We started the week-long residency, ‘Resistance is Beautiful’ at Grow Heathrow, with an introduction to a site I’ve heard a lot of about, and through various activist networks have met many of those who live there. After a series of procrastinated opportunities I decided this was the perfect opportunity to visit. This post is about the project I developed, in a separate post I’d like to visit the projects of others.
What is resistance? That is where we started. To some it is the standing in opposition, to the others it is the proactive search and enaction of alternative realities. I err towards the first as my definition of resistance, and in my own work call the latter ‘imagineering’. Grow Heathrow is a site of resistance and imagineering – and embodies different meanings to different people – visitors and residents.
As the week progressed towards an ‘exhibition/show’ on the Saturday, efforts were made towards pulling together some collaborative work.
My thoughts began with the idea of ‘The Great Eviction Game’ – a playful enaction of the potential eviction that could happen later this year in which the evictors are only allowed to evict the residents if they win a game that is played out on site, by the site’s rules. Taking the format of a ‘wide game’, i.e. different tasks to be completed at various stations – teams are not necessarily in competition, rather, the aim is for all to have an educational experience in which they are given opportunity to embody the ethos of the site through shared activity.
After spending some time developing this idea, decided it focused on an eventuality that did not need to be evoked at this point in time. I still think it would be a challenging and engaging way to approach police if/when they come to the gate – to challenge them to a game, immediately taking on the eviction in the site’s own terms – when the police refuse to play, it is they who first break the rules.
After hearing about others’ ideas I couldn’t see a place for me to take part in them – partly due to lack of experience/skill/interest, and partly because I needed to leave site for the entire day preceding the show and so wouldn’t be able to help in any way with their development at a key point.
I started to think about my own relationship with the site – how was I engaging with it. I felt very at home in Grow Heathrow, largely because I could see the similarities between life there and my own, very outdoors-focused life on a boat. A big part of my decision to live as I do on a boat was my search for aesthetic living – aesthetic in the Greek sense of ‘enlivened’ – awakened being in life where one is connected with the processes that construct our existence.
On this thought track I started to consider the life aesthetic and how one might convey this experience and way of life in a deeper mode to any visitors to the site; allowing them to engage with the site beyond the visual superficial.
I began with the notion that we should do nothing on the Saturday, simply allow visitors to observe the site ‘in action’ and make some effort to ensuring that they feel able to ask questions/enter into discussion – potentially through shared food or participatory tasks. This idea was then challenged by another member of the group, with what I felt was a valid opposition – people are only coming to the site in the hope of seeing/doing something. To do nothing would be to disappoint, and could potentially be harmful. Not doing anything wasn’t avoiding the performative, as the ‘audience’ had already been invited and so performance was intrinsic to the day.
Given the limited time available, I spent most of the days thinking about how to make visible the life aesthetic and opted to do it through objects – offering insight into the operations and history of the site through its material objects – telling the stories of these objects through explanation and anecdote, integrating the ‘explanatory signs’ into the fabric of the object. This in turn, I hope allowed the viewer to interact with the object, and therefore the site and its workings, in a deeper way. I didn’t flag up the signs, however, and perhaps this was mistake – as it was few of the other artists even noticed them. But then, if they are uncovered by chance one day, whilst weeding, or re-reading postcards, by a resident, or by a guest, their message could be made stronger by the element of chance.
I made five signs as part of the project I’d call ‘lifting the veil’:
On a piece of sheet music I stuck to the piano I wrote the notes ‘A’ and ‘E’ which on the site’s piano were linked to the adjoining hammers. Between staves I then wrote ‘play these notes…”when you hold down one thing you also hold down the adjoining” Augie March – and something also on dissonance and resistance
On a T-shirt in the free shop I wrote about the idea of a free shop being more than discarding unwanted items and picking up freebies, but as its potential to be a tool in helping us imagine futures without monetary transactions forming the basis of everything we do.
On plant pot signs I wrote about the radical nature of growing our own food
On the inside of an inner tube situated within a car tyre I wrote of the multi-function of car tyres, as plant pots, barricades, etc. and this link to permaculture.
On a postcard I hung up in the main living area, I mentioned how the postcards, pictures and posters hung up in that area are not just memories and histories, but also locate the site within the wider activist movement.
In terms of my experience working collaboratively – I felt as though I’d come to the residency expecting a greater focus on radical politics and activism and their link-up with the creative arts. At first I was disappointed that this was not the focus, however, I did gain a lot from working with artists who have a defined and developed artistic practice. In reflection, I also see that what I gained was the lived experience of merging radical politics and creativity by living in Grow Heathrow whilst having a creative practice.
I also now feel as though I can’t claim credit for ‘lifting the veil’ as it only came out of discussions with group, around the fire, whilst working, washing-up and cooking – and in discussing their own projects. And so in that way, ‘lifting the veil’, like so many projects, is made up of collaborative and communal experience – it is just my own interpretation made manifest.