I recently came across a video of ‘A Fete Worse Than Death – 20th Anniversary’ which features the OG hipster – Joshua Compston and his project ‘A Fete Worse Than Death’. Although it was set up as a parody of village fetes, its realisation seemed to blur the boundaries between parody and imitation. It galvanised unknown artists of the time and the local community; stimulating them to engage and interact in a range of ways. In the film, Compston outlines the ideas he was having towards the future of art and its ability to affect the community outside of the galleries and the art establishment. It is a similar direction to where I see my own practice heading; however it has also brought up interesting questions about collaboration and sustainability.

Compston’s ‘A Fete Worse Than Death’, was staged in Hoxton in the summer of 93’, and brought 4000 visitors to an un-celebrated area. Several artists, including Gavin Turk, Gillian Wearing, Tracey Emin and Damian Hurst – who sold his first spin painting for a whopping one pound, manned stalls and engaged directly with the public.

In the film there is an old interview with Compston in which he spoke with studied pauses and a sense of righteousness that initially rubbed me up the wrong way. After he slowly draws out his grandiose ideas the interviewer remarks that it “sounds quite God like”, which he brushes off with a smug smirk and a casual “not really”. But eventually, breaking through his affectations, I began to hear and identity his ideas and with what he actually seemed to be aiming for. His ideas seem more humble, engaged and direct than his own personality.

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“I want to achieve a form of culture, (insert studied pause) that can be ready made, copied, understood and can become a part and process of life, within all communities.  As opposed to wanting to encourage or help dissemination of ‘art object’s’ or art as such within itself. I’m much more interested in the idealisation or the aestheticization of daily life, than I am in the guarding of so called critical high standards within the art establishment itself. My real test of strength and virtue, my reward, will be if I can lever the general population towards a better understanding of that which is art and that which is not, not the art within the galleries, the art that has become a part of their lives, better housing, better factories, a better landscape….a better Woolworths.”

At the 20th anniversary of ‘A Fete Worse Than Death’, friends and artists who knew Compston spoke about the area (Shoreditch & Hoxton) and its relation with the artists and the community.

Darren Coffield – “20 years ago there wasn’t even a residents committee, no one lived here. Now you’ve got to get permission to do anything.”

Sam Crabtree – “I mean this whole area then was quite rough, it was quite a waste land, I mean you couldn’t really walk around late at night or anything.”

Darren Coffield – “And now there are no artists left, and so this fete really is not just 20 years after Joshua’s fete but it’s also a farewell to Shoreditch because artists can’t afford to be here anymore, everyone’s going, the creative community is leaving. Now it’s time for the developers to move in and the bankers. This site next to me now is about to be redeveloped into a hotel so when these two buildings here are gone there won’t be any more artists run spaces left in Shoreditch the area and once these two last spaces have gone that’ll be the end, goodbye Shoreditch and goodbye Hoxton.”

The subsequent gentrification of Shoreditch and Hoxton is in the tradition of driving artistic communities out of established areas by the usual means. This process has been repeated over decades, across every major city, and has on occasion disturbed ground breaking movements, and yet, artists still haven’t found a solution to their cycle of eviction. In my opinion the culture Compston spoke about may yet have been realised within the architectural collective referred to as ‘Assemble’. Their approach may break with tradition and sustain both the arts community and the community as a whole.

Specifically, Assemble’s project ‘Granby Four Streets’.  Press release taken from Assembles website – http://assemblestudio.co.uk

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“Granby Street was once a lively high street at the centre of Liverpool’s most racially and ethnically diverse community. The demolition of all but four of Granby’s streets of Victorian terraces during decades of ‘regeneration’ initiatives saw a once thriving community scattered, and left the remaining “Granby Four Streets” sparsely populated and filled with tinned up houses.

The resourceful, creative actions of a group of residents were fundamental to finally bringing these streets out of dereliction and back into use. Over two decades they cleared, planted, painted, and campaigned in order to reclaim their streets.

In 2011 they entered into an innovative form of community land ownership, the Granby Four Streets Community Land Trust (CLT) with the intention of bringing empty homes back into use as affordable housing. Assemble worked with the Granby Four Streets CLT and Steinbeck Studios to present a sustainable and incremental vision for the area that builds on the hard work already done by local residents and translates it to the refurbishment of housing, public space and the provision of new work and enterprise opportunities.

The approach is characterised by celebrating the value of the area’s architectural and cultural heritage, supporting public involvement and partnership working, offering local training and employment opportunities and nurturing the resourcefulness and DIY spirit that defines the four streets.”

The question raised is whether Assemble’s model will have longer legs than Compston’s pop up exchanges. Duration seems to be a factor in the sustainability of the project. Compston’s engaging but fleeting interaction doesn’t allow for roots to be planted, whereas the Assemble project is able to function more sustainably by its attachment to the community’s roots. Is this a way in which artists’ communities and local communities can build a deeper and more sustainable sense of identity and interaction? If the community and the artists have directly benefitted from one another, would gentrification be necessary? I’m wary of lapsing into affectation and studied pauses, but these are some of the models I’m starting to look at for my CRP/practice and some of the questions I’m starting to have.

 

Matthew Weir