Dear reader - I write this blog as an ex-londoner. Despite regular visits to the capital to see friends and family, I haven't lived in the capital for more than two months straight since I left in 1999. My description of Camden culture in this blog is based upon my regular visits to the neighbourhood over the years. There is a strong possibility that Camden has a vibrant, hidden cultural scene that has passed me by. I sincerely hope this is the case and I invite anyone who can counter the assertions made in this blog to get in touch. I will publish your comments in full, or you can simply leave a comment below.
Early in 2014 a group of circus artists, performers and other creative types squatted an abandoned leisure centre in Camden Town. Le Squat Sportif was open for about 6 months, providing cultural and community activities, sports events and workshops for the local people. I first heard about this space from other UK squatters who excitedly told me about the warmth and friendliness of their events and I eventually got round to visiting them with my camera in June.
In July I got an email saying that they were about to be evicted and inviting me down to their closing party.
When I got to the party they had already had a couple of unfriendly visits from the police and had agreed there would be no bar on site. I walked into the sports hall to see 400 people sitting quietly on the floor watching a girl reciting witty, political poetry (including an ode to the woman in the job centre, and a squatters adaptation of Blake's 'Garden of Love'). Over the course of the cabaret we were treated to contortion acts, juggling, theatrical pieces, acrobatics, incomprehensible performance art and fire dancing. A number of the people onstage were performing for the first time and it was wonderful to see the talent that was being nurtured, supported and presented by the squatting community.
At around 11pm or midnight the performance on the ground floor finished and the party moved into the basement (for sound control purposes, to avoid upsetting the neighbours). Two DJs got the energy flowing and the dancefloor filled with hula hoopers and poi acrobats filling the space with spinning glowing colours and flashes in the dark.
Word came down that the police were outside again and wanted to shut the party down. An agreement was made that the DJs would stop and the police went away.
So the compere who had been keeping the cabaret flowing upstairs, stepped up to the mic accompanied by a violinist and started beat-boxing and singing, building up complex tunes with a loop-station. The party continued. People danced and sang and clapped along. There was a cheerful dedication to keep the energy and togetherness alive and to meet whatever difficulty arose with creativity and positivity (words that are often misused, but were embodied in that beautiful evening in Camden Town). I got he impression that if the police had cut the power that night, the party goers would have pulled out some candles and guitars and carried on acoustically.
For me this evening was especially moving and inspiring as it seemed to symbolise everything that was missing from Camden Town, the place I grew up.
In the past 30 years I have watched the creeping cultural death of this neighbourhood as creativity and independence slowly got squeezed out of the way by money. All those generic 'camden' shops becoming more and more interchangeable every year and clinging on to a concept of cool that was defined by outcasts in the 1970s and early '80s. The appearance and gradual dominance of the big brands, and the living costs ever rising, until the punks, artists and students that made Camden Town a world famous cultural attraction were priced out of the area. Their genuine creativity being replaced by a commercial pastiche that can be mass produced, packaged and sold like any other commodity.
The event at Le Squat Sportif had to be smuggled in to Camden Town. There is no place for it in this shiny plastic world. In the basement of a squatted building, up a little alleyway, by the bins, behind the supermarket, constantly threatened by the police, there existed an evening of playful creativity and cultural expression. The most genuinely cultural evening I've seen in the neighbourhood in years. There was no puking, fighting, posing or dress codes. No-one tried to sell me anything. Everyone was welcome because we were people, not just transportation devices for wallets. This blatant integrity was an anathema to the way things are done round here.
The squatters have now been removed to make way for a property developer who intends to build some flats.
A lot has been written about the human cost of the London housing crisis with low-income families driven from the capital, away from their roots, their support networks, their homes. Rising homelessness and housing insecurity hitting more people every day. London workers finding themselves pushed further and further out of the city centre as rents move ever further from their reach. As London property is treated as an investment opportunity by the internationally wealthy looking for a safe place to store and grow their money, the buildings themselves are often left empty, bricked up, their functions as places for people lost, while newcomers to the city sleep 15 to a room.
A city is not just bricks and mortar. The city is it's people. It is the people and their unique lives and identities that define the different urban neighbourhoods and invest them with their own distinct characters. London is in danger of losing it's soul as it drives away the artists, musicians, dreamers, performers, families and small communities that make it such an interesting place to live. The buildings are turning into empty mausoleums attractive only to investors. The city sucks in the wealthy and the ambitious and spits out the rest.
