Interview with Martin Richman, artist, 16.4.2012
CW: Why come to HW?
MR: I had a studio nr old st, and to cut a long story short we had to move out of there… it did look like we were going to buy it but that fell through…many years ago as an artists I was asked to make some proposals for this green (Mabley Green), and while I was exploring all this I found that place (pointing to Victory Mews), which was still occupied as a factory, it was a Shellac factory… for furniture industry.
CW: Did you buy the space etc?
MR: Yes, 4 people came together and bought the building at the end of the mews and divided it according to financial input. I got 900 sq ft etc… I live there and run my studio practice from there.
CW: What’s yr practice?
MR: I’m an artist – I manipulate space often using light or light interested materials. I have quite a lot of public works and I make installations in hospitals, schools, galleries – it’s a broad based practice with lots of different activities inside it – I’m a sculptor…
CW: What was it like when you first moved here?
MR: Not that radically diff from what it is now. Exept that the Ol park was a fenced off space where they used to run the Sunday market. It was a little bit before I moved here the Sunday market, but I used to come to them sometimes – it was like a wild west, not policed, and everybody would run a stall, and you would have everything from wild game meat to washing machines to fridges to bric a brac and everything else you could think off. For something in London it was a bit like a sort of 3rd world market and quite exhilarating in lots of ways.
There was a no of artists that moved in and some were already living here. There was some space – Acme studios in the area. They were here that early. There’s always been a presence, well not that early, but going back 15 years I would say there’s been a sort of artist studio presence in the area and now there are more of those and I think now there are places like the Peanut factory (which was …peanuts but then closed down) ans that’s occupied by a lot of artists and designers but rents are going up and its privately owned and the truth is that artists won’t be there for much longer I suspect. I feel very strongly that either the council or the local planning authorities should create subsidized artist studio space that are outside of the private rental arena so that it’s not so subject to market rates because what keeps happening is that artists move into any given community and they help create the community and help make the area of interest and engaging and then gradually it catches on with other designers or IT peeps or architects and so on and in the end the market the rents go up and the artists are forced to find spaces even further out than they where they were. Seen it happen, in my lifetime, in Chlsea, Notting Hil, Shoreditch, Hoxton and now it’s happening here. When I spoke to
Head of Strategic planning for Hackney he said “we reliased we fucked up in Hoxton and Shoredtich and we don’t want to make the same mistakes again”, so my sense is that Hackney Council is aware of this need.
CW: Are they trying to do this in the White Building?
MR: Yes, I think places like the White Building are subsidized, I think it’s LDDC who put money into it. I would applaud these kind of responsible actions
CW: What other projs are there like that?
MR: I’m not that aware of any. Space studios are v good and v active. Acme are ok but a bit less active. Diff groups are active in diff ways, Acme has lower profile than Space but they are both prertt active in theur different ways – to help create spaces that are maintained. They both depend rather on buildings that aren’t wanted by anyone – so they might take a 15/20 yr lease out on a building and then let it to artists and they are non prof making orgs. They are both pretty good but they do depend on the unwanted building, or at least that’s the trad model but I think peeps like Acme are realizing that this stock of unwanted builsings is diminishing in London and they have started investing in new build buildings for artsist to buy/rent and I would commend those kinds of moves.
CW: Your commission for the Olympics – how did this
MR: Open competition, interview, whittled down and I was chosen – it was quite a complicated and difficult gestation period – the real truth is that the ODA at that time weren’t set up to deal happily with artists, they were set up to deal with building contractors, and they weren’t sure what the deal was going to be – originally I was to have a certain number of bridges and Jason Bruges have another number – it changed from 6 bridges to a bridge and an underpass – that’s the current state of affairs.
CW: Did ODA want to work with local artists?
MR: Not sure they particularly had an agenda to work with local artists. Don’t really know _ I didn’t get that impression. I’ve been on interviewing panels for other commissions as a local artist – I expect it didn’t do any harm that I was a local artist if I can put it like that.
