, still remains a home for those who have lived there, had children, and maybe they can continue to live in the same place."
It was heartening to hear positive comments about this film from residents of the estate currently undergoing transformation.
A new community is forming at More West built on the foundations of the previous slum clearance redevelopment in the 1960s. That phase of development was very disruptive coupled as it was with the building of the adjacent Westway A40. It did however create social housing. Today, there is no longer a desire to match that social vision, and what is affordable in terms of rent and quality of life, is beyond the means of many. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and Peabody are providing part social and market housing at More West that consists of 45 rented homes, 39 shared-ownership and 28 for outright sale. The new housing is part of a rapidly changing area. However as our local councillor states: "There are too many poor people." Councillor Judith Blakeman has to deal with many of their social problems.
Glockenspiel and assorted drum kits provide a positive vision of the future. Children from Frinstead House are drawing. A girl illustrates herself waving goodbye to her father from the 20th floor of the high rise; he is waiting for his train at Latimer Road tube station. Another child mischievously draws a giant t-rex attacking the tube station. This is regeneration, disaster monster movie style. Yet another child provides a rainbow arcing across the skyline.
This was one of my most direct and rewarding engagements as community artist. I did not advertise this. I merely set up a large sheet of paper in the foyer of Frinstead House and invited local residents to accompany me in filling the blank. Adults and children confirmed their cultural identity and what it means to live in their high rise homes.
Fragment 5 - Was not heard at the museum. It has not been caught on camera or in any of my expressionistic documentary work. I hope to render this shortly. Symbolised by a DJ playing at a recent marketing event for More West. He has bought a flat and will move to the area in 2015. He is excited. Young and professional. For him there is no lingering doubts. He is forging the future in progressive sound waves. Zeitgeist.
In summary, this curated programme had the aim of dialectical montage, the juxtaposition of contrasting images and sounds. This is our experience in all its complicated social modes. It is both beautiful and ugly. We build for the future and paper over the cracks.
Speaking of paper (workshop), I have also provided a visual record of how young and old came together at the V&A Museum. Complete strangers who with a little encouragement and artistic structure are able to express light and shade, twisting new shapes into being and creating another fragment (like no 4 above) that brings a smile to my face.
Outside the builders are laying bricks and installing windows. In my studio all is calm. I've been in listening mode and am currently transcribing two audio interviews.
The first was with Joanna Sutherland, Associate Director at Haworth Tompkins and project manager for More West housing development. It's fascinating to hear her talk about the visual appearance of the building taking shape opposite Latimer Road station. She explained the significance of a special Dutch brick called Bronze Grun.
"The appearance of the brick, the tonal variation across the brick and the right mortar colour are absolutely crucial to the success of the project."
It was not however easy to replicate trial samples and meet the original planning requirements.
"We were in no way going to allow anything to go through that wasn't perfect. And if you look at mortars, different mortars of brick, it completely changes the appearance of the brick. So even now when you still see the area that has got the salmon pink, you can see it's a nice brick, but it doesn't look very good. And where the mortar's right, it looks fantastic."
My second interview was with Terry Bloxham, Assistant Curator for Ceramics and Glass and the V&A. She gave me a superb tour of stain glass from the medieval period to the present day. This provided context on a Nathaniel Westlake panel, The Vision of Beatrice, that I'm using as inspiration for my project designs.
"Westlake is the culmination of the Gothic revival. Of doing it in the medieval manner. He is a medieval artist."
"In the panel we've got little pieces of glass, careful chosen. It's not just take that one and put it there to make the picture. But to get the right balance of light coming through, maybe the ones on the bottom are thicker, thinner at the top. Before you put it all together in the lead framework, other techniques are used, like painting, and staining and etching."
The Vision of Beatrice illustrates a scene from Dante's Divine Comedy. This is the climatic moment when Dante's love has become divine and he can be transported from purgatory into heaven.
Recently, I met buyers of one and two bedroom flats at the development. Young professional workers who were excited about moving into the area. They wanted to know about local facilities and views from their flat. I could comment on the former. Hopefully they were pleasantly surprised to hear about the the complex social history of the area and having the Notting Hill Carnival right on their doorstep.
