Exhibition: Queer Spaces at Whitechapel Gallery

Ralph Dunn / Public Toilets / 2004 / Photograph: Courtesy the artist

Ralph Dunn / Public Toilets / 2004 / Photograph: Courtesy the artist

How has the London cityscape influenced the social life of the LGBTQ+ community in the past thirty years? And what are the effects of the current redevelopment plans on queer spaces? These are the core questions explored in the exhibition Queer Spaces: London 1980s – Today, which opened at the Whitechapel Gallery on 2 April.

The exhibition includes the ongoing research on queer venues compiled by UCL Urban Laboratory from 1986. Parallel to this archive, works focussed on the recent past are presented by contemporary artists like Tom Burr, Evan Ifekoya, Hannah Quinlan & Rosie Hastings, Prem Sahib and Ralph Dunn.

Hannah Quinlan & Rosie Hastings / The Scarcity of Liberty #1 / 2016 / Cork board mounted on wooden frame,magazine pages, pins / Courtesy the artists and Arcadia Missa

Hannah Quinlan & Rosie Hastings / The Scarcity of Liberty #1 / 2016 / Cork board mounted on wooden frame,magazine pages, pins / Courtesy the artists and Arcadia Missa

In the past decade around half of the LGBTQ+ venues in London have shut down due to rising rents and capitalistic ventures. This exhibition aims to show why identity-specific cultural infrastructures are important and what is threatening them, and how the diverse queer community contributes to London activism, creativity and self-expression.

Queer Spaces: London 1980s - Today
Whitechapel Gallery, London (Google Maps)
2 April - 25 August 2019
Exhibition website



Postcard from... England (Covered in snow)

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By Paul Scraton:

It felt like an escape, when the train eased its way of the Leeds station on its way south towards London. There was snow on the ground and more to come, the newspapers losing their minds over the SNOWMAGGEDON to be brought down upon the country by the BEAST FROM THE EAST. Somewhere on the edge of Wakefield, where fields crossed by electricity pylons met the last garden fences of a housing estate, kids pulled sledges in the direction of a hill as crows circled above.

At London Bridge station, construction workers threw snowballs at each other, exploding them against hard hats and the metal fences, laughing and calling out to each other in the accents of many different nations. A man in a suit stood next to a young woman with a backpack in the door of the station, watching the snow falling before pulling out their phones to capture the moment. Everything seemed to have stopped to watch it come down. Station workers, travellers and the pub-door smokers.  The city, so loud and intense only a moment or two early, was now muffled.

Watch out mate, came the shout, as a misguided snowball sailed over the fence from the construction site, just missing my head.

The next morning Clapham Common was white but the roads were clear as we caught the bus to Vauxhall. Once there it began to snow again, so intense this time that the opposite bank of the river was obscured and the Houses of Parliament were nothing but a ghostly, Gothic shadow in the gloom. With nowhere to be that we couldn’t reach on foot, the snow for us was just a distraction, a pleasant break from the norm. Newspapers told a different story. Cars stranded on the M80. Army deployed in Lincolnshire. Scotland and Ireland on shut-down.

We have bread, the sign said, snow piling up against it outside a grocery store somewhere along the east coast of Ireland, and now appearing in my social media feed.

In another gap in the weather, we made it south to Hastings, where the announcer at the station greeted us with apocalyptic warnings of impending doom. An hour or so later it began to snow again. All trains cancelled. We walked over the hill and down into the old town, along fairy tale streets of crooked houses, like a Dickens scene in the snow. On the beach waves crashed against the snow that had settled on the pebbles and around the fishing boats pulled up high, away from the water. An eerie scene. We were alone, for a time, until a group of exchange students appeared out of the sea mist. Phones raised, they captured the icy onslaught of the snow and sea spray as it blew in from the English Channel.

The next morning it was time to leave. Most of the snow had gone. Another travel window in the weather, rolling north through frosted fields and past white cliffs towards Gatwick. I was heading home, from home. Always a strange feeling and it was made odder still, having spent five days in an England covered in snow.

