Laughing Matter & Precarity Centre

They Are Here

In Residence, is a new strand of Studio Voltaire’s Ongoing Programme which supports artists with a particular focus on public and social practice, connecting the gallery with our locality over an extended period of time.

Collective practice They Are Here [Helen Walker and Harun Morrison] were the inaugural In Residence artists.

Precarity Centre was the first in a series of artworks and interventions by They Are Here during their yearlong residency at Studio Voltaire. The artists engaged with a number of social conditions specific to the gallery’s locality as well as its neighbouring boroughs. Their residency culminated in ROUTINE, a performance comprising two nights of live stand-up comedy delivered by participants, staged within Laughing Matter - an immersive installation of new works informed by the process of working with community and activist groups.

Precarity Centre, SW4 7JR 

3–6 August 2017

If a former chapel is now a gallery, what might it become next? 

Artist collective They Are Here transformed Studio Voltaire into Precarity Centre – a social project offering free workshops and activities. Precarity Centre was an experiment in what a gallery can be and what might take place there.

Precarity Centre was an itinerant, conceptual framework for an interdisciplinary programme of talks, workshops and performances, exploring and mitigating against precarity.[1]

[1] Precarity is a precarious existence, lacking in predictability, job security, material or psychological welfare. The social class defined by this condition has been termed the precariat. 

Precarity Centre was also an experiment in social space, seeding interaction between local precarious groups, the arts community and those who work in the public sector. The project echoed the multi–layered activities of community centres, which continue to suffer disinvestment across London and the wider UK. Precarity Centre was intended to be relevant to local concerns, whilst bridging diverse forms of inquiry and knowledge.

They Are Here stressed that this project was not a substitute for public services or organised campaigning to support public services. Flyers and literature advertising existing social support work was displayed on site, working with neighbourhood groups to amplify their activities.

Over a period a week Precarity Centre hosted a range of activities such as shared meals and repair cafes to An introduction to Permaculture led by Graham Burnett, How can we rethink social housing in London? facilitated by Apparata, Dr. Paul Watt and Sahra Hersi, Mental Health and the Metropolis, facilitated by psychotherapist and artist Noemi Lakmaier, Movement workshops with dancer and dance therapist Thiru Seelan and Edible Intervention: Democratic Soup facilitated by artist Magda Fabianczyk. All events were free, and welcomed everyone on a drop–in basis.

Laughing Matter 

24 May–10 June 2018

“Why does Art hate me? I never did anything to Art.” 

Homer Simpson

They Are Here expanded their dialogue with ‘precarious’ Londoners through a series of exchanges, workshops and live performances. Working within the networks of local community and activist groups, including the Indoamerican Refugee and Migrant Organisation (IRMO), Migrants Organise, The Independent Workers Union, the Latin American Women’s Rights Service and X–Talk – which support the intersection of sex workers’ and migrants’ rights – They Are Here circulated an invitation to a series of free stand–up comedy workshops led by professional comedian Logan Murray. These workshops culminated in ROUTINE, a performance comprising two nights of live stand–up comedy delivered by the participants.

ROUTINE was staged within an immersive installation of new works informed by the process, including a sculpture which took its cue from Homer’s line in Season 10 Episode 19 of The Simpsons, “Lisa, that’s it! I’ve got an idea for a wonderful art project that’ll make everyone love me again! Step one: steal all the doormats in town”.

They Are Here also presented a sound installation made up of audio recordings of friends, colleagues, neighbours and strangers laughing. These recordings have been edited to produce ‘canned laughter’ categorised by and attributed to different precarious groups.

In the context of a heightened awareness of fake news, the demands of emotional labour and a proliferation of digitally manipulated disembodied voices in public space, the artists ask ‘what is laughter without the bodies that produce it?’.

Laughing Matter was supported by Battersea Power Station Foundation, Aziz Foundation and Lambeth Community Events Fund. ROUTINE was commissioned in partnership with Block Universe. With special thanks to Battersea Arts Centre, Somerset House Studios and MayDay Rooms.

  1. The Simpsons Symposium, Organised by They Are Here – Saturday 26 May 2018
    A screening and discussion with Harminder Judge, Nina Power, Rosalie Schweiker and They Are Here. Taking its cue from They Are Here’s new work, Welcome (2018) – which is inspired by a line from Homer Simpson in the episode Mom & Pop Art (1999) – the artists convened a panel of Simpsons’ enthusiasts. Their discussions touched on The Lisa Simpson Book Club, notable predictions of the future in the series, as well as the recent documentary The Problem With Apu (2017). Attendees were also welcomed to share their favourite clips via YouTube.

    ROUTINE, an evening of live comedy by Londoners living precariously – Saturday 2 June 2018 and Sunday 3 June 2018
    This new performance was initiated with an invitation to community activist groups across London to attend a series of free stand–up comedy workshops led by professional comedian Logan Murray. Participating groups include Migrants Organise, Indoamerican Refugee and Migrant Organisation Brixton, the Independent Workers Union, X–Talk and the Latin American Women’s Rights Service. The performances comprised a series of five minute routines presented in the gallery which has temporarily transformed into a comedy club, guest compered by The White Pube. ROUTINE offered a platform for Londoners living precariously to practice comedy as a vehicle to address the politics and intersection of self–representation, migration and the gig economy.

  2. They Are Here (f. 2006) is a collaborative practice steered by Helen Walker and Harun Morrison, currently based in London and on the River Lea Their recent projects, performances and exhibitions include 40 Temps, 8 Days, Tate Modern, London; The People Behind The Financial System: Sweden, Konsthall C, Stockholm; PLEASE IDENTIFY YOURSELF, Furtherfield, London; Tantalus, Victoria & Albert Museum, London (all 2017); Precarity Centre: B5 5RS, Grand Union, Birmingham; Offshore Transactions, River Lea, UP Projects (both 2016) and Location Scouts, South London Gallery, London (2015). In June 2016, They Are Here co–founded Ayandeh Garden, a community–growing project in Finsbury Park involving young adult refugees and asylum seekers.

  3. All images courtesy of They Are Here. Credit Indre Neiberkaite, and James Allen.

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