Notes on ‘No Room to Move: Radical Art and the Regenerate City’

I have read what I feel is a very good essay on (public) art and regeneration that goes into a lot of depth about how the two relate. The essay by Jospehine Berry Slater and Anthony Iles (2009) is titled: ‘No Room to Move: Radical Art and the Regenerate City’ and can be found at: https://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/no-room-to-move-radical-art-and-regenerate-city. I have made notes to record my thoughts on areas where the essay interrogates ‘artwashing’, although that specific term is not used.

Josephine Berry Slater and Anthony Iles (2009) start the essay by suggesting that understanding what drives urban regeneration shouldn’t be consigned to financial imperatives but also public art and how it manifests itself. That is because the two intertwine in forming a picture of regeneration. They also acknowledge that the essay’s scope is focussed in on certain topics within the much broader area of regeneration, including ‘public art’ and concentrating on the South East of England as a location.

Notes on ‘Creating the Creative City’

  • Berry Slater and Iles (2009) lay out a history of the ‘Creative City’, where deindustrialisation led to the State’s increased role as administrator for transforming cities including Liverpool and London. It aimed to change London for example into a city which catered for a population far less engaged in industrial work.
  • Gentrification is mentioned in this history of the Creative City, where artists moving into an area attract higher property prices. Whether unintended or coerced by developers, artists can thereby potentially displace lower income existing residents. Berry Slater and Iles (2009) assert that regeneration builds on the first phase of gentrification by creating a state-led system where cities are developed privately by regeneration agencies with the backing of the State’s capital.
  • One quote in particular in this passage makes me think of how regeneration’s image is paramount: ‘Modelling themselves on the ideal of a self-organising free market, regeneration agencies have sought everywhere to maintain the illusion that the market is the driver of positive change.’ (Berry Slater and Iles, 2009). Here, it would seem regeneration is a wholly beneficial process for a city, though Berry Slater and Iles’ use of ‘maintain the illusion’ implies that there are elements of regeneration that cover over less positive aspects like displacement.

Notes on ‘Artists on Both Sides of the Barricades’

  • artists are on both sides of the argument for regeneration – either adversely affected by it or helping to perpetuate it
  • Berry Slater and Iles (2009) use the example of Peter Dunn and Loraine Leeson’s Docklands Community Poster Project (1981-1991) to show that art against regeneration can be divisive for local people affected by the developments. Berry Slater and Iles (2009) perceive the art to be talking for the locals, offering a voice that might not necessarily be aligned perfectly with their own views
  • for me, the Docklands Community Poster Project sounds like a good way of addressing the LDDC QUANGO because the work appeared on very public billboards. However, the art could have collaborated with locals more for it to be inclusive of the local people.
  • then there are the artists or ‘culturepreneurs’ as Berry Slater and Iles (2009) put it, who took advantage of new spaces in the Docklands leased to them by the London Docklands Development Corporation. These young British artists, as well as acquiring spaces, then had their art used to create works for the property developers spaces as they became more complicit in the creation of art for regeneration.
  • Berry Slater and Iles (2009) identify this as a turning point where art became either intrinsically or extrinsically linked (the question is posed by the authors) to regeneration. In my eyes, this link between LDDC and the yBa’s and what followed must be a case for ‘artwashing’ on a large scale and could be how ‘artwashing’ started in the UK.

Notes on ‘Itinerant Agent Meets the Community’

  • this part of the essay starts by looking at people being moved from their community because of the planned construction of the M11 motorway. Some of the community happened to be artists which is significant because a small group off the artists resisted leaving their homes and instead made art in dissent to the plans.
  • I think Berry Slater and Iles were smart to use this example of resistance to a community’s disbandment for two reasons. Firstly, the fact a large part of the community were artists helped them to protest against the damaging (for them) changes creatively. Secondly, and leading on from this point, these artists recognised the heritage the community had built up by displaying it in the plaques on the homes scheduled for demolition.
  • Berry Slater and Iles build on this concept of heritage later in this passage. They introduce the work of Stuart Brisley with a set of photographs used to commemorate mining villages. Even though the project by Brisley was designed to allow locals to the village to remember how it used to be in their own way, the idea of heritage has been transformed by this project and used by regeneration agencies for their own agenda. Here, despite building over that heritage, they are at pains to remember it. I actually think there are some examples of heritage being celebrated well by instigators of regeneration but it should be done sensitively. The is because communities do undergo large, drastic changes to their heritage which redevelopments bring about. Having public art celebrating this history but at the same time commissioned by regeneration agencies can seem ironic or insulting if carried out insensitively.
  • This quote from the essay sums up my above point eloquently and well in my opinion: ‘The whitened bones of history, now considered safe from the fecundity of decay, are conjured as character-giving heritage in newly sanitised city districts.’ (Berry Slater and Iles, 2009).

