When I visited the Leytonstone / Wanstead Quaker Meeting House in January to view the possibilities of the site, I noticed some of the imposing Victorian wall that encloses this little pocket of land+time had collapsed. The wall was put up around 1880, following the Enclosures Act of Epping Forest, which put a stop to the escalating land-grab and returned ownership to the Powers That Be.
In a redeeming act of philanthropy, the Quakers were allowed to keep their land and building as they were using it for spiritual and community purposes. That history sparked thoughts about the drivers behind the land-grab; the need to provide shelter, build a home and raise a family – and just how precarious this endeavour can be.In the context of the forest, fairy-tales starring a set of anthropomorphised houses pitted against external, psychological and supernatural forces came to mind and I imagined a set of narratives that referenced current, historical and fictional happenings.
So this piece evolved as a set of embodied folk tales for contemporary dwellers on this suburban edge of London where everyone is subject to the vicissitudes of the housing market and their beleagured Local Authority, and where most of us are interacting at some level with our very own forest.
The tales are narrated on an audio loop by “Alice”, a near-credible human facsimile whose mellifluous RP issues from each house as it marches, with grim determination, across any likely looking bit of land; a suitable voice – it seemed to me – for the narrative thread that doesn’t end well for humanity.
The audio loop flashes past in under 4 minutes; the content is quite dense if anyone cares to listen carefully; I hope the sculptural embodiment is more than illustrative.
Here’s the original text; hopefully I’ll get the audio on here shortly as Alice’s delivery is a treasure – in the mean-time imagine a better version of your SatNav is reading you this bed-time story:
Some houses were looking for people to move in.
They found a space in a wood that looked safe and welcoming, and rooted themselves in.
Soon they put up For Sale boards and had viewings; they sold like hotcakes and people worked hard to set up homes in them. The new inhabitants were sure they would never want to move again.
Unfortunately, the unusual construction of the dwellings proved fatal.
The forest part 1
A forest was growing; just like it always had.
But then people started proliferating like rabbits all over the place. and then they were jacking the land willy nilly to live on or farm etc.
So a spell was cast, to stop everyone kick-starting their land owning careers – although to be honest, it was already too late for that.
Hidden behind the protection of the spell, the forest has been planning to take its own back.
The Living Larder
A witch was adept at luring families into her woods. She created a marching army of desirable and affordable new homes that could transport the tender young residents wherever she wanted.
All the dwellers worked hard to create a beautiful place to nurture themselves and cherish their loved ones, never suspecting each sleep might be their very last.
The witch was never short of buyers or food.
Are we living in a Golden Age?
A long time ago, before Science, people had a wide range of measures to keep themselves safe and well, such as spells, charms, divining, runes, ritual offerings and so on and so forth.
It was all very hit and miss without modern accoutrements and devices. But at the time it was all people had, and they needed to believe in it, so they would have enough optimism and hope to build purposeful lives.
It worked enough for people to survive and multiply until they could sort the world out using Logic. And. Hard. Facts.
And after that, no-one needed to believe in anything anymore, as a Golden Age had arrived, and Everybody said so.
Imagine I am your new home.
I seemed like a bargain when you bought me but now you are giving some credence to the rumours you heard about me.
At the moment I am enjoying your home-making endeavours, you show great taste and I really appreciate the TLC.
But I have other plans for you because, you see, I am haunted.
I have already started on some classic tricks and now you are worried you are losing your mind. (This is the most intricate part of haunting but it’s just work for me; remember I did not choose to be haunted and I didn’t choose you; you chose me.)
Soon you’ll try religion or some other form of spiritual protection.
Knock yourself out; in the end we always all go up in flames.
The forest part 2
Once upon a time, on the edge of a large city, was a bit of land that had been there forever. It was pretty much just scrub and old trees.
The city had its eye on the land but the land was protected by a spell. No-one was allowed to live there; people could just mess about, walk their dogs and bury their murder victims.
The spell was so powerful that no-one noticed the forces of nature slowly mustering to literally get their own back. Pernicious saplings busted gutters, foul nests stuck in chimneys, foxes foxed right in your face. Great sections of roads and pavements had unholy cracks and potholes, that to anyone not spellbound, would have suggested the vast network growing beneath.
Normal life was ready to crack; the land had its revenge all ready and waiting – and in the end, accomplished it with such swift economy that Experts are now certain there never was any city at all.