At least those exiled can comfort themselves that they take the living character and the beating heart of the city with them.
A small sample of Images I shot at various European squats this Spring / Summer.
Celebrating the beautiful colours of squat life.
The No Borders activists working in Calais have produced a leaflet called No Borders; Thoughts on Guilt, Shame and Trauma. This isn't campaign material intended to inform the public of the plight of migrants in Calais, it doesn't pronounce the No Borders ideology, or encourage people to fight against the system. This leaflet is written for the activists themselves and addresses the emotional trauma inherent in the work of supporting those who wash up on the streets of Calais.
"The guilt and shame of not having done enough is the bane of almost every activist's life and every campaign. This also comes into much sharper focus when it's a person being torn from your arms and dragged away. This might seem obvious, but it needs to be said over and over IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT. What might be happening is that the idea of a state being so powerful and dangerous that it can do that to people psychologically and politically is very difficult to accept." (ref 1)
Calais is the stopping point of hundreds of refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants who are making their way to the UK. Faced with visa fees and transportation costs they can't pay, refugees wanting to claim asylum in the UK have no choice but to smuggle themselves into the country to make their claim. As they search for ways across the channel these refugees end up homeless in the city, with no legal status and no official systems in place to deal with them.
In 1999 the French Red Cross opened a refugee centre called Sangatte to provide shelter and basic facilities for Calais' homeless migrants.
In 2002 an article in the Red Cross magazine had this to say about Sangatte:
Sangatte is a thorn in the side of the inconsistent European policies with respect to asylum seekers. Having failed to find a common political solution to the influx of individuals and families who squat in the gardens and public places of Calais, the French authorities resorted to a humanitarian response. They entrusted the running of this "assembly point" to the French Red Cross. A real "centre for refugees" was thus born. (ref 2)
Overcrowded and with their staff and resources stretched to capacity, Sangatte suffered a series of riots through 2001 and 2002. With various high profile issues around security, and under pressure from the British government, the centre was closed at the end of 2002. (ref 3)
In the 12 years since Sangatte was closed down there has been no attempt by the French or British authorities to resolve the humanitarian issue of homeless refugees in Calais. They provide no official shelter for these people and declare the unofficial ones to be illegal. The refugees and migrants live in informal squats and camps scattered across the city, helped by activists and charities to find food, blankets and basic cleaning facilities.
On May 28 this year, (a few days after the European elections which saw huge gains for the far right French nationalist party the Front National) the French police launched a major action to clear the city of these homeless migrants. Terra Daily reported the police action thus:
French police on Wednesday expelled around 550 people from makeshift camps in the northern port of Calais after a scabies outbreak, drawing criticism from rights groups over the treatment of migrants hoping to reach Britain.
Some 200 policemen were deployed to evict the occupants from the camps which were then bulldozed.
French officials defended the action on public health grounds. But it was slammed as "reckless and ill-considered" by charity group Doctors of the World.
"Evictions will not reduce the number of migrants on the streets of Calais, but will disperse them, making them harder to assist, document or trace. This will further impinge on their basic right to healthcare and shelter," said Leigh Daynes, the head of the NGO's British section...
Charity workers said the occupants of the camps had been left with nowhere to go.
"The people are on edge and are looking for the place where they will feel the safest," Cecile Bossy of Doctors of the World told AFP at the scene. (ref 4)
In a blog entry from that day, Calais Migrant Solidarity told a story of eviction, destruction and resistance as many of the displaced migrants found shelter in a food distribution site called SALAM.
Riot police attempted to enter the grounds by cutting through the fence surrounding SALAM in two places and forcing their way in. On one side, they were repelled by people coming together to barricade the hole they made; on the other side, the police managed to get in but were immediately surrounded and expelled. Cries of «We are human! You are animal!» and «No Police!» sent them on their way. After seeing the strength of the resistance and the difficulty they would have getting through the barricades, the police retreated and made no further attempts to enter.
As we learn to fight together across lines that power exploits to divide and rule, we become stronger and better able to resist future attacks on the autonomy of communities here in Calais. The empowerment which comes from successfully resisting a police attack after so many experiences of humiliation and dehumanization at their hands will not be easily forgotten and will be a source of inspiration and strength for us in the future. (ref 5)
The desperation of their situation seems to have combined with the empowering sense of resistance and solidarity described above, to prompt some of the Calais refugees to go on a hunger strike which started on June 11th. (ref 6) They demanded housing in Calais for the migrants trying to cross into the UK and negotiations between the UK and French governments to allow people access to British territory.
