Tag Archives: art and gentrification

Empowerment for Surrender? A Response from The Artists, People’s Bureau & Our Reply to the People’s Bureau

Empowerment for Surrender? A Response from The Artists to Southwark Notes

 We would like to thank Southwark Notes on three counts:

  1. For their serious engagement with the politics of the People’s Bureau (see our article ‘Empowerment For Surrender: People’s Bureau, Engaged Art & The Elephant’)
  2. For raising a number of significant questions, and
  3. For the opportunity to respond.

We share many of the concerns of the authors. In particular we:

  • Acknowledge the tension between the ‘belief system’ of corporate capital, and the values of social capital and the global commons, which underpin the People’s Bureau.
  • Recognize the risk that in co-operating with a developer such as Delancey (including by receiving funding) we are co-opted to their purposes.
  • Suspect that Delancey is more concerned with creating the appearance of community engagement and consultation, than with its substance.

Indeed it is largely on the basis of such concerns that we have decided against accepting further funding from Delancey.

We agree with the authors that:

“For us this is less an argument about taking developer money for projects but more the thorny question of what you actually critically do and say from that money.”

We hoped that working with Delancey would present opportunities for influence. However, some of their more recent actions have caused us to question that position.

Where we respectfully disagree with the authors is in their depiction of the People’s Bureau as ‘Empowerment for Surrender’. They overlook the subversive content of the project, describing it in terms, which imply it is little more than a trivial distraction and ‘museumisation’:

Operating out of a customised traders’ mobile cart first given to them by Delancey, the artists began by organising fun and playful activities, as well as workshops and skills-exchange sessions (‘…sewing, knitting and crocheting, pedicure, massage, facials, gardening, baking, vegetable fermentation, light workshop, embroidery, dream-catchers making‘, etc). The aim was to collect local E&C knowledge and memories: stories, drawings and photos.

This analysis completely misses the point of the project, People’s Bureau is intended as a rallying cry against the crude and merciless logic of corporate capital. It is intended to distill and to highlight:

1) The role and function of public space and public commons.

2) The capacity of the community to self-organise.

3) Economic alternatives to cycles of consumption and destruction that, through emissions of greenhouse gases, now threaten the future of life on earth.

There is, of course, a battle to be fought for the Elephant & Castle in the here and now. We do not claim that the People’s Bureau is at the front line of that battle. What we hope, however, is that by reminding people of what is at stake and by focusing attention on the oasis of social capital that is under threat, we give others a vision of something worth fighting for.

We are artists and not experts in legal or planning processes. We would, however, welcome a discussion with the authors about how we might work together to promote greater understanding of these processes. If individuals and citizens platforms come together to make their voices heard, co-operating and exchanging skills, we can ensure there is no meek surrender to the forces of blind capital.

 

People’s Bureau,
December 2016

Note: We have worked to try and improve the online representation of our work at Elephant and Castle online by putting together peoplebureau.co.uk.  We hope the project is better evidenced here and clarifies our point of view more clearly.

Also we invite you to a public discussion on February 2 (venue to be confirmed), to converse about this matter and the wider issues around socially engaged arts practice.

 


A Second Response from Southwark Notes to People’s Bureau

Southwark Notes would like to thank People’s Bureau for their response to our recent article ‘Empowerment For Surrender: People’s Bureau, Engaged Art & The Elephant’ and for the recognition that we are ‘raising a number of significant questions’. While we recognise the People’s Bureau’s willingness to engage in an exchange, we think that there are some fundamental issues that still need to be addressed. We’d therefore like to briefly respond in turn.

People’s Bureau: ‘we suspect that Delancey is more concerned with creating the appearance of community engagement and consultation, than with its substance’.

1.    Delancey DV4 is an aggressive multi-billion pound real estate investment company registered in a tax haven. Ourselves, many investigative journalists and local groups have been pointing this out for years:

35% Campaign on Delancey developments at Elephant
35% Campaign on Delancey Shopping Centre proposals
Private Eye on Delancey
Southwark Notes on Delancey and Shopping Centre
Gunnersbury Park Campaign on Delancey

Delancey, by nature of their business, are interested in one bottom line: how big a profit they can wring from the Shopping Centre redevelopment through the construction of private homes on the site. They have been set on demolition and displacement of local shops and community since they bought the Shopping Centre in December 2013. Two months later in February 2014, they announced ‘The first thing is that we are looking to demolish the centre and redevelop it’. People’s Bureau were then part of Delancey first public consultation in July 2015 where demolition was clearly signaled.

