The Dalston Mill was an off-site installation that occurred for three weeks in 2009 in the context of the Barbican Art Gallery exhibition Radical Nature – Art and Architecture for a Changing Planet 1969-2009. A disused railway line and waste ground in the East London suburb of Dalston was transformed into a temporary 16 metre high fully functioning flour mill with a community kitchen and bread oven that was open to the public. The project also included a 20 metre long wheat field, a recreation of the artist Agnes Denes’ Wheatfield – A Confrontation planted in New York in 1982. A series of public programs and events were included in the presentation of The Dalston Mill, including theatrical performances by Arcola Academy, baking and cooking classes, urban sustainability talks, ‘green’ workshops, artist talks and a bike-powered cinema hosted by Magnificent Revolution.
Aesthetic/Audience Engagement: The aesthetic aim of The Dalston Mill was to bring life back to a deserted and unused public space by transforming the area into a vibrant meeting place. EXYZT wanted to recreate Agnes Denes’ seminal work Wheatfield – A Confrontation: Battery Park Landfill, Downtown Manhattan (1982) and reconnect local residents with the site. The work was somewhat hidden from the street behind a fence. Once you entered through the gate, the space opened up into an urban retreat.
Innovation/Risk: The installation was an off-site component to a gallery exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery. All parties involved wanted to activate a temporary site and engage the public in a series of events and activities combining art, architecture, ecology and cooking to create an interactive installation.
Social Activation/Debate: The project aimed to reconnect local residents and visitors from other areas with community-based activities. It also sought to inspire community spirit and care for the local environment whilst creating a forum and meeting place at which local residents could discuss topical issues
Social Inclusion/Community Development: The Dalston Mill was part of the Create 09 Festival, a cultural partnership between the five boroughs of London that hosted the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The massive redevelopment of the area for the Olympics was disruptive and chaotic. The Dalston Mill aimed to create a quiet oasis in the middle of dramatic change.
This project included participatory activities such as baking, bike-powered cinema, and theatre workshops. It encouraged local community members to meet each other and to rethink how they might utilise other abandoned public spaces.
Waste Reduction: The Dalston Mill employed re-useable materials, including scaffolding, plywood and chipboard sheets.
Energy Efficiency: The project reduced energy consumption by using alternative sources, for example a windmill to power the grain-grinder, LED lights to illuminate the site at night and bike-powered generators to power film screenings and music.
OUTCOMES & IMPACTS
Methods of Evaluation
No formal evaluation was conducted with audiences. However, a total of 17,000 people visited The Dalston Mill over a three-week period, with the installation open Thursday to Sunday each week. The popularity of public programs and events were key indicators used for evaluation.
Innovation/Risk: The combination of mediums and fields of practice enabled a dynamic and exciting project to be produced. The project benefitted from being part of a larger exhibition in connection with the Barbican Art Gallery. The Dalston Mill was a highlight of the Radical Nature show and added integrity to the exhibition themes and ideas.
Social Activation/Debate: People from Dalston, neighbouring suburbs, broader London and even overseas visited The Dalston Mill. EXYZT and the Barbican Gallery received many positive comments about the project including:
“It is my idea of community living.”
“It is possible to have a bit of the country in the urban – it should be taken up elsewhere.”
“This project is food for thought”
“I love it. It’s great to see something simple and creative AND FREE in London that can inspire and get people together! Supreme.”
“Thank you very much. V beautiful. Just wish all the disused space in London could be used like this and for more permanent structure to help people and our society.”
“Dear Prime Minister, I went to Dalston Mill and was blown away by the beauty and concept of it, and the fact that it is almost self sufficient. We people of Britain want more support for the same enterprises. And it will boost your public image and will bag you a few more votes. Thank you!!!”
Social Inclusion/Community Development: The public programs and events created by the Barbican Art Gallery were well attended by large audiences. Many people in the local community participated in the project and had a positive experience of urban renewal and change. The success of the project lead to EXYZT being commissioned to build permanent barn-like structures on the same site for a permanent community garden–Dalston Eastern Curve Garden–completed in 2010.
Jobs: Work was created for young people involved in the Arcola Theatre performances.
In 2009, a large-scale redevelopment was planned for Dalston Junction by the local government. An important component of the redevelopment was to create a restored space for the whole community in order to strengthen relationships between local residents. Many residents expressed ideas about what type of public art works they wanted in the neighbourhood. The Cultural Redevelopment Team decided to engage multiple participatory artworks in place of a sculpture in the centre square. To assist in developing research, muf architecture/art and architectural landscapers J+L Gibbons prepared Making Space in Dalton, a strategy to “support the engagement of local creative businesses and community organisations in the regeneration of public space.” They identified outdoor spaces in Dalston Junction that could host temporary public works.
Through consultation with muf, then curator at the Barbican Art Gallery, Francesco Manacorda approached the Cultural Redevelopment Team to seek permission to use one of the identified sites in Dalston Junction. Permission was granted to use the Eastern Curve, an abandoned railway yard in Dalston as part of the Barbican’s exhibitions. In partnership with RSA Arts & Ecology, Manacorda commissioned EXYZT to create an off-site architectural project for the gallery’s exhibition, Radical Nature: Art and Architecture for a Changing Planet 1969–2009.
A large part of what made this project successful was that the area was being redeveloped and the Cultural Redevelopment Team sought expert advice from muf architecture/art and J+L Gibbons on how to incorporate a creative aspect in the redevelopment. EXYZT’s project enabled the community and the developers to see different possibilities for how public space can be used to rejuvenate communities.
IMPACTS OF ARTWORK PRODUCTION
Although it was created with environmental integrity, The Dalston Mill was essentially about creating ideas and concepts rather than pragmatism. Many of EXYZT’s projects utilise recycled and reusable materials in their construction. For The Dalston Mill, they built the structures from recycled wood and temporary hired equipment, such as scaffolding that was returned after the exhibition.
Crimmin, Michaela (former Director, RSA Arts & Ecology). Interview by author, August 8, 2012.
“Making Space in Dalston, 2009.” muf architecture/art. http://www.muf.co.uk/archives/portfolio/making-space-in-dalston-2 (accessed October 30, 2012)
Open City. “Individual Commissions – Dalston Mill, EXYZT and Various Artists, London Borough of Hackney.” Art in the Open Resource: Commissioning Guidance—Case Studies. http://www.artintheopen.org.uk/guidance/casestudies/commissions_dalston.html (accessed October 30, 2012).