Friday, 5 June 2009

Battle for Redchurch Street

Redchurch street used to be the rundown street with the naff bar at the end, and a bit of a short cut to Shoreditch high street. It had a couple of low key galleries, but since the arrival of Shoreditch house and it featuring as one of London's coolest streets in an advertising supplement in Vogue, the street has exploded with a plethora of fashionistas, bars, cafes and art.....

It was a particularly pleasant evening in east London. The usual hustle and bustle of Redchurch street's art community didn't even annoy me as I passed through with my girlfriend. In fact we decided to partake in a spot of gallery scrumping. Dipping in and out of the various private views, grabbing a beer here, a postcard for the fridge there and a couple of cocktails for the hell of it. But as I lent against a stencil daubed wall, sipping on a Bellini, I spotted something that awoke me from my devil may care mood. Across the street a number of gallery goers were leaning on the 'Shoreditch Masjid Trust & Islamic Cultural Education Centre', that stands opposite the 'Gallery in Redchurch Street', supping on stella and even discarding there empty cans on the pavement outside and the buildings window ledges. I'm not a big fan of littering in the first place, but even a white working class Essex boy like myself can see how distasteful and disrespectful consuming alcohol outside of what is basically a mosque, is. Even without an art degree from St.Martins.

With the sun fading and my lack of faith restored in the art worlds common sense, we retreated to my girlfriends apartment (flat doesn't do it justice) on redchurch street, for a spot of supper and TV. After a bit of a boozy doze on the sofa, I awoke to find that there was still a din coming from the street below. I lent against the warehouse conversions badly insulated windows, and looked down on the sea of colourfully dressed people below. It was quite the street party, with music blaring out and reverlers drinking and conversing in the road, sometimes giving way to the odd annoyed car horn. I looked across to notice that the group outside of the Islamic centre had grown, along with the litter. As I shook my head, I saw 4 Asian youths swagger up the street. This should be interesting I thought and kept my watch like James Stewart in 'Rear Window'.

They patrolled up and down outside of the Islamic Centre, before one of them, looked like he quite forcefully asked some people to move. Their cans and crushed plastic glasses being kicked off the pavement behind them. Fair play, I thought as the guys then took turns to sweep the area of unwanted art lovers, after seeing their friend get away with it. I don't know if they were called for by the centre or simply disgruntled members, but part of me, although in agreement with them, wanted to be standing on the pavement. I don't like littering, but can't abide rudeness either, and the arrogance on their faces that comes with fighting a just cause was particularly annoying. I'm sure they probably didn't have any right to police the street, but then I guess I'd be a bit miffed if someone propping up a fixed gear bike, spat on a relatives grave.

After the art fops were safely on their side of the street, no doubt wondering what they had done wrong, the lads strutted out of view and some older gentlemen emerged from the centre to wash the pavement and clear the litter, not just from the pavement, but from the road too. Why weren't the organisers at 'Gallery in Redchurch' taking responsibility I thought? A simple sorry, or an art student with a black plastic bag would've done. I guess I was glancing down on a microcosm of the words troubles. The ignorant, indulgent and individual west, oblivious to the offense they cause their Muslim neighbours.

But there are other battles being fought on the street. A silent militia that creeps out in the early hours of the morning. Long after the chatter and laughter caused by the home counties accents, has all but disappeared into taxis heading for home, after a night at their member only fortresses. The modern day 'rippers' bide their time and prey on the unprotected impostors that litter Redchurch Street.

One almost feels sorry for the people of 'The Urban Angel Gallery'. All they have done is create a space to display 'urban', 'street' art. They are the constant victims of graffiti heads, who take exception to seeing their high jacked culture displayed in what appears to be a 'Foxton's' amongst galleries. I've lost count how many times I've walked past and smirked, as their latest mural has fallen victim to a defiant can of paint. Live by the sword, die by the sword. But it's not just 'Urban Angel' who are targeted, there is no mercy spared for any artist that tries to peddle their wears on Redchurch street. No stencil, sticker or painting can hide from the mighty '10 Foot' and his ilk.

It could be said that 'The Owl & The Pussy Cat' could be caught up in this war of gentrification, but the old building has time and wisdom on it's side (along with being listed). Although the no frills pub has seen a steady decrease from builders staying in lodgings on Bethnal Green Rd. as it's clientele, it's always been a home for artists and has no end of new drinkers willing to pay £15 for a carvery on Sundays. Maybe there very own little victory?

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