On June 17 the hunger-strikers announced they were contemplating self-immolation if their plight continued to be ignored. The site they were living on in SALAM had no showers or hot water, no waste facilities. There wasn't enough food for the hundreds of people living in the camp. An activist has described to me the scenes of people fighting one another for food. This message appeared on the Calais Migrant Solidarity website:
Request to the French and British authorities from the people on hunger strike in the place of food distribution of Calais
At first, we respect all associations and groups that helped us in our journey. Once again, we want to ask one more time the French and the English government to listen to us as we already did, and we repeat it again.
Us, the persons on hunger strike, we want and we ask to have access to a legal status, to documents, from the English or the French governments.
We hope that these governments will acknowledge our problem and find a solution for it. If the French or the British government do not take in consideration our problem, us, the people on hunger strike will not stop the strike and also some of us may set fire to themselves in the center of Calais.
We are on hunger strike to find a solution to the base of our problem, that’s why we want the french and british government to give us a positive answer. (ref 7)
Vice Magazine dropped in to Calais and spoke to some of the strikers:
“We are tired of life,” says John Abdullah, a 40-year-old migrant from Kunar in Afghanistan. “We want human rights. We want the British and French governments to think about us, but nobody cares... We have decided – all 25 of us – that if they do not listen, we will kill ourselves. We will go to the high street, throw petrol and set ourselves on fire.” (ref 8)
On July 1st I got word that the SALAM camp would be evicted the next morning and that the three surviving squats that were housing migrants were also under immediate threat of eviction so I headed down overnight with my camera, arriving as the sun rose on Wednesday July 2nd.
In the camp I chatted with a couple of young men who had just returned from trying to find a way onto a ferry. They talked excitedly to me about England and their dreams of going there. I took a couple of photos of the sleeping camp in the dawn.
About 10 minutes after I arrived, a couple of activists ran in to warn that the police were coming and the camp had to be roused. Within seconds the shout of 'police, police' was echoing round the site. Hundreds of people were emerging rapidly from tents and sleeping rolls around us, piles of cloth and plastic resolved themselves into drowsy panicking men, groping hurriedly to gather their possessions and rouse their sleeping friends. Chaos reigned and the police vans started to appear beyond the fence.
As the police started to push their way into the camp, people tried to hold them back, to give others a chance to get away - though in reality, escape was already impossible as the camp was surrounded on all sides by riot police and they were pouring in through every entrance - the police responded to the resistance with pepper spray and came in through the coughing chocking people.
The police removed the Europeans, activists, journalists, witnesses. On by one we were pulled out and shifted to the front entrance where none of us could see what was happening. As I was removed from the camp I got separated from my camera, which was still filming what was going on. The rest of these images were shot on my phone.
Over the course of the day, the men in the camp were divided into groups by nationality, loaded onto buses, and taken to various police stations across the country including Paris, Rennes and Lille. The twenty women and ten children that were also sleeping there were swept up in the police action. The three squats housing refugees were also evicted and the people rounded up. Minors, including fifty children from Sudan and Eritrea were taken to a camp in Boulogne-Sur-Mer. (ref 9)
As word went round of police arresting migrants on the streets, activists and charity workers tried desperately to find a safe place for the men who had been lucky enough to be out of the camp at the time of the raid. Aid workers gathered emergency blankets, tents and sleeping bags for the newly dispossessed. People tried to salvage the refugees belongings from the evicted squats. Activists passed word of police movements and helped the men hiding in the city to stay one step ahead of the police. People formed human blockades and tried to stop the buses leaving. All day the barriers stayed up and the buses slowly rolled out, dispersing refugees across the country.
A reporter from the Independent spoke to one of the displaced men from SALAM:
Two weeks ago Adam Joseph, 45, a South Sudanese farmer who paid $6,000 for a hellish journey across Africa and the Mediterranean to reach the Channel, was shot in the back by a suspected far right vigilante as he slept in the food distribution area. The Independent found him wandering the streets. He said: “It’s scary for us when this happens. We are not bad people so why send in these robo-cops while we sleep? We get shot at, we get raided. Just let us live with a little dignity while we try to go where we want to go.” (ref 11)
The belongings left in the camp were gathered and dumped in a shipping container which I visited in the hunt for my camera. Taking up about half of the metal container, crushed in carelessly, were tents, blankets, sleeping rolls, clothes and the occasional personal item lost in the confusion of the morning. Hours before these possessions had been comfort, shelter and home, a means of survival for hundreds of people with nowhere else to go. Now they were mouldering trash in a metal box.
