The Guardian on Spectres of Modernism

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Developers are using culture as a Trojan horse in their planning battles by Anna Minton, Guardian Tuesday 10 October 2017.

London sells itself on being the world’s cultural capital… But just a mile or two from the galleries and auction houses of the West End, some of the same cultural players whose creativity the city trades on are protesting that their own communities are being desecrated by development. Spectres of Modernism, a site-specific exhibition at Bowater House in the City of London until December, sees balconies draped with banners by artists including the Turner prizewinners Jeremy Deller and Elizabeth Price.

Their focus is the building opposite, Bernard Morgan House, which for decades provided accommodation for 110 City of London police officers and nurses, in a fine example of postwar housing designed to blend with the neighbouring, Grade II-listed Golden Lane estate. Now it is to be demolished and replaced by a luxury apartment block named The Denizen. Eleanor Vonne Brown’s banner reads: “Fashion designers, Turner prizewinners … and you”, a slogan borrowed from developer Aitch Group’s hoarding nearby that trades on London’s cultural capital.

The story follows a by-now-familiar plot. In May 2017 planning approval was given to Taylor Wimpey, despite strong opposition from local residents and businesses. During this process it emerged that the chair of the City’s planning and transportation committee, Chris Hayward, is a director of Indigo Planning, whose clients include Taylor Wimpey. Deputy chair James Thomson was formerly deputy chief financial officer and chief operations officer of Cushman and Wakefield, commercial property and real estate consultants, which marketed and sold Bernard Morgan House to Taylor Wimpey. The committee member and former lord mayor of London Sir Michael Bear was appointed chair of the planning consultancy Turley Associates – which also acts for Taylor Wimpey – a few weeks after planning approval was granted…

…Meanwhile the one Golden Lane estate resident on the committee, councillor Sue Pearson, was advised by the assistant city solicitor not to cast a ballot as, having previously made an objection to the application, she could be seen to have a vested interest in the outcome. There is widespread opposition to the construction of apartments mainly bought by foreign investors as “safe deposit boxes in the sky”, with figures showing that 40% of residential properties in the West End are empty most of the time. The majority of flats allowing the banners to hang belong to residents who have lived there since Bowater House was built.

They, and the artists, fear The Denizen risks becoming a similar ghost building.

Read the full article here: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/10/developers-culturehousing-luxury-homes-art-artists

Banners above: Siu Lan Ko All That Is Air Melts Into Solid: Marx and Engels often used dialectical reversal to make points and in The Communist Manifesto they state: ‘all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind’; many now associate the first part of this citation with its reuse in the title of Marshall Berman’s book All That is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity (1982). Anjalika Sagar – The Otolith Group Freedom From Frontierists, Settlers, Hipster Capitalists & Colonial Gentrifiers: developers are attempting to rebrand the Finsbury/Bunhill/St Luke’s area as East Clerkenwell, to create a ‘hipster central belt’ running from Hoxton and Shoreditch to the east to the real Clerkenwell in the west. The Denizen lying mere metres over the border from the old borough of Finsbury (now a part of Islington) fits this pattern of hipster gentrification although it is situated just inside the City ward of Cripplegate Without. The Denizen is NOT located in the ancient heart of the City of London as Taylor Wimpey have falsely claimed in advertising material, since it lies well outside the old city wall.

“A spectre is haunting the cynical overdevelopment that characterises London’s buy to leave property boom, the spectre of modernism!” #savegoldenlane

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Vonne Brown’s Appropriated Slogan

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Eleanor Vonne Brown’s slogan for Spectres of Modernism was appropriated from this billboard in Haggerston. In the context of a protest against overdevelopment in general – and specifically Taylor Wimpey’s The Denizen luxury apartment block on Golden Lane – the words become ironic; the Turner Prize-winners whose work is on display alongside Vonne Brown’s banner are protesting against exactly the type of artwashing that accompanies many City fringe developments. It seems unlikely the Aitch Group will actually have any award winning artists in its ugly new building, unless they’re offering them free space. Here’s what they have to say about how they’re going to ‘transform’ this site on Eagle Wharf Road, London N1:

An exciting new development including 26,000sqft of commercial floor space at basement and ground floor level, as well as 48 flats on upper floors in a part 5 and part 6 storey L-shaped building.

Located just off New North Road, the site has excellent transport links with Angel and Old Street tube stations just minutes walk away.

Personally we doubt that this development is so exciting that the public will be queuing up to watch the paint dry on the woodwork. Still doing that would be more exciting than reading yet another dreary sales pitch from a London property developer.

“A spectre is haunting the cynical overdevelopment that characterises London’s buy to leave property boom, the spectre of modernism!” #savegoldenlane