Safe creative space in London: Art Guard


Written by Lia Boscu.

In the past year, since arriving in London, I’ve tried to negotiate this conflicted distance through my work. Collage has been my medium of choice as it allows me to draw and redraw the borders of images and question the validity of their intended statements. The resulting images are my attempts to create possible structures for expression and positive discourse to fit in the existing holes of the dominant narrative.

Collecting images and found materials takes up physical space. When I was faced with paper and works piling up and the daunting prospect of having to juggle all surfaces in order to continue working out of the box room I was inhabiting at the time, I decided it was time to move out. London is not kind to anyone looking for accommodation on a very small budget, so I didn’t set my hopes up.

In one of those fortunate moments of online browsing, I came across Art Guard and the idea of becoming a different kind of property guardian: an art guardian. On the same lucky streak, I got the last available room in their building in Wood Green – the only room on the first floor, with the rest of the vast empty space to be used as a studio. We could to take up as much space as we wanted and needed, but also welcome any other guardian wishing to work in that area of the building as none of us had exclusive monopoly over the communal space outside our rooms.


Ad-lib set

Ad-lib set on first floor. Photo by Raluca Branea.

Supported by the increasing demands for living space in London and the continuous aestheticization of disused, abandoned buildings marketed as urban ruins and environments loaded with creative potential, living as a property guardian has grown more fashionable and is therefore, increasingly expensive. Art Guard is a positive alternative to the current trend and I believe it is a model of living that can benefit art practitioners living and working in any cultural capital with high average rents. More than providing affordable studio space, it creates the space to talk about work and process, encouraging exchanges that arts education and more formal settings sometimes lack.

Art Guard, a non-for-profit initiative of The Mill Co. Project, aims to create a property guardian network that makes a positive social impact by creating an affordable accommodation community for people working in the arts. Whereas most guardianship schemes are profit-driven, looking to rent out any space deemed liveable in a property, Art Guard focuses on creating a balance between the living quarters and the open communal areas used as shared studio/work space by the live-in guardians.

From the application form (which focuses on gaining an idea of your field of practice, previous living experience and suitability to become an art guardian) down to the management of the building to host events that generate discussion, creating a community that feels safe and supportive enough to aid with further development is at the core of this project. It’s about how living with other practitioners can impact your own practice, generate relevant conversations and help build up your professional network.

Top Floor Art Guard

Top Floor of Art Guard site in Wood Green. Photo by Will Gresson.

From June to late September a former office building in Wood Green became Green Rooms – the pilot site for Art Guard. This site is currently being redeveloped and refurbished to become the first artists’ hotel in London to provide cheap accommodation and an art and exhibition space on the top floor. During my stay there, we used every area of the building as an impromptu studio – turning spaces into film and performance sets or using them to finish large scale works in progress. More so, Art Guard hosted a summer residency for GoodDog Theatre Company and other events such as “Terra Firma: On Magic and the Reconstruction of Reality Beyond Nihilism”, an Art/Work Association talk by Federico Campagna and the official launch of Asahi 4.0, the HARD-CORE new cutting edge curating robot.

This informal and welcoming setting allowed connections to be developed organically, based on shared interests; it created the necessary links for further collaborations to unfold and different networks to be explored. A recent example of that is the collaboration between GoodDog and Aya Theatre Company which resulted in “The Last Songs of Lucan” – a short film based on Baudelaire’s collection of prose poems “Spleen de Paris”.  Shot on location at two of the Mill Co. Project’s sites and other various locations in London and Paris, the film premièred on December 5th at Green Rooms in the middle of a full-blown construction site with an amazing sound score performed live by Jamie Misselbrook.

At the moment, Art Guard is working on finding their next sites to secure throughout London and expand their guardian community.

Late September 2015 at the Green Rooms

Late September 2015 at the Green Rooms. Photo by Raluca Branea.