I wonder if they will experience divine love (or otherwise) in their homes. Let us hope so. Future artists and historians will interpret and tell a story. In time.
It might not be the final frontier. But this blog entry begins and ends with space. The big bang of the widescreen, large format and panoramic. A location for an artist to perform and connect with people. The contested politics of space, building homes and forging communities.
First stop. Let me beam you to my non residential artist's studio. All artists cry and bleed for a space. This is nothing new. East London currently rules the roost, but in the past artists would look to this stretch, west of London, for verdant grass and fresh air. William Mulready was one of the first artists to settle in Kensington in the first decade of the 19th century. He shared digs with fellow artist John Linnell at Kensington Gravel Pits and then had a studio house built for him in 1827 at Linden Grove (now gardens, the house is no longer extant). This was during the first wave of development for the Ladbroke Estate and Mulready lived here for the remainder of his life. Nearly forty years later, Nathaniel Westlake, having just converted to catholicism, has his architect friend, John Francis Bentley, design a house for him in Notting Barns. Westlake did not stay here for long. We can perhaps speculate this is because the area developed into one of the worst slums in London. His house is still standing and looks out of place next to the Lancaster West Estate. Mulready and Westlake are both closely associated with the birth of the V&A Museum and have work on display. In terms of art, studio space and the V&A, I am following in their footsteps; more of this anon.
During my V&A Community Artist residency, I have that precious commodity for an artist, studio space. I am not based at the museum like the other resident artists. I am a tenant of a flat whose rooms can be sculpted, wallpapered, improvised. It's an in-between space, a former council property, that will become part of a mixed tenure housing. No one will care if I artistically trash it as demolition is due next year. I'm conscious of being the last in line. Leo The Last. The last house demolished. I've explored these in previous art projects. Now. I'm living out my very own kitchen sink drama.
What about the medium or mixed media of space? Artists are always grappling with this technical consideration, whether it's processing on a computer or via more traditional craft techniques. I usually compose an image through a viewfinder of a camera or a sketchbook often leading to 16x20 inch drawings; this is a legacy of working with photo paper formats in a darkroom.
There are also multiple dimensions to my residency: how art relates to community and housing and architecture. As I want to share and encourage others to participant in these processes, I need to think big as in large scale. This is new to me and will present its own set of challenges.
I also need to engage with my immediate neighbours on the street, residents in the estate, people in the ward, across the borough. An audience that might not understand "art" or perhaps even know who the V&A are.
As I begin, so I end. Everything is hurtling towards a date in January or February 2015 with an end of residency event at the V&A. This is in the lunch room for visitors to the learning centre. However being the V&A it is no ordinary lunch room. It has a cinematic sweep, certainly from the top down. Even wall lined cupboards gets one thinking of spaces within space. I'm looking at constructing panoramic displays here, perhaps of the Silchester and Lancaster West Estate and its residents. This will include film of the new housing development taking place and the new community that is forming. Also perhaps a representation of the Westway (A40), a built structure that dominates this area of North Kensington. Can I also chuck in some "stain-glass" imagery for the aesthetic thrill?
On August 18th I hosted an open day bringing some of these issues into focus. I did wonder how many people I could safely fit into the studio flat and its 4 spaces (20 comfortably at peak capacity). It was a good idea to convert a large store room into a history room with archive maps and images. In total, I had 60 plus visitors. Delighted to see my neighbours on Shalfleet Drive popping in to see what all the fuss was about. This is important as I plan on working with them on a film project. There was a group visit from Open Age who took to my live drawing like ducks to water. Great to see old colleagues, including Adam Ritchie who was pivotal in establishing the community ethos for the Westway and the building of play spaces for children in the 1960s.
The Mayor of RBKC Maighread Condon-Simmonds also paid a visit. She is a charming lady, really down to earth and digs the complex layered history of this area. In her thank you letter, she chimed in with my thoughts about the challenges of space: "You have made a truly interesting display in such a small space.....The north of the borough has so much more space than the south and it is good to see the new developments with good quality homes."
