House Watched

PWD_1453062771_crop_550x844I recently interviewed the poet Paul Hawkins for The Quietus about Place Waste Dissent, his new book for Influx Press. Place Waste Dissent is a fascinating and visually striking new book of poetry collage documenting the squat culture and M11 protests of the early 1990s that centred on Claremont Road in Leytonstone, East London. I knew several people who lived on Claremont Road. One such resident was the pioneering UK video artist and filmmaker Ian Bourn, who I knew through his friend and one-time collaborator the late Helen Chadwick who was a friend and neighbour of mine in Beck Road—another community of artists living in ‘Acme houses’, as they were known—where I lived at the time.

I loved Hawkins’ book. The lo-fi, analogue, cut and paste of word and image is richly redolent of that early ’90s squat and crusty culture. As I mention in the article, this was a scene that I also quickly turned around in my own fiction, writing a deliberately loose and libidinised version of the M11 protests in what became my debut novel, the ‘avant-pulp’ Road Rage! which was published in 1997. Paul Hawkins has taken rather longer in reporting from Claremont Road, but in doing so he has perhaps been truer to the troubled textures of the time, and both more generous and more critical than I had cared to be with my own more immediate fictional responses.

RoadRage_highresThe interview is now up. Here’s a taster:

TW: Among the extensive and very evocative contemporary documents and ephemera that you’ve used in PLACE WASTE DISSENT … is a very interesting photocopied who’s who, an updated list of occupants and state of repair of all the Claremont Road houses: ‘15: Mick, squatted … 32: Dolly’, etc. Some of the houses had evidently gone through this cycle of destruction several times. Number 16, for example, reads: ‘TRASHED SQUATTED TRASHED SQUATTED’. It’s only a matter of time, you get the feeling, before that would have been crossed out again. A lot of these papers are from your own collection. How on earth did you keep hold of all this stuff?

HW Wounded nat 4wPH: Whenever anybody got served legal papers, eviction papers, they would be photocopied and circulated. There was a solicitor involved who had people looking at these materials, and everyone passed the papers around. I started keeping a folder, a big ring-binder with all these plastic sleeves full of magazine articles, notes, posters from benefit gigs, letters, everything. It seems bizarre because at that time in my life things were getting a bit messy around the edges, but somehow whatever else happened I managed to keep it all safe.

Years later, when I was putting the book together, I was also able to refer to a huge archive of No M11 Campaign materials held at the Museum of London which included local, national and international newspaper coverage. A curator there called Beverley Cook was very helpful. I made an appointment to view this, taking copious notes. There were all these ’zines and magazines, a local broadsheet called The East Ender. Around the late ’80s and early ’90s there were a lot of crusty, traveller, eco-campaigners. There were squat bands, anarchist bands. This was the tail-end of the rave scene and the beginning of things like Reclaim the Streets.

Hw CinePed 85poster NB 4wTW: This really was a kind of front line at the time.

PH: Yes, and with other protest groups, other proposed motorways, at Newbury, the Dongas at Twyford Down, the M77 and Pollok Free State and the Anti-Criminal Justice Bill protests.These and other groups were not cohesive but there were means of contact, which grew in strength. The increasing media awareness both helped and hindered. [READ MORE …]

I was pleased to see my old friend the artist Ian Bourn making an appearance in Place Waste Dissent, too. At one point, Hawkins reports standing out in the cold one night to see HOUSEWATCH, a cinematic public art spectacular projected onto the windows of number 8 Claremont Road, from the inside:

‘we blink / stars around the sky / as window cine-film / loops the world … breath steaming to frost.’

This idea of projecting onto windows from the inside, for the benefit of passing pedestrians, has been taken up by new generations of artists and curators. A couple of years ago, for example, Peer and Animate Projects commissioned four animators to make works for Peer’s windows on Hoxton Street for the Out of Site project. (You can download a PDF pamphlet edition of my short story ‘Animate Me’—which was commissioned as part of Out of Site—here.) And I recently bumped into Ian Bourn and others on Essex Road in Islington, North London, where a crowd had gathered for a programme of film screenings called Essex Road II that also perhaps owed much to Housewatch. These screenings had been put on by the gallery Tintype, who had commissioned eight artists—Jordan Baseman, Helen Benigson, Sebastian Buerkner, Jem Cohen, Ruth Maclennan, Melanie Manchot, Uriel Orlow, John Smith—to make ‘short films in response to the mile-long road. The gallery’s large window becomes a public screen for six weeks over Christmas and New Year.’

Essex Road II - opening event 1, 2015. Photo: Tintype

Essex Road II – opening event 1, 2015. Photo: Tintype

Among the artists projecting new film works onto Tintype’s windows in December 2015 was John Smith, another Claremont Road veteran. On the Place Waste Dissent website, Paul Hawkins links to Smith’s film Blight, which was made in collaboration with composer Jocelyn Pook for a short-lived BBC2 commissioning strand called Sound on Film in 1997. Blight is an apt title, and like Hawkins’ book, Smith and Pook’s collaboration is another evocative document of the Claremont Road demolitions.

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‘Pretty Messy, Fairly Trashed’, Paul Hawkins interviewed, The Quietus, 17 January 2016.

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