Fashion designers, Turner Prize winners, and You.

I was walking down Essex Road a week ago and came across this block of flats. Around the time they were built twenty or more years ago, at the tail end of the loadsa money eighties and the middle of the dot-com nineties, people were obviously very different. Though not quite the totally unhinged Terry Farrell postmodern stylings of the MI5 building, 125 London Wall, or Charing Cross station, these flats are certainly in the same vein and with similar aspirations—but on a city worker’s budget.


Aside from being a collection of the most uniquely fucking jank structures in London today, I think these buildings give us an insight into the aspirations of the people who live in them, the public around them, and the time of their construction.

With their stacked squares and arches, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they remind us of children’s’ toy building blocks. They’re constructed in flagrantly masculine and boisterous ways, with grids of bricks in checkerboards, powerful decorative towers, and with curves or classicism just bolted-on objectively like a pair of plastic novelty breasts.

It’s an egoistic reading and enactment of postmodernity, which looks at architectural history and sees only a series of costumes ready to be grabbed out of context and put on in any order you like. But during the lads mag; yoof TV; Tony Blair with an acoustic guitar; inner-child embracing 1990s – what more could we have expected? ‘Cool Britannia’ has had such a tellingly short half-life that the words barely have to enter your brain before you’re doubled over in excruciating embarrassment.

As hindsight’s acid-reflux tells us today, having the temerity to build nonsense brick-dick buildings with the Bro-enlightened perspective of someone who thinks they can just mash together any architectural style and make it look good, all the while pretending to be in some virtual historical endpoint like those aliens playing marbles with galaxies at the end of Men in Black: this is all just an impotent male fantasy. It is Homer Simpson’s bubble car. It is a Playstation daydream about skateboarding. It is the emasculated office worker’s power trip.

So what are we dreaming about today?

Estate agents and property developers—notoriously never invited to the good parties—have always been a few bitter steps behind the desires of the general population. It’s a bitterness they’ve swallowed back down on countless night buses home, only to concentrate it back into the nervous sales energy and drive for money that keeps them glassily sedated and, like a poisonous jungle plant, keeps everyone else instinctively distant and disgusted.

But with daily lifestyle emails, the dominance of the location tagged image in popular culture through apps like Instagram, and the networked immediacy of the internet, these funny property people have recently stepped up their game.

From turning up ten years late in Shoreditch to build in the dust of the long-departed circus wagons, to appearing in disguise at Peckham’s Bussey Building and taking secret coked-up phone notes in toilet cubicles, and now with an algorithmically accurate and networked understanding of the movements of Our Great City’s elusive Young Creatives, they’ve obliterated Hackney Wick and begun to develop and manage properties close to the bourgeoning warehouses of Seven Sisters, Canning Town, etc., leaving the out-priced and dispossessed in their wake.

The rampant property market in London is no longer colonising former artist’s, alternative, cheap, and low-income locales; it’s preceding these spaces like a latent virus, whilst seeking opportunities for profit and proliferation in the formerly unliveable—garages, cubicles, commercial guardianships and garden sheds.

With the concept of gentrification leaking like muesli milk from The Observer supplements and into the hearts and minds of general consensus, the anxieties of residential property developers and buyers has started to beam from every advertising board and PR campaign with a Vegas neon brilliance. The postmodern play-phallus has disappeared, reserved only for the glass superstructures of city finance. The anxiety of gentrification—of the people the developers and buyers may be muscling out in order for them to muscle in—means that residential living has had to become a little more nuanced.

People don’t want to appear to look like part of the problem. Climbing out of an Uber, tapping your contactless on the self-service checkout, walking down Woolwich high street in a pinstripe suit to your ostentatious building-blocks flat, might be seen today as a bit much.

Realising that you’ve basically dropped from nowhere like an ugly moneyed blot into the lives of an established community causing an irreversible wholesale change, might start to create the kind of niggling sense of guilt and doubt in a person that could potentially destabilise the housing market.

In London, prospective buyers of the middle-classes no longer dream of living in a house where they might stand out; they would prefer to live somewhere which may appear at least like they fit right in.

