On Wednesday 15th June, Origination opened at 198 Contemporary Arts & Learning, the next chapter of our project. The work on show translates and re-presents the material gathered during our month-long residency in Brixton Market.

Installing the show transformed the gallery into a carpentry workshop, an electronics lab, a nursery (of plants) and a salt repository. Gradually from these various productive (if messy) areas, clarity emerged, with the work still ‘in progress’ but contained within distinct stations. As the exhibition took shape, we responded to the idiosyncrasies of the space, whilst the work once installed changed the gallery, giving it the feel of an experimental laboratory.

A week later, on 23rd June, invited speakers John Newling and Paul Basu came along to talk to an audience of project participants and others. Reflecting on the themes of the exhibition and the market residency, John spoke about the possibilities of markets as spaces of mystery, and fluidity, which he had explored in his Preston Market Mystery Project:

“Markets for me are places of transaction that belie the shininess of the mall and the high street, giving instead a visceral sense of the community chatting and moving through a space that is at one and the same time both ancient and contemporary. It is a fluid space, where the permanence of the architectural edifice seems to be disorientated by the transitory events it houses. It is a space of risk and mystery. In a society which has profoundly moved towards an audit of our activities, the marketplace seems a fine context in which to sell insurance against loss of mystery.”

The place of mystery, like that of the detective novel, is familiar to artists as we set out to observe and understand the world around us, to solve its riddles and puzzles. The detective work of family history, creating a series of meanings around absences, around journeys to places where nothing may be left except ruins, is a means of constructing identity, and of creating origin myths.

Our work has given salt an importance as part of our origin myth, and both John and Paul talked about the properties of salt, John mentioning its power to both protect and corrode, which seems so potent in the context of memory. Paul suggested that salt acts as a relic – it contains the substance of the place, the salt pan becoming a site of pilgrimage.

In this sense, the artwork/ installation Confabulation1 is a collection of relics, each representing (fictionally or actually) the substance of a place, or a journey. In a Handbook of Material Culture, Chris Tilley talks about how our personhood is created through objects/use of objects, and how things provide a way to understand ourselves and each other. This collection of objects is a potential starting point for a creation of shared meaning, between these 54 different histories.

Paul suggested that with the archive as place of absence, the creation of an archive or a journey towards one’s roots becomes an act of fantasy. But these profound emotional journeys, akin to pilgrimage, can fill the unknown. As Paul said, looking at our family tree, it has multiple points of origin and departure – a “complex of journeying”. This defies the idea of singular roots – and suggests rather the tangled roots of belonging (like a deleuzian rhizome), the implications of which might be to question what legitimacy roots give us..but also offer up opportunities for a more collaborative approach to the mythology of origin.

With thanks to John Newling and Paul Basu.

The exhibition runs from 16th June – 5th August at 198 Contemporary Arts & Learning, 198 Railton Road, London. www.198.org.uk

1the confusion of imagination with memory, or the confused application of true memories


Exposure and disclosure

Our first five days at the market have been wonderful, challenging and exhausting. We had a multitude of hiccups, largely involving the Lambeth Council bureaucracy – and us forgetting things. But actually being in the market and talking to people has been good, and we’ve heard an amazing array of stories. The experience of being on the stall all day, being so explicitly public, has a particular quality. It feels very exposing – it reminds me of the way I feel doing political campaigning and protest – you put yourself into public space and open yourself up to critique, conflict and rants, as well as incredible encounters. It’s not an easy thing to do, but there’s nothing quite like it and what comes of it is very unpredictable.

Having our stall, our salt pots, and offering an invitation to people to contribute something particular gives the experience more structure – a framework that the conversations hang around. But there’s still an enormous variety in the way people respond and interact with the project.

I’ve had one conversation so far that felt contentious. It was interesting, and it was a subject that I had expected and hoped would come up. It was slightly marred by the fact that the guy who was talking with me seemed a little pissed, and was not entirely interested in listening. But he highlighted a few questions that are at the core of this project: how personal histories bring to light political histories, and overlapping stories of privilege and oppression. He took unction that we were using salt from South Africa as our currency – suggesting that our White European ancestors stole land from his African ancestors to acquire their wealth, and that this was a huge affront in a place like Brixton. The stories are so much more complex than that, and he wasn’t prepared to talk about Jewish migration within this context – but issues of colonialism, race and power have to be confronted when we talk about migration. This conversation also highlighted an issue we have worked with throughout Origination, particularly in the piece ‘Don’t Look Back’. Delving into family history can raise things that make us hugely uncomfortable, or things that are painful and we’d rather not know. It can also raise questions of whether we are responsible for the actions of our ancestors. I think the project we’re doing here in Brixton acknowledges the problematic nature of looking at our personal connection to history and politics. It is not an attempt to merrily ‘celebrate multiculturalism’ – it touches on raw points.

There are tensions and frictions in talking about the past. There are wounds in family histories, and it’s deeply personal and sometimes painful to ask people to share these stories. Migration and cultural adaptation can often mean that people leave unwanted baggage behind. So far, forty people have stopped to share a story with us – each of these stories have involved disclosure, and the generosity of sharing something personal with a stranger. It’s a huge privilege to listen and also a lot to digest.


Trading Standards

Getting up at 6.30am, we begin the day bleary-eyed but optimistic. Before heading down to Brixton, we have to pick up all the tools of our trade from Katy’s studio, and visit the post office to retrieve an all-important envelope that we believe contains our precious Market Traders ID cards. After waiting in the sorting office for half an hour, Katy discovers that the envelope has mysteriously been re-entered into the postal system and is in a postman’s bag somewhere in Hackney.

