I was pretty excited about visiting Croydon last week for the private view of Georgina Cook’s degree show.
As many of you will know I’ve been a great admirer of her photos for many years and was thrilled when she agreed to let us use her images for the first two issues of Woofah (including the front covers).
Recently G’s work has veered away from documenting club culture and concentrated more on abstract images – a display of her psychogeographical love affair with South London.
Indeed her degree show marks a surprising acceleration into an entirely new, more conceptual, area. “Lost In The Cracks” raises many questions regarding place and surveillance society in the early 21st Century. It is apt that the playfully Kafka-esque installation took place in Croydon, which as well as being the birthplace of dubstep (via the Big Apple record shop) was also where Jamie Reid and the Suburban Press collective vigorously attacked the very nature of post-war “new towns” as sites of grim alienation rather than suburban paradises.
Cook’s installation covers a wide area and I was impressed by the dispersed nature of the work. For example I was greeted at East Croydon station by a friendly bureaucrat who informed me that, despite Croydon technically being in Zone 5 of London’s travelcard system, my Oystercard was not valid there and that I would have to pay a twenty quid penalty fare.
Obviously this raises many questions about what (and where) London actually is, as a “place”. The London of our imaginations is many things, far beyond the representation of the railway map or travelcard zones.
So, as Iain Sinclair has pointed out recently, Stoke Newington has an entirely different character to the rest of the London Borough of Hackney. Similarly Croydon exists in some kind of hinterland, both in London and Surrey, but not really characteristic of either. Whilst dubstep is seen by many as originating in London, it is also suburban in character (cf. comments by Simon Reynolds about dubstep precursors ‘ardkore and Jungle having key participants based in the home counties – most relevantly Essex’s Suburban Base label and shop).
Cook’s secondary point is that the very nature of “place” is formed by social processes. These processes include state and corporate interventions both at “national” and “local” levels. East Croydon station is one of the busiest outside of Zone 1, so perhaps the town itself will be forever associated with the railway and its operating company, Southern.
But Cook also reminds us that these interpretations are always subject to negotiation. The smiling bureaucrat was only too eager to inform me that there was a chance that my twenty quid penalty fare would be refunded to me if I appealed. The message I took away from this is that we must resist the imposition of bureaucratic “place” and formulate our own relationships with Croydon, by wandering about ourselves. This is reminiscent of the work done by the Equi Phallic Alliance to undermine notions of “Wessex” generated by reactionary poets.
Indeed, the latter part of Cook’s installation is composed of a semi-guided derive of the area around the station. My invite directed me to College Road, but on entering the college building there I was informed by a second bureaucrat that I was in the wrong place and needed to head to the H.E. College instead. I continued to wander, enjoying the sunshine, ruminating on the role of educational establishments in confining thought. The almost deserted H.E. College provided even less answers. I drifted happily through its corridors, viewing some of the more conventional work by other students.
There was no trace of Georgina Cook, her invisibility only serving to highlight her presence.