For the exhibition, I also created a drawing installation called House with 40 Rooms. In each room there was an object. These objects were all from the V&A. I invited participants to use words or images in response to the objects in the rooms. Local resident, Maggie Tyler, wrote the following about her drawing:
"I used to look out at a Stag's Horn tree and a round window in the wall of the house at the end of the garden. At night, I would see the silhouette of the foxes walking along the top of the wall past the round window. Then! The Neighbour moved out and the new neighbour built an extension. A modern extension that covered and destroyed the round window. The tree fell down and the view has changed. I now look at a modern box!"
A few days later, I opened my studio during the rain-sodden Notting hill carnival. Sheltering outside my flat, I took pity on a group of performers and invited them in. Amos has been taking part in the carnival for over 15 years and we chatted about its history which is reflected in art work on display. New residents moving into More West from 2015 (once the flat is demolished and new housing built) will find they are on the western edge of the processional route. There is intense debate about the future of the carnival. Is it too big for the streets of Notting Hill? Cllr. Eve Allison, who has ancestral roots in the Carribean, believes there are compelling reasons for relocating the carnival to a larger green space. This would be a tremendous loss to the area and signal a departure that the carnival has lost its community connection.
Down at the V&A, I've been reflecting on this and artistic precedents for panoramic art.
Nathaniel Weslake has large upright stain glass and oil paintings (with associated mosaic) on display. I've previously commented on his smashing stain glass. This time I'm checking out his contribution to the Valhalla portraits. It seems apt that Westlake should choose as his artistic role model, Fra Beato Giacomo da Ulma (d.1517), a Dominican Friar who painted on glass at Bologna and is an obscure figure in the series. As Westlake did for da Ulma, I will likewise do for Westlake. Celebrate the art and allow this to percolate into my practice. This means moving into unfamiliar territory, but I'm up for the challenge. I can start digitally with photoshop and a literal following in the footsteps (see image below!) This is a simple tool to collage ideas and feelings about the construction of a pictorial landscape. Just the first step in a process of ongoing experimentation that will probably morph into craft and film.
In the prints and study room, I perused an 1801 plan for a panorama in Leicester Square. This was presented as various walking and viewing points in a space shaped by architect and painter. Ingenious. I also marvelled at the skill employed in a fold-out book made to commemorate the Funeral Procession of the Duke of Wellington in 1852. It was made by Samuel Henry Alken and George Augustus Sala. The pomp and circumstance of this stately occasion made an interesting contrast to the recent carnival floats that passed by my studio. It connects with previous thoughts about creating work that fuses the historic with the contemporary.
My art musing is only of interest when it translates into practical application. How to use art to look at the urban environment, the community spaces around my studio and the homes that residents have made here? How high rise residents perceive the new developments taking place below them? How residents in the shadow of taller structures respond to changes in light and air quality as the sun climbs and then dips into the West? How do I create a space for public participation in the process of making art? How will others want to comment on the world around them? I need to bear in mind that this might not necessarily tally with how I view the world. How will art be elegantly displayed for a follow-up activity of engagement? Can I bring this all together at the V&A lunch room as food for thought?
I don't particularly want to end on a question, so offer this as a postscript.
I'm being managed by Laura Southall in the Learning Department and it was great to meet more of the team. I set them a 10 minute challenge to make some sculptural forms and showed them a few examples. If they ended up making a posh version of a paper aeroplane, that would be fine. Dah! They do all work for the V&A, pre-eminent design and art museum. Fold, tear and sellotape.
Horizons west. Feels good.
Definitely settled in as Community Artist: collaborating with local art projects, connecting with the V&A collections and mapping out my own artistic concerns.
First off, spray painting at the Henry Dickens Court Community Centre. Local children working with TMO, Steph Perkins and lead artist, Claire Rye, have produced a great picture that will be attached to the hoarding of the building site at More West. It was good to see the design on paper turned into the completed image. Local artist, James Mercer had the amusing idea of incorporating Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; the building site has a female crane driver who works with an all male crew.
There is never a dull or quiet moment at the studio.
Although I've recently been diagnosed with otosclerosis, which is beginning to affect my powers of hearing, I'm constantly alerted to activity at the front of house and back garden. There are daily deliveries to the building site with large trucks stopping outside the flat. Last week, I was chatting to my Tunisian neighbour, Kacim, when a concrete staircase was being delivered. This looked very photogenic and I had to dash off for my camera; hope he didn't think me rude!
