Peckham’s car-park arts hub works on so many levels

South London arts space Bold Tendencies is making the most of its limited lifespan
'Bristow' by Adel Abdessemed is a rooftop commission for this year's Bold Tendencies © Damian Griffiths

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Car park turned sculpture park Bold Tendencies has established a name for itself as a summer arts hub. Hidden on the upper floors of a parking garage in Peckham, south London, the not-for-profit initiative has returned for a 10th summer of sculpture, music, poetry and dance in tandem with the rooftop pop-up Frank’s Cafe.

Founder Hannah Barry is unperturbed by the local council’s refusal to establish a permanent cultural centre on the site and is determined to make the most of the time and space she has. “The car park location, the four-year tenancy — I see those factors as an opportunity, not a limitation,” she says.

The impermanence of the enterprise was stressed by the local council’s recent appointment of Pop Community Ltd (the force behind nearby Pop Brixton) to manage the first seven floors of the building until a wholesale handover to upmarket developers goes ahead in 2020.

Up on floors eight and nine, Bold Tendencies continues its work with a sagacious nod to its limited lifespan. “Impermanence shouldn’t mean a compromise on quality. We’re creating an impermanent collection with a permanent attitude,” says Barry, as she points out the latest rooftop commission, “Bristow”, by one the darlings of today’s art market, Adel Abdessemed.

This year’s highlight, Abdessemed’s piece is found in the middle of another work, “Agora” (2015) by sculptor Richard Wentworth. While Wentworth’s playfully snaking silver line draws visitors’ eyes down to the old car-park floor, Abdessemed’s installation points directly towards the City of London skyline. A quiet but powerful work, “Bristow” is a life-size steel sculpture of a London pigeon with explosives and a BlackBerry strapped to its back. It packs a punchy message about our lack of faith in our neighbours and, typical of Abdessemed’s work, the piece is made beautiful by its understated violence.

Before even setting eyes on the main event (if they ever find it), visitors this year are presented with a bubblegum pink entrance. Simon Whybray’s “hi boo I love you” stairway is a marked change from the old, dingy car-park access. “Lots of visitors won’t even notice it’s an artwork,” grins Barry, clearly relishing the idea.

Rejecting the traditional museum model, Bold Tendencies invites visitors to approach works in a casual way and encourages a communal experience from entrance to ticket booth — the latter is a new, psychedelic creation designed by local group South London Makers.

Rather than starting afresh each year, Barry and her team build on past commissions, collecting works of art, design and architecture that combine and clash in unexpected ways.

“Derek Jarman Garden”, an imaginative piece of landscaping by Propagating Dan and unveiled in 2013, is altered by the addition of a new poetry installation by Sophie Collins and Sam Riviere. Mounted at the garden’s entrance, “Flourished” is made up of 10 mirrored panels engraved with the couple’s writing that reflect sections of Wentworth’s “Agora” as well as glimpses of the gritty car-park surrounds. The work encourages quiet contemplation before visitors set foot in the severe Dungeness-inspired garden space.

It’s a diverse programme, and though not all first-rate (Benedikte Bjerre’s “Stock ‘N’ Flow” on floor eight has the worrying look of tired old conceptualism), there’s a commendable lack of pretension in how the works are exhibited.

And people like it. The south London space has welcomed about a million visitors since 2007 and has corporate sponsors knocking on the door. Among a varied summer events programme, highlights include a Multi-Story Orchestra concert of Bach, Whitley and Handel (June 8 and 10), a BBC Proms performance of Steve Reich (September 3) and instructive film events running in collaboration with New York’s Ghetto Film School.


To October 1, boldtendencies.com

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