People’s Bureau state that they have moved from a position of thinking that they could accept Delancey’s money and have ‘opportunities for influence’ with them, to one of disillusionment with Delancey’s intentions. They state now that ‘some of their more recent actions have caused us to question that position’. Although we feel that trust in Delancey was always somewhat naïve for critical artists to have, we recognise the role of learning from experiences and criticism and we welcome People’s Bureau new-found realisation. We presume as demolition looms ever nearer that Delancey is now winding down it’s funding of local artists and other groups. What interests us now is: How has the Bureau communicated this let down to Delancey and how has their formal relationship changed? Making the details of their break with Delancey public would be very interesting not only for local campaigners but also to others in the artistic and creative community who might be faced with the same contradictions People’s Bureau have moved through.

So a vital question for us is how People’s Bureau will now use the special relationship they developed over the years with Delancey, to point out the phony nature of their consultation process? As Delancey’s Elephant Shopping Centre application has just been made public, this is a perfect moment to delegitimise the faux ‘community consultation’ and push for real and tangible community benefits alongside local campaigns.

2.    Our critique of People’s Bureau’s work comes from both an early engagement with a few of their events and a close observation of their later activities. Whilst we have not directly engaged with the workshops offered more recently around the People’s Bureau cart, we believe our participation and observation gives us enough understanding to analyse, reflect and comment upon their art practice.

We again question the use of some terms used to describe People’s Bureau’s practice. We fail to see how People’s Bureau’s work engages with debates about ‘the commons’. The Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre is a privately-owned commercial space, and doing workshops that are open to the public does not necessarily equate much with facilitating a deeper and practical reflection on the use of public space. It is a further leap to say the Bureau is visioning and working towards a ‘commons’ as if one stems from the other (assumed public space to commons). We fail to see how their work ‘highlights…the capacity of the community to self-organise’ when there is little evidence of such a constituency being built by them in a way that other local groups have been engaged in for years.

We understand community self-organisation as being an independent, non-commercial, critical and oppositional coming together in resistance to attacks on that community. The use of such terms seems to be more buzzwords rather than having a solid grounding in practice. They say that our criticisms are reductive of People’s Bureau work that is ‘intended as a rallying cry against the crude and merciless logic of corporate capital’ but, as we have said in our original text, we saw no evidence of any public disavowal of Delancey’s corporate plans for the Shopping Centre. Noting People’s Bureau self-description of the ‘subversive content of the project’, we would be interested in People’s Bureau further elaborating this subversion from within in relation to the engagement and organising they are claiming.

3.    What follows on from this would be that People’s Bureau up their critical stance and supports local self-organisation against Delancey’s plans by continuing to work as artists with the skills, knowledges and continuing desire for participation that they can input into opposition to Delancey and the Council’s plans. Opposition is the stance that many groups, community organisations and individuals have been taking at The Elephant for upwards of 15 years. Listening and learning from them is critical. Supporting them with time, energy, contacts and resources is now crucial.

It’s important to us that we respond to the notion that People’s Bureau ‘are artists and not experts in legal or planning processes’. Being ‘an artist’ does not absolve one of any responsibility or accountability nor provide some presumed neutrality for cover for all of one’s activities. Most of the people opposing Delancey (and other urban ‘regeneration’ projects in London and beyond) are not experts in law and planning and have had to learn fast as they go along. A fundamental part of this work is then to find, produce and share knowledge and demystify the smokescreen of legalistic lingo that developers and local authorities use to sugar-coat promises of ‘regeneration’ that are in fact gentrification and social cleansing.

We don’t much want this to turn into an online to-and-from between Southwark Notes and the Bureau although again we welcome a detailed reply. Outside of this exchange on ideas, the Bureau continues to be accountable to the local community (as is the work and actions of Southwark Notes). That community will be their final judges and critics, and they will base this on the Bureau’s actions, rather than their words.

SNAG
New Year’s Day, 2017

Southwark Notes continues to be written by local people opposed to the regeneration of the North Southwark area.  This exchange with People’s Bureau contains the thoughts and ideas of five of us!  *-)

Heygate Pyramid re-animated: Public Art Fights Back

Southwark Notes attention has been drawn by our international circle of art-loving friends to an article in Art Monthly, October 2014, entitled ‘Public Art Attack’ by writer and curator Andrew Hunt (here). The article writes in depth about the cancelled Pyramid for Heygate public artwork that we opposed and wrote about at length at the time. The article, amidst a heap of other artworks and references, makes a case that the dumping of the Pyramid through Council jitters from local hostility was a bad thing because the Pyramid as a symbol of top down ‘brutality’ would have been a perfect opportunity for ‘dialogue’ around processes of social cleansing.