Notes on ‘Here Comes the Mirror Man: Pundits, Planners and Policy-Makers’

  • it is noted that successfully passed schemes like Percent for Art drove the case for art as a way to give cities a positive façade after deindustrialisation. This was despite claims by others who were not convinced Percent for Art and the like were the answer.
  • using the example of General Public Agency in Thurrock, Berry Slater and Iles (2009) show that lots of measures were taken by GPA to make the art well-integrated with the local community. However, they also note that art and the ordinary community’s relationship wasn’t allowed to happen independently of GPA’s input.
  • Berry Slater and Iles (2009) then look at artists who subvert this process which they argue is often short-term and ends once the commissioned work has been completed.
  • Nils Norman imitates planning and projection, similar to techniques that would be used by the developers of Thurrock. However, he uses them in the context of climate change in relation to development rather than just development where such techniques are more commonly associated. This satirisation opens up avenues for debate, by using the same language as planners and therefore addressing them directly.
  • By providing alternatives to the projected future of Thurrock in his cartoons, Norman is coding his work in the language of the planners. Taking advantage of the fact that the developer’s plans weren’t finalised but still projected, Norman’s work in my opinion gains more credence as there is still a chance the plans might change.
  • Freee collective argue the idea that any published work is part of the public sphere and doesn’t just exist in public sites.
  • Berry Slater and Iles extrapolate this into projected planning. Here, advertising for unfinished projects belongs in the public sphere and can influence those who see it. Moreover, because these projections are generated through virtualisation, they assert it is open to ‘artistic and political disruption’ (Berry Slater and Iles, 2009).
  • I like the billboard Freee collective produced stating ‘The economic function of public art is to increase the value of private property’. It is one side to the argument that ‘artwashing’ is a deceptive tool used by private developers for their gain. I like how it is simple and to the point and the way it is photographed effectively afterwards as documentation.

Notes on ‘The Art of Governance’

  • Berry Slater and Iles look at the work of Jospeh Beuys, in particular 7,000 Oaks. They position his work in the middle between artists trying to influence government and being used by the state as pawns for social inclusion. I think the act of participation required by the public in making 7,000 Oaks allowed for a sense of inclusion to develop.
  • This was fabricated though and it seems Berry Slater and Iles (2009) make the point that art projects like 7,000 Oaks were absorbed into some of the rationale nowadays behind art being utilised in regeneration as a tool. Here, the emphasis is on behaviour change brought about by public art in the context of regeneration.
  • I think the link between behaviour and regeneration is a strong one. Though Berry Slater and Iles only see it in a negative way. People might have a positive reaction to public art and regeneration but this is not organic. Rather, according to Berry Slater and Iles (2009), it is a way ‘to ‘activate’ people into becoming community members.’
  • Another reason Berry Slater and Iles (2009) feel public art fails at making positive change in a community is that it tries to be so inclusive. While this might seem like a favourable feature, they argue, citing Giorgio Agamben, inclusion becomes generalised to the point that it acts as something furthering exclusion.
  • They argue inclusivity can be seen across most public artworks and is the unifying feature of them, whether they are humungous or small. This is something I hadn’t noticed before but I can see now.
  • I feel if a sense of inclusivity were to be developed by a community independently, Berry Slater and Iles would be in favour. However, the non-organic inclusivity generated by public art is a problem for them.
  • In fact it glosses over the lie (in their opinion) of the Creative City.

Notes on ‘The Art of Pleasure’

  • art is becoming increasingly absorbed into the language of power so that it doesn’t challenge power but merely acts as an agent for it.

Notes on ‘From Arcadia to Chinatown?’

  • This section looks at Roman Vasseur’s intervention in relation to the earlier work of Frederick Gibberd in Harlow. Gibberd pioneered new, albeit in Vasseur’s opinion, flawed approaches to public art integration into Harlow. Meanwhile, Vasseur poses questions regarding Gibberd’s implementation of public art and how these faults might be addressed in future plans for the town.
  • However, Berry Slater and Iles (2009) note Vasseur’s approach doesn’t leave much direction to the town in terms of how art might be integrated. Rather, the questions remain asked by Vasseur but not answered.
  • In contrast to the probing questions of Roman Vaseur, Laura Oldfield Ford’s provocative work sees regeneration as an ‘enemy’ for working class people. In doing so Oldfield Ford creates tension rather than seeking to diffuse it like with Vasseur’s role as intermediary between the different sides of regeneration.
  • It is also noted by Berry Slater and Iles (2009) that there might not be a solid, tangible ‘enemy’ that Oldfield Ford’s work bases itself on.

Notes on ‘Walking out of Dreamland’

  • Berry Slater and Iles (2009) conclude the essay with the rather sombre message that artists are neither here nor there when it comes to regeneration. This is because they act as both agents against and part of regeneration and yet are also ’the ultimate capitalist subject’ (Berry Slater and Iles, 2009).
  • I think that although this is a gloomy note to end on it is also largely true – artists have been seen to be part of the gentrification process, contributing to the purported Creative City. They can subsequently be displaced by rising rent prices brought about by the culture-led regeneration they (or their predecessors) helped bring about. Therefore artists are intrinsic in culture-led regeneration, whether their work participates with or against the developments around them.

Although ‘No Room to Move: Radical Art and the Regenerate City’ was a long read, I am glad I made notes on it because I feel I have learnt a lot from the process. I think it will feed into my own final draft for my essay for Contextual Studies as a reference point at some stage.

References:

Berry Slater, J. and Iles, A. (2009) No Room to Move: Radical Art and the Regenerate City. At: https://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/no-room-to-move-radical-art-and-regenerate-city (Accessed 23/11/2020).

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