The demands of arts reporting can verge on the strange. I’m standing on a bleak, unpromising road, somewhere in the middle of an industrial estate at the edge of Peckham.
I’m looking for the Goldsmiths BA Media & Communications photography show, which, my friend says reassuringly over the phone, is taking place somewhere close by. To tell the truth, I’m a bit lost.
A quick Google Maps consultation later and I’m back on track, heading down the unhelpfully-unlabelled Rollins Road towards the Pigeon Wing, the venue for tonight’s private view.
This is truly an edgy location. So edgy, in fact, that if you’re not really sharp, you might not find it. Like the title of the exhibition, ‘Untitled (2010)’, it’s wilfully obscure, hidden around a corner in a maze of slightly grim south London streets. A solitary sandwich-board stands in the yard outside, guiding the way in.
A charmingly shabby red-brick industrial building with large, cloudy windows, The Pigeon Wing is a quintessentially hip art space that reclaims the rough, utilitarian environs of a disused warehouse in the name of culture. Loud music greets me as I climb the stairs past bicycles and dusty gas cannisters to the top floor, and enter a long, bright wooden-floored room where the show is in full swing.
The crowd is distinctively Goldsmiths: artfully-dressed boys and girls mingle to the strains of the Smiths. Most stand, but some gravitate towards a hotchpotch cluster of furniture.
Snowstorm fuzzes across the screen of a small TV in the centre of the room, then resolves itself into a smattering of tiny sportsmen – the reception’s a little dodgy but an eager huddle has gathered on the floor to watch the football, shouting encouragements and abuse at the England team.
Drinks are flowing and conversations bubbling. Shrieks of laughter and football-related rage puncture the air. A red vuvuzela stands incongruously on the refreshments table. On the windowsill, a jar of cigarette butts.
The photos themselves adorn three of the room’s walls, with a selection hanging from wires in the middle. Through the grimy windowpanes, the industrial landscape of southeast London is visible in the fading light of the evening.
The show’s subject matter incorporates a mixture of compelling portraiture and scenery, reflecting its nominated theme, ‘Urban landscape and its inhabitants.’
I’m immediately drawn to the work of Alexandra Seigle. She presents stark black and white prints of people in the street: a trio of workmen gaze at the camera, their grubby clothes picked out in elegant contrast. In another frame, a gaggle of betting shop punters crowd together, drinks in hands, as a dog sniffs at their feet.
Further along, I find Kieran Jessel’s work, which is huge, and hung with bulldog clips on the end wall. His prints show the desolate landscapes of empty street corners and toytown-like housing estates.
In contrast, Ella Boynton’s work is displayed in a cluster of diverse second-hand frames. It shows cluttered, cosy interiors and their inhabitants, homing in on enigmatic details such as a mass of empty coffee cups laid out on a sideboard.
A sense of the minutiae of everyday life pervades many of the images on display, some of which, in a muted fashion, recall the work of Martin Parr. The images are often unmistakeably British, with a sympathetic eye that seems to convey a certain knowing affection for their subjects’ foibles.
If the Goldsmiths Art department shows on Thursday were the big cheese, events-wise, then ‘Untitled (2010)’ is the alternative – a fact that is a slightly sore point among its highly-motivated artist-organisers.
“We’ve struggled with getting any support from college for this,” says Benjamin Mallek, whose work is on show across the room. “The resources go into the Art degree shows. But Media is important too! I think if you’re doing photography you should get support.”
But despite the difficulties, the DIY underpinnings of the exhibition are equally and unavoidably part of its charm. From the sequestered but exciting location to the enthusiastic presence of its creators, it retains a rough-and-ready quality that’s as endearing as it is surprising.
At one point in the evening, standing before a cluster of photographs, I look down, and am startled to discover a black cat slinking around my ankles. This is truly a unique show…
‘Untitled (2010)’ is open this weekend, 19-20 June, at The Pigeon Wing, SE15 1EP.