After a busy week planning the Wandsworth Arts Festival Hub, looking around the old Ram’s Brewery, and meeting new friends at LSE Cities, we spent the weekend doing a community consultation in Balham.
Balham Town Centre has been awarded some money through Outer London Fund Round 2 and have identified five public realm spaces to improve. The architects on the case – Metropolitan Workshop – wanted a creative way to gather ideas from the people of Balham, and so the Wandsworth Arts Team kindly put them in touch with us. The Arts Team are on the OLF Working Group and input creative opportunities whenever they can.So our job was to ask folk want they would spend the cash on. Dressed as balloon pilots. We had flown in from the past (in a beautiful basket made by Peckham-based artist and new woodland friend Jonny Allams) on our way to the future but crashed because we simply ran out of ideas. Ideas which could only be supplied by the Balhamites. See?
It’s quite lovely how friendly people are when you look like a damn little fool (read in the voice of Max de Winter in Hitchcock’s 1940 classic Rebecca). Strangely, the clipped vowels and old-fashioned politeness is a wonderful leveller. The majority of people we spoke to were incredibly pleasant, and genuinely interested in discussing how their commonly owned spaces could work better. And, unsurprisingly, most people said the same thing: more green space, more flowers, more play areas for children, more inviting places which encourage people to socialise and meet their neighbours. They wanted pleasant and safe places to be; less car parks, traffic and litter.
Other top suggestions included solar-powered rentable jet packs, a Caribbean climate and a statue of Peter Sellers celebrating ‘the Gateway to the South’. Every single suggestion will go back to the Metropolitan Workshop office and some of them will inform the designs, which are being overseen by Kim Sullivan, Balham Town Centre Manager, and the Balham Town Centre Board. Good luck with it, chaps!
So thank you, Balham, and chocks away – it’s been throughly splendid.
A guest blog entry from Kate Kelsall (thank you, Kate!). She considers the Worktable installation at the recent In Between Time performance festival in Bristol.
For an artist accustomed to dance and performance, Kate McIntosh boldly relinquishes the reins with Worktable. The simplicity of its instructions give nothing of itself away, nor impose anything external on your experience. Three rooms with infinite readings and responses, the piece becomes what you enter with and discover en route. A shell of an idea, to breathe your own life into, giving lie to any myths of objectivity. Nothing is neutral in this deceptively un-telling space.
A visibly weary father on the last day of half-term energetically fuels his kids’ imagination, as they struggle to rebuild a trainer into its original likeness. Founder of South London arts organisation The Brick Box mangles several hammers in her attempts to deconstruct a brick, the symbolic foundation stone of her company. An enthusiastic engineering student spends over 2 hours arduously recreating a Singer sewing machine, because he feels sorry for it.
In Room One I can suddenly no longer conceive of an impassive object, etched as all things are with our nostalgia, associations and emotions. I choose an ugly porcelain dog because I want to hold it by the hind legs and smash its twee little face in, but as I cradle it in the queue I’m asked what kind of spaniel I think it is, reminded of a stale grandmother’s living room and place it back on the shelf. Someone holds a pair of glasses and I think of mountains of belongings in Auschwitz. Even an apple and light bulb seem to hold universes in their material, inanimate selves.
In the Work Room you’re isolated within the silence of your headphones, goggles and heavy gloves. Perhaps frightened by what my original psychotic impulse towards the spaniel said about me, I tentatively try to dismantle rather than destroy. I want to get at what’s inside the light bulb without breaking it, but I haven’t thought things through. I’m not very practical. It’s frustrating. After false starts and fannying around with pliers and other tools I cannot name, I take a hammer to the glass and leave unsatisfied, envious of the wholehearted beating someone’s giving a walking stick next door. We are told to ‘Take apart, shatter or wear to pieces’ our object and this feels tenderly tragic. The lives of things at our mercy; malleable and marked by our agency and in our image, like sealing wax.
Rebuilding someone else’s bashed up vase restores my mood. Room 3 is jovial, communal and alive. The objects have lost their somewhat macabre command over my emotions and I create a sculpture that looks something like a teapot, somewhat like an elephant. As useless as it is, I have made it, a whole new fresh entity, not yet laden with traces of time. Have I missed the point? I realize that it is the making and destroying that matter, not these things in themselves.