The article also claims that local activists misread the artwork as ‘siding with gentrification and displacement’ thus enabling the council to cancel the project, ‘effectively gaggle local activists arguments’ and push the criticism onto ‘scapegoats’ Artangel and Nelson away from the Council. This is frankly pony and ill-informed as opposition was squarely aimed at the Council for colluding in the project and Artangel for its lack of sensitivity. In fact we didn’t ‘scapegoat’ Artangel, we directly blamed them for producing something on Heygate that would be used by the Council explicitly to sell and market the regeneration ‘opportunity area’, licking their lips at the massive cultural cred Nelson and Artangel would bring and their excitement to have this on Heygate site. Our early letter to Artangel from October 2013 makes a long point on this that Artangel sidelined in their eventual dismal reply: Artangel & Southwark Notes Emails

camel rip offcamel rip offcamel rip offcamel rip off
As for ‘gagging’ ourselves – local campaigns existed well before the proposed Pyramid and they still exist after. They did not need the blessing or supposed intervention from the art world to make their arguments public and accessible. In fact the protests around the Pyramid and its cancellation was part and parcel of the continuing making known of what was happening around Heygate Estate and North Southwark and found many sympathetic ears in others local campaigns.

Mike Nelson was never attacked directly because without access to Mike Nelson as the writer seems to have had, it was always impossible to judge the artists intentions at the time. When the Pyramid was going through the motions of being prepared for the Heygate site, there were no public statements from Mike Nelson on his intentions such as those now retrospectively revealed by this article. It is also somewhat hard to trust these revelations of a pointedly critical work against Southwark Council’s treatment of Heygate residents, when Artangel and Nelson had been looking for a site for such a demolition and re-construction since 2009. This in some ways undercuts the argument then made around Heygate being chosen as an artistic target.

It is somewhat fanciful to imagine that Nelson was trying to pull the wool over Southwark’s misty eyes with his assertion that ‘an artwork was needed that represented the same form of brutality’. Artangel might produce monumental artworks by artists but it does not seem to have a long history of going in for projects that would be such an attack (on Southwark Council in this instance) as the one Nelson desires. Anyhow we would be interested to know where this Nelson quote comes from and when. There is no source for the quote in the article.

The Art Monthly article attempts then a somewhat revisionist version of what local opponents were saying at the time in a way that attempts (once again) to re-establish the primacy of art as a neutral space for ‘dialogue’. For us, as vocal and public critics of the intended public artwork, we still think that focusing now on the artists intentions are missing the point. We were clear at the time that our criticisms were more levelled at both Artangel and The Council and much less at Mike Nelson precisely because we were unable to judge what he had in mind with this Pyramid. Also worth saying we appreciated that the piece was not a ‘socially engaged work’ (as modern descriptions have it of creative projects done with usually disadvantaged communities or folks and all the ‘orrible discontents liable to surface in such artistic engagements). The Pyramid remains committed to the older form of The artist makes Artwork and the rest is up to us. Either way, we find both forms inherently problematic and full of unpleasant contradictions that ‘Art’ is unable to either resolve or improve.

pyramid container
Maybe we can simply restate again our arguments and the feelings of some local residents including some of those who were displaced by the Heygate regeneration.

– Like the Council’s own imposition on Heygate residents of the regeneration scheme and it’s non-accountable resultant loss of 1000 public housing homes in favour of 1000’s of new private homes, the Artangel Pyramid also seemed a done deal foisted upon the remaining community. There was little attempt to ask local people and those who had been displaced what they thought about the art project. At Southwark Notes we offered numerous times to put Artangel in touch with local people and campaign groups so they could sound out local feeling. They ignored these offers in favour of later asking us for community contacts for engagement around the Pyramid only after it was built.

heygate art no road sign
Artangel also entered into contracts for demolition, had access to the Heygate site and spent much time figuring out how the Pyramid would be built and so on even before their planning application has been up for decision. This seems to point to us that the Council had already reassured them that all would be fine. Our initial letter to Artangel makes our point clearly that this kind of behaviour is made on the basis of the power of privilege that exists for middle class art curators but not for Heygate residents to decide (once again) what happens to where you live and your community. Some of those who had been ‘decanted’ just did not want this art to be allowed to arrive at the site and all the insensitivity this implied.

heygate art no road sign
– We made a concerted effort to criticise the Council and it’s desire for a triumphalist artwork on the Heygate site precisely because they wanted such a cultural capital-rich artwork to be instrumental in heralding the regeneration project. Being unable to ‘decipher’ much about any of the supposed artists intentions, they were happy to go along with it, whatever it was, alongside as it made headlines for them, as ‘Southwark’, for their regeneration project. It was only when local people made a fuss and promised a heated reception to the Pyramid that they then saw what an abyss of negative publicity opening up before their very beautiful regeneration scheme. Despite chummy assurances and helping Artangel prepare the site and scheme, they freaked out on Dec 20th 2013 and pulled the plug leaving Artangel in the lurch and (as we understand it from F.O.I requests) contractually obliged to the demolition company who they had hired to do the preliminary deconstruction work on Cuddington block.

