I see a red door and I want it painted black
No colours anymore I want them to turn black
Nahhhhhhh you don’t get out of the thorny issue of art and censorship as easily as that! Surely we need to see the Council itself as a creative agent (“the urge to destroy is also a creative urge”) – and Stoke Newington Church Street as an installation? A durational piece spanning several decades…
I’ve lived in Stoke Newington for about 12 years now (and was coming here long before that). I’d been aware of it for some time as it was the kind of place that cropped up with alarming regularity as part of the counter culture discourse of the eighties. The Vague cartoon above (circa the Televisionaries issue, 1987?) portrays the area as consisting of nothing but off licences and video shops.
It was better than that by the mid nineties – you had a load of cheap unpretentious curry places where you could bring your own beer, for example. After our daugher was born I would regularly wheel her (modestly sized) pushchair into Totem Records and have a rummage through their generally overpriced but still great racks while she gurgled away. And there were a bunch of good second hand book shops, and The Vortex jazz bar and caff, (which everyone raves about now but nobody ever seemed to be in there when the jazz was happening – it was rammed for the quieter weekend breakfast sessions). Somebody once told me that the Vortex used to be a Kangol hat factory, which I really hope is true.
I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes
Then we got Fresh and Wild, a huge and very poncey organic supermarket chain. Totem Records was replaced by a shop selling really expensive baby clothes. And suddenly there were loads of estate agents.
Slowly but surely there was less and less that I liked, and more and more bijou shops for “yummy mummies”. There was a bit of a ruck when The Vortex closed down, with a squatted occupation and anarcho “social centre”. I didn’t really bother all that much with it because I hadn’t felt a stake in the place or the street as a whole for some time by that point.
I generally find anarchist social centres a bit alienating these days. Around 2002 I popped down to the Radical Dairy after they got raided by the cops. Daughter tagged along in pushchair (we carried her in a sling when we marched against the war in Afghanistan in 2001. So yes, she is probably going to grow up to be a rabid Tory).
At the Dairy the usual subcultural suspects were sitting around (listening to some Tappa Zukie if I remember rightly). They were all nice enough, but I was pretty much pounced on when it was found that I lived nearby. Which I assumed meant that I was a rarity and the vegan caffs, library of Kropotkin pamphlets and weekly spanish lessons werent making great inroads to the local community. Once I’d been assigned the role of “local person” I fed them some lines questioning the police raiding the place rather than closing down the crack houses up on Stamford Hill, which I was pleased to see mentioned in the next issue of the Gazette. But I never felt the urge to go back there.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against people taking over spaces and trying to do things with them. I would have loved for there to be something like that nearby when I was a teenager. I just think it is very difficult to break out of a subcultural scene and connect with “ordinary people” (whoever they are), and social centres for a while were heralded as doing that, when perhaps they weren’t.
I wanna see it painted, painted black
Black as night, black as coal
Church Street subsequently reached new levels of hysteria when Nandos bought the lease on The Vortex (after rumours of similar bete noires such as Starbucks and Tescos). There was a campaign website bemoaning “their desire to clog up the clean air of Clissold Park with the stench of battery farmed chicken grease and chip shortening” (Clissold Park is a good ten minute walk from the site, so that would have to be some powerful stench).
Aroma aside, the main objection to Nandos seemed to be the incursion of chain stores which would herald the end of Church Street’s unique parade of independent shops. Personally I don’t really want Church Street to be filled with the same chain shops you see everywhere, but if the alternative is increasingly expensive boutiques that I can’t buy anything from then I’ll take utility over independence every time. I didn’t see any protests against Fresh And Wild opening.
The simple fact is that the rents were going up as Church Street became an overspill for Islington’s Upper Street (in parallel with property prices increasing as young professionals who couldn’t afford to live in Islington moved to the area). So business owners either had to rely on high footfall and national back up (chains) or selling expensive niche stuff to rich people (boutiques).
Needless to say Nandos got their way in the end. And you will find me there occasionally, having a hungover Sunday lunch.
So this is a longwinded way of explaining the background to the Council painting over Banksy. Church Street has been changing rapidly ever since I first set foot there in the early 90s. Graffitti is by its very nature ephemeral – it also changes over time. You can see that the Banksy piece has been tagged over in silver in the “before” photo up top, for example. Encasing graffitti in perspex leads us down the road of commodification – removing precisely what is exciting about the medium: its illicit nature and impermanence.
Hackney Council’s latest work confirms all of this – the near eradication of the Banksy is a satisfying response to my feelings about Church Street – what has already been lost, and what is to come.
I wanna see the sun blotted out from the sky
I wanna see it painted, painted, painted, painted black