Though “virtue signaling” is an often used and abused term banded by the alt-right to gaslight the political correctness and compassion of the Left as insincere posturing, there is certainly something to be said of the general neoliberal sensibility to change, shapeshift, and mask itself in order to feel or appear righteous when necessary.

Perhaps our ability to manipulate morality at will and ascribe value judgements on demand, comes from our total immersion in an economic system based on perpetually unpaid debts, virtual currency, and a near-religious mystification of finance, the marketplace and power.

Moral rights and wrongs should be able to be tested by our actions, proven through the good or bad results, and interrogated if necessary. But how do we understand morality when the results of our actions are constantly deferred, when the debts of our choices are never repaid, and when we in turn become enslaved to these debts?

As long as we have acknowledged this process of choice, of choosing what we feel may be right or wrong, it does not matter to us how we decide to act in the end. We are enslaved to choice; it absolves us of the good or the bad. Typically this features as an underlying irony in the mind of the postmodern subject. We feel that as long as we know in our mind the right way to behave, choosing to act in the opposite way is acceptable—because choice pardons us.

I don’t like Love Island because it’s stupid—but I am going to watch it anyway because I’ve had this thought process, therefore I am absolved from truly being a viewer like the others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to the buildings, take a look at these terraced townhouses in Hoxton.

It’s all about clean lines, symmetry and assimilation. The thin London bricks are muted and pre-weathered. Obviously the new terraces are noticeably different, but the style pallete is very conservative, and it aims to look as if they could have been built around the same period as the older terraces. As time passes by, the differences between the new and old will shrink even further.

What makes these newly developed flats more ominous than the postmodern block on Essex Road? In the Simpsons episode “Oh Brother, Where art thou?” when Homer builds his ostentatious dream car, he borrows a space-age glass bubble, 50s Cadillac shark fins and grille, the spoiler from an Italian supercar, and a clash of many other designs. The collision of styles is so monstrous, because style only makes sense when its speaking amongst its historical moment. It cannot be separated from its histories, cultures and peoples without maiming or destroying itself. Or in the case of the Terry Farrell-style postmodern buildings, without looking like some boastful wank fantasy.

Just because these contemporary terraces and flats seem to be more demurely classical and stylistically cohesive, doesn’t mean they are more faithful to history. Instead of a Farrell-Simpson trashy historical collage, a singular style has been cut out from history as a readymade, a façade, a theatre set. It’s an anxious hologram of respectability for the new residents to hide behind. It says: there’s nothing to see here, nothing has changed, we are part of this place and its history, and have every right to live here. It’s an amendment to a family tree, the historical right of the new inhabitants’ to a community’s lineage.

In time, for the passerby, the difference between the new and old developments will be invisible. The ferocious proliferation of residences like this all over the city makes these developments so omnipresent they are virtually invisible anyway.

If Homer were a moneyed Young Creative building a car on the streets of London today, he would build a silver 2007 Ford Focus, and park it outside his house pretending it has been there for a decade. A bumper sticker would read “Gentrification? Not me.” Though sometimes of course, the grandiose imperatives of the homeowner sneak through, against the wishes of the architect. Take this matte gold Audi 4×4, for example, parked outside of the Hoxton developments.

As far as consumer cars go, it doesn’t get more ostentatious than a performance four-wheel-drive parked in the middle of the most densely urban city in the UK. It’s a statement car, and just through existing alone it presents to us an admittance of its own excesses. The four-wheel-drive’s shape and size is a weak, half-nod to some kind of functionality or utility, but as soon as we acknowledge the gold paint and the locale, it immediately transforms this gesture into a smirk.

It’s the equivalent of spending a grand on a block of professional chef’s knives just so you can use them to slice open the packet of your Tesco stir fry each night, an act I’m sure genuinely occurs hundreds of times daily within a mile radius of the car itself. Before we leave the car, notice the stylised absence of the Audi logo on the custom boot lid. It reminds me of a conspicuously smooth Action Man crotch. Where is the brand, the marker, the totem? It becomes present in its absence, incanted like a spirit each time we look at it.

The ghostly absence/presence of the wrecking-ball power of property in London today, with theatrical building façades and their architectural historic reenactments, all contribute to an unnerving sense of virtuality and surrealism that looms on every street.