heygate art no road sign
– It is clear to us from occasional conversations we find ourselves involved in that the idea that Pyramid would create a space, as Hunt says, ‘to reflect urgent political decisions and to engage in favourable dialogue with campaigners concerns’ still has some currency despite the campaign against the Pyramid and the very arguments on which it was resisted. Without an agreement or sensitivity to those locally who are the community about whether they want this artwork, bringing thousands of people to come into that community to see the Pyramid is disrespectful and also loaded with fantasies about how that audience will engage in this struggle not to be displaced from our homes. Art lovers or the curious might imagine they are entering into a dialogue or polemic about regeneration but, we suspect, that they are more likely to have an interesting day out at a site of social cleansing that is now only open to them as an artwork. For local campaigns who have spent years having their own public meetings, writing publications and websites, holding protests, anti-gentrification walks around the area and so on, there was little interest in having a Pyramid help them out especially one foisted upon them with zero attempts by the artist or Artangel to contact them beforehand.

For us, we remain committed to believing that such a public spectacle around the construction of a Pyramid out of one of the old Heygate housing blocks is of dubious use for any real actual political fighting against ongoing regeneration and social cleansing. Dubious because numerous art projects made on regenerating council estates up and down the U.K (including 2008’s Artangel-produced Seizure by Roger Hiorns on Harper Rd, another Southwark Council estate) have not resulted in a saving a single council home but have resulted in lots of concerned hot air, liberal hand wringing, pretentious art criticism and endless academic studies. Southwark Notes has met hundreds of people over the last 5 years with our optimistic willingness to explain our point of view to those who ask to meet us. Yet we would say 99% of those we meet will not give back from their art, writing or researches or put anything into the campaigns that they come and take from.

heygate art no road sign
It has been interested to see, after the Pyramid death, other London estates refusing to have art projects foisted upon them (Catherine Yass’s piano dropping art cancelled at the Balfron Tower, Canton St residents saying no to Performance Poplar on their estate). This is one way of assessing the strength and foresight of campaigns around social cleansing when art can be viewed not as a gift to fighting gentrification but suspiciously as a part of the very process of gentrification itself, a topic on which we have written perhaps too much!

Probably worth saying again that what we suggest as a good and strategic way of doing our politics in the struggle against regeneration and displacement demands that if we are to accept Art as a category then we must also demand that it is subject to scrutiny and that this scrutiny is used to understand where Art gives power and to who and thus where it takes power and from who.

 

ADDITION:
We heard today (16th Nov 2014) that the cancelling of the Pyramid via community campaigns described as a massive act of artistic censorship. With so much written by the campaigns about why they didn’t want the Pyramid artwork, you wonder what it takes to come up with that perspective and exactly what the persons stakes and investments in it are?! Once again, the Pyramid saga rolls on and on.

 

 

 

 

 

‘Should Art Be Used to Push London’s Rents Up?’

‘Syd Gale of local blog Southwark Notes told me, “I would think a better symbol of The Elephant is not one up on its hind legs but one shot in the head and it’s ivory tusks ripped out. The Council shot it and the developers poached the valuables. All day-to-day events in the regeneration safari.

Yes, our great man Syd Gale breaks it down quite easily in answer to this question and the rather odd story of the Sam Keil artwork / not artwork proposed to and supported by the Council bigwigs but now denied by all. Luckily, we saved the PDF that no longer appears in public on Sam Keil’s website: not here!

PDF is here: Sam Keil PDF

LL safari-hunter
Full story here at..er..Vice. Glad our researches keep gaining some ground wherever they are published. A truly bizarre story made even more bizarre by Hayden Vernon approaches to Sam and the Council. Nice one.

We like the bit in Vernon’s story when ‘I approached Fiona Colley and she told me that Keil’s comments were unwelcome and laughed off the proposal as silly and self-aggrandising‘. Here is a letter from October 2013 by Jon Abbot, Southwark Council’s Elephant and Castle Project Director to Chris Allen of Oakmayne, the former developer of Tribeca Sq, proposed site of Keil’s bronze elephant:

abbot to keil

We can highlight this bit in that letter to break it down further:
“I managed to meet with both Cllr Fiona Colley and Eleanor Kelly and I wanted to inform you they were both very enthusiastic about the proposed Samatha Keil elephant sculpture and are very supportive. They think it would be well received locally and think it’s a strong idea from a place making point of view”.

Syd is available for further comments should the Council need him to explain what they are doing.