Frustrated and late, we begin our drive south, and get ensnarled in the morning rush hour. Finally we arrive at the Brixton Market office, and after quite a lot of sighing and humphing, the gentleman at the desk says that we can go ahead with our stall. But then he asks if we received a message about the Assistant’s papers. It takes me a minute to remember that’s me – Katy registered as a trader and I am her assistant. After three weeks of form-filling, phone calls, and pestering Lambeth Council, it is only now that they tell me I was supposed to present them with various forms of identification before my application can be processed. So I am told that I am strictly not allowed to trade. I ask if I can hang out at the stall and he says yes… but NO trading.

The next challenge is getting a stall set up, which involves finding someone called George, who piles various bits of metal scaffold onto a cronky old cart and then assembles them on our pitch next to Stuart the Watchman. We begin to set up our stall, excited to see it finally coming together. As we lay out the empty pots Katy asks – where’s the salt? And we realise we have left it back in Hackney. So Katy embarks on a two hour trek back across the city whilst I guard the stall, hoping that no-one official uncovers me as an illegitimate assistant. The Market officials who do come along are more concerned that we use accurate scales to weigh out the salt correctly than about checking my status.

By lunchtime, we are finally ready with our currency of Darling Memory Preservation Salts, and various strange pieces of recording equipment. Our Latin American neighbours feed us coffee and empanadas, and Stuart gives us lots of useful advice on how to improve our stall aesthetically and practically. And although it feels slow, we end up having a series of very interesting and occasionally bizarre conversations, and collect seven stories in exchange for salt. We hear memories of jasmine-scented courtyards in Damascus, a navigationally deft two year old riding a donkey in Jamaica, the man who used to guard the market at night and scare off thieving pigeons and a Nigerian healer whose powers have passed through the generations.

Finally at 5.30pm, we pack up our stall and trundle our wares back to Hackney through yet more (never-ending) traffic.

It’s been a long day.



After months of planning, we met again in London to begin work on the next stage of Origination. Day one of our intensive week saw us heading down to Brixton to the Market Office, to register as market traders, and entangle our selves with the complex bureaucracies of Lambeth council. We learned the art of patience and ate oranges as many forms of identification were taken. Eventually we were sent to the next office in Shakespeare Road for further verification, and were then sent out with a promise of an official ID card to follow.

After this testing experience we ventured to the Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses, to discuss our plan for a dinner party in the greenhouse. There we met Fabrice, the site manager, who explained the diverse range of plants grown on site from all over the world, and then invited us to pot up some tomato seedlings.

Day two and we set off for the Bartlett workshop to start on our translation machine, with help from artist and musician Stephen Cornford. The work was challenging, involving taking apart machines and gently adapting mechanisms through a mix of persuasion, will and pillar drills.

Later on we visited the Andrews family in Woodford, and met Mr Andrews, a clockmaker extraordinaire who showed us his amazing collection of clocks and advised us on possible mechanisms for one of our artworks.

Day three we headed for the studio to assemble materials for our market stall residency, which starts next week. We painted up a sign, found jars for our ‘product’, ordered backdrops and discussed systems of recording and archiving materials.

Over dinner we debated different kinds of intelligence and thought processes. Having spent the week encountering different processes of thinking and making it seemed apposite to realise how much we had strayed outside our usual comfort zones or patterns of making art to tread into new territories, ones we are certain to delve deeper into in the weeks to come.


Market Research

We just found out that our grant application for the next stage of the ‘Origination’ project was a success. We will be undertaking a residency in Brixton market this summer, working with local communities to explore Brixton’s rich history of migration, and generating new work for an exhibition and series of events at 198 Contemporary Art and Learning.

Yesterday we had our first planning meeting, and the ideas began to fly. We wandered around Brixton market, and came upon answers to many desires – from exotic food to eyebrow threading, popcorn to cobblers, and ‘Jinx Removing’ salts, to rid your home and body of evil spirits.

‘In the Middle Ages markets often provided opportunities for liminal encounter. Not only were they the territory of commercially minded merchants selling the essential requisites of life – but they also provided a fertile ground for the peddlars of mystery; the relic sellers who proffered a glimpse of saintly bones, or the chance of touching a fragment of the true cross…’ (Introduction by Rev Dr Richard Davey, in Newling, 2007)

The idea of ‘relics’ is intriguing, as it touches on ideas we have already worked with around trying to capture ghosts, or create presences of something absent. Hetherington (2003) writes about ‘praesentia’, an encounter with the presence of an absence, as a way to explain the power of relic. He also writes about relics as forms of translation, bringing the far (in time, or space) to the near – but also a way of translating between cultures as migrants settle in new worlds.

Our intention for this new phase of Origination is not to leave behind our own family story, but to move outward from it – by collecting and translating between our own and other’s histories, finding new ways to represent migrant histories, and migrant ghosts, that all too often vanish into the complexity of the city. For ghosts are not just specters of the past, they can also refer to the present: as Maria del Pilar Blanco and Esther Pereen write, “ghost has become an increasingly appropriate metaphor for the way marginal populations haunt the everyday, living on the edge of visibility and inspiring a curious mix of fear and indifference.”

The market stalls full of magic spells, healing plants and herbs and strange relics provide a starting point for contacting these ghosts of the past and present.


Kevin Hetherington (2003) Spatial Textures: place, touch and praesentia. In Environment and Planning vol 35

John Newling (2007) An Essential Disorientation

Maria del Pilar Blanco and Esther Pereen (2010), Popular Ghosts: The Haunted Spaces of Everyday Culture