Tag Archives: urbanism

film screening

Hi everyone. If you are in London, come down to the Hackney Attic on August 28 at 7.30 pm. TAKING OVER THE KING’S LAND is screening at the Hackney Attic Film Festival alongside several other fine films in the Documentary Shorts programme. It will be a great evening! Best of all, it’s FREE!


Tickets bookable here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1256360871050516/

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thinking about realism and the sublime

two paintings of similar (not the same) events: people fighting in the streets of Paris

The first painting is by Eugene Delacroix, LIBERTY LEADING THE PEOPLE, depicting the fighting in Paris during the 1830 revolution. Delacroix did not himself participate in the Street fighting but he knew plenty of people who did. Writing to his brother about the upheavals, he wrote if I cannot fight for the revolution at least I can painted. This is an example of a painting with sublime action. There’s a sense of rapid intense forward movement led by the symbolic figure of lady liberty and the surging crowd behind and around her which occupy the upper portion of the picture feel as if they’re about to hurtle out of the canvas. If you go and see the picture itself hung on the walls of the Louvre its immense size really does give a sense of everything about to fall on top the viewer.


[source: self]

There’s something definitely sublime about this, something overwhelming, dangerous, frightening – the kind of delicious terror that Burke wrote about. At the same time, because it’s an artwork we – like Delacroix, who’s painting it – don’t have to actually be there, risking being wounded and trampled on like the figures in the lower part of the picture. Off to the distance on the right-hand side,  we see the massing troops of the regime with their heavy weaponry,  which is also frightening.



The second painting is much less well-known, it is Horace Vernet’s Street Fighting on the rue Soufflot 1848, a depiction of the June days of the 1848 uprising in Paris when the workers rose up against the regime to protest working conditions.
I don’t know much about this particular historical incident, nor why Vernet chose to painted except that Baudelaire refers quite disparagingly to Vernet  as a “journalist.”  And we can certainly see that what we’ve got in this painting is something much more documentary-like and concerned with actually showing us what it might’ve actually been like to witness the Street fighting. Vernet’s picture is not theatrical: there is no heroic Phantom of Liberty leading the charge; in fact the composition itself is not structured in the highly dramatic pyramid that we see with the Delacroix.  Instread,  it’s much more diffused;  although there is a big, dramatic diagonal in the running through the centre of the painting with a number of converging lines, there isn’t a single dramatic focus. The most eye-catching detail in the painting is the red flag of the workers juxtaposed against the white Sacre Coeur. Vernet’s intention here is much less clear; what is he trying to persuade us? He is not trying to involve us in some kind of heroic identification with the figures. Instead he shows us something quite dreadful: the  civil guard shooting the workers and the workers hurling huge stones of the guard.* Yet for all its lack of theatricality and emotion it’s a compassionate vision. We see the destruction of the city; we see the clear inequality between the shirt-sleeved, unarmed workers and the uniformed armed guard.

A film I’ve always admired that has a great street violence scene is The Baader-Meinhof Complex directed by  Uli Edel and shot by the great cinematographer Rainer Klausmann  (who shot one of my favourite German films Head-On). In an early scene, protesters get caught up in extreme violence when they are attacked by both police and militants. It’s terrifying.

All three works have something strong to tell us about street fighting – when violence engulfs the city’s streets and there is no where to go, nowhere safe to run. And all three are based on eyewitness accounts.


* According to Wikipedia “Things did not go peacefully and over 10,000 people were either killed or injured, while 4,000 insurgents were deported to Algeria.”

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TAKING OVER THE KING’S LAND is now Officially Released

The street art documentary I made is now available to view online.


TAKING OVER THE KING’S LAND is now Officially Released online for free viewing. Go to http://film.kingslandmural.co.uk
Please share freely.


 “In a forgotten corner of East London, in the shadow of the Olympic site,  artist Nazir Tanbouli is battling weather, vandalism and lack of funds, to create a massive mural installation throughout a condemned housing estate.”

After doing the rounds of the festival circuit including Sheffield Docfest and Portobello Festival in London, as well as screenings all over the place as far afield as Hungary and Egypt, it’s time to make the film more widely available since the fact is not that many people actually go to film festivals 🙂

More info, including full crew list and lots of material about the film as well as my still photography,  is at http://kingslandmural.co.uk/

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dual-wall rain2 wetwall

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Last Sunday I participated in a fascinating presentation and discussion around critical urbanism. Alongside film maker Andrea Luka Zimmerman and artist Cathy Ward, we discussed the position of art and the city, the role of social housing and how artists can avoid or minimise being instrumentalized particularly by developers.

These are all huge issues in today’s city. Today’s city, especially London,  is a place where social housing is being demolished to make way for luxury flats – often bought as investments and left untenanted.  Where workers such s paramedics, nurses, teachers and other professionals can never afford to buy a house or rent anything decent so they have to think twice about raising a family.