Paul is the editor-in-chief of Elsewhere: A Journal of Place. His book Ghosts on the Shore: Travel’s along Germany’s Baltic coast is out now from Influx Press.

A village pond without a village

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By Matt Gilbert:

As quests go, this wasn’t exactly an epic. There was no Green Chapel to be found, no Mount Kailash to be reached, nothing but a pond next to a busy A-road, on the fringes of Croydon.

Beulah Hill Pond is named after a farm that was once here, before the area was built up. According to Croydon council’s website, the place was also known locally as ‘Big Pond’. The site had long been used a ‘watering place’ for horses and cattle and a bar had been placed across the middle to prevent livestock from straying too far in and drowning. In the past, when it froze, people liked to skate on it.

Other than that, there is nothing exceptional about the pond: no rare species make it their home, no famous historical events occurred there and it doesn’t lay claim to a ghost. As ponds go, this one is almost utterly unremarkable. Almost. Yet something about the place caught my imagination.

When we first moved to this part of South London, I noticed the pond on an A-Z and wondered what it was doing there. On a map the pond looked a little lost; wedged into a corner between a road, a pub and a row of houses. I made a mental note to go and take a look sometime, before forgetting all about it.

A couple of years later I read a story in a local paper about a pub called the Conquering Hero, which was home to a pig. The pig – a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig, called Frances Bacon – had been barred from wandering about near the bar, because it had taken to deliberately knocking over people’s pints to drink them. The report jarred my memory – this was the pub next door to Beulah Hill Pond. This was a sign, finally it was time to pay a visit.

I felt a mild, but nagging sense of guilt. I thought about an old ad for Time Out, which showed London’s famous tube map with all the station names blanked out, except for two. One of these, near the edge of the page, was marked Home, while the other, near the centre, said Work. The headline read: London without Time Out. I used to scoff at the idea that I would ever inhabit London, my adopted home, in this way. Now, here I was about to visit somewhere a few minutes’ walk from my home, that I had never seen before, via roads within my postcode that I had never previously set foot upon. The distance between us was negligible, but Beulah Hill Pond simply wasn’t within my orbit. Last year, one early morning, I set out to change that. 

This bit of what is now South-East London used to be Surrey, but today belongs to Croydon and Lambeth. The area is also known in places as Norwood; a name derived from the Great North Wood – as in north of Croydon – that once stretched over land to the south of the Thames, where the ragged edges of London shaded out into the Surrey hills. However, unless you go back to prehistoric times, this territory was never covered by some vast wildwood of the imagination. For centuries, stands of trees and coppices dotted the land, but for the most part were managed as commercial enterprises – many by the Lambeth and Croydon manors of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Tiny remnants of this sylvan heritage can be found scattered across south east London – Dulwich and Sydenham Hill Woods being the largest examples. Local place names including Forest Hill, Penge, Honour Oak and Gipsy Hill, also carry traces of this bosky past.

Looking at some old 18th and 19th century maps online, I was intrigued to see that some of today’s streets appear to follow the course of the edges of former fields and land boundaries, but on the ground, picking up such historic traces proved hard.

As I walked I tried to imagine ancient fields and tracks that once hugged the same curves as the tarmac and paving slabs beneath my feet. Sparrows in straggly, uncut hedges, near occasional grassy lanes leading to garages, made a desperate stab at evoking a greener past. Mostly though, as marching rows of Victorian terraces on Tivoli Road gave way to 1930s semis, I had a greater sense of multiple daily dramas being acted out behind door after door after door.

Steam from central heating snaked into the air from outlet pipes. Music rattled out of windows. Kettles boiled. Parents yelled at children to get dressed for school. Others readied themselves for work. Or not. The relentless everyday of human life.

Nearing my destination, I rounded a corner onto the A215. Cars sat in long queues waiting to pile into London. I glanced up and in the morning sun, confused glinting wires that fanned out from a pylon, for a series of highly choreographed aeroplane vapour trails.

I looked back down, and there it was, my stray pond. I don’t know what I had expected really, but I was a little disappointed, to find the pond fenced off behind iron railings. A couple of benches set on concrete next to the road faced the water. A sign showed photos of birds you might see: Herons, Moorhens, Ducks. I peered through a gap in the railings. A yellow polystyrene burger carton floated in green water. From out of the reeds behind it, a lone moorhen bobbed into view.

