Some critique with your Tea, Vicar? Christoph Büchel’s Piccadilly Community Centre, Hauser & Wirth

January 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’m feeling pretty inadequate.

I’m at a dance with a friend, she has been solicited three times already.

I stand alone.

My friend is 79.

Like I said, I’m feeling pretty inadequate.

I’m also at Piccadilly Community Centre, an initiative set up by Hauser and Wirth, London who invited eminence grise behind the project; Swiss artist Christoph Büchel. You may never have heard of him so allow me to introduce Buchel the King of immersionist installations, the mid career artist who doesn’t like to be mentioned. He’s the higher brow version of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, you chase this artist through different scenarios that vanish as quickly as they appear. Part satirist, part sociologist, part commentator, part paranoid schizophrenic… the list continues, his constructed realities attempt to ask us to question our own.

Buchel was previously behind the conversion of an old Coppermill off Brick Lane into a flophouse in Simply Botiful, 2007, the transformation of galleries into tanning salons, gaming arcades, fitness studios and morgues. Other activities include auctioning off his invitation to Manifesta 4 on eBay and hiding a cheque for an exhibition’s entire budget within the empty space awaiting its discovery by one lucky visitor.

One thing that won’t be found at Piccadilly Community centre however, is the artist’s name. Not that anyone there really cares.

For the Piccadilly Community Centre is fully functional, (almost) convincing and rendered down to exquisitely tacky detail; stuffy lino clad rooms, an accurately crap website, haphazard notice-boards and wonderfully badly hung watercolours abound. Elderly regulars stalk the corridors sipping lukewarm tea whilst a charity shop on the top floor plies its trade…

But, hang on, why is there an enormous Tory party display amongst the bric-a-brac? Come to think of it, why, upon entering the centre is one met with an abandoned Pay Day Advance counter? Why, pray tell, does a sign hang above the door proclaiming ‘WE CASH GOLD’??

…. No, no it couldn’t be….could it? Could The Piccadilly Community Centre really….. be about Broken Britain?! About the skewed idea of a Big Society? About the alarming adoption of leftist rhetoric by the Conservatives? Could the squalid recreation of a squat up in the Centre’s rafters, replete with filthy mattresses, decaying takeaway boxes and porn magazines, be something to do with this….

The locals running their Algerian cake baking, Indian aromatherapy head massage and laptop workshops downstairs couldn’t care less about this either. Not about the message, nor about the centre’s status as ‘art’ project. They are simply there to do their thing, overlooking the hoards, on possibly one of the most expensive addresses in central London.

Despite it’s appearances, this project was not cheap. The deceptively authentic naffness has been reconstructed to enormous expense. The space was previously your typical whitewashed gallery hall. False floors have been cleverly constructed, each item carefully sourced, a cheesy dancefloor and full bar erected in the basement together with several meeting rooms, counselling office and gym studio.

Superficially, Piccadilly Community Centre works wonders, but underneath the meticulous veneer the message is confused. It’s a recreation of a council run centre but the Big Society promotes independently run undertakings, is it critiquing one or the other or both? Or, neither? There’s a Nativity scene locked in a safe on the basement dance floor, is this a reference to the marginalisation of religion in pursuit of less salubrious entertainment and a culture of cheap thrills and bleak consequences? Oh who cares, I’m going hula-hooping….

13 May – 30 July 2011


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