Curriculum Elephant is a curriculum-as-protest, made up of a series of discussion sessions tackling Delancey and UAL’s proposed ‘redevelopment’ plan of the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre, which will be reviewed by Southwark Council in late June/July.
The aim of the project is to encourage as many students from Chelsea College of Arts to get involved in the Stop the Elephant Development campaign (STED) in order to prevent the demolition, by highlighting that they are stakeholders within the potential displacement of the long standing community of traders at Elephant (of which a large percentage are Latin American and BAME), the growing state-sanctioned eradication of social housing, and the lack of democratic community engagement in housing and planning projects.
While the project also attempts to encourage teaching staff and university employees to join the STED campaign, it will predominantly target students by foregrounding the contestation of public spaces (arising in response to neo-colonial “urban regeneration” programmes) as a primary conceptual and material concern for artists seeking to engage in critical practice.
There are a number of revisions to the initial redevelopment plan that the campaign is still fighting for;
> The relocation plan for the traders – who will be displaced while the Shopping Centre is demolished – is still minimal and unclear, and needs to be scrutinised by their legal representatives.
> Delancey’s revised plans incorporates only 10% affordable retail units and this figure needs to be raised significantly for the redeveloped site in order to ensure that the existing traders can remain together and maintain Elephant and Castle as a vital cultural centre for London’s Latin American community.
> The redevelopment plan must meet Southwark Council’s legal obligation of a minimum of 17.5% social housing and provide homes that are not quarantined within the site or have substandard living facilities.
> An open and democratic dialogue between the wider local community, Delancey, UAL and Southwark Council must be established during the redevelopment process.
Each of the Curriculum Elephant events will present a different perspective on the Elephant development, all of which demonstrate alternative practices that challenge systemic social cleansing. In the first event, Geraldine Dening and Simon Elmer, co-founders of Architects for Social Housing (ASH), are to speak at Chelsea on the 12th May. ASH create sustainable, and community-friendly solutions to council estate demolition; which arise out of democratic, community-driven dialogue between the estate residents and ASH, and lead to environmentally conscious designs for refurbishment where housing capacity increases considerably (to meet local councils’ house-building ‘targets’) without the demolition of a single home.
Curriculum Elephant is founded on three sets of questions;
Attending a college that finances gentrification, UAL students are not only indebted and enclosed within the educational splinter of a ‘Control society’¹, but become sponsors and guarantors of social cleansing. Students’ roles within degree exhibitions – which are the public face of the university – turn them into actors whose labour obfuscates UAL’s involvement in the ‘redevelopment’ project at Elephant. How does studying, producing artwork, and participating in degree exhibitions within this context, alter notions of agency and criticality, and the perception of one’s own identity?
More universities enter “strategic partnerships” with property development companies to facilitate estate demolition, and educational institutions become increasingly subject to outsourcing of political, cultural and academic credibility by pro-demolition lobbies and investment corporations. How might universities’ complicity within, and financing of, gentrification be interrogated in relation to the historical coloniality of the British university and the enduring systemic racism within Higher Education today, evident in the Prevent programme and the “attainment gap” between white British students and BAME British students?
At a national scale, local authorities continue to reproduce the mythology of the ‘sink estate’ to justify privatisation of council housing and estate demolition on the “aesthetic” rationale that the designs, and/or the state of, council housing, promote unemployment and criminal activity.² State-sanctioned social cleansing attempts to manufacture new demographics subservient to capitalist realism, whilst also exploiting (thus epistemologically disfiguring) the culture of areas largely populated by ethnic minority and migrant communities.
This ‘sink estate’ rhetoric by local councils, and the tactic of cultural appropriation as a means of social cleansing that is employed by property developers in contestations over public space, are the most pervasive precedents for the socio-economic implications of the aesthetic within contemporary political discourse. These circumstances impact all aspects of the lives of individuals living under global capitalism. How does this challenge Rancièrian notions of the autonomy of the aesthetic³, and complicate prevailing methodologies of critical practice?
By exemplifying a decolonial curriculum in progress, Curriculum Elephant will formally attempt to confront, and interrelate, the structural marginalisation enacted by the university both inside its own institutional space, and outside, upon the wider local community- in the case of the Elephant development.
1: Fisher, M. (2009) Capitalist Realism. Winchester: Zero Books
2: Minton, A. (2017) Big Capital: Who is London For? London: Penguin
3: Rancière, J. (2004) The Politics of Aesthetics. London: Continuum