For the past six months we have been building a nightmare, but only so it doesn’t happen. We’ve wrapped silk scarves around each others’ necks and stage-fought, thinking about how we can manifest dreams we might have in the future, but only so our audience might make them now. I’ve sat up sick from no sleep, thumbs sore from tapping notes, wondering if the future we’re proposing is horrible enough for the audience to get up, walk out, and stop it.
This nightmare is Jagged Edge, a multimedia stage show about the future of East London but really about race, borders, colonialism, resistance and the scraps of beauty that slip through the plans of the powerful. ‘We’ are Acrylick, a new multimedia collective of artists, writers, dancers, actors, filmmakers, anthropologists, designers and more. Jagged Edge is us trying to give theatrical, multimedia texture to the human details of grand political forces. It’s a play, but we dance; it’s a show, but there’s film; it’s fictional, but audio interviews with people we have met along the way play throughout. Mostly, it presents the borders: of the state, of the city, of our culture, and implore the audience to undo them now.
At first, the show was set in 2060, but the more families decanted from East London’s social housing we interviewed, the more people under house arrest, the more refugee women fighting against detention we spoke to, and even just the more we walked around the area (Old Street station has a boutique clothing shop in it now), we found out our nightmares weren’t imaginative enough. What follows are some fragments – the show is a collage in many ways – of stories we have picked up along the way. This is a partial collage of the future we are making now. How will it turn out?
It was the last night before he was deported, and I’d spent half that week’s pay on trains and fines to get to the detention centre. The visitors’ room air was already ripping at my throat, and we knew we were about to say goodbye for, probably, ever. He told me ten minutes before that he had tried to kill himself in there. I remember six weeks earlier when he told me he witnessed several people trying to die, and that he’d found them ‘crazy’. Now he was with them. While he’s in the toilet, one of the guards comes up to me, starts hitting on me. Are you joking? Like, wtf. Asking where I work, if I want to hang out. And I’m like ‘No. You’re deporting my friend.’ and he laughs. “I’m not deporting your friend. The Home Office is deporting your friend.” Then visiting hours were up and he took my friend out of the room and locked the door.
The area is literally completely different from when I like started working here – like all the really nice glass and steel buildings outside Aldgate didn’t exist! They weren’t there, they were completely different buildings and I mean really actually depressing to see over the course of like a year. Those buildings have been torn down and these new like fucking ugly things that don’t have any relevance to people living here. All the east enders are still living here, they’ve still got council housing, still, but they’re like suddenly these buildings are completely inaccessible to them they’ve got security guards inside, they’re luxury flats, they’re completely restricted from these spaces and it means people are getting pushed further and further out, even when they’re living in the same space. So it’s like your neighbourhood and your home is slowly being roped off, and you’re just, you’re just left with the pavement at the end of the day.
We went to the vintage shop and the white man and the white woman in military gear were there, renting guns, grenades, fur coats to people. They didn’t like the protests about gentrification. They disagreed with window-smashing. A lot. It was violent, they said, it was barbaric they said. Said they wouldn’t let windows be smashed in their community. I said we were making a show about the people affected by gentrification, borders, and deportation. The man’s face lit up, ever the underdog, and said ‘About us?’ I said ‘no’. He said he could barely hold the heaviest gun, even though he’d been in the Air Force. I joked about stealing one of the guns. He said ‘The police would shoot you down in a second’. And he laughed a lot.
It’s kind of symbolic of what is happening. What’s happening is that hipsters come here because it’s shit, and it’s rustic and it’s rough and ready, and it’s culturally diverse and it’s interesting, and it’s nothing like a semi-detached in suburbia. So we went for pizza, and I saw two apple crates on the side of the road and I picked them up to save them, and I hid them. And the reason I thought hipsters were going to steal my apple crates is because that’s someone’s trade. It’s someone’s living. But these things are going for like 80 quid on eBay now once they’ve had a bit of a varnish. Because it’s cool to have something shit. It’s cool not to be a workman but to do workmen things. But that pushes out the people that actually live that life, that have to do those jobs, and eat those things, and live that life.
The police. It’s just to play mind games with us, to dig up dirt and to make us feel extra fear. I’ve got three children, and they don’t understand. I have political views, but I don’t want to force on them that everyone is out to get them. It’s hard to hide that from them if your house is constantly being raided and their parents are being taken away from them, and their computers and tablets and phones are being taken away by the police again and again.
It’s become a very commercial place, commercial. Lots of new buildings, tall buildings coming up. A lot of wealth come in here. Very rich part, very poor part. It’s meant to generate wealth, isn’t it? More money? I don’t know if anyone sees it, but I guess if there’s more restaurants then there must be more jobs, somewhere. Shouldn’t there be more jobs?
Order a copy of IMAGINING 2043 online today.