Big Brush of the ‘Paint the Heygate’ project gives a moving description of walking around the nearly empty estate. On the massive Kingshill Building (she calls it the Aylesbury here, but I think she means Kingshill), they find a council worker who shows them round. They find exactly one person left on the whole building, out having a cigarette on the empty terrace. “No comment” he says, as soon as he sees them, obviously marking them for press.
I heard about this exhibit a couple of months ago and knew it was in the Elephant – but didn’t know where.
Artist Roger Hiorns took a disused council flat, constructed a watertight metal tank moulded around the contours of the property then filled the structure with 16,500 gallons of copper sulphate solution. Two weeks later, he pumped out the excess, leaving behind a layer of blue crystals coating the flat interior.
The exhibit is not on the Heygate but another derelict, soon to be demolished housing estate up Harper Road in the shadow of Heygate Estate. I used to look out on this estate when I first came to London, living in a squat across the street. The estate is nowhere on the same scale as the Heygate – a bulky hi-rise with a low-rise in front, two duplexes connected by a single gangway which looked more like a bare-bones roadside motel than a housing estate.
Hiorns had this to say about the estate:
“These buildings were about containing large groups of people who were all living in the same kinds of places and being encouraged to think the same kinds of thoughts, These kinds of buildings don’t work; as a model they have not passed the test of time. They are symbols of a collective will, which treads on an individualistic attitude in the form of small, pokey flats. They give you very little architecture, the nominal amount of expression you’re allowed to have and were ungenerous in that respect,”
As I wrote on my City of Strangers about an art exhibit on a street in Brooklyn awaiting demolition to clear the way for another condo (construction has been delayed after the developer ran out of money) this sort of exhibit seems to be inhabiting more and more transitional spaces, an I’m assuming subconcious comment on the role of art and artists in the process of gentrification.
It’s all very well for Hiorns to talk about the buildings ‘treading on an individualistic attitude in the form of small, pokey flats” but these buildings, as uninspiring as they were, allowed poor people to live in the centre. Take them away, and you take away the poor people as well.
The housing estate may not have passed the test of time – although the Trellick Tower and many other so-called sink estates which have been given proper maintenance have stood the tes test of time just fine – but buildings with ‘very little architecture’ and a ‘nominal amount of expression’ are still being built at an ever-increasing rate. In North America – and the UK – and even, it seems, Europe, they are called suburbs. Has Hiorns never seen a North American suburb? A big box mall?
Perhaps it’s important to note that as the working class and the poor are being pushed out of the city centres, and the affluent from the suburbs are colonizing the condos and refurbished neighborhoods of the centre, these bland, cookie cutter, conformist suburbs will become the new housing estates. Where will ‘regeneration’ be then?
What the Heygate might look like one day, if they move everyone out then don’t actually demolish . . .
Post from the Worker’s Revolutionary Party from March of last year interviewing some Heygate residents who said they were being railroaded from their flats.
A video tour of the gangways of the Heygate Estate.
Slow dolly shot running through the whole estate, starting from the gangway at the very back, through the estate then ending at the now-demolished section which came out on New Kent Road
Couple of videos of what seems to be a rush of new videos on the Elephant and the Heygate Estate
Guess there will be more and more of these things as the Heygate empties out completely and the demo crews move in.
Waiting at the bus stop across from the excellent Turkish shop down by the Aylesbury . . .
Guy in a wheelchair, cradling a Tennant’s Super while yelling into a mobile over the traffic. “I fucking told ‘im, he can’t, he fucking can’t!” while two women in scarves in the gypsy style, cradle fully swaddled babies. One woman, older, nudges the other and she goes out into the stream of people hurrying past, approaching first a well-dressed black guy, then some middle-age South London prole, then a woman pushing her own kid in a pram and so on, holding out her hand, begging but being sort of matter of fact about it, as if it were a business transaction. The older woman sees me watching, glances at me a couple of times, but neither woman approaches.
The guy in the wheelchair has stopped yelling into his mobile and has been joined by another guy in a wheelchair, also drinking Tennants. They have the ravaged, blunted, if genial faces of South London alcoholics – a few years ago you saw their type all over the place, though rarely in wheelchairs. They hang out a bit, smoking and drinking their Tennant’s, then the original guy says, “You shouldn’t ever bully someone. That’s how we were bullied, in school, remember? I don’t ever bully nobody now . . .”
Meanwhile a third woman with a baby has joined the other two, and all three are out hitting up people on the street. Then, unsuccessful, they convene at the bus stop, the older woman points up the street. I can’t make out what language they speak in – it might even be English. The woman sees me watching again and looks at me pointedly and shrugs, as if to say, “Well, we all have to make do somehow . . . ” and they push out into the crowd cradling their babies . . . .