Regeneration Rip Off @ The Elephant Sat 19th July: Walk, Sound, Films

SNAG walk JULY 2014 NEW

SATURDAY 19th JULY: All day Regeneration Rip-Off at The Elephant

ANTI-GENTRIFICATION WALK: 1pm at 56a Infoshop,
56 Crampton St, Walworth SE17. Leaves 1.30pm

• This will be another one of our local walks round the area looking at different sites, developments and characters around the local ‘regeneration’ of the area. We decided not to go over old ground too much (Strata, Heygate etc) but to focus the walk on the new sites – Shopping Centre, One The Elephant, Artworks Box Park, The Signal Building, Eileen House, Newington Causeway Peabody sites and many many more.

In this walk we will ask ‘who benefits?’. With this in mind, we will talk about that very issue – if the local community is not benefiting as promised, which companies and which individuals are benefiting. We will also be looking at how regeneration attempts to place itself on top of people’s local life and history and pretend it was never there.

Intended as a community conversation rather than just us lot going on about it all, please bring your stories, experiences, knowledge, gossip etc and share as we walk, stop and talk.

‘ELEPHANT ENDANGERED’: Outside 56a Infoshop,
56 Crampton St, Walworth SE17 from 4 -6pm

• “Elephant Endangered is a sonic investigation into community and gentrification in the London neighbourhood of Walworth.  The area has been subject to several contentious ‘regeneration’ schemes that have already caused the loss of 1100 socially rented homes of the Heygate Estate.  Elephant Endangered is made up of the many  sounds of the area which are overlaid with conversations had with neighbours, friends, and longstanding residents.  The work is set to continue with new sounds and voices being added through continued dialogues, events, and activities in the community”.

PUBLIC HOUSING UNDER THREAT FILMS:
56a Infoshop, 56 Crampton St, Walworth SE17 from 7pm

• We are pleased to be showing locally a stones throw from Heygate site, the excellent new film ‘Concrete Heart Land:
“Concrete Heart Land exposes the social cleansing of the Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle, South London. It marks the moment that the estate was finally lost as social housing to make way for an unjust ‘regeneration’ scheme. Assembled from 12 years of archive materials the film charts the struggles of the local community to keep their homes, stay living in the area, and maintain communal benefits in the face of the advance of this now notorious ‘urban redevelopment programme’. Throughout the film we hear the community engaging in some of the crucial battles with elected officials, planners, and barristers in municipal planning meetings, public enquiries, and interviews”.

We will also be showing the new film about residents struggles to save their homes at Cressingham Gardens, “Homes under the Sledgehammer:
“The film is directed by Sanda Kolar and includes several of the estate’s residents speaking about their experiences of life on the estate. The overwhelming  feeling the film projects is that of community spirit amongst the residents. Nicholas Greaves, Cressingham Gardens Residents’ Chair, said: “It seemed like a jewel in Lambeth’s crown of estates, so it seemed crazy to me that you would want to demolish it.”

Also up is ‘9 Stories In Brixton‘:
“9 Stories in Brixton is a tale about nine residents who live in and around The Guinness Trust estate in heart of Brixton. Earmarked for redevelopment for a number of years, the landlords are now proposing to demolish the estate and rebuild the blocks nine stories high, thereby increasing the capacity of the estate by 30%.  A group of concerned tenants, held meetings to discuss estate issues, and have subsequently endured attempts by the landlords to set up a rival tenants association”.

Plus other short films on housing and other topics that take our fancy. If you have any short films pertinent to the night’s screenings, please bring on USB stick!

See you there on the 19th!

Wanted: Almost Another 50 Questions on the Gentrification of Peckham

Due to the general thumbs up we had for our Almost 50 Questions on the Gentrification of Peckham post, we are now seeking your own wise help in adding another ‘almost’ 50 questions’ to the list. Got something to say in the form of a question about the gentrification of Peckham? Let us know! Many thanks.

Any question we use will remain anonymous.

Email here: elephantnotes (at) yahoo.co.uk

Almost 50 Questions on the Gentrification of Peckham

Here follows a set of questions based on the past, present and future of Peckham as it undergoes continuing pressures of regeneration and the accompanying gentrification. Like gentrification itself, this list contains numerous trick questions. There are questions that seek answers in historical fact but there are a whole lot more questions that are asked not for an answer but because the question itself says a whole lot more than any answer.

These questions are produced from a fatigue of long-term considering the question of art and gentrification and its willing and seemingly unwilling players.
In Peckham, as some artists slowly ponder any role they may have in its changes, it must be said that the story pre-dates their arrival although not the way they have been used to sell the area.

 Almost 50 Questions on the Gentrification of Peckham

• How many estates were regenerated or demolished in Peckham in the last 20 years? Can you name 2 or 3 of them?

