Monday, 2 August 2010

Can I Wick It? Yes You Can

Hackney Wicked is an art festival whose location at the far reaches of the Overground saves it from the wanky excesses of Shoreditch-Hoxton.
For three days, this area of scruffy streets and half-empty warehouses is transformed into a world of colour, music and bustle. As we came out of the station, a punk choir (the Hackney Secular Singers) was singing under the railway bridge, which was festooned with posters and flyers. Immediately it felt like something amateur and sprawling, a genuine community festival rather than a corporate association of venues and agents.

It centres on the 600+ artists who have opened their studios to the public for the weekend, plus gallery-based exhibitions, collaborative happenings, outdoor events (such as a coracle regatta and a re-enactment of the Cuban blockade), film screenings, and lots of live music, food, and colourful stuff to look at. The atmosphere was laidback, with a good mix of arty types and families, and best of all everything was free.

In one building alone, you could visit more than thirty studios: there’s a huge amount of work to take in, ranging from the memorable to the forgettable, but this plenty adds to the enjoyment. You know you can’t see everything, so just enjoy what you can. Highlights included Michael Nagle’s haunting photorealistic portraits and Natalie Thakur’s addictively odoriferous leather goodies. The Mother Studios building itself has spectacular views across the River Lea to the half-built Olympic stadium.

Down the road in a graffiti-blazoned yard, an old punk band howled about ketamine at a loose knit crowd of bikers who were chugging cider, balancing on old tyres, dandling punk babies, and flashing metal-skewered breasts at onlookers on the balconies of the neighbouring posh flats, while bull terriers and rottweillers squirmed on the hot concrete. It all looked convincingly hardcore, but this being an art festival, a discarded Guardian Weekend was blowing around, affording the extra pleasure of seeing Lucy Mangan's face stomped into dusty nothingness under oversized boots.

Meanwhile, as the sun set over Queen’s Yard, most of the stalls had packed up, though the jerk chicken was still drawing a queue. A woman in a turquoise net skirt was on stage, wrangling with a sound engineer, while footballs bounced lazily around the tarmac, smokers clanked bottles by the metal-glowing canal, and the diggers across the water had stopped for the day.

The festival finished on Sunday with a ceremonial burning of a wicker man. This was its third year; I’ll be back in 2011, and not only to see how the stadium is getting on.

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