A lesson in living together

The residents of the Kitson Road Living Project defied London’s rising rents and unethical standards in an art/community project – now they’ve released a book

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Kitson Road No. 6 – Artie Vierkant
From the book Kitson Road No. 6Courtesy of Artie Vierkant

From January 2013 until July 2014 a property on South East London’s Kitson Road was home to a ‘rolling series’ of tenants – official and unofficial, long and short-term. If it sounds like an art project, it is, but that didn’t mean that non-artists or non-curators were excluded. In fact, anyone (within reason) looking for a place to set up camp was welcome. It was, in one of the project’s co-founder’s, Jesse Darling’s, words, “a sort of collectivist living structure in an ordinary family house in Camberwell.” Officially titled the Kitson Road Living Project, the now infamous experience has now been immortalised in a new book, published courtesy of Camberwell Press. Sarah Boulton, who produced the book, explains: “In a big way, the book was about holding everything that happened in that house and inside that living space together in the right way. So many came through, stayed, left, kept in touch, and it felt and seemed quite powerful-a-thought that in the knowledge of the eviction/move that was about to take place a few months later (Summer 2014) there wouldn’t be anything left other than stories and tales of both living together and – in a way – how to live together.”

The Project itself is a statement on the increasingly unrealistic rent prices, coupled with a whole bag of unethical living standards, that most artists, let alone ordinary people, are faced with just to put a roof over their heads. As well as providing a communal living structure (of sorts) the Project hosted parties and dinners, two exhibitions and a live concert. “It also provided the holding structure for the ongoing work of living together, which is what continues after the house is returned to the property market,” says Darling. While the collective have moved on to a new property, with the Project renamed the Fernholme Road Living Project to reflect this, we speak with Boulton and Darling below to talk about what happens at a #fuckfrieze party, the line between community and art, and how they turned all of that into a book.

How did the Project come about?

Jesse Darling: I needed somewhere to live and was looking for rooms. I met some nice people and visited some nice places, but there was always this mutual sense of something not being quite right. Maybe they were pleasant but a bit homophobic, or the house belonged to their rich parents and felt very sacred, like you couldn't really occupy the space or whatever. So I started thinking I would have to set it up myself. I found this house and borrowed the downpayment and then put a callout on facebook asking for expressions of interest from people who wanted to live communally, which pretty much just meant sharing food and bills and maybe being part of a longer-term project. Food is a big part of communalism. Eating together is the basic family ritual.  

If we walked through the door of the Kitson Road house, what might we see?

Jesse Darling: Same shit as any other share house except if you were lucky you might show up when someone had cooked. Or maybe someone might've set up a projector to watch a movie or something – get the beers and popcorn in. There was lots of crap in the living room which was supposed to be a free-shop but people only rarely ever took any of it away; some of the crap had once been, or might someday become part of somebody's sculpture but it wasn't worth a thing on its own. I dragged some fire doors home once because I thought they would be my new medium. Sophie often left massive suitcases in the hall and Krzys sometimes used the living room to workshop a piece of theatre.

The whole decor changed every time we had a party of some kind and then it stayed like that until the next one, and this all became the set for more than one video shot at the house. Because our landlords made it consistently clear that this was not actually supposed to be 'our home,' the whole place had a provisional quality in common with squats and every other house I've ever lived in. It was always in flux and never fixed, both generative and degenerative at once.

Rozsa Farkas spoke about the Project in her piece on affordable housing last month on Dazed. She mentioned that the Project hosted a #fuckfrieze party, what's behind that? Is that a two-finger salute to art institutions?

Jesse Darling: The HAUS party was something my mate Taki and I put on at Kitson Road with a little help from most of our friends. It wasn't supposed to be a fuck you necessarily, but a play on the exclusivity of the inside/outside that feels really present in the art world around Frieze week. I hired a bouncer to work the door and everyone had to RSVP. When he showed up he looked around at this domestic house and was like, "So you don't want people to steal your shit, yeah?" And I'm like, “Yeah, but look, this week is a big deal for people working our gig, so I also want to create this exclusivity, this interiority, in a moment when that interiority can explicitly be bought for money.” And the guy totally got it. At some point he turned away two limos filled with people in designer suits because they weren't chill, and they didn't know who I was. It was amazing.

What do you hope you have achieved with the Project?

Jesse Darling: A place for myself and others to call home, which feels like a small resistance. Home is an idea that needs maintenance, rather than a place or a commodity.

What happens with the Project now? Could you explain the Fernholme Road Living Project?

Jesse Darling: The collective at the Kitson Road Living Project moved wholesale to a new house in Fernholme Road, which is a different kind of property – smaller, more domestic. People moved out and others moved in. We're now collaborating with our neighbours in Aspinall Road to make the Ludlow Thompson Project Space, a site across two locations for new work and research. Which means we might make some living room art shows and stuff and perhaps offer a commissioning opportunity at some point. We're also running an occasionally curated platform called Frigidaire in which a writer and an artist collaborate in a site-specific work on our two refrigerators.

What made you want to put these experiences into a book?

Sarah Boulton: The thought started immediately in the form of a book because of all the stories. I’m quite into ‘fiction’ – i.e the present participle – as a form of continuing something really quite local and truthful/ personal into its more generous and living extension. And we started to gather ideas about how it would exist. We asked everyone who had passed through the Living Project to contribute a small something based on or born out of the experience of the Kitson Road Living Project. What was beautiful is that we did most of this remotely, so those who contributed something did not know anything about how it would turn out or indeed what others were also contributing and so it feels full of distinctions, specificity and also somehow trust.

If you had to lean one way, would you say the Project is more about art or community?

Jesse Darling: The latter, absolutely.

Kitson Road No. 6 is available now from Camberwell Press, distributed by Black & Blue. The book is availble at SLG bookshop, Banner Repeater & ICA bookshop

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