Hopewell’s multi-disciplinary practice, outside of his gallery work, predominantly focusses on the utilisation of public space. He demonstrates an explicit understanding of how work functions in the environment we exist in, exploring the most readily available surfaces. The adoption of found objects, is echoed in Hopewell’s re-appropriation of found spaces, acting as a conduit between the self, the object, and the context of situation and space. His idea is to make art that is continuously shifting & in harmony with our surrounding landscape, which is always in a state of flux. These landscapes range from typical urban locations in the city, to rural habitats such as ‘High House’ in Norfolk. Here, Hopewell utilised surrounding trees as supports to paint canvases outdoors, eliminating the need for a studio space.
Perhaps his most recognised work in the public sphere includes his stripped-down critique of the vast amounts of aerosol-illustrated real estate colonized by multinational corporations and advertising agencies in East London. Walls saturated with years of spray paint, were emulsioned & primed back to a blank ‘tabula rasa’. This new surface became a canvas for ‘stripped down’ html & printer test codes. This work presents further non-representational explorations into the attainment of reaching a point of purity & essence in art.
To Read Hopewell’s Essay: ‘The Dilapidation of the modernist Landscape’, please scroll past the gallery.
The Dilapidation of the Modernist Landscape. Keith Hopewell, March 2015
Walking around the city of London, it is clear the desire to transform the urban landscape is rapidly accelerating. The past fantasies of the wandering Flaneur as exemplified by Baudelaire, seem to be present everywhere in the high street, with international brands such as Costa or Starbucks, and others forming today’s contemporary café culture. In fact, global brands have hijacked the majority of the British high street. In cities and towns across the UK, you are sure to find yourself transported into a cloned variation of the exact same high street, surrounded by similar architecture, mostly constructed in identical fabric.
In a recent visit to the White Cube in Bermondsey, I found myself walking along St. Thomas Street, stretching the muscles in my neck to view the tip of ‘The Shard’. That colossal empty erection, pricking grey London skies, which inevitably overwhelms every piece of residential space surrounding it. It is unmissable from any point in South London. Running the full length of the same street is an elevated concrete train tunnel, under construction, leaving the left-hand side of the street in the shadow of blue hoardings.
As I am left pondering the long grey runway, which appears to enter the Shard, I’m suddenly struck by the faces of people queuing around the entire perimeter of the Home Office building on the corner of Weston Street. Nobody is smiling, and every face seems oblivious to such a blatant piece of smart skyline marketing, dominating their environment. So near to them, yet, so far away from their gaze.
Echoes of William Gibson’s luxurious future London in his new novel ‘Peripheral’ springs to mind, where remote-controlled drone bodies and an alcoholic PR man named Netherton inhabit a landscape of glass ‘shard’ skyscrapers following environmental and economic collapse. However, we get the impression that we are actually much closer to the set of Gibson’s tomorrow, than his theatre of 3D printing and android tourists he suggests are 70 years from now. Not including the unknown effects of virtual space, the transformation of older community space is growing with alarming acceleration. However, London has always been built on such polemics. A juxtaposition of old space and new space has always defined the capital and much of the UK’s major cities.
Most old space is residential, but also includes schools, small shops and public houses whereas, new space according to Patrick Keiller, is occupied by large corporations and usually international in scope. In a conventional sense none of these new space buildings are urban, and new space is mostly corporate with large car parks and security cameras. These buildings are constructed at speed and don’t necessarily have to last very long, and more of these buildings are usually proposed in the future. In Shoreditch I remember a series of 2007 propaganda posters, fly posted everywhere emblazoned with the words, “The Towers are coming”, and walking around that area today, I can visually measure the difference in the shape of the landscape like a graph. East London is a good example of how old space attracts refurbishment and alteration, and it seems that new ideas seem to utilise old buildings. Old space can look poor, when it clearly isn’t, and nowhere is this greater exemplified than by the actions of artists and other creative types, discovering cheap run down buildings for studio space and exhibitions. Inevitably values tend to rise subsequently, ultimately attracting more profitable uses. According to Patrick Keiller, old buildings are cheaper to occupy than new buildings, and this insight is demonstrated in London by Tate Modern:
“The former power station exemplifies the widely held preference of artist’s for working and exhibiting in spaces with a previous, often industrial use, which was explicitly referred to in the brief for the architectural competition for the design of its conversion. Inside Tate Modern, one finds aspects of this sensibility in works of art, which perhaps also helped legitimize the idea that it would be possible to re-use the building successfully.” Keiller p.133
Re-appropriation is a recurring pattern in contemporary society, and the urban landscape has always been a subjective universe, but it seems to be happening more frequently, and usually against the will of the area’s residents. “The true Identity of London is in its absence” is a phrase Keiller uses to define the absence of the capital’s original status as a port city, but we can think of this phrase to describe London’s lack of any real contemporary identity. The multi-cultural dwellers that make up the capitals true urban fabric are what truly constitutes what we define as ‘culture’ in London, which in many ways is what makes London unique, due the opportunities available for international migrants to create their own communities and integrate their culture into the DNA of the city.