I recalled a conservation volunteer I’d once met telling me about a clean-up session he’d been involved with here, where they’d found a mummified Terrapin. Thick ranks of small trees and shrubs surrounded the pond on three sides. Perhaps somewhere behind the wall of vegetation more aquatic life was in hiding. I looked again at the fence, it made the place look like an enclosure in a zoo, but at last I was here. I had found it, a village pond without a village.

Matt Gilbert grew up in Bristol and now lives in London. He blogs about place, books & other diversions at richlyevocative.net and tweets @richlyevocative

Hackney Marshes - Before and After Dawn

A photo essay by Adam Steiner:

All images: Adam Steiner

All images: Adam Steiner

I got up early one morning, about 4.30am, it was summer and went out to try and capture the early dawn light that floods Hackney Marshes. One of the best things about the area is the contrast between urban/suburban and large park spaces; including the Lea valley nature reserve an bird sanctuary, housed in Victorian water filter beds. 

The ground was covered in thick cotton fog that seemed to recede as you stepped into it. The light split through the trees and burning through the fog created a kind of spilt rainbow effect that was constantly changing like a turning kaleidoscope. The rusting, wide shoulders created a kind of bastard symmetry contrasted with the extreme brightness; a kind of grit and glamour effect.

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Looking back across the field to the other side of the marshes, a couple of hours after the original shot, the blue sky had forced through the day, and once again this was intersected by the frames of the goalpost jutting against it; slicing the sky into crooked quadrants. 

A few paces further back from the treeline when the fog had more or less dispersed. 

This photo is not so special, but the full strength of the sun unhindered by the trees created this brilliant flare. Off to the far-right, in the distance, are Stratford and the Olympic Park. The skyline is mostly interrupted by the mass of lazy new developments happening in the area. A series of rabbit hutch apartments and faceless businesses – it’s great if this creates opportunities for people who live in the area, but it feels more like an opportunity to drive them out to a further zone of the city. You can also catch the ghost-legacy of the banal and moon-like atmosphere of the Olympic Park’s mid-masturbatory phallic Orbital spiral sculpture/slide thingy…

More displacement of perspective, a lineage of infinity boxes; one containing the other. I’ve recently been reading a lot of work by the late Mark Fisher (Ghosts of My Life) where talks at length about hauntology: the presence of non-events/thwarted possibilities - I can’t help but think of this idea looking through goalposts without people. 

I was also amazed at the colours here; the marshes a bowl of moody blue gloom and the hulk of the council waste disposal centre a fierce peachy terracotta. 

Again, similar colours but a different story. This salmon pink tower is one of the few high-rise buildings (with amazing uninterrupted views) in the area of Homerton on this side of the park. Rents in the area have steadily risen to become almost double, including in this building. Creating an exodus to nearby Walthamstow and beyond. The main shopping street a few streets beyond this building, Chatsworth Road, formerly known as Murder Mile, rises to a crest in the middle, from which you can peek over and see the jaded shine of the Canary Wharf tower – I always find this a grimly ironic vista for anyone who has grown-up in the area during the bad old days (of serial stabbings and shootings) which shows how close and yet how far wealth and power always seem to arise in London. 

I liked this image for the mad pink of the sky and the goalposts of two pitches backing on to one another in opposition, the match is made small and intimate, but there’s no-one playing.

I thought this was quite a calming perspective, where the goals seem to shrink into one another in infinite regress, like a lens zooming in and out, losing focus over a span of time.

Adam Steiner's articles, poetry and fiction appear in Low Light Magazine, L’Ephemere Review, The Arsonist, Glove zine, Anti-Heroin Chic, The Bohemyth, I Am Not A Silent Poet, Rockland Lit, Proletarian Poetry, The Next Review, Fractured Nuance zine. Adam Produced the Disappear Here project: a series of 27 x poetry films about Coventry ring road. Adam on twitter.

