Workshops, Talks and Lectures

Sarah Lowndes addressing visiting curators to Dialogue of Hands, Glasgow International (2012)

 I often deliver public workshops, lectures and talks on matters relating to my areas of expertise, at institutions including Kettle’s Yard, Neues Museum (Nürnberg), the Scottish National Gallery, BBC Radio Norfolk, BBC Scotland, Radio Scotland, BALTIC, the Serpentine Gallery and Camden Arts Centre, amongst many others, and I have been commissioned to produce printed and online interpretation materials on contemporary art for The Space (BBC), Tate Britain, National Galleries of Scotland and the British Council. 

Since moving to East Anglia in 2015, I have delivered workshops, lectures, talks and chaired discussion events in a variety of settings for University of East Anglia, Norwich University of the Arts, Norfolk County Council Libraries, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge and the National Trust, for example, leading WWI poetry workshops on Brancaster beach for the 1418 NOW / National Trust project Pages of the Sea (2018), performing an oratory on Brancaster Beach for the National Trust / Katie Paterson project First There is a Mountain (October 2019) and leading a shared Reading and Creative Writing workshop for the Art & Walking project run by Art at Work Norwich in Mildenhall, Suffolk (2019).  Online learning, radio broadcasts and podcasts are all areas of public engagement that I have actively worked with in 2018/2019, beginning with uploading online all of the course content for Like the Sea I Think (including audio recordings of readings), working with BBC Radio Norfolk to produce local arts coverage for broadcast and recording a podcast for the Ear of the Edgeland series produced by Norfolk & Norwich Sonic Arts Collective and Original Projects.

Sarah Lowndes performing oratory of Samantha Walton’s poem Little Eye for Brancaster on Brancaster Beach for the National Trust / Katie Paterson project First There is a Mountain (October 2019)
Sarah Lowndes performing oratory of Samantha Walton’s poem Little Eye for Brancaster on Brancaster Beach for the National Trust / Katie Paterson project First There is a Mountain (October 2019)
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Like the Sea I Think (2018-19)

Shared Reading, Creative Writing and Publication Project, curated and produced by Sarah Lowndes for Kunsthalle Cromer, in collaboration with Norfolk County Council Libraries and UEA Publishing Project.

The following is an excerpt from Sarah Lowndes’ introduction to the anthology Like the Sea I Think: New Marine Writing from East Anglia (Norwich: UEA Publishing Project with Kunsthalle Cromer, 2019), designed by Emily Benton. The book is available to buy here

In early 2017, I established a new organisation called Kunsthalle Cromer in our nearest seaside town, with the aim of enhancing the cultural provision available within the town of Cromer and the wider area of Norfolk through the promotion of visual art, music, literature, cinema, performance and interdisciplinary art forms.  I established Kunsthalle Cromer to offer accessible, free and exciting cultural activity, which would bring people from diverse backgrounds together to enjoy meaningful shared experiences.  Since then, Kunsthalle Cromer has carried out two public art projects in Cromer: Panoramic Sea Happening (2017) a re-enactment of Tadeusz Kantor’s 1967 happening, staged on June 11th at East Beach, Cromer and the following year, Esplanade: A Procession for Women (2018), a public parade of 100 local girls and women, each carrying a red parasol along West Promenade, Cromer, on March 8th, International Women’s Day.  For the third Kunsthalle Cromer project, which I planned to take place during the town’s low season, we had to move indoors, and so I sought a more sheltered corollary of the beach.  The public library located in the town’s Prince of Wales Road was the perfect environment – warm, welcoming, full of interesting material and free for all to use.

The idea for the Like the Sea I Think (LTSIT) project developed through discussions I had at Cromer Library with community librarian and artist Maria Pavledis.  While the previous Kunsthalle Cromer events had given participants a chance to physically become part of an outdoor artwork, the LTSIT workshops would equip participants with lasting transferable skills and provide an opportunity to become a published author, giving this project greater legacy and impact.  When in the spring of 2018, I first approached Maria with the idea of running reading and creative writing groups about the sea in libraries in Norfolk, she explained that shared reading groups (as opposed to conventional book clubs) had recently proved to be an effective way of attracting reluctant and/or less confident readers and that Norfolk Libraries would welcome the Like the Sea I Think project as a way of bringing more readers in to engage with shared reading and creative writing in Cromer Library and the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library in Norwich.  We both wanted to support people to enjoy reading, creative writing and self-expression in a welcoming environment. We agreed that at each workshop, I would act as facilitator, and read aloud and discuss a text about the sea, with participants joining in as much or as little as they wished, followed by some time working on creative writing exercises related to the texts, designed to stimulate self-expression.  My idea was that people could turn up without any previous experience or preparation, empty handed, and participate without cost.  All materials would be provided free at each workshop, including photocopies of the texts, along with paper and pencils.  I planned to have the pencils specially made: dark green, each had a pink eraser at one end and the legend Like the sea I think printed along its length in a darker shade of pink.  As we would meet in winter, each week I would bring supplies of tea, coffee and biscuits, with mince pies and chocolates coins for our final meetings, just before Christmas.  