The day wore on. The barricades stayed up. The buses kept rolling. For a while we stood, a motley crew of Europeans, aid workers, activists, journalists, locals and those just passing through, holding our position at the main barricade where the buses came rolling out of the compound, waving to the people inside as though we were seeing them off on holiday, or they were soldiers heading out to war. A sense of helplessness pervaded.
By the evening, after the last bus had left and the barricades were starting to come down, men from the camp began to arrive back in Calais. I spoke to two young men who had been taken to Lille, processed in a police station and released. This story was being continued across France.
Late in the evening I met up with a collection of exhausted activists, drinking their way through the emotional trauma of the day. Despite a day of frantic searching and planning, there was no safe place left in Calais for the refugees who had been driven into hiding, dispersed around the city as they gradually trickled back from their forced displacement. Already the parks were filing up with men returning from their day's journey, quiet greetings called across the shadows of the night as separated friends found one another again, bed rolls were laid out under trees, muted conversations held in huddles around park benches as stories from the day were shared and information passed on about places to sleep that night.
Of the 600 people estimated to have been rounded up and taken across the country, about 200 remain in detention centres. The rest are on the streets somewhere, trying to keep safe and out of sight.
The pointlessness of this police action alternately baffles and enrages me. The French authorities seemed to be acting like a small child, hiding the food he doesn't like under his plate, and believing no-one will notice. This was a hugely expensive, showy and deeply traumatic way of destroying the final safe place available to a group of homeless, desperate people who have no money and no legal status, only a dream of finding a way to live in dignity in the UK. They have found their way from war-zones and violent regimes, traveling across continents to make it this far. Now they have been forced into hidden camps, smaller groups hiding out of sight around the peripheries of the city, less able to defend themselves, more open to attack from members of the public.
Is this the punishment this group faces for declaring that they were so desperate for their basic human rights that they were contemplating public suicide?
Talking about the evictions in May, an entry on the Calais Migrant Solidarity blog described a logic applied by the French authorities that I recognised clearly in their actions on July 2nd:
What is clear from today is that the state is doing all it can to sweep these people under the rug, without anyone seeing them directly perpetrate this violence. Behind all the lip service paid to humanitarianism stands only the state’s attempt to render these people and their struggle for dignity in Europe invisible and to remove from the public eye the fact that so many people are forced to live against their will in such a hostile and inhumane environment. The contradictions lived through every day by people fleeing danger in their own countries (often as a result of or exacerbated by Western humanitarian interventions) only to be illegalized, despised and dehumanized in France, a country that espouses its commitment to human rights, are too great to be described. The violence of Europe’s border regime must be invisible. In order to hide their hypocrisy, they offer only a single choice: slip away quietly or be pushed. (ref 12)
There is a protest planned in Calais this Saturday against the violence and inhumanity shown towards the Calais refugees. More info here: http://calaismigrantsolidarity.wordpress.com/2014/07/06/demonstration-in-calais-12th-july/
Ref 2 - Red Cross Magazine website Feb 2002 : http://www.redcross.int/EN/mag/magazine2002_2/sangatte.html
Ref 3 - Wikipedia on the Channel Tunnel : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Channel_Tunnel#Asylum_and_immigration
Ref 4 - Terra Daily, May 28 : http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Outcry_as_French_police_demolish_Calais_migrant_camps_999.html
Ref 5 - Calais Migrans Solidarity Blog May 28 : http://calaismigrantsolidarity.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/camp-evictions-met-with-occupations-and-resistance/
Ref 6 - BBC report on hunger strike June 12 : http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-kent-27825139
Ref 7 - Message from the Hunger Strikers June 17 : http://calaismigrantsolidarity.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/message-from-the-hunger-strikers-message-de-la-greve-de-la-faim/
Ref 8 - Vice Magazine June 25 : http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/calais-migrants-hunger-strike
Ref 9 - Calais Migrant Solidarity account of the July 2nd evictions : http://calaismigrantsolidarity.wordpress.com/2014/07/02/mass-evictions-of-over-six-hundred-people-across-calais/
Ref 10 - Photos of human barricades from July 2nd : http://calaismigrantsolidarity.wordpress.com/2014/07/03/eviction-blockade/
Ref 11 - The Independent Newspaper July 3 : http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/french-riot-police-detain-hundreds-of-migrants-in-calais-dawn-raid-9580101.html
Ref 12 - Calais Migrans Solidarity Blog May 28 : http://calaismigrantsolidarity.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/camp-evictions-met-with-occupations-and-resistance/
In The Bearpit
In the last two weeks I have been dealing with theft and vandalism at my exhibition in the Bearpit. My lack of funds and the very public nature of the show have pushed me into being quite creative in my responses to this constantly changing situation, and I have found that these problems have actually provided me with an opportunity to improve and evolve the display.
