Bow Open 2021 at the Nunnery Gallery
Back in 2019 the demolition of Thamesmead 60s estate brutalist architecture started. Having moved in 2018 as part of a scheme partnership between Peabody and Bow Arts that provided low-cost accommodation for artists and creative practitioners we were well aware it was temporary.
As soon the preparation for the phased demolition began, I started taking pictures, just around my residential area in Abbey Wood using my old analogue camera and a decade old Polaroid film stock. Somehow, I felt that the expired film with reduced contrast and faded grey blues and yellows resonated with what was happening around me. There was no clear plan to make a series or take it further.
As soon the number of pictures began to amount I realise that a story of some sort was being told. A certain visual nostalgia and a dystopian city were ending. At this point, I was encouraged to make a cohesive body of work and exhibit it. The idea stayed with me and slowly sank in.
Being a visual artist, I was immediately drawn by the colours of the printed pictures and that determined the name I was looking for this project; Xanadu*, a colour that in essence summed up my chromatic impression of Thamesmead.
There was however, a missing link in my project – the people who live and work in the area, old and new residents like myself. What are their thoughts, aspirations, views and opinions about Thamesmead? I decided to approach this with a simple question to be answered in a sheet of paper and “mugshot style” instant photo. I specifically wanted black and white in order to focus attention to the words and people’s expression. Asking people to be part of the project was definitely the most challenging part. Maybe it was my inability to communicate the concept properly ore simple they were not interested or even suspicious about it in any case it was difficult. In the end, I managed to portrait old and new residents from different backgrounds including some fellow artists.
To give an extra layer to the “feeling” of what Thamesmead is, I decided to add a series of digital photos from the visual marks and messages that I found in my walks around the estate and other areas of Thamesmead.
Truly, this project took shape as it developed. I feel that is just a glimpse of what is there to discover and preserve in Thamesmead estate history and the insightful, moving and beautiful intricacies and varieties of local human experience.
I am thankful to everyone o took part in the project and particularly to Marie-Nelika Clerc for the support and encouragement.
*Xanadu in a CMYK colour space is composed of 14.2% cyan, 0% magenta, 10.4% yellow and 47.5% black.