Beyond the workshops, I also planned to publish an anthology of new writing about the sea by East Anglian authors, seeking submissions from those who attended the workshops, and other people resident in the region, through an open-submission call.  After the book launch event, which we intended to stage at Henry Layte’s celebrated shop, the Book Hive in Norwich, we planned to distribute the anthology to local libraries and bookstores, via the UEA Publishing Project, who had agreed to co-publish and distribute the LTSIT anthology.  I hoped to work with Norfolk-born book designer Emily Benton, who had previously produced intelligent, tactile and beautiful publications for clients including the Words and Women Compendium and UEA Publishing Project.  These plans were all made possible thanks to Arts Council England, who gave full support to the project, with additional support being offered by Norfolk Libraries, who gave the free use of space in both libraries and the invaluable assistance of Maria Pavledis, who attended and encouraged the group at Cromer Library, which met every Monday afternoon for 8 weeks, beginning at the end of October 2019.  I led the Millennium Library group, which met on Thursday mornings, alone, but drawing upon the discussions we had at Cromer to enrich our discussions in Norwich from the start of November through until the week the winter holiday began.   

I designed the reading list for the workshops to feature equal numbers of men and women authors, and tried to pick writers who would illuminate different aspects of writing about the sea: ecological, dramatic, romantic, metaphorical, scientific, autobiographical, poetic and melancholic.  We read extracts from the following texts: Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us (1951), Joseph Conrad, The Shadow-Line (1917), Italo Calvino, Difficult Loves (1958), Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and The Sea(1952), Jacques Cousteau, The Silent World (1952), Victoria Whitworth, Swimming with Seals (2017), Helen Dunmore, Inside the Wave (2017) and the Julia Blackburn story, “A Box of Old Shells” (2018).  Shared reading is a very simple idea: “By bringing people together in small groups to read aloud a book, short story or poem, shared readinggroups create a safe, welcoming space where individual thought and feeling is recognised and valued. Group members can choose to read aloud, share personal reflections or simply to listen – in this way, individuals form real connections with the literature and with each other.”[i]  However, I was largely unprepared for the powerful effects of this approach: in both the Cromer and Norwich groups there were a real mix of ages and occupations, ranging from students in their 20s to midlife multi-taskers to retired professionals, and yet through shared reading we connected: we listened, talked, laughed, argued and sometimes even cried.  The Reader, who have spearheaded the use of shared reading as a practice in the UK since 2008, quote author James Baldwin by way of explanation: “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.”  

Part of the power of shared reading is undoubtedly derived from connecting with a particular text, but also from the communal energy generated as you read, listen and talk together: the group is larger than the sum of its constituent people.  The other important aspect of shared reading is that when you read aloud or listen to someone else read aloud, the reading moves at a slower speed, so you hear more.  As you stop every page or so to discuss, you also understand more, as in our case, the people in the group shared their inside knowledge of such things as how to catch turtles, the politics of translation or how to navigate by the stars.  Differences of taste and interpretation also led to richer and more nuanced understandings of particular texts – the two most hotly debated texts in the Like the Sea I Think workshops were Italo Calvino’s story “The Adventure of the Poet” and the first chapter of Victoria Whitworth’s Swimming with Seals, both of which were loved by some and strongly critiqued by others.  As the weeks went by, we critiqued everything more, and that critique was in itself a kind of love: real, close engagement with the text and with the group, as trust and familiarity unfolded between us.

Each week of the course I made a SoundCloud recording of me reading that week’s text and posted it on Twitter and Facebook with the accompanying exercises, to allow remote readers (who had either missed out on a place in the library workshops or lived beyond East Anglia) to follow the course in their own time.  Each week we carried out two or three creative writing exercises, such as, “Imagine yourself on an island and describe the sounds you might hear.  Describe a romantic encounter, either imagined or real, that happens on a beach.  Write about something special you found on a beach.  Write a poem from the perspective of a mother or a father on the beach. Describe swimming underwater. You could be scuba diving or perhaps, deep sea diving. Describe how it feels, looks and sounds…”. That was probably my favourite part of the workshops, seeing everyone bent over their paper, engrossed in their own writing.  There was such a peaceful atmosphere of concentration and industry around the table, that the hands of the clock would advance all too quickly.  It always felt a pity to still those pencils and bring the session to a close.

