Louisa Buck: Deptford stories

If your exhibition venue already looks as if it could have been painted by Anselm Kiefer, it is difficult not to fall into the trap of selecting work that tries to compete by adding yet more sturm und drang into its surroundings. The fact that Hartslanestudios, the curators of Deptford Stories at the Anthology Deptford Foundry, have resisted this temptation but instead selected 30 artists who have found more subtle and infinitely richer ways to respond to this former 19th-century foundry and print works, as well as to the surrounding communities and the richly historical—and much-blighted—borough of Deptford itself, is greatly to their credit.

Photo: David Carr Smith

Easily overlooked nooks, crannies, architectural details and remnants of the building’s past are revealed and new vistas highlighted: a previous occupant’s decision to paint the ceiling girders in the De Stijl primary palette of red, yellow and blue is the starting point for a cheeky, sexy, gloopy installation by Mikey Georgeson that would have Piet Mondrian turning in his grave; Tisna Westerhof lines an alcove with Delft-style blue and white tiles depicting Deptford scenes with cute, found storybook images of children—very different to the experience of the child labour force of Deptford’s industrial heyday; while Clive Burton’s own squashed foundry boot, cast in lead and left on the floor, is also emphatically anti-heroic.

Throughout, an abundance of histories and stories unfold, whether in Melissa Alley’s psychically charged installation that haunts an old supervisor’s cabin with a series of richly associative “auto trance” paintings, each devoted to a 1920s foundry employee; David Redfern’s Schwitters-like assemblages conjured up out of locally-gathered flotsam; or Hermoine Alsop’s sly—but not twee—feminisation of these grand, gritty industrial spaces with an inventive sculptural use of lampshades, glassware and crockery. A large niche that once accommodated some piece of hardware now frames Paul Sakoilsky’s small, intensely observed paintings of the surrounding interiors which form an affectionate and intimate memorial to this soon to be demolished landmark, which for so long was a conspicuous, action-filled workplace for several generations of South Londoners.

Because Deptford is yet another area of the capital that is following the well-trodden formula of being vacated by industry, colonised by artists and then sanitised and overpriced by property developers. I came late to this show—it ends on 16 November—but I strongly recommend a visit before yet another piece of the capital’s texture is smoothed over.

Published Mon, 10 Nov 2014 20:45:00 GMT

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Louisa Buck

Louisa Buck is The Art Newspaper’s contemporary art correspondent and the co-author of Owning Art: The Contemporary Art Collector's Handbook and Commissioning Contemporary Art. A Handbook for Curators, Collectors and Artists.