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An excerpt from a talk for Kinetica in April 2007 to accompany their exhibition of 'The Ride of Life':

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There is a strong link between art and property development in Britain, and although it sometimes acknowledged to a limited extent, I don’t think it reflects its true power. John Carey, in his recent book ‘What good are the arts’ barely mentions it. There are good things and bad things about this symbiosis, but I suspect there's a sort of snobbery that ‘art is about higher matters’ which prefers to ignore the connection.

  ‘The Ride of Life’ was the project where I first became aware of the link. At the time (1990) large US style malls were unknown in the UK - Meadowhall was the first. The developers not only had to convince the local planners, their scheme also depended on getting £40m from the Urban Development Corporation for the infrastructure. They needed to prove that their mall was going to be something special, not just another shopping centre. This is why they became so interested in Cabaret Mechanical Theatre and dazzled us with their cash. A few months after we’d been flown to Disneyworld and and embarked on our own eccentric version of a ride, Paul Spooner and I were asked to take a few of our machines to a key meeting and do short presentations to entertain the Urban Development Corporation. Later we found that the meeting had been ‘really successful’ as the cash had finally been agreed.

 We had now paid for ourselves and could all quite logically be handsomely paid off. At the time we were told it was the new tenants’ lack of interest in the Ride that was the death knell, but with the benefit of hindsight this seems pretty irrelevant. However, I certainly don’t regret being involved and I think all the artists involved had quite a good time. Sue Jackson organised some great meetings and parties for everyone and many of us have remained friends every since. Several of my mates got on the property ladder because of the project, and I acquired a an old village hall in my garden. If the ride had gone ahead and been installed it would have been a maintenance nightmare, with 24 sets made by 24 different people each with their own way of making things. It would certainly never have obtained the sub-cult status it has today.  

 In retrospect I see most of the things I’ve made connected to property development in some way, though its not always been to my advantage. The waterclock I made with Andy Plant for Short’s Gardens, Covent Garden in 1982 was much loved at the time, when Covent Garden was a trendy place where people went to see bizarre stuff. As property prices rose, it became more established and ordinary, and the clock didn’t really fit in any longer. To his credit, the property developer who now owns the building was interested enough in its history to pay for the clock to be restored only a few years ago, but the tenants have no interest and without regular attention, it just looks sad and rarely works. 

Cabaret Mechanical theatre was encouraged to establish its base in Covent Garden by the GLC in 1984, just before they were abolished. They wanted to subsidise craft based shops in the market, to make it distinctive. Since its demise, the market has since been owned by a succession of insurance companies. Although at first supportive, they gradually increased the rent to a point where Cabaret was forced to close, 15 years after it first opened.  At the time it seemed very unjust – the place was always still really popular and had established a fantastic reputation. I even lent them £10k to hang on, knowing I would never see the cash again. But with the benefit of hindsight, both parties had benefited from the collaboration. The benefit gradually shifted from the property developers who at first really needed to make the market a lively place, to Cabaret who benefited increasingly as the market did indeed become lively. 

By the time it closed, Cabaret had established enough of a reputation to survive. It continues to organise international touring exhibitions and sell stuff on the internet. Covent Garden has become so boring today,  Sue wouldn't want to be there anyway.  

 Shortly after Cabaret closed in Covent Garden, my friends who live just off Exmouth market (also in central London) witnessed a transformation as all their entertaining local arty shops closed, replaced by chain stores. The market totally lost its charm. Unlike Covent Garden, quite a lot of people live near Exmouth market, so for the locals like my friends the change was definitely crap. However, I still think the artists were unreasonable to whinge, they had 10 years of really cheap rents.

Around the same time, I was involved with a series of temporary 'museums' in the old Oxo warehouse on the South Bank. The building had been empty for a while and was difficult to fill because it was listed and owned by a community development scheme. Claire Patey persuaded the 'developer/architect' to let her run 'museums' in the building. They had an eccentric charm, and gathered momentum and became quite popular. After a couple of years, the architect claimed he needed the building back to convert to offices and retail. Claire was really upset, and never believed his story. She felt that he killed it off before it became too established, mainly because he wanted to build a new art centre on another part of the site. Whatever the motive though, I think Claire was lucky to have such a great building in a prime location for as long as she did.    

Kinetica is in a similar position to Cabaret's. The main funder is the developer who is refurbishing Spitalfields market. The market has been covered in scaffolding for a few years as the work on the roof is slow. The reason its taking so long is that the market stalls have remained functioning, I guess because the developer is keen to retain the spirit of the market. Kinetica itself is partially hidden by the scaffolding which partly explains its current cheap rent. Once the work is finished I would be surprised if the rents don't force Kinetica and all the current stalls out.     

What Kinetica, Claire Patey, Cabaret and the Exmouth artists needed was to be more aware about what they had let themselves in for. It would be helpful if the symbiotic connection between art and property development was better publicised. I find my experiences very useful with my arcade on Southwold pier. I know I’m once again in the same cycle. The present owner is about to get planning permission to convert the pier pavilion building to holiday flats. Though he shares my passion for the pier, his job is really exhausting – not something anyone could grow old doing. With the flats finished he will probably have a get out point. The pier should be worth enough to pay off his borrowings and attractive enough for a conventional property company to snap it up. I’ll be lucky if my arcade has another 10 years.    

Kinetica closed its doors in July 2007,less than three months after writing this.





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