Well over a hundred authors from across East Anglia submitted their work to this anthology: I am very pleased that out of the 55 contributors chosen, 19 were people who had attended the Like the Sea I Think workshops.  The remaining 36 authors come from all corners of East Anglia, from Hunstanton, down to Sheringham and Cromer, inland to Norwich, down to the Waveney Valley, and back to the coastal towns of Great Yarmouth and further south still, to Lowestoft in Suffolk.  If you read the biographies included at the back of the anthology, you will also note that the range of life experiences and ages of the authors is immense: the youngest author celebrated her 11th birthday in the summer, while the eldest author will be 87 this year.  Some of the authors were ‘born and bred’ in Norfolk or across the border in Suffolk, others have been drawn to East Anglia to study, to work or as a place to enjoy their retirement.  All of the authors have something memorable and distinctive to say about what the sea means to them.  Each response is unique – proof if any were needed, that all who live here, can also du diffrunt here.[ii]

[i] For more information see Accessed 12 March 2019.

[ii] Read the annotated version of Luke Wright’s poem about the history of Norwich Here (2018) at: Accessed 10 March 2019.

Roy Ballard, reading Mother care or Life on a Lowestoft Trawler at the launch of Like the Sea I Think: New Marine Writing from East Anglia, at the Book Hive, Norwich, May 2019.
Jessica D’Alton Goode, recording her poem Diggs, from Like the Sea I Think: New Marine Writing from East Anglia (2019) for BBC Radio Norfolk’s Jack Jay Show, 2019.
Ruthie Collins, recording her poem Persephone Wakes (Mater Matters), from Like the Sea I Think: New Marine Writing from East Anglia (2019) for BBC Radio Norfolk’s Jack Jay Show, 2019.
Sarah Walker, recording her poem Liwuli: Forsaking, from Like the Sea I Think: New Marine Writing from East Anglia (2019) for BBC Radio Norfolk’s Jack Jay Show, 2019.
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Esplanade: A Procession for Women (2018)

Curated by Sarah Lowndes for Kunsthalle Cromer, Cromer Seafront, 2018.

Sarah Lowndes established Kunsthalle Cromer in 2017, to enhance the cultural provision available within the seaside town of Cromer and the wider area of Norfolk through the promotion of visual art, music, literature, cinema, performance and interdisciplinary art forms. Kunsthalle Cromer works together with relevant local community organisations, developing positive, supportive and sustainable relationships and offering accessible, free and exciting cultural activity which brings people from diverse backgrounds together to enjoy meaningful shared experiences.

Esplanade: A Procession for Women, curated by Sarah Lowndes for Kunsthalle Cromer, Cromer Seafront, 2018.

The second Kunsthalle Cromer public art project was Esplanade: A Procession for Women, a celebratory group promenade of 100 local girls and women, each carrying a red parasol along Cromer Seafront from the Zig Zag, along the Esplanade, and around the Pier, before ascending to disperse at Jetty Cliff outside the Hotel de Paris. The procession gestured towards Cromer’s historic beach culture and drew attention to stunning aspects of the built environment on the seafront, highlighting noted architectural features such as the Zig Zag, Esplanade, Pier, Jetty Cliff and Hotel de Paris. The 100 red parasols used in the promenade symbolised the 100 years since some British women received the vote in 1918 and thus functioned as a symbol of celebration, pride and unity on International Women’s Day, while the physical act of promenading also connects meaningfully with the 2018 International Women’s Day theme, Press for Progress.Esplanade was a celebratory performative communal event, which linked together ideas of performativity, empowerment, claiming public space and feminism.  

A Procession for Women, International Women’s Day, Cromer, Norfolk, 8 March 2018.

Lowndes explained, “I got the idea for this project after reading about an extended visit to Cromer by Empress Elisabeth of Austria in 1887.  Elisabeth had many other titles including Queen of Bohemia and Grand Princess of Transylvania, and was a non-conformist who didn’t take well to court life; preferring instead to absent herself to go riding and hunting and to travel widely. She was revered as the most beautiful woman in Europe but after she was thirty-five she would not allow anyone to paint her or to photograph her.  Whenever she was outdoors she protected herself from prying eyes and photographers with a white parasol. When Elisabeth visited Cromer, she was 50 years old, and deeply concerned for her safety due to the growing anarchist movement in Europe – perhaps she came to Cromer seeking some peace. She brought her horses and even her cows and every morning a cow would be brought onto the Promenade beneath her window in the Lower Tuckers Hotel where it was milked and the uncontaminated milk taken directly up to her suite. She spent many long hours on the beach, reading and staring out to sea. (Her caution for her life was justified as 11 years after her trip to Cromer, she was stabbed through the heart with a sharpened needle file by an anarchist and died, aged 61.) I found the idea of the Empress with the white parasol on the promenade at Cromer rather haunting – but wanted to find a way to revisit that history in a way that was celebratory.  The parasol represents many things: shelter, modesty, privacy, shade.  But it also can be a prop that draws attention to the lady carrying the parasol, and has a stylish, fun aspect that is more to do with display than concealment.  This is especially the case when the parasol is red, a colour that signifies revolution.  