I found the early days so frustrating that I almost quit – and then Sarah Weir was brought in to manage the artists progfam – very bright and capable and wants to make the best for everyone. Strong emphasis for integrating artworks into bridges/highways structures etc
CW: What are some of effects of Olympics on HW artists?
MR: Very mixed. A lot depends on what happens in the legacy. I thik that if there are subsidized spaces or controlled rent spaces I hope that artists wil be able to stay on after the event. If everything is left to the free market then the artists will be drivne out and I think the area will become somewhat impoverished as a result. It’s essentially the Olympics has both speeded up and limited the process. The area was changing and transforming. It’s been a mixed blessing. I’m not one for wanting to keep everything in aspic and there are people who really enjoy the romance of the ruins and felt resentful that the Olympics were doing what they were doing, essentially taking over a large tract of land that was almost like rural space, that sort of interesting edgeland. I’ve got some sympathy with the stance of ian Sinclair and others but I don’t agree with it. The great things about cities is their ability to change and transform. Mixed blessing. There obviously is a loss of that kind of free space and I have concerns about what you might call private/public space and one of my concerns is rather like Canary Wharf the Olympic park might have a sense of being private space but being publicly accessible and I’m never that happy about what you might call public space into what you might call a private arena where the public are let through on sufferance to one extent or another and you get private security guards etc. It seems to be an increasing trend in London’s development. I also have some grave concerns about how the area is being co opted by the Mayor’s office in terms of planning so the usual planning regs will shift and how and this isn’t so much my personal concern but voicing concerns from local people, there’s a real sense that they have coopted the marshes and they keep coopting odd bits of land which has frankly built up a bit of a resentment and they are unconvinced that they are going to be handed back a the end of the Olypics. But my sense is that there are some good people working in the legacy team and at its best it might become a really interesting space where it’s easy to walk from here to Stratford without going through busy roads – you could walk through pleasant parkland and it would be a place full of events and possibilities and if it’s not that I think we’ve lost a great deal, without any obvious gains
CW: What are the limiting aspects of this accelerated
MR: The organic way in which it might have happened otherwise and the co-opting of large tracts of space, the introduction all of a sudden on large groups of population lots of accommodation etc into an area that hasn’t necessarily got the superstructure to support all that and to just watch the place grow in sort of a more organic and open way.
Telephone interview with Martin Richman 18.4.2012
MR: …..I just wanted to call in order to say a bit more about how Mabley Green was a perfect example of the semi privitisation of public space. Mabley is common ground owned by the people of Hackney. They had hard football pitch on there which had fallen into disrepair and they built another floodlit space which was all weather. It was run, or let out to a private leisure company. Now, there is a training ground. It’s done by Adidas and it’s part of the Olympic legacy. Adidas has paid for these training machines, and their brands are all over them but it’s on our common land.
Hackney Marshes will be used for coach parks which means a no. of football pitches are no longer available for football. The football pitches are now in Mabley Green. Local don’t want this monoculture of football, and there is resentment.
Mabley green is a microcosm of the unarticulated anxiety that exists about this development. None of these are hateful things but overall they amount to a sea change, and the transformation of public space into semi private space, which are controlled and “secure.” This is happening to towpaths and other public areas. Rationally it’s hard to object but there is a subtle change going on about how space is perceived.
CW: Can you tell me a bit about the process of your
artistic commission for the Olympics?
MR: One of the earlier designs was using concentric circles (instead of spirals) but that was ruled out because it was too similar to the Olympic logo. In a sense I was precensuring myself because I knew what was going to be acceptable. The art they are commissioning isn’t likely to be making bold political statements! I was aware that they would have come down on me like a tonne of bricks if I had done this. My art isn’t political anyway. I’m interested in the personal as being political.
If I was a more political artist I might have questioned some of the sponsors and their commercial control.
In a sense it is a breach of contract to even talk to you about this, and to talk about what I was doing. Thre was an extremely onerous contract, huge amount of detail in which I had to show what I was doing, and how it related to the site. I can’t use the word Olympic in what I’m doing. It’s an inherently oppressive and controlling organization