‘Box Clever USA’, Faisal Abdu’Allah

HS Projects commissioned ‘Box Clever USA’, a collaborative project between Faisal Abdu’Allah and Fords Gym, Madison Wisconsin that looks at the more philosophical side of pugilism. It separates the aggression, money and bravado that is commonly associated with the industry while capturing the solitude and serenity experienced by boxers. It offers an alternative mode of thinking and encourages young people to be an inspiration to their community; while also documenting the personal experiences of young people who are following the well trodden path of sport as a route to a better life.

During the course of the workshops, Faisal worked with young people who told very different stories about their approach to boxing through the camera lens in the confines of a corner of Fords Gym and in the middle of their workouts. At the heart of the project is Andrea Nelson, an ex-professional female fighter and Bob Lynch who coached two Olympic teams and managed the flyweight WBO Champion Eric Morrel, who have acted as mentors for the young people.

Dimarco, a Golden Glove winner from California who has a slim, wiry and lean figure and comes with incredible hand speed and precision, models his persona on Floyd Mayweather, but without the bravado. He is a man of few words and was intrigued by ‘Box Clever USA’, because he was able to see how human hands could be used in a different way, to create art.

Chris Ousley, ‘Golden Gloves’ AKA ‘Best in the Midwest’ is the prized asset of Fords Gym. Ousley exemplifies the essence of Box Clever USA, he demonstrates the difference between fighters and boxers. Ousley being the latter, quick, witty, stylish and technically flawless, he is full of creativity and beguilement. Ousley’s mind is always calculating the next move. Working to the concept of inside out, Ousley wanted the viewer to walk in his shoes and sense the decision making in those critical moments. He also took the photographs of participant Marcus Chancel, capturing the solitude and serenity experienced by boxers.

Marcus Chancel at the time was preparing to participate in the first round of the Golden Gloves 2015. In between the warm ups and bag work, he grabs the camera and emphasises key objects and symbols for him at Fords. The Ringside buzzer he photographs is the electronic time keeper and peace keeper, a small black box that beeps at three minute intervals.

‘Box Clever USA’ is a discourse in the arts of pugilism where the understanding of physics is paramount to have for balance and movement; a comprehension of music, for the rhythm and repetition of movements; an in-depth understanding of human biology to target human pressure points to beat your ‘live opponent’; and most importantly an awareness of space, to operate and make things happen.

‘Box Clever USA’ was partnered through the University of Wisconsin’s community outreach and engagement programme and funded by the Insight Community Arts Programme (2002 – 2015).

The project ran from June to December 2015.

‘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.

‘Legacy’, Harold Offeh

Working with HS Projects, Harold Offeh developed a project with ETAT (Encouragement Through the Arts and Talking for the over 50s) and the residents from Peabody’s Pimlico Estate in response to the Post-Olympic legacy. The focus of the project was to develop a series of posters looking at some of the key themes that drove the 2012 Olympics. Posters are firmly embedded within the visual culture and history of the Olympics, capturing the spirit of the host cities’ games.

The starting point for the project was to look back, after the games had finished, and capture responses to London’s 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. The members of the group assessed the impact of the games on themselves, their communities, London and the nation as a whole.

Harold Offeh’s conversation with the group started by looking at some of the key themes that drove the Olympic project. London’s 2012 motto was to inspire a generation. He asked members of the group what they had found inspirational about London 2012. Many of the initial conversations focused on identifying interests, likes and dislikes about the games and their overall impact.

The group developed a series of posters from their initial ideas. The posters celebrated the group’s enthusiasm for the sporting and cultural success of the games, but also reflected more personal associations. Many members of the group took great inspiration from the Paralympics and the inspiring achievements of athletes and the positive shift in attitude to disability it brought with it. The exhibition featured a lively and eclectic mix of approaches from an embroidered felt celebration of British cycling success, to photographs taken during the Paralympic games accompanied by poetic text.

‘Legacy’ was commissioned by HS Projects and funded by the Insight Community Arts Programme (2002 – 2015).

The project ran from October 2012 to March 2013.