I Am Here is a public art work generated from within an increasingly transformed residential area in Hackney, East London. It is a direct response to the experience of living in an estate in the process of being regenerated. The Haggerston estate, and Samuel House, is located alongside Regents Canal in-between Kingsland Road and Victoria Park in Hackney, London.
Boarded-up and half-empty housing estates have become familiar landmarks in the contemporary urban landscape. Their façades have come to function as projection screens for collective fears and fantasies of troubled and dangerous environments that may lurk behind. This perception is all the more emphasized when rapid redevelopment encircles such estates with new luxury loft apartments and live-work spaces.
Whilst this rapid transformation has been going on in the area, nothing much has changed on Haggerston & Kingsland Estate since the early 1980's. That is, except from an ongoing steady decline due to lack of maintenance and a gradual emptying of the estate. Since at least 2004 no new residents have been accepted, and instead, vacated flats have been boarded up.
In Sept 2007, 71% of Haggerston & Kingsland estate's residents voted in favour of the demolition and rebuild of the estate. The development will proceed without any loss of currently existing social housing, due to the hard work and campaigning of the residents spanning a period of about 12 years of involvement and after trying, unsuccessfully, to get the estate refurbished for the past 30 years. There will, however, be a significant increase in density of flats from currently 480 flats to 761 in the new development. Private flats, shared ownership and key-worker flats constitute the increase in density. All current residents have been offered a flat in the new development and will be temporarily re-housed during the construction phase.
Without any prior warning in April 2007, 5 months before the stock transfer vote, bright orange boards were promptly fitted over the windows of all the vacated and empty flats on Haggerston & Kingsland estate. This rather bold visual statement even further underlined the dilapidation of the estate. The blocks now dotted with orange boards rapidly turned into an object of curiosity, especially for the passers-by using the increasingly popular towpath along Regents Canal for daily commuting to and from work, or for weekend strolls to Victoria Park and Broadway Market.
I Am Here was initiated by artists who are themselves long-term residents of Samuel House. Through their open windows, facing on to the canal, they often overheard passersby speculating on reasons for the buildings demise and its current state. The installation aims to disturb this one-way interrogation by replacing the 67 bright orange boards with large-scale photographs of residents on the estate: onlookers no longer stand unchallenged, as their gaze is met and returned by a multitude of faces consisting of current and former residents on the estate. Thus the project literally humanises a piece of architecture on its final journey.
Our intention is, however briefly, to open up a reflective space concerning issues about visibility and 'urban renewal'. As artists we wanted to become an active part in the process that produces the visual environment of our increasingly regenerated neighbourhood. We asked ourselves, who and what is made visible and what is excluded in this rapidly changing urban environment, and for what purpose? i am here shows the faces of ordinary people so often excluded from the visual material produced to market an up-and-coming area by estate agents, developers, private landlords, local councils and other stakeholders.
It is not our intention to wage a campaign to prevent a demolition and rebuild that the majority of residents already had voted in favour of. Instead we want to raise the question who and what policies are accountable for this decline and neglect? This question is one that concerns us all, on a national and international level, and one that often slips beneath the sheets of single preservation orders or heritage campaigns. Where, in this process, are the people who live in these places to be found?
i am here is produced by Fugitive Images, an artist collaboration founded in 2009 by Andrea Luka Zimmerman, Lasse Johansson and Tristan Fennell. We started working on Haggerston & Kingsland estate two years ago, conducting extensive research and documenting the community. I am here is the first outcome of this engagement and work continues towards a forthcoming publication partially funded by an arts council grant, a documentary and an online audio visual archive. Over the next years, this website will be updated at regular intervals, and new things added, please visit again.