For the first time, the V&A, in partnership with RIBA and supported by RBKC, staged a community-based artist residency. My studio at 7 Shalfleet Drive was attached to the More West housing development. This is the first housing development in this part of North Kensington since the social housing of the 1960s-70s. It is building onto the pre-existing Silchester Estate and incorporating Frinstead House, a twenty-floor high rise. It is an indication of how development will take place in the future. This new Peabody housing consists of 112 flats with mixed social and market tenure. It was designed by Haworth Tompkins.
Over the course of seven months, the V&A funded my residency and I staged a programme of activities, both locally and in the Museum. I shared my multi-media skills with local residents, community groups and nursery children. They in turn have inspired me. I was able to consolidate my film making pedigree but worked in a new medium – the sculptural and architectural qualities of paper. All this collaborative work had the aim of engaging residents and participants in themes connected with history, housing, architecture, social change and regeneration. This has not always been easy. I felt it vital to interview and record key people connected to the development and to share their experiences and diverse points of view. A new community is about to form in the area and there will be challenges ahead in incorporating the old with the new. Nathan Coley has produced a striking sculpture for the roof of the new housing and his art will engage with the new residents. I’m looking forward to returning and seeing how the housing and its community are settling in.
Throughout my residency two art works were major sources of inspiration: Vision of Beatrice and Leo The Last. Although spanning different centuries and media, they both have an artistic, geographical and housing connection with the area I was based. The Vision of Beatrice is a stain glass designed by Nathaniel Westlake in 1863. It is in the collection of the V&A Museum. It illustrates a scene from Dante’s Divine Comedy when Dante has a vision of love and is able to travel from purgatory to paradise. Nathaniel Westlake also had a house built for him in 1863 and this is currently located at Whitchurch Street, directly opposite Testerton Walk on the Lancaster West Estate.In 1969, before the Lancaster West estate was built, Testerton Street was the location for the filming of Leo The Last. It memorably used this street as part of its monochrome set design. The story concerns an aristocratic landlord who moves into a slum area of Notting Hill and is radicalised by his interaction with the local Afro-Caribbean community. Throughout my residency my film camera was used much like Leo’s telescope in the film; to focus a lens on the world and meditate on housing and community relations. These art works have informed Vision of Paradise, a 28 minute film that was screened at the V&A as a work in progress. It will be premiered at the 2015 Portobello Film Festival. The film poses the question: what is art, community and home? We are obsessed with material culture. Perhaps there is a need to rediscover a spiritual approach to life and home making.
I’ve had great feedback on the residency and events.
The Mayor Cllr Maighread Condon-Simmonds commented: “I love your work and we are very honoured to have you in our Borough.”
Miss Valois: “What a great project. So much of the history and voice of the real local people seems to be lost in the quest for development. More please.”
Derek White, resident of Silchester Estate at the Home Sweet Home screening: “A great collage of life from the area and wider. Very thought provoking.”
Mary Eadie, Teacher at St Anne’s Nursery: “Congratulations on your wonderful exhibition at the V&A. We were so proud that some of our children were given the opportunity to take part and to come to see their work. It was all so well presented.”
Neil Hobbs and family after visiting the No Object event: “What a wonderful, insightful project. I hope this is happening all over London. If not, why not? This social history is so very important and should be recorded. Great experience, thank you.”
Steph Perkin, Resident Liaison Officer for More West: “Your residency next to site was a remarkable experience from my point of view and for the whole community. Having the studio in the midst of the development was perfect as you truly were immersed in the regeneration and became an important part of the end of an era for the Silchester Estate. The fact that you already had extensive knowledge of the area meant that you were able to actually tell people about the history of where they live even though they may have lived here many years – myself included!”
Cllr Judith Blakeman: “One of the great things was the way the events and work that Constantine and residents did brought the community together. Constantine reached out to a huge range of disparate groups and across generations, all of whom came together for the final exhibition. People also uncovered artistic talents in themselves that they had no idea they possessed. Constantine’s work also encouraged people to think deeply about what the area means to them and to develop an enhanced sense of belonging to their local place.”
Films made during the residency:
Feel The Grove A site specific music event for a 1960s council flat prior to being redeveloped.
Home Sweet Home A curated programme of short films about post-war housing and regeneration.