KEN TOWL reflects on an exhibition which appears to show that Croydon is often better at playing other locations than playing itself…
Turf Projects’ latest exhibition (open until March 2) is Harold Offeh’s “Croydon Plays Itself”. The title makes reference to the award-winning 2004 documentary film Los Angeles Plays Itself written and directed by Thom Andersen, which critiques the way Hollywood depicts Los Angeles.
Mirroring this, Offeh’s exhibition is decked out as a garishly coloured retail pop-up (itself referencing the gallery’s own situation within the Whitgift Centre, as well as Croydon’s reputation as a retail centre) , and features a screen showing how Croydon is represented by the entertainment industry.
There are clips from such films as Brazil (Terry Gilliam’s 1985 movie which cast Robert De Niro as a terrorist aircon engineer, and in which Croydon is used as the setting for a dystopian future), American Assassin (in which Croydon shows its thespian muscle in the rather convincing role of Istanbul), as well as its recent starring role in the controversial Black Mirror episode Bandersnatch, in which Croydon does the 1980s.
Best of all is the fact that Made in Dagenham was, in fact, made in Croydon.
Still echoing Croydon’s retail standing, as well as its agricultural history, Offeh perfumes the air with lavender, an old industry of the area.
As was, of course, saffron (hence the name – “Croh” is Saxon for crocus), and Offeh offers his visitors little sachets of Croydon-grown Saffron to celebrate this.
Saffron is a precious spice, often worth its weight in gold, so snap these up – produced on a pop-up saffron farm on the site where Taberner House once stood, Croydon residents will have paid for this through their Council Tax.
On offer also, this time at £14 a go, are T-shirts on a rail bearing the logo of Croydon Pride ’93.
Perhaps the most striking element is the sculpture “The Havelock Mirror”, a reconstruction of the device the Croydon-born eugenicist Havelock Ellis used to identify a and catalogue humans who were unfit to reproduce.
Offeh cheerfully subverts this machine of racial and class suppression and turns it into a photo booth where visitors can take pictures of each other, somewhere between, he suggests, the institutional photography of prisons and police stations and the personal of the “selfie”. You can share these, if you are so minded, on the Instagram at #CroydonPlaysItself.
This exhibition invites us to look beyond the shops, beyond the reputation, and to see the diversity – “What would Croydon be without its diversity?” asks one of his posters – that makes Croydon so damned interesting.
Offeh left me with an optimism for Croydon, an optimism based on its people, its buildings and its past.
- Turf Projects is at 46-47 Trinity Court, Whitgift Centre, CR0 1UQ, a five-minute walk from Wellesley Road Tram stop via the underpass, and 10 minutes walk from West and East Croydon stations. For more information, visit turf-projects.com, email email@example.com or phone 020 3251 0108.
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