A Procession for Women, International Women’s Day, Cromer, Norfolk, 8 March 2018.
Esplanade: A Procession for Women, curated by Sarah Lowndes for Kunsthalle Cromer, Cromer Seafront, 2018.
A Procession for Women, International Women’s Day, Cromer, Norfolk, 8 March 2018.
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Panoramic Sea Happening (2017)

Curated by Sarah Lowndes for Kunsthalle Cromer, East Beach Cromer, 2017

Sarah Lowndes established Kunsthalle Cromer in 2017, to enhance the cultural provision available within the seaside town of Cromer and the wider area of Norfolk through the promotion of visual art, music, literature, cinema, performance and interdisciplinary art forms. Kunsthalle Cromer works together with relevant local community organisations, developing positive, supportive and sustainable relationships and offering accessible, free and exciting cultural activity which brings people from diverse backgrounds together to enjoy meaningful shared experiences.

The first public art event initiated by Lowndes under the auspices of Kunsthalle Cromer was the Panoramic Sea Happening on East Beach, Cromer in June 2017.  This event was a re-enactment of part of the 1967 happening, The Sea Concert (The Panoramic Sea Happening) by Tadeusz Kantor, first staged at Osieki on the Polish coast, with conceptual artist Edward Krasiński, dressed in a black tailcoat, conducting the waves from a stepladder while being watched by spectators in striped deck chairs. In Lowndes’s re-enactment, which took place 50 years after the original happening, the conductor was played by the proprietor of Norwich’s The Book Hive and Propolis publisher, Henry Layte.  In re-staging Kantor’s seminal work in this new context, Lowndes hoped to reach new audiences, who would directly experience the wit and magic of part of Kantor’s original “score”, but this time imbued with local resonances and the multivalent possibilities of the live situation.  While Kantor’s original work had several movements, which included motorbikes scrambling on the sand, the artist himself shouting instructions through a megaphone and the audience being pelted with fish, Lowndes’s re-enactment deliberated focussed on the best-known aspect of the work – the first movement, captured in Eustachy Kossakowski’s magical photograph of Krasiński conducting the symphony of the sea.

Henry Layte, as The Conductor, Panoramic Sea Happening, Kunsthalle Cromer, East Beach Cromer (2017)

Kantor’s work is an invitation to be fully present in the natural world and to see, feel and hear the beach, where, as he put it, proximity to the sea, works to “impose motion, rhythm and sound values not surpassing the abilities of human perception.”  The sizeable audience who assembled in the bright June sunlight on Cromer beach to watch the re-enactment, consisted of those involved in the art world and academia in the South East of England (including attendees from Outpost Gallery, originalprojects, University of East Anglia, Norwich University of the Arts, the Courtauld Institute and Coventry University), but also many locals who had attended out of curiosity after reading about the event in the Eastern Daily Press, or simply stumbled upon the happening and been drawn in, whether watching quietly or being inspired to get in the sea themselves.  Gary Clark lives locally and brought his family along to watch the event. He said: “It’s very fitting to the atmosphere here on the beach. We all think it’s marvellous.”  Another spectator who came across the event by chance, tourist Anna Hill, said: “What a unique thing to do. It’s not a sight I was expecting to see, that’s for sure.”  There were a wide range of ages present, including elderly people and many children, neither of whom had been in evidence in photographs of Kantor’s original piece, which had been performed during a three-week-long meeting of artists and art theorists.  Lowndes provided free drinks and a barbeque for the audience, and after the performance, the communal picnicking on the beach continued for some time.  Some local residents afterwards wrote describing their experience (their first of attending a Happening): “So we wandered along the beach feeling a little self-conscious to be honest.  But soon we were joined by a lot more people.  Some deck chairs were unfolded and lined up, flapping in the wind and a podium was dragged into the sea.  As the tide lapped up against the podium our conductor arrived, looking resplendent in black tail coat, carrying a baton.  Everyone watched as he climbed the steps and began conducting the sea!  Children splashed about in the waves and people sat having a drink in the deck chairs watching.  It was all very exciting and…. well, different!”

Henry Layte, as The Conductor, Panoramic Sea Happening, Kunsthalle Cromer, East Beach Cromer (2017)
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July 2018

Enclave Review (Cork: Eire, 2019)

If you drive into Norwich from the northern suburbs, there is one building that dominates the approach into the centre: Sovereign House, perhaps the most loved and most maligned building in the city.  This vast, derelict brutalist spaceship is glittering with windows, enough even to reflect back the famously enormous East Anglian skies.  This decaying intergalactic palace is the northern frontier of a down-at-heel complex called Anglia Square, comprised of a low-rent shopping plaza, semi-occupied office buildings and a cheap cinema, flanked by a couple of underused car parks.  Anglia Square was completed in 1968 and over the course of fifty years it has gotten both ever shabbier, and yet, somehow, ever more alluring, as artists and small businesses have gradually made use of the clumsily planned development for all manner of activities (perhaps the most glaring planning error was that which resulted in the fine city’s only fly-over, which elevated St. Crispin’s Road while plunging the lower end of Magdalen Street literally into the shadows). Yet, regardless of Anglia Square and its environs being somewhat marooned and disconnected from the city centre, this enclave has gradually owned its disadvantage. It has been both revived by local artist-led organisations like Print to the People and OUTPOST Gallery and Studios, and kept alive by small shopkeepers (a butcher, a greengrocer, a discount store and a greasy spoon café) and their thrifty customers.  