A good example is Notting Hill, an area that used to be rich with culture created by the afro Caribbean communities, who were housed there in the 50’s and 60’s, leading to Europe’s largest carnival. With the exception of carnival weekend, the vibrant reggae sound systems of this area have long disappeared, along with the residents of these neighborhoods. An early curfew has dominated the area, and only a small disco is open above the Tesco’s on Portobello Road. The derelict land that laid underneath the Westway flyover built at the end of the 60’s, was first appropriated by the 1980’s generation of New York inspired graffiti writers utilizing the smooth concrete plinths that support the flyover. Today, that vacant space is occupied by the Westbourne studios building and other offices slotted into the Westway’s concrete supports, after been left undeveloped for several decades. The ‘lay-low Ladbroke Grove’ was the local nickname of part of this area, which was originally characterised for its cheap housing and squatting scene. The estimated value of the properties in this area now run into the millions, leaving the many of the diverse residents who built the identity of this area abandoned to vast terrain of Southall. The once ghettoized block of Trellick Tower, a unique social housing project designed by Erno Goldfinger, is now a Notting Hill landmark, an emblem for Portobello tourists, and a desired living space for the hip.
“The 1950s-70s’ ‘cities in the sky’ are in the first decade of the 21st century, along with the NHS, the most persistent remnant of British Socialism. A constant danger is that the aesthetic argument can be used as a smokescreen for the political. Park Hill, once regarded as one of the few examples of hardline municipal socialist modernism to have ‘worked’, has recently been subject to a regeneration programme. As so often with such schemes, the beautification of an inner-city working-class area is achieved by removing its inhabitants. The privatization of one of the century’s greatest public projects is covered by a fevered argument – is it eyesore? Is it a masterpiece? The question so seldom asked is what the residents think. Regardless of their aesthetic opinions, tenants frequently want to stay in their council flats, and this is precisely the option that isn’t on the table.” (Hatherley p.40 – 41)
The Park Hill flats in the industrious city of Sheffield are certainly well documented in any material regarding British modernism and Brutalist architecture, but back when these estates were built, their reputation wasn’t very glamorous. In 1987, I used to visit a friend in Sheffield who lived in the fairly undocumented ‘Kelvin Flats’, which were later demolished in the early 90s. He lived on one of the higher floors, so you had to take a lift. Once out of the lift, you were walking along the famous ‘streets in the sky’, which felt pretty scary to be honest, since I was only 15 years of age, and from out of town. I remember looking down into the concrete play area below, and seeing the shines gleaming off an ocean of broken glass. The first thing you noticed was how easy it would be to jump, or be possibly pushed off, since you had no idea who lived behind some of the doors. Inside his flat, and many of the other flats, the interiors were furnished to a pretty high standard and were by all means comfortable. I can recall him saying, “These flats are all coming down soon”. The problem wasn’t the flats apparently, but more to do with the demonisation of the place, and the estate being a known refuge for people with problems and criminal histories (or so they say). In a Freewebs journal I found online, a Sheffield-born photographer and musician named Peter Jones, tells his story of ‘Life in Sheffield’s High Rise,’ after 10 years living on three of Sheffield’s infamous estates: Kelvin, Hyde Park and Park Hill. In his delightful journal, he explains how friendly and trustworthy the residents of Kelvin were, and talks about how he enjoyed the amenities, which included: a photographic darkroom, a recording studio, café, local library, trips to the seaside, and trips abroad. However, the trips abroad were halted due to bad publicity from the national press regarding wasting taxpayers money. Since leaving, he claims he has never found a stronger sense of community and belonging, than the down to earth networks at Kelvin flats. He goes on to describe the demolition of Kelvin flats as like “some kind of sick, bizarre celebration, akin to a public hanging.” His feeling of loss and the erasure of his homes existence, is summed up like this:
“Ann Widdecombe, then minister for Sheffield, operated the machine which smashed through the bridge connecting the two blocks. Balloons were released into the air to ‘celebrate,’ and some people started crying. My only thought was “How the F*** are people gonna get across that now?