These themes of destruction, evolution and constant change have also been running through the news coming from Spain in the last two weeks and have been reminding me that my problems are only little and easily solvable.
So what's been happening in Spain?
Kings, flags and historians.
Well the main news to grip the headlines this week has been the decision by King Juan Carlos 1 to celebrate his 76th birthday by abdicating the throne in favour of his son Crown Prince Felipe who he described as "the incarnation of stability". (ref 1) The third European monarch to abdicate since April last year, Juan Carlos explained that "A new generation must be at the forefront".
The reign of Juan Carlos 1 is a little contentious, he is seen by many as a heroic defender of democracy. This approach is typified by the blurb on Amazon for historian Paul Preston's book about the king (2):
"Handed over to the Franco regime as a young boy, Juan Carlos was raised according to authoritarian traditions designed to make him a cornerstone of the dictatorship. How then did he later emerge as an emphatic defender of the democracy that began to form after Franco's death?"
He is also credited with helping Spain to survive an attempted military coup in 1981 that could have crushed the burgeoning democracy and thrown the country back into military rule. Paul Preston is a globally respected expert on the Spanish Civil War and his book 'The Spanish Civil War: Reaction, Revolution and Revenge' (3) is possibly the best, and most depressing history book I have ever read. On Monday (June 2), in response to news of Juan Carlo's resignation, he appeared on Newsnight to explain the King's history:
"I don't want to say that he made democracy, because he didn't, the pressure for democracy came from the Spanish people. But what he did in terms of neutralising the army in the course of 1976, to make it possible for there to be the transactions and negotiations that brought about what was actually quite a limited transition in the first instance, that was immensley courageous. And then after the first elections in 1977, over the next four years he acted as a sort of fireman of democracy, and until the defeat of the coup in 1981, he was absolutely the key man. And I think it's fair to say that without him there would have very likely been bloodshed. So despite the errors, despite the ending of a glorious reign, I think history will treat him very benevolently."
So this is the historic legacy of the man. Unfortunately, a history of good actions will only get you so far. The young people of the country who were born during his reign don't care so much about what he did for democracy 35 years ago. They look around them now at an impossibly corrupt political system; a broken economy that shows no sign of picking up; impossibly high youth unemployment; and austerity measures that seem to be targeted at the poor, the sick and the vulnerable; and they feel they have a right to demand better from their political rulers.
The announcement of Juan Carlo's abdication saw tens of thousands of people take to the streets in Madrid and Barcelona, calling for the abolition of the monarchy and the creation of Spain's third republic (the second republic being the one that was destroyed by Franco's mercenaries in 1936).
The protesters in the streets waved the red, yellow and purple tricolour flag of the second republic. In a brilliant article about the abdication journalist Dan Hancox explains (4):
"It was once a symbol of antifascism, and since 2008 has been raised up once again, but this time, against austerity, against capitalism in general, against a right-wing government refusing to continue excavating Franco's mass graves – and against an entire political settlement mired in corruption and complacent self-interest...
Beyond the hated bureaucratic monoliths of Spain's two main parties, in the interstices of the political mainstream, lies the fizzing possibility of a true popular resistance, and sovereignty."
Over 100,000 people so far have signed the petition calling for an end to the Spanish monarchy (5) and an opinion poll published in January by the conservative paper El Mundo, and carried out by Sigma Dos suggested that just under 50% of Spaniards supported the monarchy (6).
Discussing the claims that Juan Carlos 1 played a pivotal role in establishing Spanish democracy, Dan Hancox states:
"It is true that Juan Carlos I is credited even by many on the Spanish left for helping shepherd the country to democracy after Franco died in 1975; he helped steer Spain away from an autocratic or military succession – 'Francoism without Franco' – in the late 1970s. But written out of this week's blithe histories is the fact the Spanish 70s were a time of mass popular protest and increasingly brave strike action (beginning even before Franco's death). In this sense, genuflecting to a royal because he had the decency – or perhaps, just the sense of realpolitik – to bow to the will of the people, seems to miss the point of the will of the people." (4 again)
As if all this wasn't exciting enough, last week saw a fiery battle played out on the streets of Barcelona between the political powers and 'the will of the people'.
