The first time I went to Hackney Wick was for a party in the autumn of 2009. It was late, it was dark and I was by myself. I felt anxious walking by the A12 among isolated warehouses to reach Fish Island. Back then the area was referred to as ‘the desolation on the edge of the East End’ for good reason.
But on reaching the party, I soon realised I had stepped into the life of a vibrant community of artists, who lived and worked in warehouses, and maximised their potential by creating, experimenting and collaborating with each other. Performances were raw and challenging.
This is a side of Hackney Wick many visitors at this month’s Hackney WickED festival might never have seen or heard about. The weather was glorious with uninterrupted sunshine and the vibe on the streets very relaxed. Parents showed up with their kids, people walked their well-behaved dogs while revellers tucked into offerings from innumerable street food vendors.
Of course, the festival is all about art, and visitors embraced this by visiting artists’ open studios. Heading for a beer at the Crate Brewery in The White Building, you might have come across Gretchen Andrew, wearing a light blue Google Glass. The contemporary painter was showcasing work she has been producing during her three months’ residency at Space Studios using Google Glass to “record the creative process and translate the physicality of it to my viewers”.
It was curious to see how many artists were influenced by their family trades. Jewellery maker Clarice Price Thomas’ father was a clockmaker. As a child, she looked on with wonder at clocks’ mechanisms and is now combining traditional clock making techniques and machinery in an innovative take on jewellery design.
Anna Freeman Bentley’s dad was a civil engineer. “I grew up looking at structures and building sites” she explains, which feeds into her paintings. She is currently looking at Hackney, how the area is changing and the impact of gentrification on the physical environment.
Over two days of exploring the festival, I was surprised to see that beyond official studios, few alternative work/live spaces opened their doors to the public. In almost a voyeuristic way, I missed stepping inside artists’ living rooms and bedrooms and being able to confront the honesty of their art within the intimate context of a home setting.
It meant that the festival lacked the thought-provoking, authentic experiences that I, for one, had come for. At the same time, people were willing to shell out £25 on the door of a warehouse to get into the Tuckshop Summer Carnival on Wallis Road.
As, privately, artists complained to me of having to leave their studios next year due to regeneration plans, I gained a sense of how sanitised the Wick could become.
Hackney WickED ran from 1–3 August