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IMAGE: Jeanette Farrell

IMAGE: Jeanette Farrell

By Jeanette Farrell:

Come spring time everybody migrates towards the park; it’s as if the humble daffodil emits an ultrasonic soundwave and suddenly there we all are, an entire borough marching in unison towards our gated hill all filled with colour and squealing and light. We are boisterously reclaiming our place in a city whose tightly woven streets can deaden the clatter of our chat and so, the park, come Spring-time, this is our release. 

Brockwell Park reveals itself on a slope with its grand house perched on top. Surrounded on all sides by a densely compacted population in one of the biggest metropolises – everybody is there and there isn’t a continent unrepresented in multiplicity. Cities absorb people by portioning us off into offices and houses and pubs and buses and so out there in our urban meadow, that’s where we mingle. There’s the skate park and the lido, quaint markers of the athletic desires we presuppose is our reason for being there; that we’ll run and stretch and swim, dipping in and out of the ever confounding combination of Brixton’s noise. But most of us are content with the prospect of lying down on the grass. 

There is a comforting familiarity to Brockwell Park, an unsophisticated elegance of ritual through which we make it our own year after year once the grey recedes. Here, the idea of public space is at its most civic; we walk around as if it were an extension of our own home, knowing its pockets and its shade. 

While basking in this kind of outdoor domesticity we feel content that everything has its place and pace. The sky will change throughout the day and we will retreat beneath the trees in a pantomime of weather, watching the rain beneath sheltering branches. Nurseries will empty and the park will fill up. School children will linger/rabble-rouse eating chicken and chips, tumbling into each other from gate to gate and watchful locals will sit on drift wood taking it all in. There will be dogs and there will be roller bladers, there will be cans of lager and weed in the air.  And then all of a sudden this spell of the expected is broken with the shrill warble of the neon green parakeet and we look up to stare at this glamorous interloper. 

We’re not really meant to have these beautiful birds around here and yet they thrive, roosting in tall trees and causing ruckus with that noise they make. There are lots of theories to account for their presence; that a couple absconded from Ealing Studios and populated the landscape; that a gang of them escaped from an open container at Heathrow airport; that an aviary collapsed during a storm; that the original pair belonged to David Bowie, or to Jimi Hendrix. They are a mad dash of colour amongst the rich green of this cloistered pocket of south London. They’re not gentle and serene like this dream of spring time and routine, they are flying fluorescent chaos. Apparently there are thousands of them about, an anomaly in an otherwise textbook geography but the first time they’re encountered they’re like a mirage – ‘a parakeet, that couldn’t be!’

Now when they’re spotted, or heard, rather it’s like welcoming an eccentric old friend. Thank goodness for the parakeets, we think.  A gentle nudge to remind us that anything is possible, that this world, regimented and predictable though it is, is unbelievable too. 

Jeanette Farrell is a writer based in London. 

[25] Pockets of [Swansea], [Cardiff] and [London]

[25] Pockets of [Swansea]

[25] Pockets of [Swansea]

We were sent an email recently about a fascinating project called [25] Pockets of [...]. The idea is to create framed object assemblages through gifts, referrals and random encounters within cities. 

Participants give away to the assemblage an object possession and then write on a picture frame, directions for the next location and person, or 'pocket' to be visited in a particular city. The trail of referrals from person to person continues in any particular city until 25 objects from 25 referrals have been collected. The objects are then incorporated into a final collage.

[25] Pockets of [Cardiff]

[25] Pockets of [Cardiff]

Positioning of the assembled objects on the montage correlates to the locations at which these were obtained so that there is a relationship between the object's placements to these locations.
 
Instead of mapping out and arriving at a fixed definition of the identity and substance of a place, it is hoped that [25] Pockets of […] allows viewers to glimpse a city as a dynamic variation of living relations and discover a sense of a place via one of many possible open-ended, overlapping series of interconnections and encounters.

[25] Pockets of [London]

[25] Pockets of [London]

[25] Pockets of [...] is the brainchild of Victor Buehring, who drifts around cities, makes assemblages and enjoys writing. You can see accounts of his wanderings on his Artrospektive website, or take a look at the following video that explains a bit more about the project: