Sunday, 29 December 2013

Nothing, like something, happens anywhere

Tile Hill estate neighbourhood centre, Coventry. From The Architect's Journal, October 1953.

Back in 2009, George Shaw, the poet-artist of the postwar council estate, said of his work that: 


'THERE IS NO NEW WORK. It is the old work rotting and I can't recognise it anymore. It is departing slowly from me.' 

I've just published an article in the new edition of Cultural Politics that attempts an interpretation of how and why Shaw visually memorialises the Tile Hill estate in Coventry, where he grew up in the 1970s and 80s. The article offers an understanding of how Shaw’s work is a product of a struggle over time between the idealistic principles of postwar council estate planning and the later, negative, social and aesthetic stereotyping of these estates. It takes up some basic principles of childhood development, and of the formation of autobiographical memory to show how the places and spaces of Tile Hill had an indelible effect on the formation of Shaw’s personal and cultural identity. Just how misguided I am in my analysis is up to the reader. I'm particularly cognisant of the fact that the artist himself might not recognise any of his work in it, and that such academic musings (unfortunately, Cultural Politics is an academic, subscription only journal that asserts and preserves its 'rights' to the nth degree) might only serve to distance his work even further away from him. 

But it is well meant - the photograph of the Tile Hill shops above reminds me so much of the 'neighbourhood centre' on my estate, and of what must be similar, shared memories of hanging around the shops there, playing, hiding, being a nuisance - and it is sincerely done almost in spite of academic conventions or theoretical concerns. As George Orwell nearly put it in Coming Up For Air, I belong to these estates. So do you.