Thursday, 18 September 2014

“…the suburbs are self-medicating, the suburbs are hallucinating, England is hallucinating…”
In 2011 it was the suburbs that saw the most dramatic displays of collective violence. In Croydon, Edmonton, Catford, Streatham, the barriers broke down and the suburbs suddenly became porous, territorial markers melted and the streets became the site of collective engagement with the spectacle of consumerism, the anger directed towards pawnbrokers, retail parks and high street stores.
A reversal has taken place; the suburb is the new inner city. The situation is fractured and complicated but, after a year spent walking around the outer reaches of South-West London, artist Laura Oldfield Ford argues the suburbs emerge as two distinct categories: Zones of Refuge where bankers, frazzled with siphoning public money, relax and dream of heritage England, of Tolkein, of homes and gardens; and Zones of Sacrifice, the areas allowed to decay amidst sites of gentrification, held captive on all sides by the ghoulish horror of Cath Kidston and cup-cake baking.
“What happens when you’re forced to spend hours immersed in stultifying work; split-shifts at McDonalds in a traffic island near Heathrow, living in a Travelodge in Sunbury working on the construction of some luxury development, or stuck in a call-centre in Croydon hassling people about loan repayments. You might seek solace in marginal political ideologies, the EDL, Al-Muhajiroun, the comfort and camaraderie of faith, with the thrill of violence to puncture the boredom. But mostly you self-medicate.”
Laura Oldfield Ford (b.1973 Halifax, West Yorkshire) is a London based artist and writer. Her work is concerned with issues surrounding contested space, landscape, architecture and memory, reworking the ‘dérive’ or drift as a subjective process of mapping territory along the lines of social antagonism. Awarded the Stanley Picker Fellowship in 2013, she has spent the last year walking through the outer-edges of South West London. Recent exhibitions include Ruin Lust Tate Britain (2014), Recording Britain V&A (2012) and Anarchy Unmasked British Library (2014). She is the author of Savage Messiah (Verso, 2011).
To accompany this exhibition Laura Oldfield Ford has produced the very first of our Stanley Picker Gallery Editions available for sale directly from the venue.
Associated Events:
Launch Event: Wed 8 Oct 6-8.30pm / All Welcome
Laura Oldfield Ford Talk at Sir John Soane’s Museum: Fri 24 Oct / Time (tbc)
Visit for booking information
Suburban Drifts: Sat 25 Oct & Wed 12 Nov 2-5pm (weather permitting)
Join Laura Oldfield Ford on a walking tour of the local suburbs / Free Event / Booking Essential
Stanley Picker Gallery Talk with Laura Oldfield Ford: Wed 12 Nov 7pm / Drinks 6pm / All Welcome
Image: Laura Oldfield Ford Cash4Gold (detail) acrylic and marker pen on watercolour paper (2014) Courtesy the Artist
- See more at:

Monday, 18 August 2014

Hackney Wick/ Dalston/ Bethnal Green/ Wapping-----

---revenant houses facing canal. Yours once, given away a decade ago.

- – MDMA still in your system,.. sounds haunting you,,  Nguzunguzu,  Evian Christ,,
 —- on a concrete floor, lying next to a speaker cab, 
you feel the heat in your veins, the synthetic pulsing of chemicals,, something that had had erupted a week before 
acted out again.
You get flashes of people in and out the flat, doors opening, a warren of black chambers.. chopping up lines ,jagged drinking straws and smears on glass. You remember the shards of black coming in cascades,, then opalescent shivers of pleasure as the MDMA ebbed through you--

Your face is grazed. You look a bit thin and your body is covered in scratches.

Canary Wharf blinking –
- -paranoid vista.
And the traces still pulsing … sunlight bleaching a landscape of scars and cameras,, troops nested under railway bridges.

Along the Hertford Union , away from the Lea Valley, steps activating buried currents, .a series of encounters-- the marshes and brutalist estates of Stratford, Leyton and Hackney,, relics emerging in the Olympic zone-- 

Hackney Wick , that moment where the city comes apart,, gives way to a landscape of industrial ruins  -. You drift through spectral thickets of sloes and brambles, traveller sites, fridge mountains and scorched circles on the ground,; 

Parched stretches of the canal ,,. Music coming from industrial estate, melting armatures, scorched black circles. Try to keep it together but sounds are so affecting , 
shells of new cities emerging
from riots and abandoned construction sites.

The concrete floor, the speaker cab..
in that moment you are communing with the dead.

violets on towpath, honeysuckle tracing the walls of abandoned hospitals..
You drift through woodsmoke, bonfires in the forecourt,,
stadium collapsing under a bindweed canopy.


