At the beginning of this month we had the pleasure of hosting artists Laurie Nouchka and Tullis Rennie at Chrisp Street Market in Poplar, East London as they worked with local residents to produce a new audio-visual artwork for the V&A’s Lansbury Micro Museum.
The artists’ ongoing collaborative project Walls On Walls aims to celebrate the rich histories and evolving identities of specific communities, teasing out the relationships residents have with their everyday urban environments. Spending intense periods of time in each place Laurie and Tullis are able to meet a wide variety of people and gain insight into the neighbourhood directly from those who live and work there. During the first stage of each project resident participants are encouraged to look, listen and absorb their surroundings with fresh ears and eyes, capturing local sights and sounds through sketching and audio-recording. Discussions are stimulated around the old and the new; the past and the present, painting a picture of the multiple histories embedded and overlaid within a neighbourhood’s architectural fabric. At the end of each project, residents’ reflections are collaboratively channeled into the production of a large-scale visual intervention with an integrated sound piece.
“People make up a community as much as the buildings they inhabit. How does one influence the other? How do old and new contrast and collide in a rapidly redeveloping city landscape?”
In our continued investigation of Lansbury as a microcosm for the planning opportunities and challenges that London has faced as a whole, we invited Walls On Walls to bring this line of questioning to Chrisp Street, considering both the aspirational outlook of the original plans for the estate (as explored in first Micro Museum exhibition New Beginnings) and the multitude of influences that have since shaped the neighbourhood (as looked at in current exhibition New Horizons, 1950s-1980s). How might looking to the past and collectively celebrating the rich cultural and architectural heritage of a place help to shed new light on current everyday lived experiences? How might it enable a fresh look at the subject of neighbourhood planning and provide people with the means to articulate shared aspirations for its future?
From the impacts of industrial modernisation and decline of the docks to the consequent rise of Canary Wharf through a vast programme of regeneration, the Micro Museum’s New Horizons display reveals a neighbourhood in flux over four tumultuous decades. It also looks at the way residents of East London in the 1980s expressed their resistance to the Government’s proposals for the new banking sector through initiatives such as the Docklands Community Poster Project. The commission as a simple request for a poster alerting local people to what was to come, yet became an extraordinary community-led campaign delivering photo-mural billboards, events and exhibitions over a period of ten years. The project was led by artists Loraine Leeson and Peter Dunn and aimed to provide a counterpoint to the official advocacy campaign of the regeneration project, thereby making visible the area’s heterogeneous cultural identity and different community interests. The artists found that residents were not against development; they just hoped that it would meet their own needs.
The Lansbury Estate is currently poised for more change; and as a host of regeneration and redevelopment projects sweep across London the Lansbury neighbourhood continues to reflect the issues that surround the broader social and architectural transformation of the city as a whole.
Whilst working with local residents towards an artwork for the Micro Museum’s exterior wall, Walls On Walls absorbed a wide and varied set of opinions about Lansbury’s uncertain future, and stimulated discussions around the impacts of regeneration. Such conversations, along with found sounds of everyday life on the estate, were recorded and then woven together by resident-participants to produce a rich soundscape for the public to listen to when visiting the Micro Museum or passing-by. Whilst reflecting on and making visible the estate’s historical significance, the project generated a productive space for dialogue around the neighbourhood’s current state of flux.
“The work reflects some of the historic, current and future forms of architectural and social space that centre around the market and the Lansbury Estate. The piece alludes to the industrial history and forward-thinking architecture of the area, the presence of various cultural identities through time, the currently changing make-up of the market and its survival as the future looms large.”
Look at and listen to the collaboratively-produced artwork here.
The Micro Museum’s programme has begun to explore the question of what art is able to do in contexts of urban change by documenting the socially engaged initiatives of Leeson and Dunn in the 1980s, exploring the variety of public artworks found on the Lansbury Estate with historian Rosamund West (including Mark Francis’ Rates Rebellion mural of 1990) and in commissioning a new collaboratively-produced artwork by Walls On Walls. To further this exploration we have invited Marijke Steedman – a curator who has worked on a wide variety of creative projects blurring conceptions of art-object, activism and public service – to chair a panel discussion this Saturday (29 April). Marijke will be asking:
In places and situations where major- and potentially difficult- changes are taking place, what might art do? Should it provide means for expressing resistance? Interrupt embedded processes (of regeneration, for example)? Represent marginal communities? Create social cohesion? Make places more beautiful? Generate nostalgia? Capture contemporary conditions? Encourage debate? Mobilise communities to articulate their needs? All of the above?
