The corner of Tooting High road and Selkirk road, the street that I live on, has always been a site for locals to discard their unwanted objects and waste. Well worn mattresses, old sofas, rouge black bin bags, commercial detritus, old technology and suspicious rolled carpets litter the space between the opticians and what was the second hand washing machine lock up. A blank stretch of brick wall where ownership is unclaimed by either business.
In November 2013, local Tooting councillors responded to the fly tipping, by installing temporary security cameras and using the captured footage to create wild west style ‘WANTED’ posters and leaflets that were posted around the offending area and pushed through the letter boxes of the Selkirk road residents.
Feeling that this response was draconian, detached and impinging on the autonomy of the streets inhabitants without consultation or negotiation, I began to see the wall where the fly tipping occurred, and where the new cameras were trained, as a contested space.
Contested between myself, my fellow Selkirk locals, the councillors, the council employees involved in surveillance and street cleaning, any pedestrians moving through the space and the fly tippers utilising the dead space between the lock up and opticians.
A move had been made to lay claim and responsibility over what I saw to be a space that was resistant to being claimed or dictated to. In its apparent emptiness its nature was shaped by those who pass through it, ignored by many pedestrians, exploited by opportunists and a potential temporarily relieving stretch of nothingness, a passageway that did not ask or demand anything from you. The space was now politicized, not by the now overbearing presence of local politicians, but by the politics that was being enacted within it.
As a means of pushing back against the lack of engagement with the perceived problem, and in response to the apparent apathy leading to a casual and laidback willingness to hand off this issue to local officials, whose response was equally as intrusive and disempowering, I decided to act out and put myself, anonymously, into the space. Parodying at first the local government's response with a series of posters, I moved towards a subtler and more open-ended action of simply painting the wall.
“There is never a moment of pure resistance, but always a reciprocal play of resistances that form clusters or sequences of resistance and counter-resistance responding to each other in surrendering or seizing of initiative” (p.5, ‘On Resistance’, Howard Caygill)
I have been painting the wall with a light blue paint on and off over the last three years, topping up the original action as the weather and wear and tear of the city dulls the interior wall paint. Using the action as a means of investment into my own capacity to resist, topping it up with each transgressive act. Not directly taking on the forces that are undemocratically entering and acting within the space but rather simply announcing a new persistent presence as a way of saying, “No, I am unwilling to accept this process”. My contribution has not stopped the fly tipping, it was not intend to. But my continued action is rather a slow meditation on my own part looking at how can I engage and energise the creation of institution in my locality whilst pushing back against existing institutions without spending all of my and my communities capacity to resist.
(This text is featured as part of the Spotlight Series hosted by Pea Proposals, a research group that looks at the politics of public art, www.peaproposals.co.uk/Warren-Andrews)