Under a Crane at the Hackney Wall

Hackney Wall, complete with East German-style panel-built flats.
Hackney Wall, complete with East German-style panel-built flats (Plattenbau). Is it keeping you in, or out?

The first Hackney Wall project of 2012 (see elsewhere on this website) conflated the Olympic perimeter fence with the Berlin Wall. In the former East Germany they decided the first wall wasn’t big enough, so they built a second and larger one and carried on until they had what was very likely the most fortified Cold War border in Europe. So perhaps it’s not surprising that there should be a second Hackney Wall in 2012.

The second, much bigger, wall was put together by Hackney Downs Studios and Creative Network Partners and involves 30 plywood panels that are now hanging outside the studios in the car park opposite the Russet.

I’d never done anything like this before, but I’d been thinking about trying stencil art for a long time. It was an education. I now realise (apologies for stating the obvious here) that having ideas is easy – it’s execution that counts. Planning, preparation and patience are essential to an art project and the learning curve is huge. I didn’t know that gloss paint takes so long to dry, just as one little example.

Putting a fairly simple stencil onto a 1.2m square panel seemed like a few hours work but somehow took days. Laminated stencils were harder to cut out than imagined, an extra coat was needed etc. I mentally paid tribute to all the artists in the world who dedicate hours of time and energy to doing art that we may pass in an instant, or never even see. And often for little – if any – financial reward.

Thanks to a tip or two from Mr Gresty, who was producing his own trademark RONG panel at the same time, I managed to reproduce the writing and the crane without any smudging. ‘Not going over the edges’ was one of my own key criteria, even if it was something I’d retained from primary school days.

Life imitates art.
Life imitates art, imitating life…

What does my own mural mean? The words are an allusion to the Checkpoint Charlie signs in postwar Berlin that indicated you were entering a different zone (British, French, American, Soviet). Berlin still feels like a different zone to me and so does Hackney. I gave up plans to move to the former when I settled in the latter.

The positioning of the panels against a drab concrete wall that is topped with barbed wire reminds me of the famous East Side Gallery in Berlin, where murals adorn the longest surviving stretch of the city’s own infamous stretch of the Iron Curtain.

The crane came from a recent trip to the declining ‘Solidarity’ shipyards in Gdansk, where residents fear the potential disappearance of these machines means losing part of their skyline and their heritage too. It represents change, as in Emma-Louise Williams’ brooding meditation on Hackney’s evolution Under the Cranes. Is the crane adding or taking away? Is it pecking apart or is it nurturing and tending? That is the ongoing debate in Hackney, Berlin, Barcelona, Brooklyn, Rio…

Banksy, Sweet Toof et al can rest easy; I’m not expecting an urgent call from Mr Saatchi just yet. But it was enormously satisfying to have done this. The act of creation is an important one. It may lead somewhere else; it may not. And it was also an education; an insight into the life of an artist. I subscribe to the notion that we are all artists, but some definitely more than others.

To the hard core of artists, I have nothing but respect. And for the dabblers, the same. We’ll have a go at anything – and why not? After all, surely the worst walls are the ones we create for ourselves?

This wall runs for six months. Then there’ll be a new one. Thanks to Hackney Downs Studios and creative space specialists Creative Network Partners

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