Marijke will be joined in discussion by Loraine Leeson (Docklands Community Poster Project and cSPACE), Ruth Lang (architect, writer and curator of the Lansbury Micro Museum), Chad McCail (artist, This Used to be Fields, Becontree Estate), Alberto Duman (Fine Art Social Practice, Middlesex University) and Walls On Walls artists Laurie Nouchka and Tullis Rennie. We look forward to debating differing perspectives regarding the intersections between art, activism and the built environment, and welcome anyone to come along to Trussler Hall and share their views.
Prior to the discussion there is an opportunity to join an arts-focused walking tour of the Lansbury Estate with historian Rosamund West (catch a glimpse here), ending in the neighbourhood’s latest artwork made by Walls On Walls and local residents.
‘It is, perhaps, too easy to slide into a melancholic discourse of loss, hopelessness and regret. Instead we can listen for the distinctive voices of challenge and resistance encoded in the rhythms of subcultural street life, the vibrancy of local and heterogeneous cultures redefining the relations of periphery to centre, the visible presence in the metropolitan world…”
Jon Bird on the Docklands Community Poster Project, ‘Dystopia on the Thames’ in Malcolm Miles’ The City Cultures Reader, 2000.
Dr Loraine Leeson is Senior Lecturer in Fine Art, teaching Art Practice and the Community at Middlesex University and visual artist and director of the arts charity cSPACE, specialising in community-based practice. Loraine is particularly known for her visual work in support of the campaigning communities of London’s Docklands in the 1980’s- the Docklands Community Poster Project.
Walls on Walls is an audio visual collaboration created by artists Laurie Nouchka and Tullis Rennie’. In their own words ‘The project celebrates the evolving identity of specific communities and their relationships with their local environments.’ They replicate patterns, colours and textures through painting and sound and records the stories found in the old walls of each location they work.
Chad McCail is an artist who makes detailed, didactic and highly political paintings, prints and drawings. In 2014 he was invited by Create to make his first public mural This Used to be Fields with people living on the Becontree Estate in Dagenham. In 2016 McCail was invited back to the Becontree Estate to live for 3 months to make a major new work of art in the form of a play Jack, Jill and the Beanstalk written, produced and performed by people in Dagenham.
Ruth Lang is an architect and senior lecturer at Central St Martins. The PhD she is currently in the process of submitting looks at the postwar work of London County Council’s Architect’s Department, and the means by which they integrated community planning, artistic practice, economic and political policy, and sociological research in the development of experimental architecture which we see around us today – including at the Lansbury Estate. Ruth is curator of the Lansbury Micro Museum exhibition series ‘Neighbourhood Number 9’.
Alberto Duman is an artist, lecturer and independent researcher interested in the cultural production of urban space and the agency of art within this. He runs the BA Fine Art module ‘Art Practice in the Community’ at Middlesex University and has contributed to, amongst others, the publications ‘Art of Dissent’, ‘The Wick’ Newspaper, The Occupied Times and Architectural Review. More recently, Alberto has worked on a project called Music for Masterplanning resulting in a collection of soundtracks made by those who live and work in Newham’s ‘Arc of Opportunity’.
TAKE A TOUR: Explore the Estate’s public artworks on a walking tour with historian Rosamund West. Saturday 29 April, 2pm. Meet at the Micro Museum.
MEET THE ARTISTS: Celebrate the completion of a new Lansbury Micro Museum artwork, made by artists Walls On Walls with local residents. Laurie Nouchka, Tullis Rennie and project participants will give an introduction to the wall piece and accompanying soundscape. Saturday 29 April, 3pm. At the Micro Museum.
– JOIN THE DISCUSSION: Join curator Marijke Steedman in conversation about the role of mural-making and community art practices within contested and changing urban sites. The panellists are Loraine Leeson (Docklands Community Poster Project /cSPACE), Chad McCail (artist, This Used to be Fields, Becontree Estate), Alberto Duman (Fine Art Social Practice, Middlesex University), Ruth Lang (curator, Lansbury Micro Museum) and Walls On Walls artists Laurie Nouchka and Tullis Rennie. Ruth Lang (Lansbury Micro Museum curator. Saturday 29 April, 3.30pm. At Trussler Hall. Drinks reception to follow.
The Lansbury Micro Museum is open from 10-4 Fridays and Saturdays.
The Lansbury Micro Museum has been created by the V&A with the support of Poplar HARCA, Foundation for Future London and The Mayor of London. Its exhibitions are curated by architectural historian Ruth Lang and writer/curator Pete Collard.