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Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Desolation Row

Work has already begun on Medway Eyes' most ambitious project yet - Desolation Row. The project is in its planning stage and ideas are just bouncing out all over the place. Photographic work is scheduled to commence in March, at which point various Medway artists will be roped in to play their part. There will be an online exhibition to accompany this project, a gig (probably), and a book launch. June, hopefully.

The idea for this project has its roots in my earlier photographic studies of Chatham High Street. I felt saddened by the dreary, abandoned shop fronts. Other people seem only to have noticed the demise of the high street when their local Marks & Spencer moved out, or more recently when the mighty Woolworths finally closed its doors to the pick 'n' mix munching public. An idea sprung into my brain as I wandered the length of the high street, an idea which has grown into a monster with Phil's input.

I am not happy about the "regeneration" of the Medway Towns. I will explain why in due course. I have registered my disgust with the council, along with countless others, no doubt. My comments will be hidden in a locked vault with everyone else's, the same locked vault they use to hide the plans that "have been on public display for months", about which, the council alleges, nobody has taken an interest. In the Summer of 2007, I went along to a caved out ex-Christmas tat shop to the council's public presentation/consultation. I was presented with three almost identical views of what Chatham Riverside could look like with a little vision - perhaps if you had the vision of a Teletubby, this might be so but, given my human credentials, all I saw were the sterile spewings of a Japanese architect with no love for my town; no respect for it. All three plans involved the construction of enormous, ugly towers which destroyed the views along the river. An enormous hotel was set to deprive the Command House of its sunsets, but then many factors have recently deprived the Command House of a lot of things, including punters, an atmosphere and beer that tastes like beer (but that's another story). The people who have been living in their boats along the Medway will be moved on. As if they are the ghastly eyesores of Medway! Let's not forget that it was the bloody council that allowed the hideous monstrosity that is the Pentagon to be built. They ran out of the town hall pretty sharp-ish after that one.

Anyway, at this presentation thingy, I was accosted by a 12-year-old in a shirt and tie. I'm not sure who he had spent the day talking to, but he certainly seemed taken aback that I could think for myself. After about ten minutes, a triumphant look set his face aglow and he adopted the tone you might use at the bedside of a dying relative "I know why you're against it", he said. "You think you don't deserve it. You think Chatham doesn't deserve it". You fucking what? What kind of shit is that? If I wasn't so polite, I'd have slapped the whelp. I politely explained that the reason I was against it was because it was not for me. It was not designed for us. They aren't regenerating Medway for the people who live here, folks. They're trying to tempt more people in - people who can afford their fancy flats by the river, people who don't give a rat's arse about this town, people who don't care if it's turned into a carpark for the fucking Olympics.

Well, I fall head first into the category of people who do give a flying fuck. I don't want to watch the buildings along the Chatham/ Rochester high street crumble to the ground while newer, shinier and uglier ones are built a few feet away. And I don't want to be lied to about the council's motives. I don't want to be told that all this is for me. It's bollocks, and I'm not fooled.

And even if I didn't mind that the Theatre Royal has been ripped apart or that Sun Pier has been left to sink, there is another very good reason why our towns should be left alone, best illustrated by Graham Day, one of Medway's finest and most revered musicians. In his words, "Maybe it's the drab outlook, the lack of investment, prospects or anything to do which has given rise to so many bands over the years; a natural uprising of creativity and desire to forge a life out of nothing?"

Take our shit towns away and the only artists left will be those who suck the council's dick for arts grants. Art isn't something that can only be sanctioned by local government; that only becomes art when it is on a wall being adored by fuck-witted droolbots. It is something that lives in the blood. In the river. And in the heart of these rotting towns.

(Graham Day quote lifted from the sleeve notes of the Paisley Polka Dot Picnic Party CD).

Originally posted on www.sweetfanny.co.uk 10/01/09

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