The sweet smell of burning barricades
The authorities knew it was going to be difficult, but in the end they decided to press ahead with the eviction and demolition of Can Vies last week. In the low-income neighbourhood of Sants in Barcelona, Can Vies has been running as a popular social centre since it was first squatted in 1997.
You can get a sense of the place from this amazing video they made to celebrate their sixteenth birthday last year:
Accordingly, last Monday May 26th, the police came to evict the squatters. The residents of Can Vies - some of whom grew up in this building - resisted bravely and it took the police six hours to get them out. Throughout the day people were coming out to protest the eviction and by the evening hundreds of protesters were on the street in support of the squatters. Over the course of the night various people received beatings by the riot police and by Tuesday the number of protesters had grown as people came out to support Can Vies and to protest against police violence.
Tuesday rolled around and the demolition work began, despite the efforts of growing numbers of protesters to protect the building. By the end of the working day Can Vies stood half demolished and the protester numbers had swelled considerably. As the people of Barcelona are never inclined to sit quietly, singing protest songs and hoping that the political leaders will take their views into account, the machinery that had been left on the site of the half demolished building was soon in flames, as was a tv van and various barricades that had appeared in nearby streets. The police came out in force and attempted to squash the protest with tear gas, sound grenades, rubber bullets and yet more baton beatings. In retrospect this may have been unwise.
Wednesday night saw 7,000 people marching through the streets of Barcelona in support of Can Vies and in protest against police violence and solidarity marches had popped up in other cities across Spain. Thursday rolled round and for the fourth night Sants was a neighbourhood of burning barricades, projectiles and beatings. The protesters were chanting "Whoever sows poverty, will reap anger" (7)
By this time the protests had reached the international media. On Thursday May 29th the Guardian described the unrest:
"While Can Vies has proved the flashpoint, the intensity and rapid spread of the violence reflects widespread anger and despair, especially among young people, who see little future for themselves and are bearing the brunt of austerity policies. Above all the crisis and popular resistance has centred on property, first with the housing bubble and since then with the policy of evicting anyone who cannot keep up with their mortgage payments. Centres such as Can Vies – and many more that have sprung up during the crisis – have functioned as help providers for those hardest hit."
On Friday, fearful of watching the whole city descend into violence and chaos, the authorities announced that Can Vies would not be demolished (8). This allowed them to avoid the horrible truth that all their machinery had been destroyed and that the cost of clearing this site, as well as the actions on the streets had spiraled madly out of control.
Protesters had planned symbolic rebuilding day for Saturday May 31st. In the end it became a victory party, an actual work day of site clearance and rebuilding and one more chance to cock a snook at the authorities:
"Soon a human chain was organised, half a kilometer long, and we began sending a pile of rubble direct to the local Sants barrio town hall!" (9)
This week the Can Vies facebook page offers messages of thanks, hope and solidarity and sets out a timetable of social activities this week to continue rebuilding.
"The fraternity that has been breathed in the last two days working together has kindled a flame of hope in our hearts that we want to keep alive; we can rebuild Can Vies and we want to do it by your side" (10)
While I was writing this blog I received a phone call informing me that someone has smashed open the picture frames in my exhibition again, and stolen the last two big colour pictures from their boards. So tomorrow I will be going back down to the bearpit to see what can be done. If the Spanish people can face all their challenges with hope and creativity I have a duty to face my much smaller problems in the same way.
1 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-27662301 Juan Carlos 1 abdicates
2 http://www.amazon.com/Juan-Carlos-Steering-Dictatorship-Democracy/dp/B001PIHV0I - Paul Preston book about Juan Carlos 1
3 http://books.google.co.uk/books/about/The_Spanish_Civil_War.html?id=2vioVIdend4C - Paul Preston, 'The Spanish Civil War: Reaction, Revolution and Revenge'
4 http://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/dan-hancox/king-is-dead - Dan Hancox on the abdication
5 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2647087/Thousands-anti-monarchist-protesters-streets-Spain-calling-republic-King-Juan-Carlos-abdicates-39-years.html - Daily Mail online puts number of signatories at 113,000
6 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/04/world/europe/spain-abdication.html?_r=0 - NYT reports on popularity of Monarchy in Spain
7 http://revolution-news.com/can-vies/ a day by day account of the protests plus some interesting videos
8 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/spain/10865311/Squat-demolition-called-off-after-four-nights-of-rioting-in-Barcelona.html - telegraph reports announcement to halt demolition
9 http://inquiringminds.cc/can-vies-re-occupied-rebuilding-begins-31-maymorning - an on the ground account of Saturdays celebrations.
