BY RUTH HOGAN

Amidst the bustle of the crowded streets of London's Piccadilly an anomaly appears. What originally would have been the gallery space of Hauser & Wirth has been completely re-constructed into a fully functioning community centre. All evidence of the original gallery space and architecture have been have dramatically erased. The gallery's exterior walls brandish hoardings advertising cash loans and vacant office spaces to let. The white walled space has been replaced by long rooms and hallways painted in garish yellow.


Stepping through the main entrance, you first encounter a Western Union money transfer bureau, its desks unstaffed, the original parquet floor replaced by blue wool carpet. A notice board spanning the length of the right wall offers information to visitors of local services, activities and events available during the fleeting existence of the centre.


Along the corridor and through a set of double doors into the hallway, where on the left a series of computer rooms provides free internet access for the community members, and on the right is the main community room and canteen.


Rooms and facilities at the ‘Piccadilly Community Centre’ are available to hire free of charge to charitable organisations. A therapy room, a community dance hall, a non-denominational prayer room, a fully functioning bar and even a market stall in the adjacent St. James' Market are some of the services available for various outreach groups such as the Womens Institute and prisoner rehabilitation schemes. Even the community centre website advertising these facilities makes no reference to the temporary nature of the centre, or the fact that this staged environment is actually the invention of Swiss artist Christoph Büchel.


Known for his elaborate large-scale politicised art installations, with 'Piccadilly Community Centre' the boundaries become blurred as to whether it is intended to be an art installation, an exercise in art as social practice or a community based art project.


Located in the main space of the top floor, an authentic branch of the ‘Geranium Shop for the Blind’ charity organisation is selling second hand goods. Juxtaposed against this operation is the ’Conservative Party Archive’ – a stand devoted to chronicling the various historical triumphs of the Conservative party. Party literature, memorabilia emblazoned with anti-Socialist slogans such as “If you want to call your soul your own, vote Conservative” and newsletters relating to the local London Tory wards are all on display. The promotional film that accompanied the 2010 Conservative Party Conference is played continuously on a flat screen television, it’s booming message dominating the space. Ironically Büchel is clearly making the association here that community activism is perpetuating the ideals of David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ politics, despite the Conservative Party's historical stance for anti-socialist policies. This implication is further compounded by the ‘Timebanking’ office, located off the main space.

Piccadilly Community Centre, 13 May – 30 July 2011, Hauser & Wirth London, Piccadilly, Courtesy Piccadilly Community Centre.

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AUGUST_2011_


Piccadilly Community Centre

Christoph Büchel

Hauser & Wirth, Piccadilly, London
13 May – 30 July 2011





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