‘Harlow Happenings’

Artists: Janetka Platun, Emily Whitebread and Dash Macdonald and Demirtios Kargostis
Location and Date: Harlow, Essex 2015

In recent years phrases such as ‘sense of place’, ‘community ownership’ and – more recently – ‘civic economy’ have been used when discussing aspirations for the public realm. ‘Harlow Happenings’ was the culmination of a series of artists’ residencies that have taken place at Gatehouse Arts over the period of a year. The residencies looked to explore what these terms might mean for the residents of Harlow.

‘Harlow Happenings’ highlighted the ability artists have at uncovering often overlooked or ‘lost’ histories and community activity. The work illustrates different approaches, what unified them is how the individuals and communities within Harlow have and continue to ‘shape’ their environment.

‘Gigacycle’ by Janetka Platun. Platun’s research responded to a period in Harlow’s history of intense innovation and creativity through the work that took place at Standard Telecommunications Laboratories (STL). Communicated through a series of ‘encounters’, Platun explored how the discoveries and dedicated perseverance of early pioneers at STL have not just shaped Harlow but our global landscape, both physically and intellectually.

Emily Whitebread traced the similarities between the original aspirations for Harlow and those of its current residents. Focusing on the youth of Harlow, often absent from the more traditional public consultation methods used when proposing public realm improvements. Whitebread’s work compared the ‘utopian’ vision of Sir Frederick Gibberd for Harlow New Town with a current-day projected vision for Harlow by its youth.

The presentation by Dash Macdonald and Demitrios Kargotis traced the Harlow individuals who dedicate their time to causes they believe in. The struggles, along with the benefits that these voluntary organisations face being highlighted through a spoof ‘edutainment’ format.

The residencies in collaboration with ACAVA shined a spotlight on aspects that form the make up and character of one town in Essex, that of Harlow. Each town or village has its own unique fingerprint or sense of place that is embodied in and shapes its public spaces. Harlow Happenings, through the commissioning of artists, illustrated one approach to how these often quite abstract terms can be visualised.