The encroachment of speculative property acquisition in Norwich has certainly been slower than in other places a bit closer to London, such as Brighton and Margate.  However, in 2014, creeping gentrification finally reached Anglia Square, when it was acquired by a London-based investment company called Columbia Threadneedle plc, who made plans to demolish the entire complex and start again, building 1,200 homes, a leisure quarter, a 200-bed hotel, a multi-storey car park, a replacement cinema and a 25-storey tower block with a roof-level bar. These ‘uninspiring and unneighbourly’ plans have met with strong resistance from local shopkeepers, residents and the numerous artists who work in studios and workshops in the area, and those committed to preserving the city’s built environment, including the Norwich Society and Historic England.  A campaign group comprised of artists and activists called Angrier Square has been set up, and an online petition [Save our Norwich Skyline!].  Possibly as a way of softening the inevitable conclusion of their plans, the developers have couched their development scheme for Anglia Square in gradual yet finite terms, which articulate not a ‘short-term’ use for the doomed complex, but a ‘meanwhile use’.   

On a Friday evening in early July 2018, the whitewashed windows of a small shop unit on the ground level of Anglia Square shopping centre were wiped clean, revealing the interior of a new art gallery named LOWER.GREEN.  The gallery had been set up by artist-organisers Henry Newcomb and Jonathan P. Watts, with the intention of hosting 8 exhibitions, as well as talks and events, in a time-limited programme scheduled to unfold between July 2018 and March 2019. The project proceeded from an overt acknowledgement of the interrelationship of artist-led projects and processes of gentrification, as the founders observed in their first press release, ‘LOWER.GREEN might be seen as an accessory to a funeral procession, the centre’s manager the funeral director whose job it is to oversee the decline […]. Given Anglia Square’s fixed end point, driven by developers, we would argue that LOWER.GREEN is symptom rather than cause. If it is capital and not culture that is driving the Square’s development perhaps, then, we fulfil the developer’s agenda by “artwashing” the decline, painting over the concrete rot?’

‘Artwashing’ as a term first came into usage in cultural circles in 2015, in relationship to the ongoing dispute between local residents and art galleries in the Boyle Heights district of Los Angeles, where the local, predominantly Latino community had organized to protest against the spate of recent gallery openings which they viewed as an attack on their way of life.  I followed the coverage of the battle for Boyle Heights while writing my book, The DIY Movement in Art, Music and Publishing (2016), a tour of 14 ‘creative cities’ beginning in post-war San Francisco and ending in present-day Istanbul.  In researching that book, I studied closely the increasingly rapid processes of gentrification that have occurred in cities with artistic enclaves since the 1990s, such as the neighbourhoods of Hackney in London, Mitte in Berlin or Williamsburg in New York.  While in the post-WWII period the artistic capitals of London, New York and Berlin were relatively affordable for those in middle and lower income brackets, since the mid-1990s the globalization of capital facilitated by rapid technological advances has made living in these major cities increasingly expensive and challenging.  As artist Martha Rosler wrote in her collection of essays, Culture Class (2013), ‘New York’s SoHo and East Village had proved, by the late 1970s, that the transformation of old warehouses and decaying tenement districts into valuable real estate could be accomplished by allowing artists to live and work in them. […] Artists, in addition, were not going to organize and make life difficult for city governments.  In the following decades the SoHo model became paradigmatic for cities around the world.’

The process of property speculation and gentrification in London and New York and, to a lesser extent, Berlin has only accelerated since the 2008 financial crisis, as the model of economic growth based on property inflation has taken precedence over other considerations, such as quality of life, character of a place, social identities and community networks.  The sociologist Saskia Sassen described the rising living costs in these global cities as effecting ‘expulsions’ in her 2014 book Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy, which detailed “people, enterprises and places expelled from the core social and economic orders of our time” including the impoverished, refugees, minorities and the unemployed.  The idea of expulsion underpinned many of the works on display in the opening exhibition at LOWER.GREEN, which took its title, MEANWHILE, from the wording of the developers who plan to expel the occupiers of Anglia Square in the not too distant future.  Patrick Goddard’s wall-based work, The Mediterranean (view to the north) (2016), for example, asks the audience to see again and reflect upon a device designed to secure vacant buildings against breaking and entering by homeless people and squatters.  Godard presents an Orbis security shutter in the exhibition, both as an object of contemplation and as a non-view, a blocked entry.  Goddard has first-hand experience of these devices, having squatted in empty properties in East London for more than a decade and witnessed the impact of the criminalization of squatting in the UK in recent years under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.  

