Architecture, Building and Planning > Building
Creative Arts and Design > Fine Art not elsewhere classified]
|Creators:||Zimmerman, Andrea Luka|
Haggerston estate is located alongside Regents Canal in-between Kingsland Road and Victoria Park in Hackney, London. Over the past 10 years this area has become increasingly gentrified. As a consequence the transformation of the area has been radical and Haggerston estate now finds itself wedged in-between luxury loft apartments and expensive live/work spaces.
During the past 30 years proposals to either demolish or modernise the estate have come and gone with regularity like the seasons. Because of this state of uncertainty any major external and internal work were forever postponed. It gave the management an excuse to remain inert. Since at least 2004 no new residents have been accepted, and instead, vacated flats have been boarded up. In October 2007 residents voted in favour of a stock transfer and the estate is now scheduled for complete demolition and rebuild. All current residents have been offered a flat in the new development and will be temporarily re-housed during the construction phase. 5 months before the stock transfer vote, and without any prior warning, bright orange boards were promptly fitted over the windows of all the vacated and empty flats on the estate. This rather bold visual statement even further underlined the dilapidation of the estate. The blocks dotted with orange boards rapidly turned into an object of curiosity.
To look in even greater detail into the context for the work, we need to return to April 2007, 5 months before the stock transfer vote. Without any prior warning bright orange boards were promptly fitted over the windows of all the vacated and empty flats on the estate. This rather bold visual statement even further underlined the dilapidation of the estate. The blocks dotted with orange boards rapidly turned into an object of curiosity, especially for the passers-by using the increasingly popular towpath along Regents Canal for daily commuting to and from work, or for weekend strolls to Victoria Park and Broadway
Being long-term residents on the estate we suddenly found ourselves living in a local photo opportunity. A situation we became quite familiar with, as we frequently overheard, through our open windows facing the canal, people speculating about the estate, its possible future and state of decline. Often whilst documenting it with their camera or mobile phone. We felt that the orange boards had turned the facade into a projection screen for people's fears and prejudices around estates, and the people living in them. We simply wanted to disturb what we perceived as a very one-way communication.
How could we as artists possibly intervene in this dynamic of being looked at and projected into? We decided to do it with the help of a photo-installation, replacing all the orange boards with large-scale photographic portraits of current and former residents of the estate. As to, so to speak, humanize the façade, complicate and return the gaze of the passers-by. Furthermore, we wanted to become an active part in the process that produces the visual environment of our increasingly gentrified neighbourhood. We asked ourselves, who and what is made visible and what is excluded in this rapidly changing urban environment, and for what purpose? i am here shows the faces of ordinary people so often excluded from the visual material produced to market an up-and-coming area by estate agents, developers, private landlords, local councils and other stakeholders . It was important for us to make this visual statement without imposing any particular community identity on the participants we were working with. That is the reason why we chose to title the project i am here instead of something else, for example: we are here.
When developing our ideas for i am here we were conscious that the work would have at least three distinct audiences. One would be constituted by the residents, an other by our landlord and yet another by the flow of people passing by the estate on the towpath of the canal. We were all too aware that the work would most certainly have very different meanings to each of them, not to mention how it would be received differently by the individuals constituting the above hypothetically identified audiences. Since the project required a substantial participation from of one of the above-identified audiences, the residents, our first step was to consult the residents in Samuel House to make sure we had their support. We went door knocking and got 98% signatures in support of the project - not necessarily a proof of the strength of our idea but if nothing else an indication of how strongly people felt about the orange boards.
As we are now looking back on and try to think through i am here the one question that keeps returning is concerned with instrumentality. By instrumentality we mean the difference between understanding the role of art as purposeless, therefore autonomous and art understood as intrinsically relational. That is, not independent from the context within which it appears but dependent and specific to it. As we have seen i am here evolved directly out of a particular context and is not only intrinsically dependent on it but also addresses it directly. As such, we are in fact using i am here as an instrument to state an argument, albeit perhaps an obtuse one, in an ongoing debate. Doing so inevitably makes the work also vulnerable to be used as an instrument by others.
Is it a problem to open up art to be used instrumentally in this way or is it a possibility?
The framework of the gallery and museum automatically guarantees that whatever one places or performs within its boundaries becomes art. Outside of these institutions there are no such guarantees, less one manufactures them oneself either by authorizing the work purely by means of ones status as an artist, or by orchestrating the dissemination of the work in the media; through art journals; online groups; and not the least on the location where the work is installed. In other words, when practicing in the public domain, the interpretation of the artwork as art is not assured. Consequently the work may be appropriated and used by any of the stakeholders having vested interests in the context within which the artwork is located. It may turn out that there are parties wanting to claim the artwork for issues in no way related to the concept of the work itself but instead to further their own interests. These may range from commercial actors, interested in gaining publicity by proximity or association with the project. If possible and if desired they may be persuaded to become sponsors. There might also be other parties involved driven by ideological/political reasons, wanting for example to promote issues concerning social cohesion by route of the artwork. Not to mention the media and their incessant search for stories.
Thus the issue of instrumentality requires of the artist to pay close attention to the context framing the work. That is since the interpretation of the artwork inevitably will be intimately bound to it. Consequently context becomes something like an artistic material. However as an artistic material, context will remain a slippery one that never, unlike clay, will give itself up completely to the hands of the artist.
In spite of the apparent and seemingly unavoidable dangers of opening up artworks to be used instrumentality, by placing them in the unruly social world, we see instrumentality as a possibility rather than a problem. Whereas the gallery and museum perform the important role of guaranteeing works to be interpreted as art and therefore allowing a highly specialized and precise discourse to exist, one may also see it as limiting artworks to be nothing but art. Placed in a wider social context artworks will inevitably be exposed to instrumental use but it also allows them to expand, participate in and address a much wider range of discourses. This, we believe, allows for artists a bit more freedom to directly engage with social situations and the people populating them and not just be reduced to comment on them from the safe space of the gallery.
|Type of Research:||Show/Exhibition|
|Your affiliations with UAL:||Colleges > Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design|
Colleges > Wimbledon College of Art
|Copyright Holders:||Zimmerman, Johansson, Fennell|
|Funders:||Fugitive Images, Community Growth Fund|
|Related Websites:||http://www.iamhere.org.uk, http://www.fugitiveimages.org.uk|
|Projects or Series:||1st in a trilogy of works on the Haggerston Estate|
|Locations / Venues:|
|Deposited By:||Andrea Zimmerman|
|Deposited On:||15 May 2012 11:01|
|Last Modified:||16 May 2012 16:18|