My undergrad experience was largely informed by a backdrop of male urban dystopian fiction recounting the woes of high rises, psycho-geographical flaneurs and proponents of Modernism. Upon stumbling across Laura Oldfield Ford while attending a talk at [Space] gallery on the practice of the 1970s east London photography collective, The Hackney Flashers, I realised that there was more to the city than is vastly understood or discussed. To me Oldfield Ford not only offers a female voice but a northern dialect that allows for a more personal and relatable account of community life, collectivity and activism.
Reluctant to psycho-geographically map Oldfield Ford herself, her omnipresence comes from a series of movements through the landscape as a squatter and activist. It is through Oldfield Ford’s political ideologies that the thematic of resistance in her work surfaces. Unlike her male counterparts in the psycho-geographical field, her career isn’t mapped by a lucrative publishing deal and monthly columns in The Guardian. Oldfield Ford connects with the city through a portfolio of career choices in collaboration with it. It is here we enter ‘Alpha/Isis/Eden’ a junction of heavily collaged ply boards recounting an intersection in which gentrification becomes a political weapon.
Oldfield Ford, in collaboration with sound engineer and producer Jack Latham, has created an urban soundtrack from field recordings setting an immersive tone for her investigation. Here the work exercises a subjectivity that is akin to the second wave feminist term ‘the personal is political’. The audio is a master track for urban storytelling and very much takes curatorial centre stage in the show’s make up. The narrative (often scrawled on the surrounding walls) highlights a passage between inside and outside, parties in flats, sounds from cars, balcony dwelling, belly aching bass throbs, expectancy and delay, fire escapes and back doors. The weave is a constant traverse through space and time. It is here that Oldfield Ford has removed the dead-end, the conclusion or summary section. She allows for the internal to spill on to street level in a chaotic dub translating the complex web we build as we grow with our urban environment.
The audio seemingly interprets a past of experiences which can never been reclaimed. It suggests the difficult memory game we play when we entrust the city with our lives. Like all good tales, Oldfield Ford’s acts as a contemporary fable stemming from a frenetic relationship to her environment. Crouching down to embrace the space’s only radiator on a pile of forlorn bean bags, the evocative swell of the track forewarns of a collective moment of resistance. Here the practice of Oldfield Ford becomes less an undirected flaneur of the urban but instead an act of agitprop. Here resistance comes from employing memory as a tool to provide a platform for politics – a subjective imprint which challenges what it is to build a relationship with the city. The survival of this relationship stems from both its autonomy and from the human desire we attach to the errant suggestions that at some point it may fail.