Staff Profile – John Aitken

Exhibition in Guangzhou, China

My partner Jane and myself were invited to take part in a group show at the Guangdong Museum of Art in mid April. The exhibition was entitled Issues of Urbanisation. All the artists chosen were either from China or U.K. based and had work that investigated the impact of urbanization on individuals and communities. We went to Guangzhou to install the work and do a series of talks with local students, journalists and artists.

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The work Jane and myself have been undertaking since 2004 is a longitudinal study of the council housing estate I’ve lived on since 1993 in Pendleton, Salford. The project has been documenting and archiving a landscape in change using observational reports, photography, video, audio recordings and archival based research.

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Our exhibition piece, a three channel video installation, focused on the effects of Media City on the surrounding area. Media City was once the former dock area for Manchester and Salford that has now been transformed into a global media hub, housing the BBC and a growing army of high-end apartments blocks.

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The areas dramatic economic development has meant that the once undesirable land of the housing estate next door has suddenly become attractive to real estate speculation. As a result people are slowly moved out, houses demolished and the land prepared under a number of ‘legitimate’ guises. A new type of urban prairie momentarily emerges awaiting new lucrative investment. A host of informative pamphlets, persuasive council strategies and user- friendly community focused websites emerge to mediate the evictions and changes.

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Talking to students in the Guangzhou gallery many related to the things we were discussing. Guangzhou has transformed at a dramatic rate over the last twenty years and some of the changes they felt weren’t for the better. The pace of change and the lack of justice in who benefited from these developments particularly disturbed them.

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As in Salford, communities who had inhabited the city for generations are being evicted to make way for high-density lucrative apartment blocks to house the new wealthy. In our own wanderings near the river we came across such several sites of demolitions where displaced people were living in liminal public spaces.

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Below is a link to a great article examining some of the issues this blog entry touches on:

http://newleftreview.org/II/53/david-harvey-the-right-to-the-city

My own article on the housing estate in Salford can be found in the UCLan Library:

http://goo.gl/AHwz0

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