• Why do you never see a lot of people in McDonalds on Rye Lane on laptops even though there is free wi-fi there?

• How much public money was paid by Southwark Council for the signs and bollards and lamp posts in Bellenden Rd as part of its artistic recreation?

• What was the name of business that used to be at 44 Choumert Rd before it was recreated as Café Viva?

• What was the name of business that used to be at 46 Choumert Rd before it was recreated as Southerden Pastry Store? Did that business describe itself as being in ‘Bellenden Village?’

• What was Pelican House on Peckham Rd called in the 1980’s before it’s later conversion from Council offices to shared ownership flats?

• Which Peckham 2009 art event press release began in this fashion: ‘’In deepest darkest Peckham all things are possible, even a clash between the Bun House Bandits, littlewhitehead and the contemporary titans of havos; Swarfega. As far as we can tell from eye-witness accounts gathered from traumatized locals, and a police report, the ‘dust-up’ occurred sometime after dark on Monday…”? How does this read to you?

• Which Peckham art gallery website has six staff featured, 5 of which are white and are arts managers. The 6th member of staff is black and is finance manager?

• Is Peckham the new Dalston? What would that mean?

• If people moved to Peckham to open studios and art spaces because they were priced out of East London and Peckham was cheap, what would be the future for those people? And why?

• Can you name the group behind one of the first ‘art squat’s that was at the old Co-op on Rye Lane about 2004? What happened to those people?

• How many council flats were on the now demolished Wood Dene Estate? Where is/was Wood Dene Estate? What is happening to it in the future?

• Which local businesses can you name around the proposed redevelopment near Peckham Rye Station who are threatened with eviction? How many of the ones you name are non-art, non-creative businesses?

• How much is a beer at Frank’s Café? How much does Franks Café make per year? How are the profits divided?

• What’s the difference between jollof rice, peas and mutton curry and seared rabbit loin, pithivier and wild mushrooms?

• Which local Peckham design outfit sells a Limited Edition print of the Peckham Wall, a spontaneous outpouring of personal messages on Post-It Notes in response to the 2011 riots, as a Limited Edition art object signed by ‘The Artists’? By what commissioning route did this come about?

• Have you ever used these words to describe Peckham: ‘vibrant’, ‘exotic’, ‘mini-Lagos’, ‘diverse’, ‘feisty’, colourful’, ‘cheap and cheerful’? Etc.

• Which lowlife Peckham artist tagged the living room wall of one of Southwark Notes’ flat well back in the day and justified as ‘well, it is a squat!

• What was the verdict of our Chilean friend on returning from a party of the 78 Lyndhurst Way art squat in the mid-2000’s?

• Why when there used to be ‘art squat’s in Peckham but now there are galleries, self-organised artist spaces and arty cafes, are there no more ‘art squat’s?

• What is gentrification? What is the traditional role artists play in this? What are some other ways in which gentrification happens? Are artists always complicit in these other ways?

• Name three defences artists use to sidestep the claim that they are implicated in processes of local gentrification?

• In 2006, how much had property values increased in the Bellenden Rd ‘Conservation Area’ as a result of this designation and renovation?

• The Government funded partial demolition and renovation of the Five Estates in North Peckham from 1994 to 2008 resulted in the loss of how many council homes? How was this justified by the Council at the time?

• What is the significance of the arrival of the Overground to Peckham Rye and Queens Rd in relation to global capital?

• Which Peckham design outfit created ‘a surreal pun on two iconic forms, the block of flats rises majestically from the top of a classic chequered flat cap and contains its own miniature world where fashion icons and models rub shoulders with bin men, pigeons, and even a horse’?

• ‘Prices have risen as much as 45% in the last 12 months and well over 100% in the last five years. Rental rates are also beyond what even we could have imagined”, says who?

• What was the ‘Peckham Experiment’?

• Which part of Peckham was ranked 5,306 out of 32,482 in England (where 1 was the most deprived and 32,482 the least) in the latest Index of Multiple Deprivation? Which part of Peckham was ranked 17,702 out of 32,482 in England (where 1 was the most deprived and 32,482 the least) in the latest Index of Multiple Deprivation?

• In 1977 Paul Willis wrote a book called ‘Learning to Labour: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs’? Peckham’s Harris Academy school is proud of their vocational resources and they are ‘unparalleled by any other school in Britain’. Is there something to be said of the former in relation to the latter’s ‘catering suite, hairdressing salon and motor mechanic garage’?

• What was Sokari Douglas Camp CBE’s influence on the Bellenden Rd Conservation Area? Where in Peckham can you find one of her sculptures? How did this come to be part of the accompanying housing development?

