Greetings From New Cross Gate
hARTSlane Exhibition 11th — 26th June 2016
Nestled between the lively streets of the infamous Deptford and the burgeoning hipster-haven that is Peckham, New Cross has become known as ‘the long road with all the chicken shops’. An area left alone by tourism, its rich history is easily cast aside and its hidden gems have not yet received the scale of recognition as is proudly afforded to the London Eye or the Big Ben. But with this project, suitably titled ‘Greetings From New Cross Gate’, Hartslane seeks to challenge the preconceptions of SE14 by re-introducing the perhaps forgotten, but much loved postcard.
The postcard, typically an idyllic shot of a holiday destination, poses an answer to the question what a place is about. Filled with countless past histories and built and rebuilt by numerous communities, places become invested with cultural meaning. From untouched, natural landscapes to multi-layered cities, each place has its own story formed both by the people who live there and those who are passing through. The way in which a location is viewed becomes evident from the way in which it is represented; geographical maps, historical narratives and works of art all provide depictions of place. The postcard, along this vein, offers a specific kind of depiction of place; its power lies in its distillation of a location into a single image. In other words, it captures the feel of a place, it gives an overall impression of the ambience and character exuded by that place. The postcard is thus designed, with its back awaiting a personal message, to share a particular experience of place with a loved one elsewhere in the world.
So what would a postcard of New Cross Gate look like?
In order to explore this question, Hartslane approached the general public. An open call for photographic submissions was publicised in the New Cross area, welcoming responses from artists, amateurs and locals alike. People of all ages could take part and a further workshop for children was set up to include ideas from a younger generation. The brief was a popular one; over fifty people responded and a total of 105 entries were printed professionally and showcased at the exhibition held at Hartslane Studios.
The entries vary in terms of style, design and intention. Some clearly emphasise scenes symbolic of New Cross Gate; the buses, the street signs and the cherry blossoms in full glory. The local heron at Telegraph Hill Park makes multiple appearances and a proud presentation of Morley’s chicken shop can not be missed. Blurred traffic is depicted zooming through a New Cross Road alive with lights in the evening, as sun sets colour local flowers and fields. Juxtaposed with the serenity of the surrounding nature and the cityscapes are the images of a more zoomed in view of New Cross; a back gate, the front of a house and a bright blue garage door. Some images shine light on details otherwise easily missed, such as graffiti’d messages, intriguing cracks in the walls or deteriorating advertisements. Zooming in even further are those entries that depict places that the passerby would not normally have access to, such as the private family sphere of the kitchen and, most notably, the exposure of the ever mysterious interior of the New Cross Bus Garage.
These images are showing New Cross ‘from the inside out’, in audacious ways. The participatory nature of the project is enhanced with the application of a voting system. Throughout the two week exhibition, visitors are given the opportunity to vote for their three favourite postcards. The compelling prize for the ten most popular images, elected by the voters, is the transformation of the images into 25000 real life postcards, to be freely distributed in the area.
The winners are to be announced on the final day of the exhibition.
On the opening night, the excitement produced by the ballot box placed at the centre of the room, was tangible. By introducing an element of competition, both artists and visitors took up avid campaigning and the battle commenced. Voting tactics were openly examined, choices were proclaimed and the cheeky proposal of dedicating all three votes to one person resulted in a fiery discussion. When asked about what people based their vote on, different responses were vocalised. ‘I think people will always go for what they find beautiful’ stated one voter, while another exclaimed ‘I will cast my vote from the heart’. Out of the many explanations regarding how to vote, two principle motives seemed pertinent. People would either go for what they found aesthetically striking, or, what they found best represented New Cross Gate. But this was not simply a black-and-white issue, as these two competing interests could also coincide in the same image.
Ultimately, as with any democracy, the civilian is empowered with their right to choose and the reasons behind their choice will remain forever elusive. Nonetheless, the voting system in this setting engaged everyone present in a playful and communicative way. The many thought-provoking encounters with both the postcards and the people that emerged from the exhibition will continue to resonate within the community.
‘Greetings From New Cross Gate’ demonstrates the prominence of art in New Cross in a multitudeof ways. Naturally, the brief attracted a fair few artists and professional photographers who delivered interesting, well-composed or capturing-the- moment works. But the role of art in the neighbourhood also becomes apparent by the entries depicting art interventions and site-specific performances already happening in the area. The postcards of a woman sleeping on top of a bus stop and of the two ladies theatrically drinking tea attest to the importance of the representation of New Cross as a creative hub. Hartslane, proven by the entries documenting past events held at the gallery, lies at the core of this endeavour.
On a closing note, ‘Greetings From New Cross Gate’ has a sense of humour. Images of cats in crates and messages such as ‘New Cross Great’ and ‘Smile you are in New Cross’ do not fail to amuse. A skilfully edited entry reads ‘New Cross where all your Dreams come true’, craftily using the bedding shop’s logo to fortify the claim. Perhaps all of the postcards, in all their difference and their splendour, have one thing in common; the celebration of New Cross Gate. Hartslane, with this exhibition, successfully captures this sentiment and embodies the legacy upon which they were founded — bringing the community together through art.
By Beatrix Joyce