It hadn’t really dawned on me that this was really it: Kelvin was a goner. No more streets in the sky. No more cosy flat on Edith Walk. No more chatting to neighbours on the landings. No more local pubs or community rooms as they were going too. You couldn’t even revisit your old street. They were just a piece of sky.” Peter Jones
“Modernity, is the transient, the fleeting, the contingent,” are the words that ring out on the cover of Baudelaire’s ‘The Painter of Modern Life’. London is always in a constant state of flux, with many of it refugees being local, scattered around and disappeared into the wilderness, from being born and bred in hackney, later to be exiled south to Forest Hill. Its boroughs shed their skin and re-generate, as people of all ages and nationalities pass through it’s streets day in, day out. Our pre-conditioning might even tell us that the identity of a real Londoner is a character like ‘Oliver Twist’, a poor young traveller from another town with aspirations, in search of a holy grail. The capital is nothing more than a universe of diverse networks and colonies made up of diverse cultures, migrants, and transients who dwell in the modern ruins of an expanding financial institute. It is these communities, who offer the solutions to London’s age-old problem of visibility and isolation. Noticeably, the silence between strangers on the London Underground, or the lonely man we gaze at through the large glass fronts of lobbies, sitting reading stocks and shares reports in exclusivity.
The continual patterns of the changing city are a familiar story. Housing falls into disrepair, communities are displaced, and areas are regenerated. However, the renewal of the landscape doesn’t always necessarily destroy communities. For instance, following the Toxteth riots of Liverpool in 1981, the council acquired many of the terraced houses in the Granby Four Streets. Due to successive government ‘renewal’ programmes, many residents were moved out of the area, leaving the houses to subsequently fall into disrepair. After a long battle against plans for demolition, and houses were eventually rescued. Since then, residents have founded a Community Land Trust and re-painted the empty houses. ‘Assemble’, a group recently shortlisted for the 2015 Turner prize have been working with the Granby four Streets CLT and building on the hard work done by residents, to present a sustainable and incremental vision for the area. In a recent article in the Guardian about Assembles Turner Prize nomination, the director of the ‘Middlesborough Institute of Modern Art’ said that the judges were reflecting the practices and preoccupations of artists working in Britain today.
“This is what’s happening,” he said. “It is working away from art as entertainment. These are artists working in very specific circumstances to make something happen, to make something change. It’s very positive for the future of art – they are trying to do something rather than just represent something.”
It is extremely refreshing to see artists in the spotlight today, whose practice involves working in the broader community, and tackling important social concerns. It echoes the old ideas such as ‘found architecture,’ and the Surrealist encounters with everyday experience, or even the psycho-geographic notions of the situationists. It’s the subjectivity, and the poeticisation of our experience of the landscape that gives people something to work with. To echo the words of Raoul Vaneigem, who believes that to change life, we must first change space, he stated that; “A bridge between imagination and reality must be built.” In Assembles ‘Folly For A Flyover’, found material meets found space, to provide a temporal set for talks, films and children’s play sessions. Ironically, all this activity happens in a little house trapped beneath and an East London flyover. It is a literal mise en scene, a fantasia below the bridge beneath busy London commuters, as the houses pitched roof protrudes between two roaring lanes of traffic. The construction of this house is made from sawn up railway sleepers that resemble bricks, all supported by a scaffolding frame. Keeping with the temporal nature of this projects design, all the bricks were later recycled after the removal of this work to be re-used as planters at a local primary school.
Unfortunately, not everything happening today in the city of London, meets the aspirations of local residents. In recent months campaigners have been hard at battle in the Brixton borough, and the community has been fighting against current plans for further gentrification. The situation in Brixton, now acts as a yardstick to measure London’s fights in the future against gentrification, especially with the scrapping of the human rights act by the new Tory government now causing concern. The most controversial issue right now are plans proposed by Network Rail to reclaim the Arches, which incidentally made Brixton famous for its authentic local businesses. Surely sooner or later we’ll witness the outcome, but the voices of displaced communities are rarely even noticed by the nihilistic drivers of the capitalist machine. As more and more uprisings are beginning to manifest in the public sphere, and even across the social networks of virtual space, news representation on any activism is either bias or increasingly obsolete in the mainstream media. It is perhaps of little or no surprise, that in the recent election, the dominant areas of ‘Labour red’ on the published map of the poll results are heavily concentrated in the dense urban areas of London and other major UK cities. Does this reveal the true agenda of these media blackouts? It appears that the blue conservative seats are most dominant in the more sub-urban or rural areas of the country, and in smaller communities where many people don’t necessarily experience austerity on the same scale as those living in the city. One point is clear, that there are people willing to stand up and fight to remain where they live, and those who are so depressed by the current situation in London, that they are be willing to leave. In today’s climate, the compass seems to be missing in orbit, and any answers regarding future outcomes are in short supply. Authenticity is rarely even questioned, and the much of the populace are in danger of disappearing into the virtual landscapes of television, mobile phones and i-pads. A world of William Gibson’s ‘shard people’, holograms and 3D printed accessories doesn’t seem so ridiculous and unimaginable after all. However, with digital communication on the other hand, virtual space creates a network, where any events not reported in the mainstream news, becomes accessible and shared instantaneously across any time zone.