Elsewhere, the redevelopment of London features in Danish artist Asta Meldal Lynge’s video work Showhome (2015), set in Tower Bridge, an area that has seen huge change in the last fifty years – once a busy international port, it was rendered obsolete once containers began to be unloaded directly onto trucks.  The watermen, lightermen and dock workers were made redundant and the warehouses and port buildings vacated, ready to be acquired by developers. The extension of the Jubilee Line in time for the millennium brought a new vision for the abandoned wharfs: one of condos, smart offices and expensive retail units.  As one commentator on Southwark Notes – whose regeneration?explains, this redevelopment has ‘changed the local character of the area from one of poor people and the type of shops and services poor people use and rely on to a landscape and culture of more well-off people and the mega shops and service industries they require.’ In Lynge’s video, an apparently glossy, professionally produced tour of a new development near Tower Bridge is spliced together with shuddering handheld footage of the area, before both narratives seem to break down and betray the false promises of real estate.   

Artistic enclaves have been identified as drivers of economic growth by several urban theorists, notably Richard Florida in his 2002 book, The Rise of the Creative Class, which argued that metropolitan regions with high concentrations of technology workers, artists, musicians, lesbians and gay men exhibit a higher level of economic development.  While the processes of gentrification are cast positively (as narratives of economic growth) in the work of Florida, the rising rents and living costs associated with gentrification also cause displacement and alienation of longer-term residents. While Florida has long maintained that the key to rejuvenating a city is to attract young creative professionals who will then bring about economic transformation by attracting investors, it is less clear how the ensuing real estate acquisition and gentrification serves either local creative practitioners or the wider community. Thomas Sugrue, author of influential study of the rise and fall of Detroit, The Origins of the Urban Crisis (1996) says that, ‘There’s not a lot of evidence that the tourism, downtown-oriented and professional-oriented urban redevelopment policies really grapple with the questions of how to provide stable secure employment for working-class and lower-income folks.’ Instead, Sugrue emphasizes the need to invest in education systems and the creation of employment opportunities for low-income residents.  

In Norwich, the Angrier Square campaign group has demanded an alternative redevelopment proposal for the northern inner city, which includes affordable social housing, rent controls to allow extant business to continue, and the provision of green space and a playground. Significantly, while the establishment of LOWER.GREEN and the MEANWHILE exhibition are informed by the sense of precarity that accompanies artist-led initiatives, the project also points to a solution that would better serve the needs of the local community.  Their position was made clear in the poster for the opening exhibition, which was printed in the style of a newspaper hoarding for local newspaper the Eastern Daily Press, known as the EDP.  The legend read, in bold black capitals on foolscap A3 paper, ANGLIA SQUARE GETS NEW GREEN.  The wording of the poster consciously gestured towards the history of Norwich, and the surrounding region of East Anglia, as a region richly fertile in many ways: agricultural, politically radical and the source of much innovative literature, dating from 14th century mystic Julian of Norwich, who penned her Revelationsfrom her anchorite cell, in which she opined, ‘And in good time things do evidently come together…’  One of the other most notable books associated with the region is W. G. Sebald’s Rings of Saturn (1995, in English translation 1998), which underscores the palpable sense in East Anglia that events inhere in the places where they occur – they never vacate their place of happening. Sebald offers a vision of East Anglia as a landscape through which dreams and visions can surface and coalesce:  ‘A pond becomes a lake, a breeze becomes a storm, a handful of dust is a desert, a grain of sulphur in the blood is a volcanic inferno.  What manner of theatre is it, in which we are at once playwright, actor, stage manager, scene painter and audience?’  The manner of theatre which Sebald outlines is exactly that which we find unfolding within LOWER.GREEN, in the practices of the artists exhibited in the MEANWHILE exhibition.  It is the same manner of theatre that took place in Norwich circa AD 60, when Iceni queen Boudicca led an unsuccessful revolt against the Roman occupation.  It was the same manner of theatre that unfolded beneath an Oak Tree at Hethersett in 1549, where Robert and William Kett of Wymondham, assembled their men before marching on Norwich to air their grievances concerning the enclosure of the common lands and the rising cost of living. Various enclosure hedges were ‘thrown down’ by their respective followers, as the revolt got underway. LOWER.GREEN is a quieter intervention, but one that has none the less transfigured a small shop unit, through Newcomb and Watts’ actions, stage management, scene painting and the help of their engaged local audience.