Inside the minds of the buyers, the ironic subjectivities of the emerging wealthy professional creative classes, the question of whether this is right or wrong is irrelevant. In their manic internal monologues, just choosing to notice or ignore, or do both, short circuits the possibility of action or resistance. Virtual subjects in a virtual environment, mutually reinforcing one another.

It is now the role of the architect, developer and estate agent to mitigate the increasingly self-evident destructive powers of the housing market by maintaining this virtuality. They do so with the kind of progressively anxious fervor you might expect from a desperate casino owner trying to coerce patrons through the front door.

‘Fashion designers, Turner Prize winners… and you,’ reads this advertisement on the side of some former warehouses near Angel. Obviously, the fact that these warehouses are no longer warehouses but luxury residences instead, testifies to there being no “artists” here any longer. But the historical lineage is clearly demarcated: artists are/were here presently/absently, and now its your turn to follow in their footsteps.

How exciting – will it be the tin of shit, or the on-and-off lights, or the messy bed? There is something inherently suspicious about a PR campaign that is desperate to let the prospective buyer know they are living in an artistic neighbourhood, whatever this means. I can imagine if they decided to develop property on the scorched landscape of a former nuclear test site, the ad-boards would picture all the wonderful living plants and creatures that used to be in the area, the teeming life that you – yes you! – would get to engrave your name beneath as a new member of the local lineage.

This weakly scribbled “i waz ere’ footnote to a virtual reimagining of history, is about the most sincere gestural contribution to society and community that the middle-classes are currently willing to make in London. One of the remaining joys of living here today is watching these apartments raise from the ground, with ever more increasing, concise, and poetic anxieties inscribed in block letters on their promotional material, letting everyone know why their existence is anything but terrible.

The consciences of gentrification and social-cleansing that threaten to organize into something more than a virtue signal is kept at peace with the Vegas neon poems of advertising. The language of PR and advertising is, I believe, the popular art form of today in cities like London. But until property buying is made accessible and gamified in some way, the Vegas experience remains very much a high rollers reserve.

Air BnB has tried; and like any good game it comes with an app. But the play is more like SimCity property magnate, rather than anything with a fast-paced dynamic element of risk, like Tinder or Bejeweled. It has me wondering what the endgame of London’s current property aspiration is. It seems the narrative is that everyone should want to buy into the idea of living inside a genuine historical moment, with its blue plaque heritage pedigrees and former artists credentials, all of us taking part in a grand historical project of dynamic “London,” we seem so anxious to keep reminding ourselves is definitely still here. Artists?! Sure! They used to live right there, actually.

The logical end point of this mass hallucination is that we all live in some historical important moment we’re proud to be in, and we all presumably own buy-to-let investment properties that we rent out to others. Those others will also own buy-to-let properties, and will be living in a very important and historical moment themselves…

We can cut short this feedback loop here. It is impossible. Property development and the logic of capital and accumulation must always return to territory, ownership, domination and subjugation. Someone owns, someone else pays. Preferably this takes place inside a belief system that legitimates the whole exchange by vilifying the tenant, the payer, as someone who is weak and unable to play the game right; and extolls the landlord, or the paid, as the skilful, heroic hard grafter.

They are the chosen ones who essentially have the rights to history, to the artists quarters, to party in the former warehouses of the former humanities students—who went on to get careers in PR producing adverts for warehouse style apartments.

There is very much a Vegas gambler’s sensibility running beneath this. If you walk around in a casino you are not in a room full of winners. To be so would be impossible; it would negate the existence of the casino. But where is the fun of following the logic of the gamble to its fallacious conclusion? The game itself offers a temporary moment of a thrill, and for some people, owning and developing property can be that thrill. It’s the thrill of a momentary belief in the triumph of chance and expertise and righteousness, over the privileged realities of profit, social-cleansing and subordination.

When developers find out how to offer this thrill more quickly and widely than Air BnB—when the housing market becomes truly gameified as dating/shopping/banking/ already have been—property development will become unstoppable. Help to Buy: this is too slow. A mortgage is like a roulette wheel that spins for a lifetime whilst you fritter away your years at the table, bleeding yourself pale with a pathetic run of small wagers.