• Former ‘‘art squat’’ 78 Lyndhurst Way was last sold for £600,000 in 2006. How much is it worth now?

• If you are writing a puff piece about the Peckham art scene, is it better to write about Only Fools And Horses and how Del Boy and all was actually never shot in Peckham or is it better to mention how William Blake had visions as a young boy on Peckham Rye?

• What year was this description of Peckham’s art spots written: ’I’d be hard-pushed to find most of the galleries and spaces we visit: they’re tucked away down back-streets, on industrial estates or under railway arches; and, in one case, in the back-room of a pub’? Why is this different now?

• Can you be a successful and engaged artist in Peckham by producing art with local people about the dogs they own, their own ‘street knowledge’, the aesthetics of the council estates where they live, the recipes they know from their ethnic pasts, what trainers they like to wear, their memories, their desires, their problems and so on?

• Is ‘pop-up’ or ‘temporary art space’ a different way to describe the idea and function of ‘property guardianship’?

• What percentage of Peckham’s population come from West Africa? What percentage of Peckham’s population graduated art school? What percentage of Peckham’s population who graduated art school are white? What percentage of Peckham’s population who graduated art school and have set up studios, art cafes and galleries are white?

• What was the battle that began in 1996 over the public art piece by Lilian Lin and then the later International Carpet of Flowers, designed by Anne Wiles in Moncrieff Place that was part of the Peckham Partnership regeneration scheme?

• How long before the first arty café, foodie deli or gallery space opens up on Rye Lane and not just in the Georgian or Victorian side streets running from Bellenden Rd to Rye Lane?

• Quote: ‘Yes, people love Peckham. And why not? True, it still has its tricky patches, fried chicken joints, and the high street ain’t all that. But it’s got another side: adorable streets’. How do you decode this statement?

• Is Almumno Developments renovation of the old Council Town Hall on Peckham Rd as student flats a good thing for Peckham? In what light can the history of the Hotel Elephant art space’s involvements with the regeneration of The Elephant, and who intend to run a café from the new development, be viewed?

• Can you go from squatted building in Peckham Rd to a Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation funded to a tune of £50,000 a year and negotiate to site yourself in a space free of charge by Argent, the company overseeing the large scale Kings Cross redevelopment?• What’s the historical difference between community bookshop The Bookplace that was on Peckham Rd from the 1970’s up until the late 1990’s and Review, the bookshop on Bellenden Rd that opened around the end of the 2010’s?

• Can you programme work on the radical content and history of various radical communist struggles whilst being part of a global art world based on private property and investments?

• As a curator, would you like to be the first to discover a radical black group in Peckham from the 1970’s who were involved in building community self-defence and much antagonism against the police to then programme a series of visual art ‘conversations’ around this between young artists and local school children? As an artist would you work on this and then put your name on this ‘conversation’ on your CV as the ‘artist’?

• What’s the difference between the New Gallery art café and bar at the base of Pelican House and the current Peckham Pelican art café and bar?

• Were you surprised when Network Rail’s plans for the area around Peckham Rye station included a range of new build housing blocks that would lead to the eviction of most of the areas creative businesses?

• In Peckham, does to insist on ‘heritage’ sidestep the deeper question of any actual history of local buildings and the social relationships that were part and parcel of their actual building, use and disuse?

• Is being a newly emergent local area of creative economy enough to sustain you against the power and desires of property developers keen to cash in on the buzz and a compliant Council in this respect?

• When artists or institutions host workshops on art and regeneration, do you ever get the feeling that what is always being discussed is more the art than the regeneration side of things? Is there a way through this impasse?

Southwark Dump Heygate Pyramid, Feel Relieved

camel rip off

FALL OF THE GREAT HEYGATE PYRAMID
Today is the longest day of the year but it witnesses the shortest campaign in Southwark for a long time. Dismay, outrage, scorn and disbelief had greeted the art commissioner’s Artangel’s plans to build a pyramid from the material structure of one of the now empty blocks on Heygate Estate. Artangel were working with ‘famous’ artist Mike Nelson to bring this public art to the finally emptied and fenced off Heygate Estate. They had been searching for a site for nearly three years and were looking for a post-war site of some social significance that was in a transitory moment. After some false starts, they thought they had there dream ticket to art success when they found Heygate. The Council seemed up for it and also Lend Lease (kind of).

As soon as this idea was made public there was a quick response to it on various websites and networking places roundly condemning Artangel’s ignorance and insensitivity in thinking that the Heygate site was a good site for a monumental piece of ‘public art’. We ourselves at Southwark Notes were pretty furious at the plan and contacted Artangel with a long letter outlining our dismay at their project (see below). We even met up with Artangel at a cafe in the Shopping Centre and spent an hour and a half politely but firmly pointing out how live, raw and pointed the decant and the subsequent social cleansing of that site remains.