10 https://www.facebook.com/CSACanVies?ref=ts&fref=ts Can Vies facebook page (it's in catalan)
photo of flag waving protesters from Daily Mail http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2647087/Thousands-anti-monarchist-protesters-streets-Spain-calling-republic-King-Juan-Carlos-abdicates-39-years.html
Photo of burning digger by Júlia Reds https://twitter.com/JuliaReds18?original_referer=http%3A%2F%2Frevolution-news.com%2Fcan-vies%2F&tw_i=471407958350639104&tw_p=tweetembed
Protester gives the finger http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/riots-barcelona-squatters-are-evicted-can-vies-building-sants-1450402
The second leg of the Great Library Book Book Tour is now complete. (see previous post for part one)
On Tuesday May 6th I gave a short talk at Canteen in Stokes Croft, Bristol, about the Library Book and about my other project The Writing on The Wall (TWOTW more on this soon). This was part of the third Bristol Festival of Photography an event packed full of interesting photographic excitement and was my first chance to look at both of these projects together. I've been working on them consecutively and separately for two years and before now I had not really explored their connections. I don't think I'm ready to make any pronouncements on the overlaps between Library Book and TWOTW, but BFOP was the perfect place to start exploring this question.
Wednesday May 7th saw Matt and I hit the road again, paying a visit to the country's biggest and shiniest of all the newly built libraries. Birmingham Central Library is an overwhelming place which opened in 2013. The architecture is modern, grandiose and gigantic in scale. The interior is a disorientating but effective blend of science fiction and historic drama. The labyrinthine stairways, escalators and corridors lead to a number of spectacular rooftop views of the city. As a Londoner with all the associated prejudices, these views caused me to mentally apologise to the city of Birmingham as I was faced with the greenest city-scape I have ever seen.
By Thursday lunchtime (May 8) we were introducing ourselves and the library book to the volunteers and library supporters of the beautiful library in Jesmond, Newcastle. We talked about the history of Weston Library (it's like tourettes, we can't stop) and they told us about Jesmond Library. This striking, fish bowl style library was purpose built in the 1960s and is rightfully a listed building. After watching it close in 2013 despite a huge campaign to save it, and having already rescued and reopened the local swimming pool as a community venture, the people of Jesmond knew what to do. Jesmond Library is once again a thriving community hub where people come to read, borrow books, go online, print and photocopy documents, and attend the myriad workshops and lectures that are organised by the volunteers in order to keep the money trickling in and the lights and heating on.
Friday saw us exploring the spectacular vistas of the North Yorkshire Dales which is currently preparing for the Tour De France. We visited a chocolate-box village called Reeth where the closure of the mobile library had led to the creation of a static library in their pre-existing community information centre, art gallery and public garden. Apparently the uniting of these various services has been a huge success as people who come for one thing discover there is so much more on offer. It also means that if you have some free time on a sunny afternoon you can wander in, borrow a book and enjoy it in the beautiful garden.
On Friday evening (May 9) we stopped for dinner and a chat at the George and Dragon pub, Hudswell (the first community owned pub in North Yorkshire). The local people explained to us how the village had lost it's focal point and social space when he pub had closed down in 2008. After two years of living in a small village with a dead, closed building at it's heart the villagers decided to take things into their own hands. Working together they formed the Hudswell Community Pub Initiative, a cooperative strong enough to buy the pub and run it as a community business. The George and Dragon pub is a warm and welcoming space with beautiful views and excellent food. The building is also home to a community library (once again replacing a decommissioned mobile library) and a tiny village shop. This is the first time Hudswell has had a village shop for 30 years and it is only sustainable now because it is staffed by volunteers for the benefit of the villagers. Some of the land at the back of the pub has been turned into allotments which are also managed by the George and Dragon and the pub itself hosts regular music nights, quiz nights, dominoes and now two book clubs as the first one got too big to handle. The atmosphere is of a convivial nature that may only be possible in a business where most of the customers are also share-holders and the people of Hudswell are rightfully proud of their achievements.