‘Luxury’ has long been capitalism’s way of quickly and temporarily appeasing the gambler’s fantasy in our lives. You can work 40 hour minimum wage weeks or sit around in your flat all day, but with your silver rococo candelabra on your fireplace, “Dream Home” written in wooden letters on the coffee table, and glossy IKEA kitchen work surfaces, you can play at being the winner for a while. Until the itch rises again. If you’ve got enough money in London to buy a property, you can now play at being a member of a constructed community of artists too.

 

Lets have one last look at play and impossibility. The picture on the left shows a close-up of the front window of the Hoxton terraces, and on the right the entrance to an apartment and office block close by in De Beauvoir Town. Each terrace front window is a view into a plunging vacant drop, which leads to the downstairs flat space. With the apartment block, this gnomonic chunk taken from the front of the building is the definitive recurring design trope, used in almost every new development of its kind all over the city.

It creates a kind of optical illusion. The building still stands, in spite of an absent mass of supporting walls and beams; it’s the closest contemporary residential architecture gets to the bravado of the postmodern stylings of the 1990s and early 2000s. This time, rather than ornamental extrusions, we are treated to a kind of confidence trick. It says: this project is self-supported upon nothingness, on the faiths and myths of privilege.

It’s a physical realisation of the contemporary housing market and crisis—a broken system that thrives of the supernatural ideologies of big capital, the invisible hand of foreign investment, and virtual PR community histories, all of which we cannot see or understand yet nevertheless make these developments possible, keeping them suspended.

With the terrace’s front window, it’s not just an erasure of where a living room might have been, but it’s the way it pretends to give us a complete glass-transparent insight into who might live here and where they came from. In actuality, it allows only a view into vacancy, white walls and fresh air, and a ghostly reflection of ourselves standing outside.

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love song

LOVE SONG

Brass plaque screwed into stone
lacquer so thick on cheap paneling
it had become one of those evenings
and granny’s money would sort it,
the world would spin for them
throwing lotus tiles at their feet
Red wine clinging on with a sense of improvement,
after work appraisal and Swedish clothes
to make you like a god, calculated   simple     white
the unfrayed edges and neat hems,
they meant that we were happy, above

lights cast shadow making us look chosen,
making the panels of the pub seem fake, now
that seriousness was just for racists and the ill-informed,
having not read the article they didn’t know how
important it was            such an important article,
comfort through their own ignorance,
making the wrong choices, enjoying
the shit art                     shame though
some of them were just kids and they
just don’t deserve that, maybe we
could adopt
the thin ghosts of precious

metal children labouring from somewhere
else? Bicycle-man clips his legs into the crank,
thought about salmon fillet inflating the clear
lung, cut corners, swirling in the heat
of the purity ball as father and daughter.
The others slipping around kerbside in
a fluorescent shoal, their maws slackened,
grunting, their corner sofa black leather
Dream Home in wooden letters, their life
goals working better, their child slaves dancing
in heavy cobalt circuits, unseen; and I hear a phonecall,

its a song they’re singing straight into the air, it goes:
our love is a water slide in Dubai, our love at night
is watched by guards in the compound, our love
works in Saudi Arabia together, and the male part
wears shorts by the pool whilst the female part
is a cover
, and he keeps going: we will never leave
because everything we need is here for you,
our love will fall from beneath us over and over
again like thousands upon thousands of money,
then his voice bended at the lights and got lost
like a secret rose tattoo, like a public record of an angel.

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spirituality is a feeling you can own

SPIRITUALITY IS A FEELING
YOU CAN OWN

Stonehenge:    cereal boxes
Everyone:        all costumes
the front seats all the way back
of the european hatchback

two young men take the analogue
research chemical hallucinogen
the blue sun visor windscreen
chrome interior intensifies it.

ways of drinking ways of reading
the literary award delicately embossed
in a red circle like a still wet
wine cork under your thumb.

enormous cardboard from the TV
too large to fold, burned like wood
one day in a bin in the street.
I’ll take the self-love package

a Designated Picnic Area.
They came from the west country,
bearded wicca men who brew shed cider
with a pointed hat for the ceremony

paid dues to the faithful gordian knot
logo on distressed paper label microbrew
sold locally       to anyone        who got it.
daddy did you show them your new hash?

smirking thinking of his daughter licking
the rizla, he passed it to an orthodontist.

