The Laundry Room (2012)
Co-curated by Maiko Tsutsumi & Eduardo Padilha Featuring works by Michael Marriott and Richard Wentworth
Eduardo Padilha of BalinHouseProjects and I got an Arts Council grant of £10,000 for The Laundry Room project, which involved an exhibition in a disused former communal laundry room in a 1930s block of flats (former council flats which are now partly privately owned) in London SE1. The Brazilian-born artist, Padilha has been running BalinHouseProjects in his own front room in the flat next to the laundry room since 2006.
I was invited to co-curate this exhibition and a series of events, which we (Padilha and I) run in a format that involves informal dialogues between two of us and with the artists (Richard Wentworth and Michael Marriott) and to present the essence of those dialogues to encourage more exchanges between the artists, curators and the audience (local residents and the community of artists/designers/architects alike).
The history of the building and its location is a fascinating one, constantly shifting its demographics and physical features. The project brought forth my interests in materiality a sociological dimension. Padilha, Wentworth, Marriott, and I all share this interest in how materials could embody history and narratives (of public and private), but also operate and are perceived / spoken about within different professional realms.
The Laundry Room project opened up a new direction for my research: Materiality and Society. It was also my first successful Arts Council funding bid. I have learned what it entails to complete (that involving reworking it again and again, getting the figures right etc.) the application – it’s a lengthy process and a job in itself.
I am also continuing to be involved in the planning of the BalinHouseProjects’ future programmes. It is a perfect set-up to create a debate around the role of making, materiality and built environment in the social as well as local (to the college) contexts.
Link to the The Laundry Room book
Excerpt from the book (Introduction)
The Laundry Room exhibition was held in the Autumn of 2012 at BalinHouseProjects (BHP), an artist-run space based in the Tabard Gardens Estate, Borough, London SE1. A walk and two workshops in BHP’s neighbourhood and the South London Gallery supplemented the exhibition.
The ideas for The Laundry Room began with the conversations about our practices and the common interest between design and fine art; materials and their inherent qualities; the making of objects; and the cycle of material usage when obsolete objects become reappropriated as raw materials. Our early discussion centred around the rapid changes and gentrification in the area of Borough and Bermondsey.
Inspired by Richard Wentworth’s Making Do and Getting By, we invited the artist to create an exhibition in response to the recent transition the area of Borough and Bermondsey have been going through. Wentworth’s association with the area was described in a statement by the artist: ‘The artist Richard Wentworth holds unusual keys to the area, knowing it first in the year he left school in 1965. He lived from 1967 until 1974 on Balfour Street SE17 and watched the preparations for the construction of the Heygate Estate and the arrival of its first occupants. In 1969, with other RCA graduates he founded Dilston Studio, which was his workshop until 1978. His association with the invention of ‘Goldsmiths’ in these years coincided with the first period of decline in the docks, warehousing, stockholding and manufacturing throughout SE London. His records of this path to dereliction and social and technological change formed the base for his work Making Do and Getting By, first seen at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1985.’
The storage space adjacent to the BHP (one of the flats in the Tabard Gardens Estate) still had the remnants of its original use as a communal laundry/drying room, and the cycles of ‘reincarnations’ it had gone through since. As this exhibition was going to be the last one before the BHP undergoes the planned reconfiguration to connect the laundry room (a utilitarian, public space) – and the flat (a domestic space), the topics of our conversations went on to materials, memory and the potential to generate new processes of (re-)thinking and (re-)making from the obsolete. With these themes in mind, we asked the designer Michael Marriott who engages with the notion of ‘economy of means’, reuse and re-appropriation of materials and the ready-mades, to ‘re-appropriate’ the Laundry Room for its temporary use as an exhibition space in the context of the planned alteration to the BHP’s space.
The two events – the exhibition and the intervention in the room that complemented each other was also supplemented by a series of events: a walk led by Wentworth; workshops for the local residents and members of the public. It was a particular sensibility, which we saw in the works of Wentworth and Marriott that brought them together: a mutual approach by which they engage with our relationship with material culture in their respective specialisms. Often by re-appropriating found objects, both artists explore the nature of humanity through their astute observations of the interactions between people and the everyday built environment. Their works question, reframe and rephrase our relationship with material things – mass production and consumption of ‘stuff’. It turned out that although acquaintances over 20 years, Wentworth and Marriott had never worked on a project together.
We believed that it was an appropriate moment to revisit Wentworth’s Making Do and Getting By, as the areas of Borough and Bermondsey, which are some of the poorest in London, are currently going through another period of transformation. Working with a network of artists and designers, the project explored the implications of the areas’ cultural shift, exemplified by the recent openings of art institutions such as the White Cube Bermondsey and The Drawing Room, as well as the development around London Bridge station that is symbolised by the construction of The Shard.
Eduardo Padilha & Maiko Tsutsumi, May 2013