with Philippa Hogg in collaboration with The Koppel Project
An installation, socially distant pop up performance and film project.
The arts in the UK hasn't necessarily ever been, but definitely wasn't (and still isn't) in the best of positions right in Summer 2020. Particularly live theatre, and the creation of new theatre.
In June 2020, The Koppel Project had to move 70+ artists out of their Soho Studios building in order for it to be torn down to make space for yet another luxury hotel.
We thought it was the perfect symbol for CAPITALISM.
Driven by the need to reignite the importance of human connection, togetherness and community following the time of isolation covid-19 brought with it, we put together an installation, socially distanced pop up performance & film project.
With an anarchic edge, DISMANTLE filled an empty space with a bit of life, attempting to offer hope and resilience for a moment (before it is gone again).
It was a celebration of a city that is full of art, but, hasn't always looked after its artists.
This page has bits and pieces we've gathered (and continue to gather) around the arts now - in the midst of a pandemic, gentrification and a lot of other things that come with both of those.
Project led & produced by: Josie Dale-Jones & Philippa Hogg
Installation by: Camilla Clarke
Costume by: Lydia Higginson
Lighting by: Lucy Adams
Photo's & film by: Camilla Greenwell
Graphics by: Oliva Norris
Collaborators & Performers: Nobahar Mahdavi, Kaajel Patel, Josie Dale-Jones, Hannah Ledwidge, Olivia Norris, Philippa Hogg, Lydia Higginson
Additional collaborators: Carmel Smickersgill
Artist Wellbeing: Lou Platt
With thanks to Camden People's Theatre for lending us their kit.
THIS IS NOT A PROTEST.
because it is too late.
Lydia is one of my best friends, and she has been since we were 10.
I watched her in awe as she set up Threadworks, a studio space in Farringdon from which she gave other seamstress’ space to sew, and ran her own workshops (that people came to from all over the world) where she taught people to sew.
I watched her crumble as the property developers claimed the building and asked her to leave so that they could build some offices instead, thanks in advance.
I tried my best to help her as she hunted for a new space to continue doing what she did so well.
I cheered her on as she filled up her car with sewing machines (tetras style) so she could continue teaching while her business had no base, popping up all over the country.
I lived with her while she turned her 4m x 3m bedroom into a space she could just about make clothes from (she only wears clothes she has made).
I celebrated with her when she found another space. Not big enough to continue with Threadworks, but enough to mean she could work again. She could take on costume design jobs.
I picked up the phone and she told me she was going to have to move again. She’d known the space was temporary, but the property developers (not the same ones as before, although maybe they were, who knows, they all wear the same yellow hard hats) wanted it now, so they had to leave now.
I listened as she decided to give it another go, and move - the studio owners had found another building she could switch over to.
I thought it was amazing that she had a studio in the heart of soho. How. Cool!?
This was going to be it. She was made.
I visited and was super inspired by the amount of creativity in one place. The people each doing their thing individually but not alone. They made together.
Lydia created her own patterns for a clothing range so even though she couldn’t teach people face to face, they could still learn to sew at home.
I locked down with Lydia when covid-19 broke out.
One day a week she taught me to sew something new. It was great. She is great.
In the middle of it, let’s call it week 10 of quarantine, her studio reopened.
She was straight on her bike.
She came back that evening and cried as she told me her studio was going to be torn down to make space for a luxury hotel. She had 4 weeks to get out.
Looking for a studio in the midst of a pandemic isn’t ideal.
I made a list of other options. Storage, the living room etc… They weren’t great.
Week 14, and we are loading a van. Not just full of her studio stuff, but our flat too.
For context, by the way, every studio, and our flat has been on the fourth floor of lift-less buildings.
She is pretty strong now.
But, that was enough now.
Studio’s aren’t like offices, they are homes.
This is just one story. And a really condensed version of it too.
I waved her goodbye as she drove away.
She’s tired, and I am raging.
You deserve more than this.
Having my artist studio displaced for the third time in two years made me angry and tired. I hate feeling helpless in a situation. The only way I can make sense of moments where I have no control of the situation, is to reframe the narrative and create as much beauty and gentleness in the situation as possible. Luxury hotel developers are about to demolish a building which housed over 70 artists studios. But before they come with their explosives, we will dance. We will quietly state that we loved making art there and our art matters to each other. Maybe someone passing by will see us dancing in the window and wonder what we are doing. We won't explain. We will just know that we couldn't go without having a final ceremony.
Dear Luxury Hotel Developer,
You have the power, but we have the heart. You have the money, but we have the joy. You have the authority, but we have the community.
You have the structures, but we have the ability to dismantle them.
Artists have a very particular relationship with space, however nomadic we may be. Our work demands us to tour and travel a lot. We miss birthdays, weddings, Christmases. We migrate to Scotland in the rain when the rest of the country migrates to cocktails on the beach. We miss moments within our own precious circles because we are giving precious moments to rooms full of strangers. The constant reset can be exhausting, but through all of it, we subliminally learn how to create ‘home’ and ‘family’ wherever our feet may fall. I’m not sure this is something to celebrate, but it’s definitely made me think about our relationships to spaces and places whilst i’ve had to stay still for months.