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Not Main Entry Here

In one of those moods again, so decided to take a walk and some photos around Kings Cross. Both the station and its surroundings have transformed rapidly over the past five or so years in what is one of the biggest urban regeneration projects in the city. The result is grand, weird, smooth, empty; an enormous privately owned public space, subject to security and regulations which quietly or not-so quietly dictate the terms of its use.
_____In its newfound international leanings, Kings Cross station has followed a similar line to its sister over the road, St. Pancras. A luggage trolley sawn in half, cemented into the wall beside the Waitrose, forms a simulated world famous Platform 9 ¾, and its snaking high-street bank queue rope is packed with people pretty much constantly. At the front of the queue, a marshal employed solely for this purpose quickly ushers you forward, runs a red and gold coloured scarf around your neck, and takes a camera phone photo of you stood behind the half trolley buried into the building.
_____It’s a place reconditioned to make anyone from anywhere feel very much relaxed and confident inside its glowing chamber of global far-reaching brands we have learned to become accustomed to and pacified by. A real sense of comfort or a cohesive spatial understanding of the building are sacrificed for brand-sense at all costs.
_____Reminds me of the Costa and Sainsbury’s that opened in the buildings opposite Goldsmiths whilst I was doing my undergrad. The new units were part of the university’s immense local property portfolio. Aside from the lucrative rents and rates the college would be charging for these spots, presumably the main investment was in encouraging as many domestic and international students to feel as “welcome” as possible with these behemoth British brands stalwartly flagging the entranceway to the main building.
_____Behind Kings Cross station a ramp leads to the rest of the development. The road is that kind of grit that is glued into the ground. It barely moves and makes a subdued crunch beneath your shoes. The pavements and piazzas are bleached grey flagstones and yellow sandstone slabs, pressure washed by attendants with mobile trolleys early in the morning and quietly at dusk, daily. Past fancy restaurants, the Google headquarters, advertising boards, and buildings in various states of construction and completion, is Granary Square, the former something-or-other but now current site of the Hyper-Super-Regen Next-Gen Central St. Martins art school campus. There’s also a burgeoning bar and restaurant (non)district, some Victorian gas holders recently converted into apartments (named in delicate serif typeface, Gasholders) and an almost finished “100,000 sq. feet of Experiential Shopping”, The Coal Drop, est. 1850.

3


_____
Granary Square has History, so we’re told. Used by train companies and canal commerce during the 19th and early 20th century, like the gas towers, its been mostly defunct and derelict since the end of the second world war, except in minor roles as storage areas and builder’s yards, or for a few flits of life in the 1980s and 90s as the home of the legendary Bagleys Warehouse.
_____Today Granary Square is suspended in an uncanny state of incompletion. The relentless ad-boards that encircle it protect the passerby from witnessing the ugly matter-of-fact materiality of the construction process, which would shatter the locale’s otherwise immaculate conception and arrival. Paired with the enormous empty shop units and apartment blocks, and the John Deere private security milk floats that buzz around constantly with a sense of unnerving mystery only matched by their absurd aimlessness, walking around this place is bewildering.
_____Now the dominant form of almost every regeneration project in the city of London and unfortunately elsewhere, Granary Square is very much the archetypal privately owned and secured “public” space. The ceaseless state of construction and lack of closure; the architecture of angular neoclassical forms and glass exoskeletons designed specifically to prevent those on the ground from any consistent perspective; the constant loops of the busy-looking fluorescent security team; all create a simulated space which you cannot fully realise, nor properly realise yourself inside.
_____Simply put, you feel constantly unnerved, made aware that you are a subject in someone else’s situation, one in which the rules are still being defined ad-hoc and privately, and your terms inside this supposedly public space are subject to random checks, questions and denials. Viewing the machinations of this is, naturally, strictly forbidden. Even the unfolding of time—which might signify an ongoing process of construction—is screened by tunnels of construction board imagery of the finished space. It is a space that will constantly be deferred, and we are led to imagine, may never arrive.