Canal vista opens, Lubetkins Cranbrook Estate- , into Bethnal Green,, that knot of bomb craters and yellow taverns. You drift through yards of bust up fruit machines, lock ups with nicked Dreams beds. Vallance road… stop by the arches where the kitchen appliances are,
a car slows down , windows open and that song
--not over yet.
You are transfixed . You gaze across at the new towers of the City… Heron Tower and Bishopsgate. You are momentarily alone and the song scuttles over you, little explosions of heat …and you know that, for all the diversions, the parties and the drink, you have no desire to forget.

You feel the heat rising, put your palm flat on the bricks and dream of those moments, the tender and the raw, when his face split, from the wanting and the anxiety ,, and you remember the shock of his brown eyes, glassy and young, and you’d remembered them older, and blue.

You pass Rinkoffs and that house you always wanted with the interlocking rooftops. You’re bored of being skint,,. you dream of money rolling in, you fantasise about houses, gardens ,, cocktails in highball glasses, sediments of peach and mandarin-- you channel the tension in these streets, the seething hatred and class anger as the spoils of international finance sprout in towering clusters round Aldgate.

…the heat is intensifying--  
Whitechapel High street ,,burning arms, burning faces..…that girl with the fucked up face,, you remember her from that night in January, the unravelling in some tourist dive in Brick Lane--
and now , passing Paddy Power and Bombay Plaza, two blokes, dogs, a four pack of Tubourg.--
Just a glancing moment, she looks at you.
humani nihil a me alienum puto", I consider nothing that is human alien to me."

You turn off the High street at the Hospital Tavern and enter a new labyrinth of PFi
corridors,; flourescent lights, swing doors, fields of magenta paint. 

Another full moon, the one you had hoped for.
An intense cascade of letters.
Bonding…indelibly marking…

- you return to red brick courtyards, crumbling structures of the old hospital, the ivy and tangled rose gardens,,,
pass through narrow streets,, heaps of rubbish stinking in the heat-

Commercial road, bleached like 1976,, melting off the map..
you can slide into the bricks here, city has become porous, a coral,, portals opening onto rooftops, alleyways,, you wish you could drift back to where you were a fortnight ago.. but that was another era, another lifetime… he was a chimera.., constructed by you.. iridescent threads woven together.
You think back, all that time ago, to the Clockwork Pharmacy on the Narrow Way, how you wanted to meet there because of the name, of what it signified to you,, , violence,, sensation pushed to the limit… of darkness channelled, choreographed into an intense life.. and the walk across the marshes to those damp hives where faces bruise in the rot. 
 Seems so far away now… he recedes then appears as a shock.. .. You remember the white paint thrown across the ground by the river,, how you dreamt it was black,,, saw the shores and steel structures coated in viscous pigment and felt in that moment the keening sense of separation/

Streets at the back, corrugated fences falling. That maze of estates. Darul Ummah Masjid.

Washing hanging over balconies…black sheets, red covers///
Prismatic glow in the stairwells..

You cut across Cable street onto the Highway at McDonalds.
The Old Rose, boarded up. Black paint and dusky pink flaking.. a flashback to 84, rum and cokes before bricks thrown at TNT lorries--
You walk through desolate acres of News International--
Waitrose,, Telfords Yard , Tobacco Dock.

You find that abandoned shopping mall, brick arches and postmodern atria.. a frozen relic of docklands development,, for years you could walk through maudlin music and empty shop units, a sprawling network of chambers, 1981/ 1989/ 1992,, traces of cinnamon and ginger seeping through the bricks.
you remember the heat--cigarette smoke, the European scents of coffee and dark chocolate-- tinned up now with sheets of black--
you think about breaking in,,
peer through slices of dusty light--
Spectral markers, future troops-- the city under siege, how this place becomes a dark reversal of your dreams , you eyed it up a decade ago-- conjured up a subversion of that space, a satellite occupation and now it becomes Aldershot, Catterick, Colchester— a garrison suddenly formed.

You return to the canal, property speculation and international finance,,
80s development channelling Amsterdam. ,.,.concrete steps suffused with heat.. You want hours of shimmering conversation, you want to sit and drink and let booze unwind you, let the panorama dissolve in a haze.
That courtyard, with the missing black cat and the violet light and the luminous yellow cross on the tree. He is always there.. haunting the paths of hawthorn and wild roses ,
 walls of derelict buildings erupting with fig trees, clematis and passion flower.

