Another Space: Political Squatting in Brighton 1994-Present
Part of the Brighton Photo Biennial 2012 (BPB12). This exhibition focuses on Brighton’s squat culture from the early 1990s to the present, forging strong connections between the politics of space and the history of the locale. BPB12 curators have drawn together a body of photographs showing political squats – empty buildings occupied to make political points – taken by Brighton’s squatters during the past twenty-five years. The photographs suggest different ways of thinking about space to those which generally dominate capitalist culture. The images will be widely distributed throughout the festival in a free publication and displayed in the same locations they were originally made, throwing the changing face of the city into relief.
Another Space FREE www.bpb.org.uk Political Squatting in Brighton 1994—Present Featuring: Justice? at The Old Courthouse Squatters’ Estate Agency Lewes Road Community Garden Sabo-Taj Ideal Squat Exhibition The latest news in conceptual architecture Another Space? The 2012 Brighton Photo Biennial examines ‘the politics of space’. It focuses on the different ways in which space is used and produced, along with the social systems that inform this. In researching the Biennial, I became interested in squatting as an example of how buildings have been used in unconventional ways. I began to talk to people who had squatted in Brighton, and to look at their photographs and videos. Squatting has received a lot of attention in the media recently, following the announcement that it was to become a criminal offence to squat in empty residential buildings. Mike Weatherley, Conservative MP for Hove, was instrumental in the introduction of the new law, which came into force in August. He is keen to extend the law to empty commercial properties. 2 The pictures suggest ways of thinking about and understanding space very different to those currently promoted under capitalism, where the rights of private property and individual ownership are seen as central to our wellbeing. This attitude is culturally reinforced, particularly in adverts, television programmes about buying and selling houses and in property magazines. Rather than argue for or against such views, our publication sets out to redress the balance. It recognises an alternative perspective, showing people who have chosen to ignore the logic of private ownership by turning empty buildings into non-commercial communal spaces. The past twenty years have seen rapid change in Brighton, as a down-at-heel seaside resort has been transformed into an affluent city (and one of the most expensive On the 6 November 2011, Mr. Weatherley made places to live in the UK). This can be seen as the following statement on BBC’s Politics regeneration or gentrification, depending Show: ‘I have thrown down the gauntlet on your outlook. Many of the squats shown to all the squatting organisations in the in these photographs aimed to resist this country to show me one property that they process. By publishing their perspectives, have improved while they have been there we have tried to throw the changing face of - and not one has been forthcoming.’ The Brighton & Hove into relief. photographs shown here hold the potential to answer Mr. Weatherley’s challenge. They Ben Burbridge also pose challenges of their own. Brighton Photo Biennial Co-Curator (Brighton, August 2012) The publication focuses on political squats: empty buildings squatted to make political points and generally opened to the public as galleries, social centres, libraries and gardens. Political squats are different to residential squats: empty buildings in which people choose to live not normally opened to the public. We made this decision both to avoid making a spectacle of people’s personal lives, and because the political squats seem to pose the most interesting questions about how buildings have been re-purposed. Contents 3 p. 4–5 The Old Courthouse p. 6 Ideal Squat Exhibition p. 7 Estate Agency p. 8–9 SPOR p. 10 Temporary Autonomous Arts p. 11–12 Lewes Road Community Garden p. 13–14 Sabo-Taj p. 15 Conceptual Architecture A Photoworks / Brighton Photo Biennial Publication Edited by Ben Burbridge and Edwin Coomwaswaru Printed by Yorkshire Web This publication would not have been possible without the generosity and support of a number of people. We would like to thank, in particular, Alex Casper, Alec Smart, ETC Dee, Paul Light and Bob Proctor for making the time to talk to us and for sharing their photographs. Thanks also to Dylan Howlitt, Adrian Powter, Melita Dennett, Matt Lee and Jordie Montevecchi for contributing photographs and stills to the publication. Thanks to my colleagues at Photoworks, particularly BPB co-curator Celia Davies. Several books and websites have proved invaluable in researching the project, particularly the small zine, ‘A Brief History of Squatting in Brighton’, produced by Using Space (http://northern-indymedia.org/ zines/2075) and past issues of Brighton’s long-standing alternative paper, SchNEWS (www.schnews.org.uk). Brighton’s squat culture is also well documented in a number of short activist films, many of which are easily found online. 