~

This is the location of the regenerated and relocated Central St. Martins campus, now in the old granary itself. Aside from how monumentally fucked up marketised higher education in the UK is—especially the pressures it exacts on the arts and humanities—this campus makes painfully and essentially clear what higher arts education is actually about: from the perspective of its financiers and profiteers, for its debtors or prospective debtors, and to the members of the public, who star in this drama as excluded extras, illegal aliens without the ID and documentation to make it past the chrome coded turnstiles and sliding entrance doors of Premium access, permitted a mere temporary visa through its Bronze package atrium. Where, of course, you are free to play table tennis on any of the provided tables.
_____In here, you can gaze through floor-to-ceiling glass at the knowledge production taking place inside, and the products of their artistic labours pinned to dress mannequins in Oxford Street-style manicured window displays. It seems less like the genuine work of the students, and more like an advert for the Institution – though if you’ve studied inside an arts university in London in the past decade or so, you’ll know the difference between these two is essentially unknowable.
_____Equally laboured is the promotional material blended into the construction boards surrounding Granary Square, selling both the square itself, the apartments and offices surrounding, the university, and a bitter blended cultural product of all of these things.


_____The Coal Drop is the site of the tantalisingly unfinished Experiential Shopping something-something, built within the former site and now skeleton of, yep, the coal drop. Large adboards with HD images of the shining black stuff are blended with PR photoshop mastery usually reserved for HBO dramas and smartphone releases.
_____Coal—its materiality, histories, uses, environmental impact, chemistry—is completely flattened into a monochrome aesthetic, virtual shaded blacks and greys, which as we know from our late-capitalist normcore trend, provide a great backdrop for any contemporary PR campaign aiming to bowl its audience over with a unquestioning sense of professionalism, classicism, style, and historical permanence. Incidentally, what is our monochrome normcore fling except a direct descendant of the dual-headed snake of Professionalisation and Precarity, which currently ensures we’re dressed for the possibility of some work, any work, at all moments?

~

The frantic Frankenstein stitching between student artistry and fashion design to commercial high-end retailers that will soon fill the Coal Drop is visceral: victorian engineering interwoven with contemporary architecture. In practice—the prospect of getting some A-Levels, completing a successful application to Central St. Martins, affording to rent and maintain your life in London during a degree, studying alongside working, creating work or art that is true to your self, vision and the best of your ability, producing artifacts that could be reproduced and sold to others, getting into contact with buyers, pitching your designs to retailers, showing your work in exhibitions and catwalks, and eventually commercially selling your work—these are uniquely complex, fraught, and realistically, purely fantastic propositions. But everywhere, the adverts promise otherwise.
_____Granary Square – Fashion – Catwalk – History – Fame – Success.
_____And Coal.
_____It is made to look so easy. Certainly at Central St. Martins, the prospect is much more likely for some than for others. Whilst arts, design and humanities degrees suffer from drastic underfunding, the shrewd and profit-driven university administrations have gone looking for the easy money—often this means international students. If you can afford to privately front the tens of thousands of pounds required for these fees, your oligarch father has likely already gotten you that two week internship through his golfing mate Philip Green when you were seventeen anyway. Liz Lightfoot’s 2015 Guardian piece estimates the personal finances required to front a successful MA Fashion degree show at Central St. Martin’s at about ten grand. Who are these graduates?

Material history in Granary Square becomes a pure aesthetic, stripped of its peoples, actions, places and times. Coal is a monochrome image only. It looks great with Central St. Martin’s smokey catwalk degree shows, moody models, and a repackaged sense of place, which is both trying to prove itself as the original article and spiritual descendant of a working, commercial Victorian London – and as a reinvention that both respects and surpasses these pasts.
_____I really enjoy the effectiveness of “reinvention” here, and it’s a term I’ve borrowed from their own promotional material. It signifies in the perfect way that only extensive and expensive PR-consultation can deliver (or extensive and expensive humanities degrees can deduce), the sense of late-Victorian industriousness and entrepreneurialism that our current epoch is rediscovering to be Lord-Sugar-heroic, or post-arts-degree-career-sensible, or just plain legitimate for a civically, ethically and morally reprehensible team of Redevelopers, intent on disguising enormous private social cleansing projects as something which is somehow beneficial for the public.
_____
With respect for material history impossible here, history must be dehydrated and flattened, it must become a coaly greyscale Pantone palette ‘History,’ and we must drift around inside it, like pastille CGI figures in an artists impression.