On Saturday May 10th Library Book trundled into Manchester. Our first stop was the city's brand new central library. In stark contrast to the new library in Birmingham, Manchester Central Library is housed in an historic, classical style old building with an elegant white columned facade. The interior is also mainly white and curved and with an interesting separation between the city library (downstairs) and the central library (upstairs) that I still don't really understand. The whole place reminded me of an arts centre or gallery and the little decorative touches (projections of old archival photos and maps onto the table tops in the cafe etc) were subtle and delightful.
That afternoon we arrived at Burnage Library in South Manchester. Yet another example of a library closed by a local council and then reopened by volunteers from the local community, Burnage Library is run as an effective partnership between the volunteers, the council (who supply the books and computers) and a housing association in charge of managing the building. When the volunteers reopened the library in Burnage they christened it: 'Burnage Library, Activity and Information Hub' and they are committed to ensuring that it continues in it's role as a learning space and focal point of the local community. Using the computers and hardware supplied by Manchester City Council, they offer IT classes and they are just starting a series of coding workshops. We had an interesting discussion there about the possible shape of libraries in the future and of the importance of having a free community space dedicated to knowledge and learning.
Next Saturday (May 17th) you can find us behind a stall at the Warwick Arts Centre as part of Warwick University's 'Bookfest'. Come along and tell us your library stories.
I spent February visiting ghost estates across Ireland - half built housing estates; brand new, empty shopping centres; shuttered streets; abandoned factories - and visiting squatters in Dublin and Galway. The following slideshow presents a summary of the things I saw over those four weeks.
Who says that if you give up your work and your house and run away to live in the woods you have to live a spartan life of hardship?
The Pizza Express in Kentish Town opened in the 1990's and closed in May 2013.
Local residents have been battling to save the iconic building for years. They have successfully stopped two proposals which wanted to demolish the building and replace it with a block of flats.
A new plan to an extra floor on the building and convert the it into two upper floors of flats with an open space below appears to have been approved. This plan retains a lot of the 1920's features. The downstairs area will become an art-house cinema, reverting the site back to it's role 100 years ago when the Coronation Gardens Cinema ran there from 1911 to 1913.
According to a Lib Dem petition calling for a stop to the developments there are no plans to provide any social housing on the site, despite the crippling housing crisis gripping the capital.
On 14th January 2014 the Camden New Journal reported that squatters had moved in to the building. Not only was it an article that dealt rationally and even-handedly with the news, but every one of the readers comments posted below were supportive of the squatters. In an article about the development plans the Kentishtowner referred to them as 'rather polite squatters'.
The building was home of the North West London Polytechnic from 1927 but it will always be the old Pizza Express building to me. It was a regular haunt of my teenage years, the site of family dinners with my parents and dates with boyfriends. The beautiful 20's architecture of the place always caught my imagination and I would spend my time there refurbishing the building in my head, creating my own luxury home.
I went down there a few weeks ago to visit the squatters and to see what they had done with the place. Apart from painting the walls red and adding some art and domestic details to the building, the squatters had kept the space just as I remembered it. Everyone was incredibly friendly as I was given free reign to wander about with my camera.
I went back again today to talk to the squatters about their situation and they have been moved out to make way for the developers.
This place has been one of my favourite buildings for twenty years and there are many others who feel passionate about the elegant modernist architecture. Whatever happens I hope it stays as beautiful as it is now.
cinema & squatters quote
In Catalonia is a man called Enric Duran.
He is very famous in certain circles but almost completely unknown outside them.
Enric Duran is the 21st Century's version of Robin Hood - he stole from the banks and gave to the revolutionaries in an act of “financial civil disobedience”.
With some of the money he founded Calafou which I have previously blogged about.
I have tried and failed to track him down for an interview, and now I don't have to as Neal Gorenflo (founder, Shareable), Michel Bauwens (founder, P2P Foundation), and John Restakis (author, “Humanizing the Economy”) kindly did it for me.
The wonderful people at Guerilla Translations have released a Spanish version and an English version of this fascinating interview. Read on...
http://guerrillatranslation.com/2014/03/26/integral-revolution/ - English version
http://guerrillatranslation.com/2014/03/26/revolucion-integral/ - Español
_Lisa shares her thoughts on art, life and the nature of everything.
Copyright © 2013 Lisa Furness
Photography by Lisa Furness is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.