‘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.
The project was funded under the Insight Community Arts Programme and ran from January to June 2015.