Look At The (E)state We’re In [LATEWI] is an experiment in social engagement taking place on 28 and 29 May. It is an exploration of the unmapped relationship between the council estate, the community and the arts. In partnership between Camberwell College of Arts and Peckham Platform, the project aims to provide a forum to discuss, dissect and disseminate the collision of the utopian ideal of socially engaged art with the equally utopian notion of the council estate and how these visionary ideas translate into reality: can art be used to solve social problems? How do estates, class and culture interrelate? Can art foster community?
Through a public event in Peckham, a short documentary film and a publication, LATEWI will present a current and honest discourse on the (e)state we’re in through the involvement of practitioners, artists and researchers within related fields, but also with the inclusion of the local community through workshops, panel discussions and interviews. The event will take place in May 2015 at various community venues throughout Peckham, including Peckham Pulse Healthy Living Centre, Peckham Liberal Club and Kentish Drover pub; points of convergence between the diverse class and culture within the area and adjacent to Peckham Platform, our partnering organisation dedicated to accessible social arts practice.
In addition to critiquing social practice through discussion, a trail of shows by established and emerging artists will be set up in popular landmarks around Peckham, providing an alternative discourse through art and further pushing the boundaries of social engagement through the re-contextualisation of art onto the high street. There it can be encountered as part of the every day, outside of the conventional gallery environment.
Camberwell BA Sculpture student Andrew Graves-Johnston has been coordinating the social media for the LATEWI project, producing posters and flyers and is chairing the Concrete Heart Land: Film Screening & Director’s Talk. This is his story:
‘I have many reasons to be involved in this, but I’m really interested and concerned by the way gentrification has suddenly become a hot topic for council tenants and housing activists. As well as being a mature sculpture student at Camberwell, I have been a housing activist since the late 1980s. I used to be a volunteer for ASS, the Advisory Service for Squatters, as I squatted for 17 years in and around Brixton. I’m interested in the way gentrification affects the people on the lower end of the income scale, the majority of students and most council tenants. The current trend is for local councils to sell off whole estates, moving the tenants out of the vicinity and handing the land over to private developers.
For the developers it’s a gateway to more profit, but for the rest of us it is a worrying development. It means the breakup of groups of people that were well established within the local communities. Many are calling it social cleansing, and I for one do not disagree with this characterization. It’s happened on the Heygate estate in Elephant and Castle and now on the Aylesbury estate in Walworth and many others around the capital and other cities throughout the U.K.
Gentrification has severe consequences within the areas concerned as people are moved to other places around the city and even out of it to areas that they have no connection with. In some cases people have been moved out of the areas they have been resident in for 3 or 4 generations. It affects many parts of society. Local pubs have been facing this threat for some time now as more and more close, only to be turned into flats above and wine or coffee bars below. These premises don’t really cater to the community. They are for passing trade. You can’t go and hang out there and meet your neighbours, see a gig or connect with your local community. The local communities have been fighting back: last month there was a small festival/party/protest, Reclaim Brixton, which attracted in excess of 2,000 people, organised by up to 20 self-formed housing groups to show the council that there is opposition to the planned gentrification.
Can artists who work with local communities help bring them together to fight against this social cleansing? Or do artists contribute to gentrification and the developers’ plans by making the areas more desirable for the people who have the money to pay for these new housing developments?
My contribution to the exhibition is casts of manhole covers from the Aylesbury estate which is due for demolition. Manhole covers being entrances to the intricate network of sewers, drains and conduits that lie beneath our feet. These are the gateways and portals to hidden worlds and pathways. From original Victorian sewers to modern cable channels these permeate all aspects the city. All most of us ever see are the entrances to these, the covers which are scattered all around. By casting them in different materials I hope to make them more obvious and hence the pathways of the “underworld” more thought about. By taking them from the Aylesbury estate I want to make a record of the place that in many ways will still exist even when the buildings there now have been demolished. The tunnel network under that piece of ground will still exist as part of the infrastructure of the city. Even when the topside is changed, the underground systems will remain.
As well as a symposium talk on art and gentrification at Peckham Liberal Club, there will also a screening of Concrete Heart Land at the Wilson Road campus of Camberwell College of Arts. 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”. The screening is followed by a Q and A with the directors who lived on the estate. Both of these events are on the Friday 29 May.’
The events are free but booking is recommended. LATEWI is supported by CCW Graduate School and the Student Enterprise and Employability Curriculum Development Programme.