Text By Paloma Tendero and Davide Meneghello. Photos by Ana Escobar – Alumni of the MA Photography course at London College of Communication
An exhibition review of Vacant. In Use at the Old Police Station in Deptford, part of Deptford X Fringe Festival.
Curators: Paloma Tendero and Davide Meneghello. Vacant. In Use was co-ordinated by the Alumni Groups of London College of Communication’s (LCC’s) MA Photography Programme, and included still and moving image, interactive installation, textile, sculpture, sound and voice. It was part of Deptford X Fringe Festival and was held in the former holding cells of Deptford Old Police Station from 22nd to 29th September.
The exhibition explored the theme of absence and its interrelation with its siting in the former police cells. The twenty artists were alumni, students and staff from LCC’s MA photography.
The development of the, mainly, new work was supported by the alumni group through a series of exhibition meetings. Exploration of the very particular space and its connotations has been central to the exhibition – reactivating the vacant cells, interrogation room and corridors through these works.
Each individual artist has used their own practice to interpret the theme of absence and its interaction with these empty spaces and their history. The character of the Old Police Station and its cold, narrow, tiled cells was an inevitable presence: echoes and memories of the weight of the criminal justice system could be felt throughout the exhibition.
The curatorial approach ensured that each work was in dialogue with its companion pieces as well as articulating the particular character of each of the different spaces. The viewer circulated freely through the exhibition, exploring the space of each of the rooms, with their original features, and experiencing their history through, and with, the individual works.
Each space had its own particular character: the waiting room with the wooden bench; the interrogation room with its sinister sound-proofed walls; the narrow corridors, and the four male and two female cells with their high windows, graffiti-carved narrow beds, and covered slops bucket. Each contained distinct units of works by two, occasionally three, artists. In dialogue with their companions each stressed a specific narrative which emerged from their interaction with this very particular setting.
Ziheng Shen’s Absent Minded was an installation in the interrogation room which challenged the audience to focus on their own experience – magnified and dramatised – using two screens with different time delays to contrast their immediate past with the mirror reflection of their own present moment.
In Sabrina Fuller’s Away, seven women lent the corporality of their own, unique, voices to the seldom-heard words of women prisoners, using the physicality of the setting to invite the listener to experience the fragility of their own liberty and stability.
Throughout the exhibition, the artists experimented with different media to create innovative responses to the space: from the classic black and white photographs of Alessandra Rinaudo – exploring her identity in Corridor, to the ready-made sculptural objects – burnt plant material painted with black pigment – of Peter Ainsworth’s Assarted Remnants.
Ana Escobar focused on site-specific large-scale photographic prints: in Mare Tranquilitatis she placed a huge moon/eye in the waiting room, exploring the political act of looking and being looked at.
Deptford X festival provided a welcome context and platform for promotion of the exhibition, contributing to a well-attended opening night enlivened by debates, conversation and networking. However, the true success of the project was based in the coming together of alumni, staff and current students of MA Photography, working together and exchanging ideas, experiences, contacts and technical skills: learning from each other and providing an environment for continuing professional development. Taking full advantage of the artists’ spaces which London’s communities offer, it is this working together and building networks for mutual learning which enables us to develop our practice as emergent artists.