‘Timebanking’ as a policy, promotes the exchange of one person’s time, skills and resources to benefit another person within the community as a form of bartering system that pre-dates the monetary systems of commerce. According to the centre's website, it is designed to “build trust within the community” and return to non- financial means of sustaining a society– a paradigm of the ‘Big Society’ initiative.

A narrow metal staircase leading to the roof exposes the seedy undercurrent behind Büchel’s commentary on Cameron's vision. In the attic crawlspace, a make shift squat has been slavishly re-created. Precariously exposed wooden beams wind around several living spaces within this one open plan environment. The squalid detritus of the human living conditions is on display: soiled and stained mattresses, upturned packing crates compensate for seating, empty beer cans, an open toilet.

Overlooking the rooftops of Piccadilly, more evidence is discovered. Open sleeping quarters composed of sleeping bags, plastic bin liners, a HSBC umbrella – all signifiers of the fallout from the economic recession.

In the basement of Hauser & Wirth is the functioning saloon bar. The lounge décor is dark and gloomy. Furnished with typical dark red carpets, low hanging glass lamplights and square wooden tables.

In the left hand corner, BBC footage of the Royal Wedding of the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge is screened continuously on a monitor. The resounding cheer of the crowds is the only disturbance to the quietness. Proceeding down past the public toilets and a seemingly inconsequential door marked ‘private’, you enter into asquare room that hosts the bar.

A Union jack flag adorned with the image of the Duke & Duchess (as supplied free with a national red top tabloid newspaper) is pinned to the wall of the vaulted dance hall that holds poetry and dance evenings at weekends. Red-top journalism has become synonymous with the promotion of Conservative ideal in the light of the current controversially contested political links.

Venturing through the ‘private’ door, a cramped and disheveled living space is revealed, where every crevasse is covered with personal effects: food utensils, non-perishable goods, a vat of drinking water, craftsman’s tools. The smell of dust and damp catches in the back of your throat. Several aged photographs of a naval craft and its crew above the single bed intimate that this is the home of an ex-serviceman - a civil servant.

From here, a restrictive passageway takes two blind right turns, cluttered with the debris of human living. Stumbling and squeezing past stacks of books, boxes of crockery all of which are covered in a thick film of dust, you arrive at the second living space - a single cot wedged between the walls beside a toilet. To the left of the mattress is a towering column of pornography – above this, shelves full of labelled VHS tapes of CCTV security surveillance tapes from the HSBC Poultry branch. This not only references the original function of the Hauser & Wirth building itself as a HSBC branch, but also signifies the role of the banks in the creation of the economic recession.

Christoph Büchel’s agenda regarding Piccadi!y Community Centre is never truly divulged. Whether it is an examination of class or an indictment of the current Conservative government’s management in the aftermath of the recession, this can only be inferred. Instead it illustrates the short comings of social practice as an artist concern. Once the artist has communicated their sentiments, the long term wide spread social outcome of their project does not appear to have been considered, similarly highlighting the long term social effects the ‘Big Society’ initiative will have on the lower income and working classes. What is clear from visiting the exhibition is the overwhelming popularity and success of the centre as a facility for the socially marginalised in one of the most affluent areas of London. The positive achievements of the various community groups are in a way negated, as they unknowingly become part players within Büchel’s orchestrated theatre.


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

Courtesy Piccadilly Community Centre.



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