MEANWHILE featured the work of six artists from the United Kingdom, Hungary, Sweden and North America, who speak in different ways about the politics of urban regeneration.  Perhaps the work within the exhibition that most successfully draws out the themes of self-reliance amid regeneration is Great Yarmouth-based artist Kaavous Clayton’s ad-hoc furniture.  Clayton’s work is a revisiting of an earlier body of work, which he built as adjuncts to existing buildings around Norwich in the early 2000s. He would, for example, attach a fold-down chair to the side of a building, under cover of darkness.   His intervention would be discovered and used for a period of time, before being removed by the City Council. For MEANWHILE Clayton accepted an invitation from LOWER.GREEN to realise a series of items of furniture from materials salvaged from the gallery refit.  At the opening, Clayton’s modular furniture appeared in the guise of an upright sculptural assemblage, a bench and a table, but all of the units have been designed to be slotted together in three different formations, to be used anew in altered formulations in the LOWER.GREEN space for the duration that the gallery remains open. This meanwhile furniture Clayton called Sometime Support Systems (Supersave Series) 1–3 (2018), both memorialising the memory of the disposable pound-shop that previously occupied the gallery space – and acknowledging the value of artistic communities that may similarly form, build, and then later disperse.

At the exhibition opening, LOWER.GREEN co-organisers Newcomb and Watts were kept busy not only serving beers to guests from behind Clayton’s modular table, but also demonstrating that Chris Alton’s A shared interest in the bounce (2014) was not only available for sitting on, but could also be repurposed as a particularly challenging surface on which to attempt to play table tennis.  Alton’s work was based upon the Camden Bench, a piece of concrete street furniture, designed to offer a limited range of use to the general public, introduced to the London borough in 2012.  Intended only as a temporary seat, the Camden Bench is an inhospitable update on the traditional park bench, designed as it is to ‘be as inclusive as possible whilst resisting criminal and anti-social behaviour’. The recesses at the front and back of the bench have apparently been construed to allow the public to store bags behind their legs out of reach of opportunistic thieves, while the lack of slots and crevices in the surfaces of the bench serves to deter those wishing to stash drugs.  The surface of the Camden Bench is specially treated to repel dirt, water, graffiti and fly-posters.
While the designers claim that it offers a more inclusive place to sit, with gentle undulations that provide seating at different heights, its uneven surface makes the bench impossible for homeless people to sleep on. In 2014, in response to what he perceived as the disguised hostility of this street furniture, Alton began coordinating an ad-hoc table tennis league around benches in the City of London, deliberating subverting their design for pleasure.  For MEANWHILE at LOWER.GREEN, a replica of the Camden Bench was constructed by the set builder Tom Clarke and finished by Russell Eade, from measurements taken in the street after repeated failed attempts to source technical drawings from the fabricator. During the run of the MEANWHILE exhibition the bench was used to host a table tennis tournament, realising the promise from the exhibition poster of creating a clearing, a ‘new green’ for Anglia Square. This clearing for play recalls those places described by Johan Huizinga, in his important study, Homo Ludens: The Play Element in Culture (1949): ‘The arena, the card-table, the magic circle, the temple, the stage, the screen, the tennis court, the court of justice, etc., are all in form and function play-grounds, i.e. forbidden spots, isolated, hedged round, hallowed, within which special rules obtain.  All are temporary worlds within the ordinary world, dedicated to the performance of an act apart.’  

The idea of the playground or ‘new green’ in Anglia Square also has a particular resonance, given that the majority of real estate developers make very inadequate provision for public green spaces in their redevelopment plans.  The erosion of leisure facilities made available to the poor by landowners has a long history, which dates back to the 19thcentury introduction of the Enclosure Laws and the beginnings of industrialisation. In their seminal book The Village Labourer (1911), J.L and Barbara Hammond wrote about the significance of the leisure time that had been part and parcel of rural life for generations. They documented practices which were undermined by the Enclosure Laws and the mechanization of agriculture, such as ‘sauntering after cattle’ on the open common, and at twilight gathering on the village green to ‘play down the setting sun’.  The Hammonds showed how post-Enclosure England had been transformed from a country of commons and common fields to one of large enclosed farms with power concentrated in the hands of relatively few people.  It also revealed the resentment amongst many landowners of the leisure time enjoyed by peasants.  Enclosure was justified by some landowners on the basis that it would inspire peasants to work harder: for instance, Middleton’s Report on Middlesex concluded that the moral effects of commons was injurious to the public as ‘it gives their minds an improper bias and inculcates a desire to live, from that time forward, without labour, or at least with as little as possible.’ Arbuthnot, in his An Inquiry into the Connection between the Present Price of Provisions and the Size of Farms, (1773), further opined, ‘The benefit which they are supposed to reap from commons […] is in many instances an essential injury to them, by being made a plea for their idleness; for, some few excepted, if you offer them work, they will tell you that they must go to look up their sheep, cut furzes, get their cow out of the pond, or perhaps, say they must take their horse to be shod, that he may carry them to a horse-race or a cricket-match.’ 

