Monday, 24 January 2011

Not my house: the People's Picturehouse...

People's Picturehouse

Times may be tough, but expression will always find a way. Piercing through the iron curtain of economic gloom, it pops up, often in unexpected ways (often all the more joyful for its unplanned nature). The People’s Picturehouse is one such way: an impromptu cinema run out of the bar/ballroom of an old serviceman’s club, by the USC Squat Crew. Think Secret Cinema, only more squatty and less 15 quid; they’ve no right to charge for the space, so their screenings are always free (a refreshing release, no?). Classy cocktails and sumptuous snacks are the order of the day, and when the documentaries are done the drinking will go on deep into the evening...

Places are limited and allocated on a strictly first come, first served basis. Email People’s Picturehouse for guestlist and address details.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Space invaders...

Space invaders...

“The same measures governed the possession of land too: whatsoever he tilled and reaped, laid up and made use of, before it spoiled, that was his peculiar right…”

John Locke, Two Treatises of Government

Here’s the reason rich people aren’t fit to rule: despite their excellent education and marvellously moneyed manners, they will never – unlike the rest of us, those they rule – know the feeling of dread terror when an unexpected bill lands on their doormat. Having, and having always had, the means, their lives will never feel like a bad, mid-morning debt consolidation advert. Ever.

One landed on ours recently. Metaphorically, I mean – it was passed on by the owner of our building. For reasons best known to themselves, either the utilities company or the owner decided to wait a full six months before handing us the cheque. In the meantime, we kinda just trucked along, not-so-naively not asking any questions and assuming we were somehow ‘off-grid’. We’re very much on grid, and over the past six months we’ve done no small amount of accumulation.

The bill is a concern, and it has been decided we need to raise some quick cash. Clearly we have no access to capital, but what we do have is space, and plenty of it. It’s about time we put it to use, and not to merely make a little bit of spare money; that is but the spur. Probably the best defence of squatting – possibly its only defence – is that it makes abandoned space useful again, breaths new life into the once dormant.

Many others have done it, and I’m sure many still do. Some of the best – most original, most creative, most fun (above all, most fun) – users of space that I’ve come across in recent years have been the Da Collective’s Temporary School of Thought, the VHS Video Basement and the Oubliette. I’ve heard hide nor hair of the first two for a while, but the Oubliette are still going, and stronger than ever. They’re currently at interim base number 7, holed up in the old Limelight Club down Shaftesbury Avenure way, but you may also have seen them in Leicester Square, at the old Mexican Embassy and the former Reader’s Digest HQ in Mayfair. Their motto is ‘a space, a platform, a community’ and they play host to every category of artistic talent, and all totally gratis. This very week I’ll be swinging by to see an epic photography installation by Lorenzo Durantini.

Ours will be more modest at the outset, but we’ve already had a space-use trial run, in which a friend and filmmaker showed his Armenia travel documentary, projected onto a large screen/bed-sheet in our hall. We have no right to charge for the space, but Eva did her homemade pizza thing and we created mulled wine by the vat load, which we sold for a very modest price indeed. Primarily focusing on screening films, we’re open to all suggestions of being more open, and using the building in a creative way. So, if you’re a filmmaker, poet, photographer, or otherwise art-inclined, we’ll be very glad to let you help us stop squandering the space…

“Because waste is a thief…”

If you’d like to make a property-use proposition, please get in touch with Vyvian Raoul, quoting ‘open me up, already’ in the subject line.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

'tis The Season...

'tis The Season

So, here it is, Merry Christmas.

It’s always a strange time – standing apart from the rest of the year – and this year, for me, it has been particularly strange. People rush to imbue it with meaning, trying to create their own perfect Christmas scene – whether that features giving, family, the little baby Jesus or just a damn good excuse for a drunk. Whatever else it is, it’s not usually cheap. For many, it’s about spending; this year, I am not.

Party season has taken its toll. November clocks off, December steps up and the invites come rushing in. I tried to offset some of the cost with a party prep hair cut procured from the freebies section of Gumtree. I’m not sure my boss appreciated me taking a two-and-a-half-hour lunch break to get it done, but then nobody at work knows I squat* (I think. It’s a very nice, middle class charity; the Queen is our main patron, for chrissakes). In the meantime, I’ve had to graciously gulp down acceptances to various Christmas meals and parties, and wince through colleagues saying, ‘I think I’ll have a starter, actually.’

Saturday afternoon was spent stood outside Vodafone, reading a book in the snow and protesting against, among other things, the widespread closure of libraries, whilst the mega-rich telecommunications company avoids a 6bn quid tax bill. After four and a half hours, an inspector came over to plead with us to go home: ‘C’mon, it’s nearly Christmas… or are we against that too, sir?’ I could see why he might think this: he was, after all, in the process of placing us under a Section 14 for impinging on people’s right to do their Christmas shopping.

But I understand the impulse entirely, and have done some agonising myself. It’s the greed and grasping I’m not so keen on, not the giving. I recently met a highly beautiful, highly creative girl who is making embroidered jam jars for all her loved ones, and filling them with home-made jam. Thoughtfulness abounds – who could help but have their heart warmed? I’m not so good with a needle, so for my friends I’ve bought books that I want to read. Normally the cardinal sin of gift buying, my idea is that they read them, then I do, then we meet up and discuss. If they’re lucky, I may even buy them a coffee; but really mine is the gift of time, and conversation. For my sisters and brother-in-law, I’ve got Midland Mainline train tickets for a weekend in London – again, the gift of shared experience.

Whilst I am a boringly over-enthusiastic atheist and arch anti-capitalist, there are parts of the festival I enjoy. Sure, Santa’s a sham, and how’s about goodwill to all men all year round, actually? But you can’t deny the joy, and you ignore the shared experience at your peril. You’ve just got to do your best not to let it be bought…

“I hope you like it…”

Ps. Apologies for the lateness of this post: a lengthy period stood in the snowy slush in my converse left me in a state of head-pounding delirium. I felt like I was in Crime and Punishment, and spent the last three days writhing in bed, trying to figure out whether I’d murdered someone or not.

*It’s not that I’m ashamed, it’s just that squatting has some negative connotations – from a general lack of cleanliness to junkydom – that aren’t true but would be too difficult to explain away just now. Some time soon I will come out and bust these myths, but I’m new, and I want to get to the end of my probation period first.

Radio Gaga...

This time round saw us talking to Mike the Pie Man about the resurrection of the very lovely, very local Chatsworth road market, and standing outside the Golden Heart on a freezing evening trying to interview the (definitely not a street-) artist, Ian Stevenson. He was totally vinoed up after a gallery launch and a 3 minute interview ended up being an 18 minute epic, which included a Big Issue seller hitting us up for cash, and fellow artists, Bingo and Slade, coming over to call him a cunt. Hell of a chop-job, but I think it turned out nice...