Following on from our previous Private/Public space projects which have focussed on the gentrification of London and the erosion of civil liberties that that entails, the Space Hijackers headed out to the Truman Brewery complex on Brick Lane to enforce the rules that are implicit, and perhaps not so implicit in such places. Stopping people from drinking, smoking, talking, loitering, laughing and even reading our sign!
East London is a massive building site with regeneration projects, the olympics, the encroachment of the city and more changing the face of our city. As Anna Minton pointed out in her fantastic book Ground Control, these redevelopment projects, often look positive on the face, but the net result is private corporations wrestling control of our cities from the people. The poor and disadvantaged are pushed out and regeneration often means moving in a new class of people. Public land is reduced and private shopping/living/working spaces are built withprivate police (link to canary wharf security) ensuring that only certain 'welcome' people are allowed to pass through without hassle. This, as you can probably imagine, is something we oppose.
The Truman Brewery Complex just off Brick Lane is a haven for cool and alternative east-end hipsters. With record shops, fixed wheel bicycle shops, galleries, eco & small designer fashion retail and bars it buzzes with creative energy. Walking in from brick lane market you can barely tell where one starts and the other finishes, the beautiful youth litter the streets in both areas drinking from cans and checking each other out.
As they say themselves "The Old Truman Brewery, East London's revolutionary arts and media quarter, is home to a hive of creative businesses as well as exclusively independent shops, galleries, markets, bars and restaurants. For fifteen years the Old Truman Brewery has been regenerating its ten acres of vacant and derelict buildings into spectacular office, retail, leisure and event spaces. The finely tuned mix of business and leisure has created an environment unique in London, making the Old Truman Brewery ;
a destination in its own right."
Alas it also borders one of London's poorest areas, so to keep the relaxed guilt free atmosphere, 24 hour security vigilantly patrol the entrances and spaces. The homeless, poor and troublemakers are kept out, bags are searched, people sitting on the wrong part of the pavement are moved on, only food and drink bought at high price on the premises is allowed to be consumed, and the hipster haven is preserved.
We thought it was high time that the exclusivity and hypocrisy of this 'revolutionary arts and media quarter" was a little more revealed. So with our new easily portable signs (unlike the beast we used to wheel around) in hand we set off to help the security keep the area safe and secure for everyone...
Dressed in black we set up first at the entrance facing Spitalfields Market. We popped up our banners and immediately started keeping the space safer.
"Oi you, no photography!"
"No Running, Slow down"
"Did you buy that drink on the premesis? You'll have to finish it here"
"I'm sorry, no phonecalls in this area, please hang up"
"No cycling! walk that machine"
"Do you have a job? can you afford to shop here?"
"No questions please"
"Move along please, nothing to see"
"No reading our sign sir!"
Before long we were joined by the regular security, obviously eager to help us out.
"Who do you work for? What are you doing, this is private property, you can't do this here".
"We're just making the area safe and secure, we're here to help"
"Do you work for the council?"
"We're just concerned that the wrong types might get through, and intend to keep this area safe"
"I'm calling my boss"
'The boss' arrived, and to be fair to him was a clever chap. I think he realised we were looking for a rise, so he simply turned around and said that if we moved 1m away, so we weren't in front of the door he was more than happy for us to continue.
"I've been asking my boss for ages to make me some signs, like these. I can see it's very tongue in cheek, personally I really like what you're up to, I'm not sure about the No OAPs though, my gran wouldn't like that"
As always our issue is usually with the people who design, build and own such spaces rather than the people who are paid to work there. However we soon realised that there was a greater audience to be had at the main Brick Lane entrance.
Moving around we set up camp again to a much more receptive audience. The guard at the entrance had obviously been briefed to leave us alone, and so we were free to harass and berate the public for walking too slowly, running, smoking, drinking, holding hands, kissing, loitering, not shopping, asking questions, taking our photograph and more. Even the pretent police who turned up enjoyed the rigid law obiding.
Lots of people 'got' what we were up to, and started deliberately dancing, singing, smoking and taking pictures to break the rules. We had people join us in telling off the passers by, and lots of discussion about private/public space and regeneration. Some people took a little longer than others to realise the game, and so cigarettes we're put out, drinks put down and conversations stopped before they read to the bottom of our sign and smiled.