Millions Will Thank You

Project presented at the symposium ahead of the Hayward’s Gallery 50 years Jubilee in 2018.

Millions Will Thank You celebrates a seminal moment in the Hayward Gallery’s history – the moment of its naming. In December 1967, just a few months before its official opening to the public in July 1968, the gallery was named in honour of Sir Isaac Hayward (1884-1976), the Leader of the London County Council, who has safeguarded the transformation of the South Bank into a site where public cultural institutions would thrive without commercial pressures.

My contribution  took the form of a distributed gift, summoning the spirit of generosity displayed by the founding figures of the gallery.

In the current climate of relentless privatisation and the monetisation of public assets, bringing to life this earlier example of public responsibility serves as an inspiration for contesting ideas related to the ownership of culture. The project treats the archive as site of repressed memory, and is a result of research into the wider social history of the South Bank, which owes its unique set of buildings to the enlightened work of Isaac Hayward and the local authority of the time. As many documents reveal, the South Bank development from its very inception has been under substantial pressure to let commercial interests ‘resolve’ the financial demands that arise from creating publicly funded ambitious cultural institutions on the London’s prime site along the River Thames.

While art intervenes and compensates for blind spots in accounting of social and personal experiences, it also channels those experiences, which have no other place in public debate. And this is where the archive intersects with a wider interest in documentary practices. It is not simply a question of what to preserve but how all those marginal moments, marginal from the point of view of dominant discourse, shape our own ability to speak out, to alter histories and to occupy a hyphenated space.

What happens to memory when political conditions that gave rise to the events or artefacts, change? Silence may turn into a loudest scream. This is the fundamental dilemma of how to interpret what we find in the archives created in different political era from our own. In a culture dominated by market driven concerns, we assume that granting cultural value often known as heritage, is the granting of property rights over objects. This is deeply worrying.

All of those attending the symposium symbolically benefited from the vision that brought the gallery into being  – and by extension, the vision of all those involved in commissioning cultural artefacts for the public good – be they buildings, exhibitions, publications or prints. Through the act of giving, the focus shifts to us all,  as we are participating in a cycle of a generational handing-down.

Unboxed: Artists & the Archive

Symposium 6 September 2017, SBC

In the lead up to its reopening in January 2018, Hayward Gallery brought together artists, writers and curators to explore 50 years of radical exhibition making. Artists Larry Achiampong, Marysia Lewandowska and Florence Peake presented new works in response to Hayward Gallery’s exhibition archive.