Iain Sinclair referred once to artists as the “shock troops of the developers” and he was right. In the past, it was simply about artists paving the way by making a place a bit trendy. This happened in my neighbourhood of Hoxton-Shoreditch. When I moved here as a student it was a wasteland. Aside from the Bricklayers’ and Charlie Wright’s there was nothing. You could not even get a cup of coffee. Now coffee is about all you can get, as many more functional businesses have shut up shop. In many ways I welcome that change since at least most of the social housing is intact (with some disgusting exceptions) and I like coffee (although we see to have gone from the sublime ot the ridiculous, in cups of coffee per head of population).

But now developers are actually actually instrumentalizing art and co-opting artists to make developments seem more attractive and to create a façade of a ‘give back’ to the ‘community.’ This is almost always less than it seems. Also I notice that, in an area such as East London which is so ethnically and culturally diverse, the artistic profiles championed are very white and middle class! Typified by the posh white boys doing Banksy-lite (lite as in, without political content) on a  developers hoarding. Or the other posh white boys doing a big ‘street art’ piece in Shoreditch High St – oops no wait it is actually an ad for Red Bull. (where do the developers find these guys anyway? Did they go to public school with them)

Is there another way? This is what we talked about and we offered our own experiences – and art works – and discussed the positives and negatives. What was great is that we found some like minded people at the event, and the conversation began. We did not go there with solutions, but with a desire to find solutions – and that is for the long haul not a 2 hour slot.

Coda – one of the most hilarious things has to be the naming of one development as Avant-Garde Tower.  It’s just off Brick Lane – traditionally an area of high-visibility immigrant culture – when I first visited London it still had a Jewish presence (a kosher café on Whitechapel High St was a haunt of mine), but was largely Bangladeshi except on the Sunday ‘Cockney’ market. Over the years it became a trendy go-to market and entertainment district, and it is definitely a lot of fun. Many of the houses there were incredibly run down. So it is good that new housing has been built – but I do object to it being all ‘luxury’ i.e..totally unaffordable to the average citizen, and the egregious use of the term avant-garde is just laughable.

On the other hand, the real meaning of avant-garde is ‘the foremost division or the front part of an army; advance guard; van.’ If the purpose is to cleanse the city of its working class population with military precision, then perhaps it is the vanguard, and it is aptly named.

(Jeez I remember studying Marxist theory at uni and it was just a theory … Pass the exam, move on.

Now it’s become a handbook for living, for negotiating the reality around us.)2013-11-10 12.40.03

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TAKING OVER THE KING’S LAND at Sheffield Docfest

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Sheffield Docfest has begun!  It’s the first day and yes, the weather is appalling, so far. Luckily though, the films are indoors.

TAKING OVER THE KING’S LAND has just screened at the Puny Gods Cinema in Exeter and is now at the Sheffield Docfest, the UK’s biggest and most important film festival for documentaries.  The film is 23 min long and is in the festival Videotheque, available to all the festival delegates.

Arts docs are notoriously difficult to place since many people associate the documentary genre to social issues, or art history. TAKING OVER THE KING’S LAND is a portrait of  an artist, and of a remarkable project set in the world’s greatest metropolis.

Short synopsis:

What on earth is an Egyptian doing painting the walls of a condemned block of flats in East London? As the city prepares for the 2012 Olympics, the Kingsland social housing estate lies in ruins, synonymous with crime and brutality. Taking Over The King’s Land follows artist Nazir Tanbouli and his self appointed task to take over the condemned housing estate and cover it with art. He battles the endless rain and the bitter weather of the “British summer.” Can art counter the urban atmosphere of deprivation, blight and neglect? Can it help Naz come to terms with life as an émigré Egyptian in London?


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Stigmart 10 – videofocus: features an article about my work

the 2014 edition of the online journal Stigmart10 has an article about my work. The other articles are good too – have a look!



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Hating hipsters (and worst cup of coffee, ever)

Hating hipsters

It has come to my attention that one of the key urban trends these days is “hating hipsters”.
This phenomenon is caused by the disgust felt when whole swathes of neighborhoods suddenly experience an explosion of the following:

tattoo parlours
expensive “gourmet” coffee shops
ostensibly organic “natural” supermarkets
Cool Bars with “art galleries” attached
energetic hyper-networking 20-30 somethings with substantial parentally-derived incomes, talking loudly about postmodern drivel

followed shortly afterwards by a viral nuclear level explosion in the rents of shops, studios, flats and pavement inches.

Now, I can’t say that I personally hate hipsters. In fact I find the very word itself to be suspiciously retro enough that the hipsters themselves no doubt revel in it. I suppose the only difference between me and then is that my parents don’t support me at all and never have and I am too old to give a crap about being trendy. In fact even when I was not too old I took a sheer delight in being off trend.

