I was invited by artist Kate Genever to write about the work she undertook within Jaywick, Essex. The work seeks to talk of the work, informed by conversations with Kate and visiting the site and work first hand, while also offering a personal response to ideas of representation and place.
Stories around place are slippery. You pick a start and end point, key coordinates along the way (omitting others) and create a story. To make sense of. To articulate a point. To sell. To win votes. Those with power get to set those stories, more often that not. Those with reach.
Nationally Jaywick is most famous for having received title of most deprived town in England in 2010 and 2015, in accordance with Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government Indices of Multiple Deprivation. A measure calculated through a consideration of metrics around: income, employment, education, health, crime, barriers to housing & services and living environment.
And so, revolved around what Jaywick lacks and the by products of this lack, has seen parasitic journalists, documentary makers and politicians flock to its shore to sell stories to and of Jaywick.
Channel 5’s Benefits by the Sea, the case in point. A show that curates and offers up particular line of vision into Jaywick for audiences: mud tracks, talk of heroin addictions, sound bites of residents that speak: Jaywick is where you come to die.
A viewpoint that feeds into and supports classist narratives, propped up by a failure to ask why. A viewpoint that has detrimental effects on the well-being of residents and of the town at a collective scale.
Local resident on Jaywick coverage “ BAD NEWS SELLS, GOOD NEWS DOESN’T”
Kate arrived into Jaywick drawn in by a very different hook.
Interested in Jaywick, like the others’ – Heacham, Uffington and Whittlesea Mere – for holding this slippery land-water status.
Jaywick, last of the plotland developments , home to residents living in what should have been temporary, flat pack holiday houses.
A 1930’s, once Utopian, retreat for working class Londoners.
Built on land that was once salt marshes and that, if it weren’t for human intervention – which to date includes sea nourishment programmes, a mammoth sea defence wall, sea breaks – would now be waterlogged.
A hook that drew in, yet what is at the essences of Kate’s work is her method, her way of working.
“Let’s investigate what’s going on, ask some questions, see what’s coming out and, respond”
And so, in this process of spending time. Chatting. Getting to know. Her work in Jaywick had to shift to become about something else, to tell and draw out the real story that she saw.
‘We must do battle where we are standing’ pays tribute to the battle fort by the local people of Jaywick: against the sea, against the council (trying to demolish the site); and by the tower, a forte.
It cheers them on, going forth.
Her work, sees and captures the ingenuity is residents who’ve, responding to a heighten seawall blocking their sea view, resolutely build another story.
Negotiated mud tracks for roads, and – despite flooding and several evacuations – remain, all the while nailing signs to doors reading: “why worry”.
The story here,as she saw it, were people’s everyday micro adaptation, humility their expertise in negotiating these untenable lands that they will not leave.
Her response – the seeing flag raised atop the Martello Tower – gives materiality to this defiance.
The seeing active eye (encapsulating the eye of all local peoples) that looks back at the sea: this is a two way battle.
Postcards celebrate these micro defiance, acts of refusal and resistance .
PATIENCE, ENDEAVOUR, WE CAN BEAR IT.
Words appear like placards to the sea, read like mantras spoken by residents over years.
Collage made by local people in workshops draw out themes of people power, of a difference between perception and reality.
The work tells stories of local experts in their lands with particular skills, knowledges, insights – soft and hard, mental and physical – for negotiating these terrains.
And, as the world looks ahead to climate change, as people we can learn from where these land-waters will be an increasing phenomenon.
Today, the battle for the story of Jaywick continues.
Residents produce documentaries to show their own lived experiences. Sensitive arts practitioners come in enable more people to do much the same.
As Jaywick moves onward, its regeneration underway, let’s hope those working on it come with eyes like Kate’s. That starts with looking.
That builds on what is there, rather than comes to fix and make ‘look right’, in accordance with their blunt measuring sticks.
note: Thanks to kind friends who read through drafts and made helpful comments!