Create London has commissioned a significant year-long programme of artist-led projects to mark the centenary of the Becontree estate, the largest council housing estate in Britain. This wide-ranging and multidisciplinary programme is a continuation of our past seven years of work on the estate and develops our organisation’s mission of challenging artists to produce outstanding work outside of formal cultural spaces, contributing in their own ways to civic life.
Create’s projects are part of Becontree Forever, a programme led by the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham to celebrate the estate’s groundbreaking and radical beginnings and reimagine its future.
Each of the community-centered infrastructure commissions seek to enrich the local area and give positive value to behaviour in public spaces. Many of the works question and broaden the idea of the history and stories of Becontree, testing, questioning, and punctuating its official narrative to include diverse voices that speak to, and of, a broader range of residents, resonating with how many other urban areas and communities in the UK have changed over the past 100 years. Becontree’s first row of houses were completed in November 1921. It is now home to over 75,000 residents and embodies the radical early twentieth-century commitment to public housing. As with many areas across Britain, it has experienced 100 years of social, economic and political challenges.
Supported by the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham we have commissioned a series of infrastructure projects for the estate with a group of five artists, architects, and designers. Each of the community-centered infrastructure commissions seek to enrich the local area and give positive value to behaviour in public spaces. These projects include a new playground in Parsloes Park designed by leading Irish artist Eva Rothschild, Becontree Pyramids, to be unveiled in August 2021. Rothschild will also work with the world-renowned Studio Wayne McGregor to stage a filmed performance developed with teenage Becontree residents in the playground. Portuguese artist Leonor Antunes has designed a series of commemorative plaques which celebrate significant local residents from throughout Becontree’s history, to be sited on houses and public buildings across the estate. UK-based artists STUDIO MORISON will unveil a new suite of Becontree-specific street furniture, made with upcycled rubble from the estate and designed to encourage and suggest places to socialise in new ways. British-Nigerian designer Yinka Ilori MBE will give an out-of-use play area in Parsloes Park a new lease of life, creating colourful play equipment that emphasizes accessibility, collaborative play, and harmony with the park’s ecology. Squaring the Corners, a project by nimtim architects and artist Katie Schwab, commissioned in partnership with RIBA, reimagines Becontree’s neglected corner plots – found at the end of terraced houses across the estate – as new civic squares.
We have also commissioned a series of projects which are supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, including a permanent public sculpture at The White House by British artist Shezad Dawood. Titled Visions of Paradise, the sculpture will contain an embedded video work connecting Becontree’s pre-industrial past with its present-day through archival and filmed material overlaid with symbols and motifs selected in dialogue with local communities. British painter Joy Labinjo who grew up partly in Dagenham will create a new permanent mural in Becontree. A major new project by the artist Verity-Jane Keefe, who has been working on the estate for over 10 years, will create an ambitious multi-disciplinary artwork that will be collected as part of Becontree’s archive. Keefe’s unique project includes year-long activity including meetings of the Becontree group, an online viewing platform, LT TV, walks, talks and online reading group meetings as well as an exhibition at RIBA London and across Becontree’s public realm.
Further projects include a new work by Abbas Zahedi inspired by the circular mapped- shape of the estate having a resonance with stone circles that dot the British landscape, often described as ‘memory palaces’ by anthropologists. These circles are dated from the same period that the Dagenham Idol was created, an artefact found in Dagenham in 1922 which is one of the oldest representations of humans found in Europe, on permanent public display at Valence House Museum. Inspired by this idea of Becontree being reframed as a modern-day memory palace, Zahedi will work with Becontree’s Arc Theatre’s young women’s group Raised Voices to formulate contemporary oral mythologies based on their own experiences and sites of significance in Becontree. A new work by susan pui san lok, Centenary / Ghosts (working title), will reflect upon diasporic histories, lives and afterlives, cultural and ancestral ties, and the haunting of council homes. Uriel Orlow will look at the garden as a more or less controlled and layered microcosm that can tell us much about our relationship to the world, and the locally-based One Room Collective will work with Boom Shakalaka Productions to produce a new original podcast series that imagines a future for the Becontree in sound, in a series of experimental, atmospheric and futuristic vignettes that reimagine the idea of home and identity in ‘New East London. Larry Achiampong, a former Dagenham resident, will create a new audio work-developed through his experiences of living in the area.
The White House will play host to an extensive programme of new commissions and projects that explore care as a social and political practice. The programme will take a relational approach to mark the centenary through a series of private and public moments that explore the complexities of care within a variety of contexts, from formal structures of social care services; intimate acts of caring within communities; and strategies of care employed towards place and environment; helping us reimagine new tactics of solidarity and healing for the future.
The White House programme supports artists to collaborate with young people accessing social care services within the borough through a major partnership with New Town Culture, a pioneering programme of artistic and cultural activity taking place in adult and children’s social care led by the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham.
Artist and composer Joe Namy will collaborate with young people through Assembly Mixtape Club, collectively exploring the politics of listening, resulting in a new sound work for broadcast, incorporating reflections with social care staff and service users. East London-based artist and writer Aislinn Evans is collaborating with young people using DIY open-source games engines to design their own games and digital worlds. Katriona Beales will collaborate with foster families to explore interactions between physical and digital states, designing and producing a range of objects for their own homes using 3D scanning and printing.
Writer and poet Belinda Zhawi is collaborating with young people through New Town Voices to collectively explore dynamics and structures of power, oppression, injustice and isolation, culminating in a printed toolkit and series of co-produced broadcasts. Artist Elsa James is collaborating with foster carers and looked after children to examine under-explored local narratives, customs, and histories to generate new memories and legacies for the future. The group are collectively developing A Place With A Heart: A Place To Grow, a permanent flag for Becontree.
Visual and sound artist Emma Smith is working with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children & young people to explore how we can connect beyond language, co-producing a new sound work using haptic technologies, experienced through hearing and touch. Multidisciplinary collective Blak Outside, which provides culturally diverse and inclusive events, will collaborate with looked after children and foster carers at The White House’s Beacon Garden, developing tools to decolonise knowledge, ancestry, plant history and nature; and celebrating being safely and proudly outside.
Sadia Ur-Rehman is collaborating with neighbours of The White House to explore the act of sharing tea together as a starting point for conversation, care and unity. The White House painting group will design a bespoke range of domestic objects associated with simple acts of care, such as cups, bowls, tea towels and plates; and Barking-based artist Sarina Mantle will collaborate with local residents to reimagine bunting for community celebrations of the future.
Artist Katie Schwab is exploring overlooked histories of industrial, domestic and material culture in Dagenham, developing a new collection of functional textiles inspired by materials that have been cut out or ‘leftover’, being developed in collaboration with local manufacturers and makers for use at The White House and in other domestic spaces, creating material connections between homes across Becontree.These commissions are all produced and curated by Create London, working with and supported by the London Borough and Barking and Dagenham (LBBD) and RIBA. The programme is funded through the National Lottery Heritage Fund and LBBD, with additional support from the Marchus Trust, and delivered through a range of institutional and locally-based partnerships. A range of other organisations are involved in activities to mark the centenary of the estate. Details about the full Becontree centenary programme as well as information regarding the borough’s ongoing plans to improve and invest in the estate can also be found at www.becontreeforever.uk