I digress. What I wanted to show you was a photo of the worst cup of coffee, ever. I had it in a hipster joint on Mare St near to Space Studios. It was weak and cold. I complained and was told it was supposed to be that way as it was a gourmet blend. It cost me £3.50 /$5.74 US / 4.24 euros

I have lived in this hood for quite  awhile and I remember the days when you could not get a coffee for love or money (only Nescafe from workers caffs – till about 3 pm in the afternoon). I don’t wax nostalgic for those days. They were actually shit. But there is a limit and we have hit it….

I do hate postmodernism though., But that’s a whole other blog post.


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January 18, 2014 · 5:43 pm


WHEN I was growing up in Vancouver the city had a remarkable amount of neon signs. These highly colourful signs advertised everything from diners to dry cleaners. Driving through the city at night in the back of my parents’ car was like vising fairyland. It was amazing.

As I got older I noticed the neon slowly being removed and being replaced with ordinary backlit plastic signage. Much more boring.

I was surprised to find, on a  visit the Vancouver Museum this summer, that some of the old neon has been saved and here it is, a glorious display in the museum – which is well worth visiting in any case. I tok these pics at the museum, but it’s better to see it for yourself, if you can. http://www.museumofvancouver.ca/
Vancouver neon

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The Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret was a well known jazz club in the 50’s and I heard rumours that Hendrix jammed there in his youth (he lived in Vancouver for a while) but I have no idea if it’s true. It was a legendary punk club in the late 70s.

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The Blue Eagle cafe was on Hastings St. I ate there quite often – stuff like French toast.

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The Owl drugstore at 41st, I used to pass it every day going to high school and university.

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This auto repair sign is just too good.

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The museum display. I spent ages in here, sucking it up. I LOVE neon. Real neon not the crap that “contemporary artists” put out.

AND here’s two more that are still in situ:

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You can see more on this great site: http://www.vancouverneon.com/index.htm

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Brick Lane

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a few of shots from a recent meander around Brick Lane, London’s main graffiti hot spot.
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There are few traces of its period as a Jewish quarter (unless you count the 2 fabulous bagel shops though they are not kosher), though the older signs of its Huguenot past are evident in style of the silk-weavers’ houses in the streets running off the Lane. The lower half of the Lane, a riot of Bangladeshi restaurants and shops, is interesting though the restaurant touts can be annoying.

The graffiti trend is new, just a few years old. Much of it is done with permission and is organized by middlemen hoping to at some point cash in in by discovering in the next Banksy. I think the trend will pass. There is little genuine artistry is this stuff. When you see something really good it stands out (for me that’s the bottom tow pieces), but most of what fills the street is not impressive.

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Attending a demolition. Watching your place being torn down.

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I have been in this East London neighborhood for ages ever since I was a Film student. I moved little, and stayed within the same few blocks. When I first came here the area was made up of housing estates and small factories and workshops. No cafes, no restaurants, no galleries. I was not bothered about this lack because a) I didn’t have any money to spend anyway; b) I wanted cheap rent c) I like inner city urban environments and d) it was historic and interesting, full of nooks and crannies. Unexpected glories like the Geffrye museum and Albion Square, beautiful Haggerston park, the Regent’s Canal which can take you all the way to Paddington if you have the stamina.

Needless to say it has changed a lot over the years and the place is now thoroughly in the white heat of gentrification. In most respects this is really good: horrible blocks of flats are being replaced by new better housing for the people, and it’s nice to find a decent cafe.

But there is a loss, and it is personal. For the last 2 1/2 years I have had a studio on the ground floor of this housing block. I didn’t live here, we got it as a project space from the landlord, to use before it was knocked down. We did  amazing things in this poky 1-room flat!  A lot of exhibitions, film screenings, open studio weekends and more. We had artists from Spain – including the painter Daniel Cervera – as well as Romania by way of Paris, and a big book art show brought from Russia. The last show we curated was by 3 young London based Bulgarian artists, Krom Balgesky, Desi Tosheva and Teo Todorov. We screened the amazing super 8 feature Maldoror on 16mm, and has film makers Sally Potter and Dan Edelstyn visit and screen their films.

The buildings emptied and finally we were the only inhabitants. It was a cold spring and we could hear the rats rattling around in the walls of the empty rooms next to us. Finally, the landlord had to give us notice and the building was hoarded, covering all the murals that studio partner Nazir Tanbouli had done around the buildings.

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This morning, I saw the demolition crew had arrived. I watched them knock the wall in and begin to demolish the studio.

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I watched them throw all the junk out. Bits of old drawings (some of them big) and paintings, furniture, the bin – everything we didn’t take with us. We took most things, apart from a working old CRT TV that there was just no reason to keep.

Yes, I feel a bit sentimental. Usually when you move you really do move and you don’t see  what happens to your old place. It’s just funny that my new studio is close to the old one so I was able to see the whole thing from the upper floor.

We also have a new exhibition space, the Yellow Wall – it’s a big wall in a nearby cafe we frequent. It means we get to mount the shows but we don’t have to open it ourselves. Things move on and move forward.

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