Tuesday, 2 March 2010

The Market Estate Project

Incorporating 75 artists, 66 site-specific projects, 20 vacant flats, and one soon to be demolished 1960’s housing estate, The Market Estate Project has caught many people’s attention over the last five months, and on Saturday this week it will all come together for its grande finale.

Gadi Sprukt was the man at the start. Living as a guardian at The Market Estate, a role set up to help with the prevention of squatters, Gadi approached Stephen Ross from Southern Housing with the idea of using the disused flats for an art project. Ross took a brave risk in agreeing; there is a very off-putting array of legal and safety requirements to let such a project take place. By carrying out the arts project in the estate, Ross recognized there was a strong part for the project to play in the community regeneration programme, and a transition period has been created for the local community before the estate is bulldozed on Monday 8th March.

Although Gadi was the instigator at this point – there are six brains behind the project. Gadi joined forces with Giulia Sala, Helmut Feder, Elli Resvanis and Christian Nyamapeta, all five having graduated together from Central St. Martins with an MA in Narrative Environments. They then approached Nathan Lyons, Oxford graduate, who has experience in using empty spaces for community projects; and that completed the team of six – which they set up as the company, TallTales. They also have the help of Vicki Lewis from the Big Art Trust who is Project Manager.

So the idea? A five month project with artists, designers and creatives to work with the residents and community around the estate as a way of regeneration. The team began with a call out for artists to submit proposals for The Market Estate Project, with two criteria. The first, that the proposed works or projects must be exciting and playful – they were looking for artists with big ideas; and the second, that it will interact with, and represent the local community. The artists’ submissions had to respond, involve and connect with the residents. This is a poor borough, and the estate is being ripped down – the residents relocated. This project had to connect with this and respond to this situation. As a result, the curation process was very strict – with over three hundred people applying, a selection of 75 works were chosen to be developed.

A good example of how the artists have connected with the residents, is the Clarisse d’Arcimoles’ work, ‘The good old days’. D’Arcimoles works with reconstructing memories – she borrows photographs of people taken in their childhoods and then reconstructs them, by taking a current portrait of the person in similar clothes, with similar colours and time of day. For this project, d’Arcimoles has taken a portrait of Jimmy Watts, the first resident to have moved into the Market estate in 1967.

The response from the residents has progressed over the three months as TallTales have put in a lot of effort to win over the community. Initially, it was the older generation that approached the project, however after a successful launch party, younger generations began to take part. There are monthly meetings, and a hard core group has formed of residents who are particularly involved, having taken an important role in the curating and selection process. TallTales were given an office on the corner of the estate. This office has now become in effect, a community centre, with children coming through after school and Grans popping in for cups of tea – TallTales have really integrated in to the neighbourhood.

One of the most satisfying moments so far for the team, was settling the license for them to set up the Market Radio, from which they broadcast live from their office 24 hours a day. Having the radio station had enabled the project to reach a global community. It reflects the day-to-day happenings of the project, with residents often talking on air about their lives and experiences.

This five months of work will all come together on Saturday, when the Estate will be opened up to the public before it is demolished on Monday. The response to the project has been overwhelming. The day has been organised with two hour slots for visitors, allowing 500 in for each. Free tickets were available for reservation on the site – with the 1,300 going on the day of their release. They are hoping to have an extra 700 available at the door on the day.

It is not only these figures that seem extraordinary. The project currently has eighty volunteers making tea, helping with installing, stapling - and will have over 100 on Saturday. It seems that this project has really caught people’s imaginations and tapped in to an energy and passion that wasn’t being used before.

Saturday is set to be a fantastic showdown. The works exhibited will be highly playful – the artists have responded with big ideas. Hinchee Hung and Nigel Goldie have created the work, ‘Behind closed doors’ having gone round the estate with a team and dismantling around 100 doors and then nailing them back to back, to create one monumental dense mass; expressing the unfathomable closeness of a community living on a housing estate. Using found materials on site, Richard White’s work ‘Crowd Control’ is a response to the Market Estate's history of marches, protests and vandalism, an installation of boundaries that will take up half of the car park. Both these works demonstrate the possibilities The Market Estate has opened up to artists - in a conventional gallery environment, it is unlikely that it would have been possible for these works to have been made – space and budget would have been hugely limiting.
But it seems that this project has almost turned in to an artists’ playground – giving them the space and materials at hand, to let imagination and energy loose.

Perhaps some people might wonder, what on earth is the point of all this, that this project is futile as it will all be demolished. But TallTales hope that there will be two long-term outcomes. Firstly, they hope to work with other local areas, and hopefully Southern Housing again, continuing to use empty spaces to regenerate communities. And secondly, they want to start a movement. They hope to have inspired others globally – that with the right people and a bit of luck, you can get big projects like this off the ground and bring both art and community together in such a way.

This project is a fantastic example of what you can do with passion and enthusiasm. With a short life span from 2-10pm on Saturday after having taken five months to develop, this project is far from futile. Its five months will have undoubtedly inspired others to play with their ideas in other spaces, whilst having given an area that was destined for destruction, a creative energy and focus.

The Market Estate Project

Holly Willats

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