Speaking of photography, I'm grateful to Liz Grant at RIBA for supplying books for my studio. Anyone interested in architectural photography, should check out RIBApix. Looking forward to viewing hard copies in their library.
Natalie Marr from group-work also dropped off a recent publication - Staying Put: An Anti- Gentrification Handbook for Council Estates in London.
The studio I'm based at on 7 Shalfleet Drive is a former council house connected to Silchester Estate. This side of the road will be demolished in January 2015 after the residents have moved into new property at More West. RBKC council and Peabody are providing 45 larger properties for social rent, 39 shared ownership and 28 for sale on the open market. There will also be a new retail unit, a community facility, public garden area and private communal garden with children’s play space.
Two recent discussions I've had at my studio, have brought into focus the complex issues around estate regeneration and the affordability of housing. As an artist I'm located at the core of these changes to the built environment, reflecting on the impacts they might have on local residents and the potential they offer for the future development of the area and its communities.
Never a dull moment.
I opened my front door one morning and saw two women in the street. They asked about the new development as they were thinking of buying a flat. Mother and daughter, Sacha and Cecily, were duly invited in and later got to meet, Joanna Sutherland, who is the architect behind More West. They have a historic family connection with nearby Hammersmith. Cecily, the daughter, has rented in North Kensington over the past few years and is looking for a home near the Electric Cinema where she works. They expressed concern about "affordability" as the cheapest housing units to buy are £400,000. How will this also impact on the local area (primarily council estates) and the community being formed around the new housing?
Another discussion: much more heated, not dull.
I had a visit from Edward who lives at nearby Grenfell Tower. He has been involved in a campaign regarding the future of the Tower and the redevelopment of land around the Lancaster West Estate. The latter is providing a new academy and sports centre. His first words to me, roughly paraphrased were: "If you are not for us, then you have no right being here!" Pity the conversation was primarily one way. However I was troubled by the pain and isolation of Edward's feelings. This is a challenge for a community artist whose funding remit is positive community engagement.
The fab film, Leo The Last, was shot on Testerton Road, before this was demolished for the building of the Lancaster West Estate in the early 1970s. I'm trying to get the BFI to make a copy available for screening as part of my residency. A screening at the estate, followed by a project around housing issues, might be one possible form of engagement.
Maybe I was due a quiet moment.
At the V&A Museum we also find building works for a new gallery space. Kids are splashing about at the courtyard pool. Did I really hear one of my favourite Lee Scratch Perry / Max Romeo songs, Chase The Devil, emanating from the John Madeski Garden? Anyway, I met up with Martin Bastone who took me on a guided tour of the building. Fascinating to learn about its association with WW2 spies. I definitely want to visit the dome and see those panoramic views. Martin had previously assisted me in ensuring my studio was a safe place to work and hold workshops.
I've been sketching in the Sacred Silver and Stained Glass Gallery. This is connecting me to Nathaniel Westlake (see previous blog), one of the leading stain glass artists of the 19th century. He had a house built for him a short stroll from where I am based in North Kensington.
Also just around the corner is the historic Harrow Club. This was a former church, built in 1887 by Richard Norman Shaw, who is the subject of an exhibition at the Royal Academy. I'm planning on running a summer workshop at the Club evoking the history of the building and its current use as a vibrant community centre. This will involve local residents and children making "stain glass" images on OHP transparency film and for these to be placed on the windows of the building. The design might collate together stain glass and urban graphic art. There seems to be an interesting visual co-relation between these otherwise sacred and "profane" genres.
I have also been working on some paper models for an architectural themed workshop. I've not worked in this format before, so it's doubly exciting to be able to share new skills and discoveries. There is a RIBA and V&A educational resource that I can dip into. I now need to think about building a panoramic installation for the display of these models. The garden space at the studio will suffice for the moment.
On Saturday 2nd August, I have an Open Studio day. This is from 10-5pm at 7 Shalfleet Drive, W10 6UF. The studio is directly opposite Latimer Road tube station. I will have art on display and info about workshops to be held at the studio and V&A Museum. It would be great to meet more local residents and find out about their experiences. If you would like to visit, please R.S.V.P : firstname.lastname@example.org.
