Jun 11, 2014

People, Places and Histories Uncovered in the Ex-Warner Project

The Ex-Warner Project is an artistic response to the history of the Warner estate, its legacy and how the buildings are used today. The project has been in development since the beginning of the year by collaborating artists Lucy Harrison and Katherine Green. They have collected stories and old photographs from current residents, gone through the extensive archive at Vestry House Museum, worked with the Walthamstow Historical Society and local writer and researcher Kirsten Sibley and photographed the streets, interiors and the residents themselves. The culmination of these forms a survey of how the half-houses, villas and flats on the Warner estate have been used in past and how this has changed today. The results are on show throughout the E17 Art Trail at the old rent office on the corner of Brettenham Road.

The photographs of residents, taken by Katherine Green, are displayed alongside donated photographs and archived documents. The interviews play through speakers in some rooms and are available on headsets in others. The display is divided into categories including ‘Kitchens’, ‘Garden’ and ‘Neighbourhood and Community’. The exhibition is curated such that the categories chime with the room they are found in.

In the main space you are introduced to the 30 participants through photographs of them in their living rooms or kitchens. There are pictures of sole occupants, couples and families and the homes reveal a range of decorating choices, with some in great need of repair. The exhibition then moves through to a small kitchen space where there are photos of Warner kitchens; some gutted, others cluttered with the objects of daily life. Here you can listen to stories from residents. I catch Bob and Sylvia, who met as both their parents lived on the same Warner street, discussing what bath nights used to be like at their Warner homes. We hear of them as children, taking it in turns to jump into a tin bath in the kitchen and of the icicles that would form on their bed sheets as there was no proper insulation.

A room focusing on ‘Neighbours & Community’ has a compelling display of street party photographs from the early 1900s up to very recently. The exhibition then leads out into the back yard where the shed is still there which was used to store paint and tools for the repairmen of the estate. Traces of the familiar Warner estate green paint can still be found on the walls and floor. If you have the time, I recommend taking a seat and reading through some of the full interview transcripts that are available in here. I came across an interview with Eileen who was born in 1933 in the bedroom of the house she still lives in. She remembers a bomb falling close by and V2 Rocket which demolished everything up the road and explains that the cracks it caused can still be seen on her walls today.

It is a very well put together, intimate, exhibition. There is a sense that the residents have invited you to explore how they live and the way the exhibition has been arranged allows for interesting differences and similarities across homes, as well as generations, to emerge. Both artists have a background in projects where they have worked in a similar way to a place and investigated the way people live within it. Lucy Harrison has worked on Canvey Island investigating residents’ views on the areaand has explored the history of Carnaby Street in a more recent project. Katherine Green worked on a project documenting the Walthamstow Stadium before it closed down and another focusing on local people in the five Olympic boroughs. They both have connections with the Warner estate; Lucy lives in a Warner house now and Katherine used to visit her father in one. They wanted to explore why it was that these places had such character and why such strong communities seemed to be created within them. With so much of interest emerging from this investigation, it is by no means a project only for those with a connection with the estate, but anyone with an interest in history, the relationship between people and place and how communities live today.

A series of talks and walks are being run alongside the exhibition with guest speakers, tea and 1914 themed dinner. Most are now fully booked, but more details can be found here. Though the exhibition at the old rent office closes this Sunday, the Ex-Warner Project will continue. There will be books, photos and audio available at Vestry House Museum, many of the interviews are available to listen to online here and the website will be expanded and a Flickr group will be set up for residents to continue to share photos.

Listing no. 12: Click here for more information

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