18 May – 1 July, 2018
Review by Amy Jones
As I turn onto Wellesley road in East Croydon, I’m confronted with a small, unloved shopping centre, nestled between 1960’s style concrete office blocks. It is here in the Whitgift, with its dated granite interior and PVC atrium, that I find Turf projects and their current exhibition Low Batt.
The exhibition’s text opens with a quote from the film Dawn of the Dead, where a group of survivors find refuge from the zombie apocalypse in a shopping mall. The exhibition seeks to problematize our reliance on technology and looks for alternative forms of survival, asking ‘What tools might expedite shopping mall survivalism?’ For Turf projects, who are being evicted from this space at the Whitgift at the end of the year to make way for a shiny new Westfield, the question of survival has never been more urgent.
At first glance, the artists in the exhibition leave the question of what it is they are surviving from and who or what their zombies may be, open to interpretation. Mette Boel’s, ‘Hammocks for the Future’ (2018), are suspended from the ceiling as you enter the space and consist of a digital print on tarp depicting plastic water bottles suspended in purple and orange. The work, with its layering of plastic as both material and image evokes both a practical repurposing but also hints at the disaster we may be attempting to survive. Imagining a body in one of Boel’s hammocks suddenly evokes not survival but, entombment - a sense of being trapped in an endless cycle of consumption and waste - zombies of our own making. I’m reminded here, of Rem Koolhaas’ Junkspace essay where he articulates a particular type of architecture as a form of contemporary waste. In Junkspace, buildings are designed in anticipation of wastage and as a means of putting that waste to work - be that objects, products, people, time: Junkspace seeks to house them all in anonymous shopping centres, offices and airport terminals. Perhaps the shopping mall is not our refuge after all, but disaster disguised as redemption.
Janina Lange’s work is concerned with more naturally forming disasters. Her performance, ‘Storm Exercise’ (2018), which was performed on the exhibition’s opening night, attempted to recreate the sound of a storm using a collection of everyday objects including video tapes, cardboard boxes, necklaces and folding chairs. These remain in the gallery today, looking as if they were picked up by a swirling hurricane and dropped there. The meeting of natural forces and the human in Lange’s work explores both a fear of being at the mercy of forces outside of our control but also, in the age of the Anthropocene, a warning about our own role in our future demise.
While the artists thoughtfully explore both our contemporary conditions and some of the problems we may face in the future, I leave with questions, hopes and fears but no real tools for my survival. Following the exhibition, I wander around the rest of Turf Projects reading about their various programmes which provide a free community project space, artist workshops, reading groups and a home for both Container News, a youth led zine, and Maker Stuff Squad, a collective of artists with learning difficulties, encouraging critical engagement and providing opportunities for people to come together as a community - to be and think with one another. These are surely invaluable survival strategies for living in such complex and often troubling times. Here’s hoping that Turf projects and the invaluable work they do continues to survive after it leaves the Whitgift.