Meet the Mayfair squatters

'Some kind of artistic, bohemian microcosm'. Time Out takes a look inside the coolest £6 million mansion in Mayfair

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    The DA! Collective's studio home

    Welcome to MADA!, a previously deserted, six-storey mansion in Mayfair which is currently being squatted by a group of young artists. Nineteen-year-old Jack Case points toward the French windows he found unlocked on October 10. Peering over the balcony of his new home, he recalls: ‘We were really scared during the first few days because there were always people sitting in their cars just looking at us… it took us a while to realise they were the local chauffeurs.’

    Once the locks were changed and the sleeping bags rolled out, 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, which had been quietly deteriorating for over 17 months, was overhauled by the DA! Collective and transformed into an art squat. Simon McAndrew, who had previously initiated occupations in abandoned sites on Kensington High Street and Tottenham Court Road, sought to fashion a creative meeting point for artists and visitors alike. ‘Some kind of artistic, bohemian microcosm’ was the specific mood he was aiming for.

    Unlike studio-modelled squats, the space is free of individually allocated corners. Stephanie Smith, 21, explains the team ‘had more of a collective idea in mind, where we’d all build things together’. Two weeks later, the squatters, who range in number from eight to a dozen, had begun building a yellow photo booth made of cardboard, a labyrinth compiled from dislocated doors and an imposing Trojan horse, symbolic of their coup.

    The group doesn’t just huddle in its ill-gotten premises, though. On one occasion, a film projection accompanied by live music attracted an onlooker called Stefan, nicknamed ‘The Businessman’, due to his fancy attire. Stefan praised the event as his best experience since a recent move from Paris. ‘It is surprising and art should always surprise,’ he said.

    Even some of the neighbours are enjoying the show and later offered the group complimentary wi-fi access. Builders from across the road have popped in for a cup of tea.

    The team of squatters collects its groceries after hours at New Covent Garden Market, while high street chains hand out surplus snacks.

    As for art material, the artists scour local skips, piling everything from rusty typewriters to pieces of timber into their homespun bicycle trailer.

    ‘We were walking around London today,’ 20-year-old Tom Crouser-Smith says of his latest skipping round. ‘I wasn’t looking at shop windows thinking: I really want that; I was looking in bins thinking: I really want that. There’s this real thrill in living for free, firstly because you’re getting away with it, and secondly because it just shows you how much waste a big city produces.’

    Despite childlike tendencies, the current inhabitants of No 18 are responsibly tending to wear and tear within the building and are repairing a major pipe leakage. While the DA! Collective has prepared a letter for the owner, outlining the purpose of its creative intervention, it has yet to hear from the deed holder, who bought the mansion for £6,250,000 in 2006.

    Pianos are being installed and poetry readings, philosophy lectures and jam sessions will continue to enliven the space until the artists are evicted. For as long as that doesn’t happen, the local chauffeurs will have a great deal to gape at.
    MADA!, 18 Upper Grosvenor St, W1, is open from 10am-10pm and would like to invite readers to take part in current and as future projects. Call 075 3207 2087 or visit www.dagallery.co.uk for more info.

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