The fat of the land

So, were tower blocks really all bad? Clare Dowdy reports on a new art exhibition which uses tenant’s own visions to assess the urban Utopian myth

Does Utopia as a concept have any meaning at the end of the twentieth century, or has it died a death? According to Fat director Sean Griffiths, there is no such thing as the big idea any more, and it’s rather unfashionable to have visions.

Fat – Fashion Architecture Taste – was founded in 1993 and is made up of architects, artists, film-makers and graphic designers who work together on architectural projects and large-scale urban art events. The collaborative group’s latest exhibition, Utopia Revisited, is being held at London’s Holly Street Gallery. “It’s about raising awareness of the attitude to housing, and public housing in particular,” says Griffiths.

The exhibition venue overlooks the discredited Sixties Holly Street Estate, which is undergoing demolition to be replaced by traditional low-rise housing with pitched roofs, real bricks and conventional street patterns.

The centrepiece of Utopia Revisited is a large-scale model of a tower block – once seen as an emblem of Utopian public housing. By peering through the block’s windows, visitors will glimpse “experimental models representing contemporary responses to the idea of Utopia” designed by Holly Street Estate residents, according to a Fat spokesman.

“We are seeking to explore the relationship between the people who design housing and the dwellers,” says Griffiths, who believes that “lip service” is often paid to the needs and wishes of residents.

Through the project Fat hopes to inspire social, cultural and professional responses which can form a dialogue between people with different backgrounds. “At the risk of sounding patronising, we want to discuss the ideals of the estates and tune into the idea that a lot of people have lived their lives in these places. A lot of people are wistful that their homes are being knocked down,” adds Griffiths.

Plans for phase two of Utopia Revisited involve exhibiting ten specially commissioned works of art to be housed in ten empty flats on Holly Street Estate. These flats will be knocked down along with the rest of estate, making the demolition part of Fat’s event. Unsurprisingly, a production company has shown an interest in making a film out of these goings on.

Griffiths explains the Fat approach: “We are trying to enrich the cultural experiences within these places. Our strategy is to create fine art projects which engage, involve or confront wider audiences.”

Phase one of Utopia Revisited opens today at Holly Street Public Art Trust, 41 Holly Street, London and runs until Saturday 26 April.

Tel: 0171-251 6735 for details.

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