In case you have been living under a rock for the last few years, you will probably be aware that the housing situation in London has become an issue that will define the capital for generations to come. It is surely only a matter of time before an actual space living under a rock in central London is advertised on Zoopla for over £500 a month. This week, a particularly shocking report by New London Architecture revealed that as many as 50 per cent of Londoners renting in the private sector are living in poverty. As frustration reaches boiling point, a group of artists have taken matters into their own hands, creating an exhibition that challenges the rampant greed and social injustice of the crisis.
Curated by Tinsel Edwards, The Poor Door is inspired by an urban housing development that directed attention towards the dehumanising nature of the crisis. In London, planning regulations state that every new housing development must contain a portion of ‘affordable’ homes. This development in Aldgate was built with two separate entrances. One door for the rich and another for the not-so-rich. Wealthier residents were greeted with luxury marble floors and chandeliers, while ‘affordable’ housing tenants had to enter through a side-alley door. This worrying trend has continued, meaning that people across London are categorised on a daily basis by the entrance that they use – how very Victorian indeed.
“I’ve been making paintings in response to the housing crisis for a few years now,” Edwards explains. “As time goes on, the situation in London gets worse and worse. For this exhibition, I wanted to seek out and bring together a group of artists who make work about housing, to create a collective response to what is happening in the hope that together our voices will be louder.”
In a humorously accurate take on estate agent signs, Edwards highlights the uncomfortable reality that home ownership is a distant dream for most people in London. Resembling protest placards, these signs encourage us to reclaim the power and control that has been bought up by landlords and property developers. “It’s an interesting situation for artists because they are often the people to go to the cheaper places and make them thrive,” she explains. “Then gentrification follows. Suddenly these estate agent signs spring up from the ground like weeds, disrupting the urban landscape.”
Visitors may recognise Edwards’ work from Banksy’s Dismaland Bemusement Park, an opportunity that she rather modestly puts down to “good luck”. In any case, timing seems to be on her side, as this week anti-gentrification protesters thrust the housing debate firmly into the spotlight by vandalising local businesses. This exhibition showcases how the east London community can positively respond to the crisis without wearing pig masks or throwing smoke bombs.
Painter Lee Maelzer agrees, saying: “I think that art is an effective way to protest because it slows people down and makes them see things.” Maelzer’s melancholic oil paintings of redundant sites and discarded objects underline the wastefulness of the crisis, forcing us to see beauty in shabbiness and dilapidation. Describing the impact of the housing crisis on culture, she continues: “It’s had a hugely detrimental effect on creativity, and cities without art are just so hollow to me.”
As gentrification tightens its grip on the capital, Mars Gomes uses materiality to represent the tension within London’s communities. Her hanging sculptures contrast soft domesticity with artificiality, highlighting the difference between a house and a home. While her work is open to interpretation, her words certainly aren’t. “The housing situation makes me really angry,” she says. “We are in a very selfish age. We look at mobile phones for security and are just out to make money. It’s more than greed. We are in a divided society.”
The Poor Door demonstrates that creativity will continue to thrive in the face of adversity. Still, if gentrification continues at the same pace, artists will leave the city altogether, and London will lose the people who make it great. At this point, London is indeed divided. People are sick of business as usual. Those in power would be wise to realise this before the fuse on this ticking time bomb finally runs out.
The Poor Door is open to the public from 2-12 October at A-side B-side Gallery in Hackney Downs Studios
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