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Art School

book cover showing floor covered in detritus, the title Art School is overlaid in large pink letters looking up at a wall with a railing to the left on which the word Bye is written in pink paint a noticeboard with many different notes and pictures pinned on it a wall with some papers pinned to it, a picture is partly hidden by a metal filing cabinet a printed schedule lays out specified times, in the grid names are written in black felt tip pen - Yoon, Bob, Diane and Khaleja detail of a cream wall which has been splashed with black, red and blue paint and the words Viva Print two photos - on the left a black chalkboard  with the handwritten message - Leave Locker keys in your locker door + I'll return them thanks F x; on the right a clock with the time 8.25' a wire stand holds promotional postcards for the college printed in red and white in between two wire drying racks an orange and green print of a head and shoulders without features is stuck to a white wall looking up at a supporting beam in a large room on which a grey typewriter has been placed out of reach a green cushion sits on the back of an orange sofa, on the wall behind is a poster with paragraphs of black numbered text a plaster cast statue of a large old lion crouches on a floor, a note pinned to its back says Please leave the lion where he is - we are going to move him in September a unit for cleaning prints the wall between two large ceramic sinks has been splashed with many different colours a number of large set squares piled up on top of each other on a shelf, seen in close-up in the middle of detritus a photograph of a mans face can be seen in a large room with a parquet floor many orange plastic chairs surround a large table the corner of a corridor with plastic bin bags, on the wall a poster shows a womans face squashed against glass a number of tailors dummies and knitting machines occupy a room with tall windows a large room with a parquet floor is filled with industrial machinery a chaotic photographic studio filled with chairs and equipment a dim large room with white walls and a number of empty chairs a grey workshop floor illuminated by light from an unseen window a dusty parquet floor with a rectangle traced by masking tape a dusty and scratched parquet floor with a different rectangle traced by tape a large shrouded object stands mutely by a window a small window in a dark white wall shows a view of a white tiled exterior wall the chaotic contents of a table with a bottle of ouzo or vodka, cups and a piece of paper stating Ceramic Design room k106 a red plastic chair beside a formica table on which a rolled up piece of paper has the words 1. of, relating to, or suggestive of dreams, 2. resembling a dream; dreamlike. the grey exterior of the building looking up to cloudy blue sky in which  a seagull is flying the mosaic floor of a corridor with a door opening onto a pavement on which a man in blue jeans is walking away the back cover of the book showing detritus in a large room, in smaller pink letters it says 2010/11 the whole cover of the book opened out, showing detritus in a large room, in smaller pink letters it says 2010/11 and large letters Art School

Dimensions: w: 29cm, h: 41.2cm
Photographs (31): 2011–2012
Book: 2021

In 2011 the art and design college where I work packed up and moved to a new location. It left behind the purpose-built premises it had occupied for just over a century. The old building was solid as a mountain, though the parquet floors creeked underfoot, accumulated layers of dust and always seemed in need of a polish.

The light on the building’s lower floors was invariably occluded. There was a sense of long time that had accrued in its shadows. Even those rooms with windows that looked onto the central light-well or the streets outside were dim because of the layers of dust and dirt. Climb up the beautiful spiral staircase that led off the entrance hall and the light, even the air, seemed brighter and a little thinner by the time you reached the top floor.

This work was originally going to be called Labyrinth because the building really felt as though one might turn a corner and find oneself lost, unable to find one's way back. Wholly absent in these images, of course, are the teachers and students, the people who animated these spaces, left their marks, and worked so hard to think about, design and make so many things for wider social benefit over the space of ten decades. Some of the affectionate gestures left on the walls provoked the ire of the then head of college, this was after all a historic property for sale on the open market.

I’d worked in the building for three years by the time of the move. I would haunt the corridors in my lunch break and at day’s end. My admin job provided me with no privileged access, but I would try doors hoping they’d be unlocked or dash in as a cleaner departed. I was thrilled when I discovered a new space, whether that was the eery, cramped undercroft, the narrow areas behind the stage in the college’s theatre or the roof with its views over London. I know I didn’t see every space, but still feel pleased at what I was able to find.

There is a sense both of melancholy and hope in these photographs. There’s also an implied question: is this the death of the art school? Are the tenets of the last century moribund in the ever-tightening grip of capitalism or can they be upheld even strengthened, however much it's seemingly against the odds? Was the college’s move an act of creative destruction and rebirth or the equivalent of Silicon Valley’s awful cliché of disruption. The relocation was certainly prompted by a lack of government funding and the financial untenability of undertaking essential repairs and refurbishment. The college’s new location is at the heart of a new pseudo-public development and successfuly served as a ‘cool attractor’ to other potential, corporate clients.

At time of writing, the old building has lain empty for a decade, serving only as a backdrop to film and television dramas, such are the deep pockets of its corporate owner. Recently, though, came the headline: “ORMS bags planning for £242m hotel complex in Bloomsbury”.

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