Jessie Brennan

‘Regeneration!’, Jessie Brennan

HS Projects commissioned ‘Regeneration!’, a community outreach project by Jessie Brennan with people who lived, worked and played on the Robin Hood Gardens estate in Poplar, East London, before it was demolished. ‘Regeneration!’ included an exhibition of drawings, conversations and photographs and a limited edition artist publication.

Jessie Brennan worked with residents and caretakers to record their personal memories and feelings about Robin Hood Gardens, a ‘brutalist’ social housing estate designed by architects Alison and Peter Smithson in the late 1960s and due for demolition in 2016. Together they produced a body of drawings, conversations and photographs that explore the qualities of a lived-in brutalism, the impact of redevelopment and the politics of regeneration.

The conversations, inside homes and workspaces, illuminate the personal qualities of responses shared by individuals. They reveal private memories – the glowing light from windows across the face of the block, the flight of a red star returning to nest, the shape of a tree good for reading under – and intimate feelings towards the estate, gently animating the blocks, giving human presence to grey concrete.

The drawings entitled ‘Conversation Pieces’, were made on site by rubbing graphite across the surface of a sheet of paper, revealing the pattern and everyday wear and tear of a doormat beneath. They visualise a literal and metaphorical threshold between semi-public and private spaces; from the street deck to a home’s interior. The photographs, all made at dusk, during the fleeting interval between daylight and darkness, are a symbolic gesture towards the estate’s imminent demolition. They capture the human interactions with the blocks, presenting a kind of poetic drama of the estate through intensely coloured and thoughtfully framed compositions. The responses reflect on different experiences of the community, past and present, and the rapid demographic and social changes taking place across the East End, brought on by regeneration.

A special publication with texts by Owen Hatherley and Richard Martin, as well as drawings, conversations, archive material and photographs, continues the project’s discussion on lived-in brutalism, the impact of redevelopment and the politics of regeneration. ‘Regeneration!’ brings together plans and images from several archives, two essays, two series of drawings, personal experiences of long- and short-term tenants and a caretaker in the form of interviews, and a series of photographs by former tenant Abdul Kalam. The text by Owen Hatherley charts the political decisions that led to the rise and fall of Robin Hood Gardens and their wider implications for social democracy. Richard Martin’s essay contextualises the project through an analysis of Jessie’s artwork ‘A Fall of Ordinariness and Light’ and proposes a broader set of questions around the politics of regeneration.

‘Regeneration!’ was funded by the Insight Community Arts Programme (2002 – 2015).

The project ran from January to June 2015.

‘Interchange Junctions’

HS Projects curated its first major group exhibition, ‘Interchange Junctions’, at 5 Howick Place. The exhibition examines contested cultural and political histories, which carry special resonance at Howick Place, named after Viscount Howick (later 2nd Earl Grey) one of the main architects of the Reform Act 1832, Catholic emancipation and the abolition of slavery in the British Empire.

‘Interchange Junctions’ follows on from Yinka Shonibare’s permanent commission ‘Wind Sculpture’, a site specific response to the history of the area and continues Shonibare’s focus on themes of colonialism, trade, and race, employing the artist’s signature use of batik Dutch wax fabric designs which have become synonymous with African identity.

The artists in the exhibition have been invited to create a dialogue with Yinka Shonibare’s ‘Wind Sculpture’, with the multi-cultural aspect of the exhibition paying homage to the enlightened actions carried out in the name of Howick. Through a range of media from film, animation, sculpture, collage, photography, drawing, painting and performance, the artists seek to explore cultural frameworks and issues of identity and how we negotiate these through the historical legacy of our collective past and our ever evolving multi-cultural global world.

‘Interchange Junctions’ offers the opportunity to experience a number of new works and site specific commissions as well as works that have not been shown in London before. Ideas of mobility, memory and transmission, migration, trade and colonial struggle are explored along with notions of social awareness and engagement. Misinterpretation and misplacement of accepted norms from one culture to another are part of a discourse on friction between cultures, identity and cultural belonging. Notions of power, success and failure run through the exhibition challenging long held assumptions.

Participating artists: Faisal Abdu’Allah, Larry Achiampong, Faig Ahmed, Alice Anderson, Shiraz Bayjoo, David Blandy, Phoebe Boswell, Jessie Brennan, Fiona Curran, Corinne Felgate, Rose Finn-Kelcey, Romuald Hazoumè, Rob Kesseler, Alex Lawler, Alan Magee, Jade Montserrat, Alida Rodrigues, Zineb Sedira, Shahzia Sikander, Yinka Shonibare MBE, Michelle Ussher, Andy Wicks and BA(Hons) Ceramic Design Central Saint Martins students (Lucy Anderson, Sarah Christie, Yung Cheuk Chung, Srabani Ghosh, Ziynet Hidiroglu, Ellis Hooson, Sun-a Kim, Friedrich Ly Thien Co, Jessica Martin, David McQuire, Megan Niell, Niamh Philips, Jose Salgrado De Lacerda, Harriet Sennett, Sandra Stallard, Akville Zukauskaite).

During the closing event of 19th June, there was a rap performance by David Blandy and Larry Achiampong who under the alias ‘Biters’, examined the possibility for truthful, authentic experience via the popular cultures that have influenced them. They investigated what identity might mean in the post-colonial and post-mass media age by crate-digging through history, recycling already-sampled beats and reciting stolen rhymes.

‘Interchange Junctions’ was funded by Invesco Real Estate (IRE) and Urban & Civic, the joint developer behind 5 Howick Place with Doughty Hanson & Co Real Estate.

‘Interchange Junctions’ was at 5 Howick Place, Victoria London, from 10 May – 21 June 2014.