Viva Sweetstopia! London’s newest microstate

The other week I returned to the Sweets Way Estate in the London Borough of Barnet to visit Sweetstopia – a newly declared microstate.

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I was greeted by Daniel, who I’d first met at the Sweets Way Sleepover back in March, and it seems that Daniel has been busy since, helping to establish Sweetstopia with a collective of permaculture practitioners, bohemians, artists, squatters and activists. And two dogs – one of which is President of Sweetstopia.

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The idealism of Sweetstopia in the face of the barbarism of the destruction of the estate by Annington Homes is seductive. They continue to pursue their mission of creative resistance and promoting sustainability and autonomy while being aggressively intimidated by the private security guards who patrol the estate and stalk the Sweetstopia residents. One Sweetstopian was violently assaulted by a security guard last week and required medical treatment. The authorities are clearly rattled by such a bold display of utopianism.

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There are echoes of the microstates of Leytonstonia and Wanstonia that grew out of the M11 Link Road protests in the early 90’s. Then it was anti-road protests – today the housing struggle and estate regeneration is the new battlefront.

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Link Road veteran Ian Bourn recounted how there was a vote to use carrots as currency in Leytonstonia – because they could be sliced into coin like discs and also the militant vegans were pushing the idea. A similar air of playful eccentricity infuses Sweetstopia – you are invited to make your own passport which is then validated with an official potato stamp.

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The only rules in Sweetstopia are – NO KNITTING AFTER DARK and DON’T FEED THE UNICORNS – I saw neither knitting needles nor Unicorns so it seems to be working. Daniel told me there would be no laws only traditions.

Long may Sweetstopia prosper and grow.

 

Community regeneration at Sweets Way

On Tuesday I returned to Sweets Way in the London Borough of Barnet. I first visited the estate back in March when a combination of residents and activists hosted a sleepover in protest at the eviction of around 140 families by Annington Homes who planned to demolish the estate to make way for luxury apartments.

Now the families have gone, dispersed throughout the borough and further afield. But that night in March an occupation of some of the empty homes started and is still going strong.

I went to witness the make-over of one of the houses that Barnet Homes and Annington had deemed unfit and scheduled for demolition. A community-led team have now completed a beautiful renovation using donated and recycled materials. It’s hoped that it will prove a riposte the lie that sits at the heart of so-called estate regeneration, the process that sees communities broken up and public housing stock transferred to the private sector on the basis that it is financially unviable to renovate the estates.

What is being done at Sweets Way could spread across London – communities working together to save their homes.

 

Read more about the Sweets Way Show Home here

“No recession of the imagination” – March Against Austerity

The atmosphere at March Against Austerity was positive and enthusiastic – laughing into the gaping jaws of Tory Austerity. I went along with Bob and Roberta Smith with his brilliant ‘Art For All’ painted placard. We soon wound through the crowds assembled outside the Bank of England to find the Arts Emergency bloc where comedian Josie Long supported one end of a banner. Actor Samuel West came over to say a few words, and Green Party Councillor and potential Mayoral candidate Caroline Russell gave a great interview, declaring that “Austerity is economically illiterate’.

 

Remember Chelsea Manning – legal appeal latest news

I was invited to a lunchtime talk given by Nancy Hollander, lawyer for Chelsea Manning and Mohamedou Ould Slahi, in conversation with human-rights Lawyer Jennifer Robinson. Given that the best way I know how to lend my support to causes I sympathise with is by using my camera I took it along just in case it came in handy. At the end of the talk, which included some discussion of Seymour Hersh’s recently published article in the London Review of Books about the true story behind the killing of Osama Bin Laden, I managed to grab a quick interview with Nancy about the Chelsea Manning case.

 

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Rocking on the rooftops to Save London

Here’s my latest Drift Report – a rooftop protest gig by The Bermondsey Joyriders on top of the old Foyles Building in Charing Cross Road (the same one that had a big display for This Other London in the window) organised by Henry Scott-Irvine of the Save Tin Pan Alley Campaign.

Sign the petition to Save Tin Pan Alley here

Psychogeographical intervention in the General Election

With the General Election looming it seems an apt time to post this video of an psychogeographical intervention I was invited to stage by artist Bob and Roberta Smith in Michael Gove’s Surrey Heath constituency where Bob is challenging him on May 7th.

Employing an algorithmic derive seemed like a good way to unlock hidden aspects of the principle town in the constituency – Camberley. The Situationists had developed the derive as a form of reconnaissance mission for the eventual transformation of everyday life – in this case it would be launching Bob’s election campaign.

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The algorithm (above) that we used, and the overall idea of algorithmic or Generative Psychogeography was developed by Dutch artists Social Fiction who experimented with the process over the Summer of 2001. I’d used these in a psychogeographical remapping of High Wycombe working with my sister throughout 2004-05 to great effect. What would happen in Surrey Heath?

In their essay, Algorithmic Noise as Free Culture: The Hot Summer of Generative Psychogeography 2002, Social Fiction write of the experience, “Participation in a generative psychogeographical experiment forces you to adopt the characteristics of a machine, you are pushed through streets like an object in almost closed loops which are connected by sudden rushes straight forward.”

Camberley

As the algorithm took us into a series of carparks linked by flytipped alleyways this prediction appeared to be borne out – Camberley was perhaps a perfect ‘generator’ of psychogeography.

The process does come with the warning that, “the algorithm which should be able to produce a walk without navigational friction repeatedly produces more confusion than certainty: the algorithm becomes chaos.” Which certainly seemed to be the case as we crossed and re-crossed roads, and skirted a multi-storey carpark that Bob sketched.

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I had stated that we would follow the algorithm for exactly one hour. Our final turn took us off the main road opposite Sandhurst Military Academy and into the carpark behind Argos. And there at the very end of the derive, dead on 1 hour of walking, we found ourselves outside Camberley’s one and only Art Shop. From the chaos the algorithm had produced the perfect conclusion to the exercise.

Vote Bob for More Art