Council accused of ‘blind hostility’ as canalside art competition postponed

Antepavilion seen from the wharf, Haggerston Pic: Valentina Colo

A cutting edge architectural competition staged on the banks of the Regent’s Canal in Hackney has been put on hold as organisers battle with the council over an enforcement order.

Antepavilion, an arts and culture charity based in Haggerston, has accused Hackney Council of ‘blind hostility.’

“The fate of the competition is in the council’s hands,” said on Instagram last week. “So far, their stance has been blind hostility and chest-pounding.”

Established in 2017, Antepavilion aims to promote craftsmanship and provide affordable studio, event, and exhibition spaces in a city where “increasing rents threaten artistic creativity.”

Every year, Antepavilion runs a competition to offer emerging artists and architects the possibility to exhibit their work around the Columbia and Brunswick Wharf complex on the Regent’s Canal.

Previous editions have featured H-VAC, a seating area on the warehouse’s rooftop disguised as an air duct, Air Draft, an inflatable pop-up performance space on a barge, Potemkin Theatre, and locals’ all-time favourite: Sharks!

Shark-inspired street art outside the Antepavilion Pic: Valentina Colo

The charity’s owner and sponsor Russel Gray has been fighting against Hackney Council’s planning restrictions since 2019.

First, the charity faced an enforcement order. The council said the installations were “inappropriate in terms of their size, location, and design” and “failed to respect the architectural historic quality and character of the surrounding conservation area.”

The charity then appealed, and in 2020, Jamie Shorten’s Sharks! made its way to the canal.

The polystyrene and fibreglass sculpture was inspired by the Headington Shark, an art installation featuring a headless shark stuck in the roof of a suburban house in Oxford. The installation was also heavily fought against by the local council.

A Guardian article about the sculpture then brought Hackney Council back to the docks. The story contained “several misquotes” and “defamatory statements,” which were used by the council to support their cause, according to the charity. The Guardian has refused to release the interview tape recording.

An injunction order to stop the charity from placing any other installation around the premises was issued in 2020. The charity’s appeal remains under review.

Antepavilion said they wish the site could be treated as a sculpture park, where temporary installations do not require planning permission.

Antepavilion seen from the docks, Haggerston Pic: Valentina Colo

“The overwhelming response of local people is that [the sculptures] are a positive contribution to the surroundings, adding an architectural quality and texture to the humble, utilitarian Hoxton Docks,” said the charity in a statement.

Eastlondonlines went to the docks to ask Hackney residents what they thought.

Chris Magee Pic: Valentina Colo

Chris Magee, 33, freelance yoga teacher living in Haggerston said: “It is a real shame for the council to try and shut this down for what seems like a very bureaucratic reason… There’s a lot of good that comes from the production of art and from the ability of people to be creative, especially at a time when there’s been such a lack of diversion in people’s lives.”

Charlie Avery Pic: Valentina Colo

Another local resident, Charlie Avery, who works for TfL, said: “The sharks were a really engaging piece for the community; it brought people to the area, made them curious about what it was for… and it brought joy.”

“It’s a real shame the competition won’t happen this year because this is an opportunity area and an unusual platform to showcase art.”

Carol Robertson and her partner facing the Antepavilion Pic: Valentina Colo

Painter Carol Robertson said: “The sharks were super exciting… so was the ballet company that came during lockdown and performed weekly, all sorts of good things have been happening, I am surprised they would need planning permission for something that is temporary, and an artwork.”

Robertson and her partner, who is also an artist, live half an hour from their studios and walk there alongside the canal every day.

“We watched this building empty, we watched it when Patrick Brill had a fantastic mural here that was taken down… We have seen it during many years.”

“Antepavilion is a very exciting group, with lots of energy and lots of ideas, I hope they can negotiate with the council.”

A Hackney Council spokesperson told ELL: “Those who wish to build structures or buildings should make a planning application before doing so – like every local authority, we have a legal responsibility to ensure that any building or new structure is acceptable, and a moral and legal duty to apply the regulations that have been democratically agreed in open consultation with the local community.”

Antepavilion said they hope to win their latest appeal. But until then, the competition will be suspended.

“Any entry for this year’s competition will be valued support for the struggle to keep Antepavilion alive,” said the charity.

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