~

In Mark Fisher’s excellent book Capitalist Realism, he gives an insightful reading of Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 movie Children of Men. Set in a dystopian near future, Clive Owen and rest of the general population are impotent, and the political elite classes are holed up inside luxury apartments built within the reinvented and regenerated Battersea power station. They’ve filled this compound with hoarded fine art and treasured cultural objects—an eerily prescient prediction of the Granary Square and Gasholders development, and most tastily of course, of Battersea power station itself, which is currently in the grips of a transformation into luxury apartment buildings. The “Iconic” chimneys were actually dissembled and reassembled again during this process, but unfortunately for the developers, all the advertising boards in the world could not provide a mask to disguise the building’s temporary shriveled flaccidity.
_____The former gas holders, now Gasholders, like Battersea power station are listed buildings. Meaning that, instead of being ploughed into the ground to make way for as much luxury housing as is physically possible, some restraint has to be shown. Though this often means the protected buildings have to be left well alone, if the design can be shown to be truly fancy, resplendent, expensively commissioned and tasteful enough, some exceptions will be made. Perversely, this means that they are protected up to a limit—that limit only being surpassed when truly expensive and uniquely luxuriant apartments and their patrons have shown that they have enough money and decorum to make an exception. Social housing need not apply.
_____So we are faced with the completely fucked up reality that the gas towers—the way that just in being there they testify to the possibility of grand beauty in the machines of public service and industry, and in their decorative ironwork’s latent subtleties are fitting monuments to the skilled workers that designed, built and worked within them, thanklessly—are now just a architectural oddity, a frame, a canvas sketch, a selling point, for prohibitively expensive and completely private housing that working class people and service workers will never be able to afford.
_____Fisher convincingly surmises that in the Control society we currently live within—with our behaviours regulated through the manipulations of our desires, rather than dictated by the paternal jail and baton of a Disciplinarian-Authoritarian society—its unlikely that we will wake up to an explosion one morning, when the Revolution or the End (or both) rolls up outside our bedroom window. More likely, the public will gradually be ushered out of sight, the world will sleepwalk into a confusing privately owned space, the rich will barricade themselves in their empty world of capital fetish value, and the general population will slowly be revealed to be impotent in all kinds of ways.

~

I remember at the end of 2008, after the beginning of a financial crash too large and bizarre for us to understand, I was still in school. Non-uniform days quickly began to drift into unusual and as yet unforeseen territories. It seemed with the prospect of wealth and work as we’d known them thrown sharply into focus by globalism’s now uncertain claims; by turbulent unemployment; and by a project of Quantitative Easing that had facilitated the largest transference of wealth from the general public to the rich in recorded history; fashion sense had also embarked on a bit of a power grab. The promised trajectory of meritocratic hard study materialising into the good-wage reward could be short circuited, just as easily as endemic financial super-crimes could go unpunished, and irrationally, rewarded.
_____What were we going to be when we grew up? And how could we get there? Opting for the short circuit ourselves, we bought Hollister clothes to imagine we were millionaire sandy-haired Malibu beach hut proprietors, or donned Hunter wellies and Jack Wills jodhpurs to play at being old money aristocrat children.
_____Giant televisions glowed Downton Abbey into millions of homes; the viewers as subservient as the scullery staff they rooted for, projecting their fantasies onto being a downtrodden maid (likely played by some wealthy RADA graduate doing their best Yorkshire coalface) caught in the drama of the household, delighting in the subordination. The gentry aesthetic was grasped with all the same fervour that a trauma victim seizes their imaginative fantasies when a psychic shock too great to know or understand suddenly makes reality unlivable.
_____Eight years of austerity later, and the paint had really begun to blister and burst. Those Hollister summers seemed so distant and Bebo-buried. But the shame of emulating the rich, and the shame of being rich, manifests itself today in the wardrobes and on the slight frames of Home County boys and girls, the affluent Shire villagers, the former boarders, softly spoken Devonshire coasters, the Cheshire and Cotswold kids with interesting parents. Now all grown up, doing arts and humanities degrees in London and the cities of the Northern Powerhouse, and blossoming into Young Creatives: it’s short back and sides for everyone, loud activewear, big sports brands—basically a caricature of the entire ensemble of the poorer kids they used to laugh at whilst they queued up over the road at the comprehensive school bus stop. It’s a working class aesthetic tweaked into the hyperreal realm of sports-luxe – a way to both blend into, and to subtly dominate, the poorer parts of the urban cities they are renting in during their studies and internships. It is a thinly veiled guilt, and a thinly veiled disguise.


