Running parallel to Regent Canal’s tow-path is Dunstan Road; Samuel House, part of Hackney’s Haggerston Estate, sits squarely toward you, its 1930’s facade not unusual nor out-of-place around here. You look, you stare; no windows are open, no faces peer from net-curtains – but before you have time to dismiss even noticing this – window sized portraits confront you; abandoning privacy, accepting vulnerability, stoically announcing that they are here.
These out-size portraits of current and former residents are the work of the Fugitve Images art collective, the i am here project was created by Andrea Zimmerman, Lasse Johansson and Tristan Fennell; estate residents themselves.
Following three decades of lobbying by residents to have the ageing estate refurbished a decision was made in 2007 to demolish and rebuild; “orange boards were promptly fitted over the windows of all the vacated and empty flats on the estate… this rather bold visual statement even further underlined the dilapidation of the estate”.
The artists commented that we “frequently overheard through open windows facing the canal, people speculating about the estate, its possible future and state of decline. Often whilst documenting it with their camera or mobile phone. We felt that the orange boards had turned the facade into a projection screen for people’s fears and prejudices around estates, and the people living in them. We simply wanted to disturb what we perceived as a very one-way communication.”
They asked themselves “how could we possibly intervene in this dynamic of being looked at and projected into? We decided to do it with the help of a photo-installation, replacing all the orange boards with large-scale photographic portraits of current and former residents of the estate.”
Having achieved their initial aim “to humanize the façade, complicate and return the gaze of the passers-by,” they also acknowledge they “wanted to become an active part in the process that produces the visual environment of our increasingly gentrified neighbourhood… we asked ourselves, who and what is made visible and what is excluded in this rapidly changing urban environment, and for what purpose? i am here shows the faces of ordinary people so often excluded from the visual material produced to market an up-and-coming area by estate agents, developers, private landlords, local councils and other stakeholders”.
By 2009 some 67 portraits had been installed. I visited in June 2012 – Samuel House still stood, the portraits eyed me up looking toward the tow-path – their mesmerising gaze inviting understanding, allowing intimacy; the building acknowledging demise, while still offering empathy.
Essay by Andrea Luka Zimmerman/Lasse Johansson @ www.fugitiveimages.org.uk
i am here @ www.iamhere.org.uk/