We also spoke of how local people had been arguing and also putting into practice temporary community benefits on the site regardless of Council threats and occasional police hassle. What made Artangel so special that after the Council had finally cleared the site that they could then have access for a monstrous spectacle? Not only this but what gave them the privileged position to invite an art audience into the site of one of the most poorly executed decant programmes in housing history and a site of massive gentrification? In the end, despite our offers to put Artangel in touch personally with the numerous housing and amenity campaigns active locally in The Elephant, they chose to go for planning permission and tough it out. After some prompting they finally sent us a weakly argued letter of justification that brushed all our concerns to one side entirely. That was the red rag really.

heygate art no road sign

COUNCIL STUFFS THE GREAT HEYGATE PYRAMID SIDEWAYS
To cut this longish story short, in the last few weeks, the growing opposition to the Artangel Heygate Pyramid was becoming more public especially when The Guardian published a great article on local people’s feeling of betrayal and outrage. There was also a good Open Letter To Artangel published late last week. There was also the new Twitter site Artangel Go Home: Pyramid A Go Go that was ramping up opposition slowly. Anyhow, by Friday 20th December, the Council pulled the plan and sent the Pyramid packing. This was a shrewd move as at Southwark Notes we know there was a large and international campaign being established by all sorts of ex-Heygate residents, housing groups, academics, artists and local people that was feverishly but quietly being worked on to launch in the New Year. Now those people can have a bit more of a chilled New Year and enjoy the non-Pyramid.

At Southwark Notes mansions, we presume that the Council had started to see that they were staring into an abyss of a massive negative publicity drive where the Pyramid project would only be the starting point for a load of facts, truths, personal histories about the Heygate and the Elephant regeneration to come again to public attention. Maybe they realised that nothing that good could really come out of the Pyramid and that any hopes they had of using such a prestigious public art piece by Artangel as a PR puff for the regeneration scheme were never going to be realised under these circumstances. Maybe even Lend Lease were on the blower to Tooley St. We just don’t know the real story yet. If you do, then drop us a line at our email address: elephantnotes@yahoo.co.uk

PYRAMID SENT PACKING
It was Artangel who actually let the cat out of the bag when they somewhat discretely but pointedly released a terse Press Statement on their website on Friday 2oth Dec:

ARTANGEL Statement on Southwark Council’s decision regarding Mike Nelson’s proposed project on the Heygate Estate

20 December 2013

“Artangel’s proposal for a major new artwork by Turner Prize nominee Mike Nelson on the Heygate Estate is a thoughtfully conceived project that would have created a powerful and challenging free public artwork.

London is one of the world’s great cultural centres with a long history of presenting elegaic and thought-provoking public sculptures – from Edwin Lutyens’ Cenotaph to Rachel Whiteread’s House, produced by Artangel 20 years ago.

Over the past few months, we have had productive conversations with Southwark councillors, officers, and different interest groups in the borough. We are very disappointed by Southwark Council’s decision to stop Mike Nelson’s proposal progressing. We feel a great opportunity has been lost.”

Artangel Co-Directors James Lingwood and Michael Morris

We were somewhat surprised when we came across this today almost by accident. Still, ‘result’ as we might say. Well done to all who were working on spreading the discontent and the intent to not let this pyramid pish be built. Of course, this is small fare considering how few battles have been won against the regeneration / gentrification of the North Southwark area. But it does stand as a useful reference point for what can be done and how when people started talking to each other and then get inspired to act together. It is also a testament to the power of refusal rather than polite dialogues. Many many people were adamant that this dodgy Pyramid scheme should not be allowed to happen at all. It was simply a case of not accepting Art’s liberal plea that art is ‘thought-provoking’. Whose thoughts? Whose provocation? As ex-Heygate resident John Colfer said in The Guardian piece: ‘We were the first people in, at the start of 1974. My father made the home a home, fitted new floors, everything. My parents never planned to leave the estate. So when you’re talking about using those same materials to make a pyramid, you just think: what is there to show that this was a well-loved home? These are our memories being turned into an artwork.”

Artangel say ‘We feel a great opportunity has been lost‘. Opportunity really for who? That is a very interesting question.

heygate art no road sign

We feel obliged to post here our entire communications to Artangel. It contains our letter that caused them to meet with us, their eventual reply and a short series of back and forths going nowhere:

Southwark Notes – Artangel Communications PDF

We have a lot more to say on this matter but it’s Xmas and we have better things to do right now than write all that stuff up. We are sure you can wait if you are interested. Well done all! Forward to the mince pies and some sherry in celebration!