1994 The activist group Justice? was formed in 1994 to oppose the Criminal Justice Bill, a piece of legislation drafted by John Major’s Conservative government. The group saw the Bill as a direct attack on activities including squatting, hunt sabotage, free parties and political protest. Justice? squatted a building in the Old Steine that had once served as the town’s courthouse. The site was owned by an investment company and had been empty for five years. The squatters cleaned the building and renovated it in places, before opening it to the public as a community centre and café. The building is now used as luxury apartments costing around £700,000. 4 Left: Photos by Alec Smart. Right: Stills from Justice? (1994) Dir. Dylan Howlitt: http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=oSmADyNCa80 1995 Justice? went on to squat an empty clothing store on Western Road. The building was used as a social centre and space to share literature about the Criminal Justice Bill and squatting. Calling the building the â€˜Ideal Squat Exhibitionâ€™, the group aimed to draw attention to the high level of homelessness that existed in Brighton in spite of the large number of empty houses around the town. The building is currently used as a branch of Coffee Republic. 6 1996 In February 1996 Justice? transformed an empty shop on Bond Street into The Squattersâ€™ Estate Agency. The Estate Agency window listed empty properties in Brighton, including photos and useful information for potential occupants. The Agency opened during Shelterâ€™s National Homelessness week, and was intended as a way of helping people take direct action to address the problem of homelessness in Brighton. Following a brief media storm, Justice? were evicted from the building after ten days. It is now used by designer tailor Gresham Blake. Left and right: Photos by Alec Smart. 2001 Early in 2001, SPOR—a collective of artists and musicians—occupied a disused CoOperative bank on Ship Street. The building was cleaned before being opened to the public as an art and community space, playing host to exhibitions, performances, a children’s area, a small library and a free party. The group wanted to make a creative social space in the heart of Brighton that was free from commercial concerns or state control. The space was opened for just over a week, when SPOR were presented with a court summons and evicted. The building is now used as a branch of the Steamer Trading Cook Shop. 8 Left and right: Stills from Rhizomatic #1 (2001) Dir. Matt Lee: http://vimeo.com/24439074 2008 In 2008, Temporary Autonomous Arts (TAA) transformed an empty warehouse in Portslade into an exhibition space. Active in locations across the UK since 2001, TAA create spaces for art and expression outside the usual art-world system, which is seen as both elitist and closely linked to the state and to the market. Reclaiming and reusing derelict urban spaces, TAA host emerging arts across different media and disciplines. In contrast to most conventional art galleries, TAA is inclusive: encouraging all interested artists, performers, musicians, speakers and helpers to become involved. Left: Stills from Temporary Autonomous Arts Brighton (2008) Dir. Jordie Montevecchi: http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=M2xO6GjcxYQ 2009–2010 The Lewes Road Community Garden was created by local residents on the derelict site of an old Esso Garage in May 2009. It provided a free community space, including a vegetable patch and barbeque, in an area where ‘many people live in small flats with no access to a garden and little opportunity to meet easily with neighbours’ (www.lewesroadcommunitygarden.webs.com). The land was owned by property developers Alburn Minos Ltd. who planned to build a Tesco and flats on the site. Despite a petition of nearly 4,000 signatories, the Lewes Road site was repossessed in June 2010. Flats have now been built on the site but these remain largely empty. There is still no Tescos. 11 Previous page: Photos by Bob Proctor This page: Photos by Adrian Powter and Bob Proctor: www.Flickr.com/photos/BoblyP 2011 In February 2011, a group of squatters occupied a building at the bottom of St James Street that had previously housed the family-owned food shop Taj, after plans to turn it into a branch of Sainsbury’s Local were announced. The squatters opposed what they saw as the colonisation of the area by large chains, with branches of CoOp, Tesco, Morrissons and Starbucks all located nearby. The site was turned into a community space called ‘Sabo-Taj’. Working with art students from University of Brighton, the squatters created a gallery space and produced an exhibition. The group were evicted in March 2011 and the site is now used as a small Sainsbury’s supermarket. 13 Previous and this page: Photos by Melita Dennett and Squatters Network of Brighton and Hove 2011–2012 In the past year, a loose group of artists and ‘conceptual architects’ have created a series of short-lived exhibitions and interventions in locations across the city. These have included the old Co-Operative department store on London Road, lecture theatres at the University of Sussex, and a flat on Middle Street which had been empty for several years. The ethos of the group is ephemeral and participatory, with performances and artwork changing over time as visitors interact and contribute to them. Photos: Tautvdyas Budry & Alex Casper 15 Another Space Political Squatting in Brighton 1994â€”Present