We adapt and change to what is required of us, in whatever room we are placed in. A studio could be full of natural light, amazing flooring, sleek white walls and central heating. The work produced in there will probably be different to the work created in the barn with crumbling bricks, splintered wooden floors and everyone wrapped in thermals and wool. But no matter the space, something happens when people are in there creating. It transforms into something more than a room. The energy creates a feeling and the feeling travels to anyone who comes into contact with it. You step into a rehearsal room and you smell hard work, playfulness, brains at work, bodies moving. You step into a theatre and there is anticipation, adrenaline, a buzz of togetherness as you all take your seats - giving over your time completely to the present moment, in the hope of being transported. What happens when those spaces are left empty? Covid-19 has taken away our spaces, our ability to transform them, which allows us to connect with real humans beyond our immediate circles.
After months without trade, many independent businesses haven’t survived the pandemic - unable to reopen or carry on after such a big hit, leaving more and more spaces in our city empty and lifeless. Creatives and innovators are being forgotten about and pushed/bought out, just as big businesses are opening up again. At the same time many people have been completely alone, isolated for months, unable to feel contact, physical friendship, community, togetherness. Spaces are empty. People are empty.
Gentrification in our communities was already rife. Brixton looks like Clapham, Soho feels like Chelsea. But the impact of Covid is speeding up this process, just at precise time the city is crying out for reconnection, and community more than ever. So what happens, in the face of demolition, if we dismantle the system a bit? Take those empty spaces in our hands and fill them with art that celebrates connection, togetherness and creativity, before they are left forgotten.
Taking things down takes a lot less time & thought than building them up.
DISMANTLE is for Lydia and all the other people whose worlds are being torn down and feel like it makes them want to tear down all the other structures they face.
Snippets of other lives leaving, letting go & moving on so far...
From Dino, business owner of Vaulty Towers and V3 (now shut down) on Lower Marsh, London.
V3 was one of the local businesses that made up the landscape of Lower Marsh before that big hotel arrived. V3 was a jewellers before, the jewellers moved out when they were told a hotel was soon going to be built on that land. Dino already had the pub (Vaulty Towers) and was interested in this empty space opposite. He took it on and filled it with a bespoke bar that served cocktails and craft beers and had art installations from local photographers/designers on it’s walls. He was promised a minimum of a 12 month lease on the property. Business was good. He was turfed out after just 6 months. He was offered to stay in the same space (right next to the hotel) for £45/50K a year. When he originally took it on, it was £20K a year. So they shut down and he left. Vaulty Towers has reopened in the last couple of weeks but he said there’s hardly any point it being so, it’s dead. But “people need jobs”. He’s moving to Malta in September where a mate has offered him some work.
From Emma James, Actor
I had to break the roots of a bound plant in my bare hands the other day.
When I say the other day, I mean the other week maybe even month. Days do that now.
It was a wound up root bound agapanthus. No longer blooming or even trying to reach up to the sun to release itself into its extrovert blue violet petals.
It wasnt pretty, the roots looked like a brain. Fleshy white tunnels in the exact mould of the terracotta pot I pried it out of.
It had to be seperated otherwise, it would stay the same, just sitting there, tense, on pause while the rest of the garden with their green leaves and dancing flowers danced around showing off.
Gently, caressing, tickling, teasing, all those all the most flirtatious techniques I could find failed. It was determined to stay bound.
And so, my bare hands gripped the roots and said ' it's either stay this way, or die trying to start again'.
The blood began to pour, the muscle tore and that stagnating proud plant roots were ripped apart. Sliced. Into 3 shoots.
Days after it turned yellow, wilted. Water water water. And then life, green, strong leaves spiking out of its soil indignant to surrender, changed for ever. Allowed to start again.
Moving away from the London, (you can see where I'm going from this). Felt this way, weeks wanting to back not able to shift. Those yellow leaves, lasted the whole of lockdown as my body swayed sea sick lost in motion. But I feel it, new earth and ground under my feet, new roots, space.
Emily Mae Walker, Actor
Base, stuck between the busy city life and the joy of family and peace of the north.
To add on to this murky middle ground of not belonging anywhere the universe throws in a global pandemic.
With Extortionate rents and no work for at least the rest of the year I was pushed out of my half home of London. Me and my three housemates, all actors, were left with no choice.
We couldn’t help but ponder on changes in career and changes in lifestyle. Maybe we are living a life that isn’t reliable and sustainable?
The stigmas of “you’re an actor, you’re used to being out work” along with the confusing daily briefings and the holding tone of Universal credit, left a bitter taste of feeing bottom of the pecking order.
I’m lucky I have a half home in Barnsley to fall back upon in these crazy times and I’m already planing the move back into the craziness of London next year. However, this crisis has highlighted how fragile an artists life is and perhaps often taken for granted.
We know that unfortunately, this situation isn't unique to The Koppel Project, the artists in their studios, or London.
We are wondering how this piece might become part of a bigger project.
If you know of any other situations where artistic spaces have been demolished to make way for more 'commercial' or 'corporate' use, we'd love to hear from you (just click on the button below and send us a message!).
Other, maybe less personal, bits of reading
It is now October 2020, and, the building in Soho was due to be torn down in the Summer (over 3 months ago), is still standing there... empty.
The Koppel Project gave us access to the space again to screen the a film of the performance we did there as a 'final' farewell in August in the window. It was all very meta.
We did this in support of the launch of ARTCRY, a new fund aiding the urgent artistic responses to current social and political events. It is led by a group of artists, creatives, agitators and producers. We believe that a new fund can encourage and enable more artists to make work as part of our public dialogue, and that we need this now.