“That’s where money don’t matter
In the future
Material things, they don’t matter
In the future
I travel in a time machine, I’m in the future”
Wiley, Ice Rink – Wiley Kat Records 2003 (Hatherley p.119)
In ‘The View from The Train’ Patrick Keiller states that:
“new technology has radically altered the way we communicate, but the built environment has not changed anything like as much as people used to predict it would. The way we experience space now changes much faster than the fabric of the spaces we occupy.” (Keiller p.129)
In many ways this quote is correct, but maybe the speed of change in the physical environment will happen at a far slower pace that we anticipate. On one hand it appears that new media has only transformed social communication, but on the other hand does new media render the physical landscape less sociable? Visibility and isolation in the public sphere has never been so widespread, when public transport, pavements, cafes, and amenities are littered with persons completely hypnotised by their portable screens. Young couples in restaurants and bars, seem only capable of making dialogue in shifts, before an involuntary nervous twitch occurs, and they pick the phone up off the table to check on their text messages and Facebook notifications. Its like we are suddenly yearning to escape the landscape of reality, constantly distracted by the numerous simulated realities where life becomes ‘other.’ Alienated from our bodies, we are fast disappearing into our portable screens, and become pixels in a ‘live’ reality TV show, broadcasted over the entire planet.
Keiller also states that, the physical landscape has somewhat become marginalized by the inter-net, and what he refers to as local spaces in the UK appear to be suffering a general decline:
“As it has become easier to move around in and communicate across space, have we, perhaps, become more sensitive to the fact that we are inescapably stranded, shipwrecked almost, in our own present, and are we therefore increasingly attracted to the idea of time travel?” (Keiller p.117)
“Waste like dinosaurs must return to dust or rust.” – Robert Smithson (Parikka p.109)
In the whirlwind of online omnipresent speed, ecstasy, and what with the acceleration of the products manufactured, what do we actually really know about the effects of so much discarded new media? Even though changes in the physical fabric of the urban landscape may not seem visible to us in the city, the remnants of all these technological devices used in our networked lives, are affecting the landscape somewhere. In environments that are maybe invisible where we dwell, the places that make up the larger terrain of the earth itself. In ‘A geology of Media’, Jussi Parikka investigates the future fossils of media waste, and the effect of the layers of dead matter residue on earth. Parikka explains:
“The silicon of the contemporary computer world is one minor indicator of the other geophysical memories we will leave behind for the future archaeologists of media and environmental catastrophe”.
Beyond the cognitive capacities of new media, and its virtual capitalism, we are still left with the residue of toxins, chemicals, and the materiality of all this electronic culture. As we casually move around our urban environments, in communication 24/7, working, socializing, and buying into frequently changing product upgrades, we are effectively altering the earths environment, with little or no understanding regarding the depletion of what Garnet hertz and Jussi Parikka like to call, zombie media. The cheap hardware of tablets, and iPhones, for instance, that you see absorbing the eyes of commuters, who fill every available space across the networks of London’s transport, simply does not die.
Technology has invaded our cities, almost like an alien invasion. Cell phones, tablets and other gadgets, become the sonic screwdrivers of the poor, the rich, and the shard people. Films like ‘Attack The Block’ where green aliens attack a council estate, read like a metaphor, for the on-going invasions of communities and council tenants by outsiders with an agenda to replace them and erase them. The landscape around us will always change, much like its inhabitants, but one thing is for certain, and that is we will always write about the ruins.
Keiller, Patrick (2014) The View from the Train. Verso Books, London. P. 54/117/129/133
Hatherly, Owen (2008) Militant Modernism. Zero Books, Winchester UK. P. 40/41/45/109
Parikka, Jussi (2015) A Geology of Media. University of Minnesota press. USA. P. 109/111
Gibson, William (2014) The Peripheral. G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
Vaneigem, Raoul (2006) The Revolution of Everyday Life. Rebel Press, London, UK
Kynaston, David (2014) Modernity Britain. Bloomsbury Publishing, London, UK.
Ackroyd, Peter (2000) LONDON – The Biography. Chatto & Windus. London, UK.
Nairn, Ian (2014) Nairn’s London. Penguin Group – London, UK
Online Internet Sources