I've finally signed my tenancy contract with RBKC and have kicked the studio flat into shape. It's been a busy week. This has involved disposing of the former resident's (mother and child) personal effects including abandoned toys. The poignant wall markings made to measure a child's growth still remain. Several licks of paint and Constantine's your uncle, the V&A Museum Community Artist. I am uniquely based at a former council flat that is part of a housing redevelopment. All the flats on this side of Shalfleet Drive will be demolished in about six months time. The tenants (apart from me) will all be rehoused in the new building. Needless to say, after a year of building works, they are really looking forward to this. I had a nice coffee chat with Linda and Ted Smith at No 13. Hoping to feature them in a film project.
The studio is a perfect space for me to work. I'm responding to the theme of housing and regeneration. The patio overlooks the building site although it feels as if the building site and the towering cranes are overlooking me. I've been out in the dusty and noisy garden making sketches of the trees surrounded by forklift trucks, pallets and busy workers. These trees will form the heart of the enclosed garden. They are the only surviving element of this section of the estate that included a nursery and garages. In the breeze, these trees might whisper to future tenants. Tell them the story of this area and its complex social history (pigs, pots, slum, race riots, squats).
I recently had my first session at St Anne's Nursery, kindly assisted by Laura Southall who is looking after me at the V&A Museum. For 75 kids we made a time travelling drawing that introduced them to the Egyptian Pyamids, Greek Temples, Turkish Mosques, Big Ben, the V&A (also currently a building site) and houses in outer space. I'm looking forward to revisiting the school after summer to engage in large scale panoramic drawings.
Steph Perkins is the estate liaison office who works with the building contractors. She is currently organising a poster hoarding competition for the perimeter of the building site. Tasneem Howard is a super talented, nine-year old who has designed one of the posters. At the Harrow club we have been assisting her. Her picture is about the club and the community facilities she enjoys there. Tasneem likes art, but wants to become a veterinary surgeon. Maybe she'll be an artistic vet.
Speaking of grown-ups, my first session in the studio was with several friends who helped me produce a drawing about our personal experiences connected with housing.
Steve Gross: "I'm thinking back to the house I grew up in with my mum and dad and sisters. The stairs were a very important thing. They'll all be watching the television and I'll be sent to bed at 9 o'clock. But I wouldn't go to bed. I'll sit at the top of the stairs and hear them laughing and laughing and laughing at Monty Python's Flying Circus. I couldn't see what was going on. I felt really excluded. It was very unfair. This incident is an amalgamation of several where I smashed the window and then they are coming to look for me and I'm hiding under the stairs (laughs) waiting for them to tell me off. I was about eight. There was always something up and down the stairs, or under the stairs.
Caroline Stingmore: "There's a conflict. Because this picture is from my childhood. Really happy childhood memories growing up in Ireland. My dad had a rockery and he always put orange marigolds on it and we all hated them. But now we loved them, but at the time we hated them, they were so orange. My mum always provided wonderful heartwarming meals. That's a big memory. And the cherry blossom tree in the garden. I used to dance around it like a little fairy. It's all idyllic. And in this picture is where I felt very guilty when my boys were born. We were living in a council estate and I couldn't give them what I had. We were trapped in a flat in a high rise block. They were okay actually, but I felt immense guilt and sadness."
Down at the V&A Museum I've been researching an architect and artist who helped shape the historic built environment of North (and South) Kensington. Future blogs and art will focus on John Francis Bentley and Nathaniel Hubert John Westlake. Bentley built an artists house for Westlake, just a stones throw from my studio. They collaborated on several churches, most noticeably St Francis of Assisi on Pottery Lane.
It was great to meet some of the staff at the V&A. Martin Storey, curator in the Word and Image Department, has shown me architectural models and a fascinating sketch book by William Burges. Marisa who works on the Community Programme has suggested potential audiences for my work. Next week, I'm visiting Elizabeth Grant, Education Curator at RIBA and look forward to connecting with their resources.
Over the coming weeks, I will be working up my detailed plans for community engagement. These include negotiating with the BFI about screening a seminal film (Leo The Last), running summer workshops for local residents, devising a combined cycling and drawing tour of the Royal Borough's most important and quirky buildings, and collaborating with local residents in the making of a film about the housing redevelopment.
