At the launch of the Power Plant exhibition at the Serpentine, Hito Steyerl outlined her visionary art that connects technology with the discourse of power; she also addressed the (Sackler) elephant in the room. For me, I've got more of a swine complex. One that oink oinks in North Kensington. The roots of our land here are connected with pig farms (and potteries) and these gave rise to the first of many public health issues. The Victorian authorities prohibited this form of labour in the 1860s. This is the point at which my current art project, Washing Dirty Linen in Public, that was developed as part of Hito's exhibition, comes into play. As that land was being urbanised, laundresses and industrial laundry work, took root. This was later connected with the building of the Silchester Road bath and wash house that had extensive cheap laundry facilities. These female-centred modes of work lasted until the 1970s with the building of the estates (with hot water, baths and central heating!) and the advent of consumer appliances that minimised the need for laundries; the so-called sexual revolution also freed women to enter the wider workforce and not be tied to the demands of large families.
All these historical elements are being woven together for an exhibition and guided walk on 27th April 2019 at Latymer Community Church. My collaborators, actresses from the People's Company, have been bringing historical scripts to life drawing on their own memories of parents and distant ancestors from Ireland to the West Indies. We are thinking about how washing is being exploited in today's society with domestic home workers and in the hand car wash industry. In the background of our project is #MeToo and the recent Gender Pay legislation for companies. This liquid history is ripe for creative reinterpretation and has a contemporary resonance.
Landscape for Colin MacInnes:
"Out of this road, like horrible tits dangling from a lean old sow,
there hang a whole festoon of what I think must really be the sinisterest highways in our city...."
(Text from Absolute Beginners describing the streets of Notting Dale, 1958)
oil pastels, 16x20, 2012
High Rise living with ceramic creature comforts
Oil pastel, 16x20, 2012
Top photo: Shelagh Farren at the Westway graffiti wall.
She will be playing the role of Kathleen Doherty, laundress in 1860.
"Pat doesn't like me working, but I'm not going out begging like some tinker and I've seen what it's like in the workhouse. If I have to, I will wash all the clothes in the Dale to put food on the table and pay the rent."
Bottom photo: Rawleen Evelyn as Grace Augustine, resident of basement flat at Testerton Road in 1969:
"The council change everything round here. One day a house is here. The next day, gone. But maybe the bath house will survive."
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