_____But it does not stop at riches now, it’s nationhood too. What is Great Britain any longer when it cannot pay its teachers properly, when it sells away its NHS, when it shames, disgraces, and even kills its most vulnerable members of society. Like a shining blue sword, the Conservatives invoked the blinding light of nationalism: it was the fault of foreigners, of the EU, of drowning boat children, of Syrians, of somebody else from somewhere else.

Cue The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Indian Summers, The Indian Doctor, The 100 Foot Journey etc.,…The Empire’s history of colonial genocides and disgraces flattened into hour long specials of surface, of brown people smiling, white wooden porches and period costume, whimsical migrations to Europe, family tussles and pleasant holidays, to the good ol’ days.
_____British people aren’t racist! Just look at how we’re confronting our past with a gritty and yet convivial Danny Boyle aspect. Like the Olympic opening ceremony, we showcase how we hope we look to ourselves and to the world, rather than what we actually are.
_____And the show must go on. Dishoom! Kings Cross’ latest Indian cuisine curry spot in Granary Square. One of the most unusual and I suppose, experiential, restaurants I’ve ever visited, if the kind of experience you enjoy is a fabricated impression of an early 20th century first-class waiting lounge on the set of Carry On! Bombay. The menus are printed on yellowed paper made to look like a train timetable, the room is sprinkled with quaint age-distressed photo frames of anonymous Indian faces and civilising khaki shirted Brits, slowly spinning wicker fans and demure wooden paneling, tiled floors, painted Sanskrit on the toilet cubicles, and a suspended station clock, looming.
_____Whether the restaurant authentically reproduces the welcoming and egalitarian “spirit of the old Irani cafés of Bombay” as its website attests, is not a question I am close to being equipped to answer. But in the context of Granary Square, its relentless aestheticising of history in the pursuit of an apolitical place of capital, control and exchange – how could it?


_____You should go and take a look for yourself. But before you do, notice the door next to the entranceway. “Not Main Entry Here,” in a vintage mid-century, Keep Calm typeface. Instead of the plain and grammatically correct “Exit”, or “Please use the other door” or “Not the Main Entrance” – presumably, we’re supposed to read this odd syntax inside our heads in the voice of some Bombay lackey, who whilst waiting on your table and delivering your fifth Singapore Sling, has tried to direct you away from the exit. But in their broken English (typical!!) they’ve gone and mangled the sentence order a little bit. Meanwhile you give a knowing smile in your pith helmet and tap your sabre on the tiles impatiently.
_____Luckily, if you’re not racist enough to construct this imagined scenario and colonial fantasy for yourself, when the restaurant was being built, someone was ordered to painstakingly glue vinyl letter sticker – after vinyl letter sticker – after vinyl letter sticker – on to this door, knowingly, and construct it for you.

~

Back in the centre of Granary Square, each of the 1080 fountain jets are ejecting an orchestrated and precise routine. The children playing in the water are watched by their families, who are watched by an unnecessary but nonetheless present security team. A cohort of prospective students arrive at Kings Cross station, and successfully funnel themselves five minutes through the billboard corridor to the square. The seating is surfboard sloped and uncovered; nowhere to shade from the sun, shelter from the rain, or sleep in the evening. All of these ways of being are subtly reproduced – the children are learning what to expect from the public space, the students are learning what to expect from higher education, and the public are construction lines, half-erased.

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reading

reading

in an infinity pool so you can look out

over the sea like you’re in

the top-flight in the battle against relegation

previous flatmates have all been musicians

or creatives of some sorts and

I would love to keep it that way

with a base coat and 10mm acrylic on top

ive got my little lad on the tools already.

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Outdoors in Black and White

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Interiors in Black and White

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