I'm getting closer to starting my Community Artist in Residence, hopefully by the end of June. Many thanks to RBKC and the V&A Museum for working out the logistics of establishing a studio space at 7 Shalfleet Drive. This is a former council house property and will eventually become part of the new building development at More West.
Cycling around North Kensington, one can see and hear the numerous regeneration schemes. These range from luxury apartments at The Ladbroke Grove to mixed private and social housing at Wornington Green . All providing much-needed housing, although there is the perennial question of affordability and potential impacts on community. Other new builds include a leisure centre and Academy school.
As part of my background research, I'm looking at the historic pattern of housing development in the borough and the architectural quality of buildings and listed structures. This will provide a useful context for understanding the complex social process of urban renewal. I will be involving local residents and community groups in art that explores this theme. Working with St Anne's Nursery School (1908, one of the oldest in London) will be exciting. Really interested to see how their kids make panoramic drawings and convert these into a cityscape model.
In the slideshow above, there is a recent drawing of mine. This has three time references and indicates how I will be merging the past and present to signpost the future.
Top right we have the Ladbroke Estate taking shape from the 1820's-70s. This was a boom and bust period that chimes with our most recent recession. Housing is being built on the fields and privately owned plots in West London. In the sketch, we can see speculative business men, planners and architects, theodolites and topographical designs. Thomas Allason and Thomas Allom gave us the distinctive lay-out of terraces, garden squares and the majestic St Peter's church (covered in my last blog).
Top left, there are pre and post-war developments with estates and high-rises. This is mass social housing built by the London Councils and architects like Erno Goldfinger. Buildings with modern amenities that replaced so-called "slums" in the borough. More West is currently being built in relation to the pre-existing Silchester Estate and will involve the re-housing of some of the tenants on the estate into the new bloc.
Bottom left in the sketch are the various apartment blocks for More West with an inner garden and a roof-sculpture made by Nathan Coley (hand raised in photo). The new housing has been designed by architect Joanna Sutherland from Haworth Tompkins. We see her, sketched, bottom centre, as a designer of the built environment in the tradition of Allason and Allom. In the photo, Joanna is demonstrating the brick work that will be used on site. Mace are expertly managing the construction process of concrete, steel, brick, wood, plastic and glass. Peabody are a key investor in this development. My game plan is to feature all of these (materials, methods and personnel) in the various art and film projects during my six month residency.
Have we but enough time, space and imagination?
This is my first visit to St Peter's Notting Hill and the church is sheer stone delight. It was designed by architect, Thomas Allom and built in 1855-57 at the same time as he engineered the layout of the surrounding Ladbroke Estate. This is the classic image of Notting Hill; terraces of stuccoed brick houses that back onto private garden squares. It is not a million miles away from the "grungy" edges of North Kensington that I usually inhabit. This is a research trip in preparation for my forthcoming community artist residency and trying to locate new regeneration schemes in relation to the history of architecture and urban development.
The past can come back to haunt us. As we speak, Thomas Allom must be kicking in his grave at Kensal Green cemetery. An architect and building contractor recently pleaded guilty in court to causing irreversible damage to a Grade II listed house designed by Allom. This is just around the corner from the church at 18 Kensington Park Gardens. The interior of the property was gutted with the loss of period plasterwork, floorboards and fireplaces. The house is currently being restored by another firm.
On more hallowed ground, there is a lovely exhibition currently at St Peter's called Polarities. It features the work of Edward Allington, Asaki Khan (featured in photo), Katherine Lubar and Terry Jones (also photographed). I had fun attempting to "row" Terry's sculptural boat. Taking shoes and socks off, I meditated and walked across the installation of salt and sand created by Asaki.
How do these artists conceive of polarities in relation to their art?
"The idea of contrast has always been an influence on the practice of the artists in this show. There are many opposing elements that can be read into the work: hot and cold, light and shadow, negative and positive, and of course, the metaphysical: light and dark - good and bad - which bears special relevance to this particular space."
Only now showing on the 16th and 17th May from 1-5pm. Well worth catching before it closes.