Start at Ponders End
Hana Tait heads into the wilds of North London with Mem Morrison…
As I climb the stairs I pass a woman paused midway on the landing. She is staring deep into the floor, twisting her limbs and muttering the same phrase over and over under her breath. No one who passes her bats an eyelid. But then we are in Toynbee Studios, home of Artsadmin, two minutes from Spitalfields Market and Brick Lane and all tied up in East London’s thriving arts scene. On the streets (and staircases) of the East End embedded art has become commonplace. You can’t turn a corner without bumping into some graphic print, street painting or live performance happening. The East End draws creative types from all across the world, each setting up studio to mix their work in with the East End artistic blend.
I sometimes wonder if that makes it too easy and too comfortable to stay here, making work that draws on our life histories, memories and cultural experiences and only sharing it with other ‘artistic types’, people who ‘get’ what we’re saying and what we’re trying to do. Our creative practices may have begun on the high streets and locales that we grew up in – in Corby or Canterbury; Ipswich or Inverness, but it’s easy to get sucked into our own little art ghetto, making work only seen in a gallery/performance space somewhere near Bethnal Green. In 2009 I was part of Artsadmin’s Pass it On project, which included projects in railway stations, parks, schools, youth centres and hospitals, and I’ve become increasingly interested in work which journeys into communities.
Six weeks ago I got an email from Mem Morrison asking if I’d like to assist him on a project in Ponders End. For those of you who don’t have time to google it, it’s in Enfield (I did google it and was slightly overwhelmed by the photo on the wiki page it pulled up). I’ve worked with Mem before though and was excited by the idea of doing something new with him, particularly something that was going to involve working with a lot of people outside of the ‘art scene’. The project has been commissioned by Enfield Council and the brief was to bring together local businesses and community to share in what is special about Ponders End High Street. Our aim is to increase the footfall on the high street and to get local residents to use local services more. We are working towards an afternoon in April when the whole High Street will become a gallery crammed with creative contributions from the local community.
For the last month we’ve been out and about in the area, meeting people, hearing their stories and trying to uncover what it is to be a local there. A mere twenty minutes train ride from Liverpool Street, there are just as many unique personal stories, anecdotes and local histories, but no art market pushing them to the surface. One thing I really like about Mem’s work is that he lets his audience experience what he makes without needing to label it ‘an artwork’. The same principle applies to how we’re collaborating with the Ponders End community at the moment. Often, it seems, people can get a bit freaked out by being asked to help create something. Many protest that they’re not artistic or they don’t know what to say. And whilst a few times we’ve been cast as the weirdo artists, stalking the neighbourhood trying to get people to answer questions like ‘What was your worst childhood haircut?’, in the vast majority of instances people have been really generous in their engagement with us.
Shopkeepers wave at us as we pass their windows. We’ve heard about the old post office and the wartime allotments in the park. We’ve been given recipes for lemon cheesecake and fish curry. We’re weaving these little personal snapshots into an event for Ponders End as it is now. And, best of all, we’re not harvesting it for an exhibition somewhere else – we’re working locally, with what we have in front of us, in situ, in Ponders End.
If you reckon you can cut it outside of East London Mem Morrison Company are looking for performers to take part in a small movement sequence at the ‘Local’ day event. Performers must be over 18 years of age and free for rehearsals on the 26th March (day) and 6th April (evening) as well on the day of the event (9th April). This opportunity is open to performers of all levels of experience. To express interest please email Marine Thevenet by Thursday 24th March.