You pass little pubs,
that music,, you keep hearing it, your head in a speaker cab,, the dark hair, glassy eyes, concrete floor. And you dream of those idle afternoons, drinking, talking, hiding out in bed.
Hot bricks, your palm flat on them,  face pressed into them.
Round the sweep of Thames, the Island, the towers…

Shards of black coming in cascades,, then opalescent shivers of pleasure as the MDMA ebbs through you--
Canary Wharf blinking – - -paranoid vista.
And the traces still pulsing … sunlight bleaching a landscape of scars and cameras.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Thursday, 26 June 2014

England 2014

Western edges urban conurbation
dislocated drifts..//
250ml glasses of chardonnay
, tramadol, diazepam, fluoxetine--
monday club smirnoff and monster,
blue lagoon
construction sites/thc—
travelodge stinking of weed.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Zones of Sacrifice- 1990-2014

Brutalist architecture has haunted my life. It has always been there as an obsession, an enduring, compelling aesthetic, and a site of possibilty and emergence. When I was a child we moved house quite a lot, the cast always reshuffled alongside a changing landscape.
I remember journeys along the A64 to visit my Dad. I must have been six or seven. We would drive through Leeds past the tower blocks of Seacroft, through the tunnels with their mosaics and orange lights, the International pool , Merrion Centre and Quarry Hill flats. The brutalist architecture of Leeds indelibly marked me; these journeys were emotionally heightened, suffused with a kind of sublime anxiety.

My early memories of family life are embedded in the black stone terraces , 70s new builds and post war council estates of West Yorkshire. Later we moved to a street of 1930s red bricks houses in Scarborough. Brutalist architecture seemed transcendent , totally beyond the microworlds I inhabited in my Grandma's semi detached house.
As I got older my relationship with brutalism intensified , the almost detached feeling of  theatricality gave way to an experience of immersion and involvement. It was the beginning of the 90s and a roving crew of itinerants had started occupying the many abandoned housing estates around the UK.
I was squatting in Leeds at the time, in dilapidated red brick back to backs in the Woodhouse and Hyde Park areas. Some weekends we would go across to Hulme in Manchester for big gatherings of punks and travellers in the massive and horrifying Crescents. There would be soundsystems in abandoned pubs and the entire estate would be reconfigured as decomissioned ambulances and lorries parked up in the communal grounds. We went across to Wakefield sometimes and Bradford where we knew people living on big estates, in high towers where whole corridors had been occupied by various subcultural tribes. It was a kind of Mad Max scenario , people had customised flats using steel that had boarded up windows and furniture made from palettes and planks. There was almost a siege aesthetic , a kind of defensive architecture constructed to guard against bailiffs and territorial narco-gangs .

When I came to live in London in the early 90s there were huge estates that had been squatted by anarchists. These were militant sites where the potential for resistance and conflict went far beyond lifestyle politics. The past decade had been marked by the Battle of the Beanfield, Broadwater Farm, Poll Tax riots, Claremont Road and a second wave of pit closures. In Dalston, Hackney and Stamford Hill areas were demarcated by black flags, rusting military vehicles and Class War graffiti. I remember communal dining rooms and cafes, meetings and benefit gigs, and parties where speaker cabs formed pyramids of window rattling bass. Those estates were like honeycombs, you could drift in and out of endless rooms and corridors.
In these politically charged spaces people were taking the problem of housing and homelessness into their own hands en masse. Hackney council were badly managing estates in the borough, leaving them standing empty. Many of us decided to take possession of ruined buildings where we could burrow in and create zones that defied and rejected the heavy handed imposition of a neoliberal system of values.
I remember most vividly the tranquil dream moments before an intense sequence of events like the Criminal Justice bill protests, or the Reclaim the streets actions and big anti capitalist demonstrations like J18 .These moments, where normal flows of commerce and exchange are disrupted, where everything seems fierce and interconnected are always preceded by a dreaming lull and it is those days of plotting and yearning that have stayed with me. I love those times when the fabric of the architecture suddenly feels charged with desire,, when whole blocks of flats become prismatic, municipal landings and desolate courtyards become steeped in those emotional states, momentarily vivid with eruptions of fluorescent pink and acid yellows.

Rave, the free party scene, had recodified whole swathes of the UK. Abandoned factories and warehouses, squatted estates and crumbling rows of Victorian housing became sites of rupture, euphoria and anxiety. Our lives, as itinerants were played out in the limimal zones, places that don't really belong to anyone, the kind of threshold places that sit between abandonment and speculation, no longer stridently urban but never fiiting in with ideas of bucolic prettiness. We would travel in convoy to parties on the edges of towns and cities. Places that, in their crepuscular state of ebbing away had become punctured with possibility. I always liked how the pioneer species, the tenacious brambles, sycamore and bindweed formed a complex labyrinthine landscape beneath the elevated stretches of the motorway . I liked the covert spaces under the map; how when you looked at the A-Z you saw the thick blue line of the motorway but it was only by being present in that place that you could describe the territories beneath. I remember sound systems setting up and motorway stanchions suddenly illluminated with an intense, almost flourescent glow .

