They’ve Taken our Ghettos: A Punk History of the Woodberry Down Estate

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Showing a mixture of prints, illustrations, photographs and text, this new exhibition  They’ve Taken our Ghettos: A Punk History of the Woodberry Down Estate has been  curated to show the work created by a diaspora of punks who lived as squatters on the Woodberry Down Estate in London in the 80s and 90s.

 Curated by Rebecca Binns, ex- squatter of this infamous punk squat and PhD student examining Gee Vaucher of Crass’s print making, the show will exhibit a variety of work made by the punk community from the 80s to present day.

In light of London’s rapid and ever real gentrification, the exhibition reflects on capitalism’s contemporary suffocation of the city by directly documenting what is currently happening to a space where to be young, creative and anarchic was a sustainable lifestyle, where now in 2015 its increasingly impossible. The inescapable nature of neoliberal values have been perfectly reflected in this exhibition by placing the professional and amateur shoulder to shoulder to produce an image of the importance of community.

We spoke to Rebecca Binns to find out more about this exciting exhibition.

 

Frontcover

 

 

 

How did the idea to create this exhibition come about and were you personally involved within the Woodberry Estate?

My inspiration for organising this exhibition is watching the current redevelopment of the Woodberry Down Estate in Manor House (North London). This estate, which was overwhelmingly comprised of social housing, is being demolished to make way for highly profitable real estate. This seems to be part of the wider trend for social cleansing of housing estates we are seeing at the moment.

Watching the demolition take place brought back memories of my experiences squatting there over twenty years ago. Back then, a high proportion of the flats had been allowed to deteriorate and remain empty. They were subsequently occupied by a squatting community of young punks. There were also squatted vegan cafes and venues for gigs with crèche facilities provided. I reflected on how this enabled young people without money a chance to live independently, communally and create an alternative to life on a capitalist treadmill.

A facebook conversation followed, with several of the original squatters swapping stories and anecdotes. Several of these people are now practicing writers and artists. Included in this exhibition and an accompanying book are their prints, comics, collages, photographs and stories. Together they form an alternative, punk narrative of life on the estate.

Reality Gap
 

How do you feel about the gentrification of Tottenham? And the current political climate in Britain?

I have friends in Tottenham and while some aspects of regeneration are welcome (lower crime for example) overall the impression is that it’s the local community who loses out. While richer home owners benefit financially, all lose from the inflated prices (as their children then can’t afford to move on). For poorer residents it’s worse as they become priced out and alienated from their local area. London is becoming a soulless, overpriced ghetto; a depository for money from foreign investors.

On the Woodberry Down Estate, the developers stand to make a fortune (3 beds are marketed at 1.2 million), while leaseholders are not being compensated at market value for the enforced loss of their homes.[1] Due to simultaneously soaring rents in London and benefit caps, those in receipt of housing benefit are increasingly displaced to cheaper locations around the country. All of this erodes any connection people have to their local area, which was traditionally their right and denies the capital its healthy social mix.

 

What are some of your favourite pieces of work shown in this exhibition?

I’m really excited to see all the contributions. Joe’s created a created a series of etchings inspired by the destruction of the estate, juxtaposed with his memories of squatting there, entitled The Degeneration of Woodberry Down. Kieran’s included graphics, which show animated snapshots of this life. Millie’s submitted her textured collage, Reality Gap, which depicts me, aged 17, in my first squat on the 13th floor of a tower block in Haringey. Mik’s let me use his comic, Scareover, which provides a stark evocation of 90s punk-life. There are also stories and poems included in the book, which vividly recall this time and place. Personally, I find the photo-collages of people in and around the estate then to be especially evocative.

Was most of this work created then or was it created more recently?

Joe’s work was created recently. Mik’s comic and Millie’s collage were created back then (Some time in the 90s and 1989 respectively). Keiran’s graphics were created from 1990s-2000s. The photos were obviously taken back then and have been collaged recently. The stories and poems in the book are a mixture of historic and recently produced work.
gang pics6w
Do you still feel connected to the punk community?
Yes and no. I’ve changed a-lot since my teenage years. I rarely make it out to gigs or other events going on in the punk scene. Having said that some of my strongest friendships were created in that environment and have stood the test of time. I would also say that my thought patterns are set to a more questioning mode from having lived life outside the usual boundaries.
With squatting now becoming more and more difficult to practice, how do you think this community will react?
I can’t really comment on what’s happening now in squatting communities. I would say that when I was squatting, it gave me a chance to live cheaply and freely. I think it’s tragic how hard it is now for young people without money to have any kind of freedom or independence.

“They’ve Taken our Ghettos: 
A Punk History of the Woodberry Down Estate” 
Exhibition Launch Party, Thurs, 2 Jul, 6-11pm, Free Entry
Bar by Craving Coffee (card/cash), Food by Pink Cactus (cash only)
Exhibition Runs 2-26 July

A book of the same name will be available to buy via Active Distribution http://www.activedistributionshop.org/ from early July.

Biographies

Rebecca Binns – is currently researching a PhD at London College of Communication (University Arts London) on Gee Vaucher’s graphics for various outlets including Crass. She has contributed articles to various publications including Source, Aesthetica, The Architect’s Journal and The Big Issue on photography, graphics, fine art, architecture,

squatting and homelessness.

 

Joe Ryan – is currently researching a practice based PhD at the University of East London. His submission to this project shares the focus of his wider practice, which deals with the relationship between institutions and control via surveillance, courts and security

and as theoretical devices, such as Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon.

 

Mik Insect – is a guitarist for Coitus, one of the punk-squat bands to emerge from the squat-punk scene documented in this publication. Mik currently works as a tattoo artist at Rudeboy Studios in Norwich and creates comics in his spare time. Mik’s contribution, Scareover, has been previously published on The Restarts website. See http://www.restarts.co.uk/GALL/scare%20over.html

 

Millie Guest – now works as a website designer. She has an art background, having graduated from her fine art BA in 1994. She created this collage, Reality Gap, in 1989 at the age of eighteen when many of her friends were squatting empty properties in London. This work depicts her school friend Becky in her first squat on the 13th floor of a tower block in Haringey in 1989. The work is about the relationship between the counter-culture and the prevailing culture.

 

Kieron Plunkett – is a singer and bass guitarist for The Restarts; another punk band with roots in the squat scene reflected on in this book. Kieron is also a graphic designer producing illustrations, posters and prints on commission. His visual material can be

viewed here: www.plunkart.com

[1] http://www.tmponline.org/2012/06/28/woodberry-down-in-hackney-how-regeneration-is-tearing-up-another-east-london-community/

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/may/18/-sp-truth-about-gentrification-how-woodberry-down-became-woodberry-park

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