East End art: Hackney Wick galleries
Priced out of Shoreditch, London's art innovators packed up their paints and formed a new creative colony. Time Out finds a cultural explosion in E9
Art catch-22 goes something like this: artists need cheap space in which to live and work, so seek out run-down areas of the city where bargains can still be found, the only problem being that where they go, developers follow – cashing in on the ability of artists to create a vibrant community. Which then prices out those very artists who made the area desirable in the first place. Shoreditch may still be London’s East End art central but with all the industrial spaces now converted into chi-chi flats, studios and bars, the pioneers have headed off elsewhere – to Hackney Wick.
‘The Wick’ may be only a bus ride from Bethnal Green, but it is isolated by the A102 on one side and the giant 24-hour Olympic building site on the other. Until recently it has not only felt cut off but has been largely written off – as an unappealing no-man’s-land of shabby industrial spaces with no social amenities and an uncertain future. The ideal place, in other words, for artists to work and play. Last October Cherie-Marie Veiderveld and Simon Reuben White opened Elevator Gallery in a former chocolate factory; the gallery shows emerging and more established artists and attracts large crowds to their openings. ‘We used to squat in the area as students more than ten years ago,’ Veiderveld explains.
‘It was so grim we vowed we’d never come back, but when we were looking for a studio space in 2005 we realised that this was where the art parties, experimental bands and performances were. With the Olympics site so close, the whole area is in transition and so it has a real buzz about it, and because there are no pubs and clubs, people create their own enterntainment.’ One regular event is the Wag’s (Wick Art Galleries) dinners, hosted and attended by galleries including Elevator, the event-based Decima – run by David C West and Alex Chappel, and The Residence, run by Toronto-born artist Ingrid-Z. The Residence’s next project, ‘Hackney Wicked,’ will be a celebration of the area’s history. In August, as part of ‘Hackney Wicked’, the Wags and local artists will also be staging an art fair, open studios and an art Olympics – planned events include artists vs estate agents table football.
Unseen Space Studio (courtesy of Max Wigram Gallery)
The area’s current energy also comes from the knowledge that no property is secure. Elevator has the longest lease (until 2018) but Decima has only signed for two years. The Residence will have to move in 2010 when the building is pulled down: it’s too dilapidated to repair. Less lucky is Wallis, a factory turned live/work/gallery space set up by sculptor and performance artist Ed Fornieles and others in 2005. While the buildings on either side will remain, Wallis will be knocked down next year to build a bridge from the Olympics site over the adjacent Lee Navigation Canal. ‘I took a risk and moved in on a ten-month lease,’ Fornieles explains, ‘but I’ll have been here for two years so it’s been worth it.’
Another important contributor to the Hackney Wick art scene is Space Studios. Set up 40 years ago by artist Bridget Riley and others to provide artists with affordable studio space, they now lease 15 buildings, three in Hackney Wick. The Olympics hasn’t directly impacted on them, but the ongoing redevelopment of the areas in which they’re based has They lost one studio block in central Hackney last year when it was sold to become luxury flats. ‘We’re keen to improve these areas for the people who live there,’ explains Space chief executive, Anna Harding, ‘but it’s always going to be a difficult balance between artists’ needs and local housing and employment issues. But artists also improve areas because they create a need for shops and cafés and a social infrastructure.’
With Hackney Wick already in developers’ sights, where might the East End art scene go next? Space’s newest studios are further east in
Barking, but these are part of a larger development that also includes flats and creative business premises. Space is also looking south to Woolwich and north-west to Wembley, but when the Wags were asked where they might go next, many cited not further east in London but the former east of Berlin.
For more info visit www.hackneywicked.com. Space Studio’s fortieth anniversary exhibition, ‘Space Now’, is showing until July 24 at Space Gallery (www.spacestudios.org.uk).
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