These peripheral lands offered a certain refuge from the increasinging homogenisation and 'Americanisation' of the British landscape. Here you could avoid the snares of consumerism and advertisitng unless you were peering up at something designed to be seen from the motorway. These were largely unsurveilled places, ignored by ramblers and heritage obsessives. They were inhabited by a different kind of character, those who moved along the edges of society, the transient populations , the modern ragpickers.
Sometimes adhoc mosques might appear in portakabins or African churches in some industrial estate alongside traveller sites and illegal parties and gatherings. Scratches and markings ermerged as communuqués. Graffiti found here operated as a series of fluctuating currents, residing beyond the bland acceptibility of 'street art'' and official historical text. These glyphs and sigils were the markers of territory, the expression of brash desires and militant demands.

In 2001/2002 I lived on the Aylesbury estate in the Elephant and Castle. Generally acknowleged as the largest council estate in Europe alongside the adjoining Heygate Estate it was built in the early 1970s as a solution to slum clearances and the devastation of the Blitz. The two estates were a vast interlocking web of 'plattenbau' blocks interconnected by aerial walkways and concrete yards. It was a place that seemed to repress and contain its energies. The blocks were a seething maze , cliff faces pocked with satellite dishes. The windows opened at angles, reflecting the sun in blinding oblongs of gold.
I remember hating having no balcony, feeling trapped in my 12th floor flat which was very different to the estates I had known before. There were elevated walkways and strange sunken gardens with ornamental trees and neoclassical statues but they were almost always deserted even when the estate was fully populated. The moment of cataclysm didn't come for these estates, they didn't erupt like Broadwater Farm, and were never squatted en masse like the North Peckham or Stamford Hill. It always felt to me that the emotional life of the 11,000 tenants was fated to crackle and sizzle in confinement, energies always caught in the corridors and flats inside, only seeping out in summer when walls echoed and resounded with the sounds of kwaito, r and b and gime.

After the Blitz there was a chance to carve a new idealised vision from the ruins. It's easy to cite the narrative that these huge social housing projects failed because there was something intrinsically wrong with the architecture but it seems more likely that they didn't work because they were starved of investment. The Heygate and Aylesbury never felt like good places to me, they were a cheap, diluted version of the brilliant complexes by the likes of Goldfinger, Lubetkin, Luder or the Smithsons. But the disappearance of so much social housing is surely cause for lament.

The current demolition of the Heygate estate marks the end of an era . The estate was completed in 1974, the dying days of the post war consensus and the moment when neoliberalism began. The Heygate emerged in the embers of a time when the idea of collectivity was valued but was doomed to live out its life in the rapacious individualism of the Thatcher years. Now , in 2014 it lies in ruins, a network of desolate chambers, eerie tinned up rooms reverberating with the spectral sounds of a lost era.
These forlorn landscapes appear to me now as reliquarys, place where voices can chanelled and in some way transmitted. They have become eligiac sites where walls are imbued with memories, touch and experience. Walkways, courtyards and stairwells have become the crystallised emblems of another time.

My psychogeographic drifts through different areas of London have become a melancholy project documenting the loss of certain aspects of the city . I return to places that have been important , sites of collective memory and desire that are being demolished. During the Blair years walking through the redeveloped and regenerated London streets was to experience alienation and familiarity simultaneously, fragments of memory would emerge as splinters in the smooth space of developers plans. Places that had been in the commons were being gated off, the consequence of a decade of corporate land grabs and sustained social cleansing. London was becoming an enclave for the wealthy, and the rest of us were being pushed out, scrubbed off the map and out of history.
My work is a conflation of my own memories, fragments of journals and half remembered episodes. I revisit convoy culture, rave scenes and 80s political movements as way of channeling those lost voices, attitiudes and scenes . I feel that there is a substrata of anger and resistance in England, that there is always a buried current of class anger and resentment just below the surface. For me,walking around the gentirifed sectors of the city today is about tuning into that, predicting those cataclysmic moments , listening for a haunting of the new shopping centres and corporate landscapes. .

Many of the ruins we see emerging at an accelerated rate around London and the South east are the ruins of the future, the new build luxury highrises and inevitable victims of the next collapse in the property market. There are ranks of empty blocks, like Capital Towers in Stratford, bought off plan in auctions in Hong Kong and Malaysia and left as menacing totems of a speculative free for all. What will become of these places? Maybe they will end up as negative equity ghettos like the Pinnacles in Woolwich, sublet to recent arrivals from the former colonies and left in a state of chronic disrepair , or perhaps they will be seized and occupied by bands of rent defaulters, young people unable to afford anywhere to live in the South East whose desperation has led them to take militant direct action.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014