Such ideas about poor people not being entitled to leisure or rest persist today, as pointed out by Alton’s subversion of the Camden Bench.   Similarly, another artist whose work was presented in the MEANWHILE exhibition, San Francisco-based Sarah Ross, playfully draws attention to hostile architectural features in Los Angeles designed to prevent loitering in public places, through an edition of four leisure jogging suits called Archisuits (2005-06) made to circumvent those inhospitable architectural structures. Ross explains, ‘The suits include the negative space of the structures and allow a wearer to fit into, or onto, structures designed to deny them.’ In the photographs documenting the work shown in the MEANWHILE exhibition, a person wearing an Archisuit with a huge wedge attached to the back is able to rest against a sloping wall at the junction of Detroit Street while a second, similarly cushioned by another special costume designed by Ross, is shown napping on a bus bench, despite the rigid metal seat dividers intended to prevent horizontal repose. 

The timing of Ross’s work relates closely to processes of gentrification that have unfolded in LA in recent years.  Up until 2005, downtown LA was considered undesirable, owing to the significant homeless populations there.  In the 1970s then-mayor Tom Bradley had decided to concentrate all the county resources for the homeless in the then under-populated downtown area, making it the designated zone for shelters, medical facilities, soup kitchens and other services for destitute people in the city.  However, since the mid-2000s, downtown LA has seen significant development, with many art spaces opening there, notably Ooga Booga #2 at Mission Road and Night Gallery, which initially, like Düsseldorf’s 1950s artists’ group Zero, offered a ‘nocturnal platform’ for viewing art.  As LA’s downtown area has become increasingly gentrified, this has led to increased awareness of the drug addicted, mentally ill people camping out on the streets of downtown LA. An article that appeared in The Guardian in March 2015 entitled, ‘Battle Lines Are Drawn in LA’s Urban War’, detailed how a tent city is erected on the downtown streets nightly between 9pm and 6am by the 3,000-6,000 homeless people who live downtown – who together constitute 10% of downtown’s current population.  Ross’s Archisuits, like Alton’s An Interest in the Bounce, uses playful humour to bring home the bleak and dehumanising forces of gentrification:  sometimes there is nothing more serious than a joke, to paraphrase Freud’s The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious (1905).

MEANWHILE also included works by the Hungarian-born artist Andi Schmied, who has a relationship with Norwich and the city’s artist-led OUTPOST gallery dating back to 2014, when he was invited by that gallery to spend a month making work in Gildengate House, home to OUTPOST Studios, which is one of the buildings currently threatened by the redevelopment plans for Anglia Square. Gildengate House is currently used to house studios for more than 80 artists, but was formerly the headquarters of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (HMSO), along with the nearby Sovereign House, the crumbling brutalist ‘cruise liner in the sky’, both of which were designed and realised by Alan Cooke Associates, beginning in 1966 as part of the re-envisioning of inner north Norwich.  Following his 2014 residency, Schmied staged an exhibition at Gildengate House, titled State of Limbo: Extracts from Sovereign House, which featured videos shot on a mobile phone documenting Sovereign House, architectural models of aspects of the building and a publication with archival photographs of the building under construction between 1966 and 1968.  For MEANWHILE, a series of still-life photographs of Schmied’s models were presented, charged with greater significance now owing to Sovereign House’s planned demolition. Through the windows of the gallery, visitors can glimpse the looming façade of Sovereign House, still reflecting the skies above the city, still dazzling even in demise.

Norwich is now a place that is now being impacted by the model of economic growth based on property inflation.  As has become evident in London, the potential profit from real estate can become a force that overwhelms all other values.  LOWER.GREEN offers a vision of another possibility – of a new green, where ideas and play are propagated.  George McKay, currently Professor of Media Studies at the University of East Anglia, wrote in his book Radical Gardening: Politics, Idealism and Rebellion in the Garden (2011) that there are three meanings of ‘plot’: land (how the garden space itself is claimed, shaped, planted), history (a history of radical gardening) and politics (gardening as terrain for ideological struggle). LOWER.GREEN draws upon and deploys all three resonances of the term.  It is a project rooted in finite temporality, like all things that grow, that are impermanent.  Yet LOWER.GREEN demonstrates what can happen in spaces earmarked for gentrification, if those empty lots are claimed and invested in by the local community, for however long they can be, until the meanwhile runs out.  As Saskia Sassen points out, ‘Making by the powerless has a far slower temporality than that of ‘making’ by the powerful, who can grab and destroy quickly.  Yet when the demands of ‘outsiders’ for expanded inclusions succeed, they strengthen the overall institution of citizenship.  They may not have gained much power in this process, but their powerlessness became complex – they made a history, a politics.’  The message of MEANWHILE, if there could be said to be one, is that life and art must still happen, even while developers are busy making other plans. 

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