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Essex used to be Radical!

Radical Essex is a project that sets out to re-examine the history of Essex in relation to radicalism in thought, lifestyle, politics and architecture through a programme of events and exhibitions in 2016-2017.

Aerial view of Bata Estate, East Tilbury, circa 1930s Catherine Hyland. Courtesy Focal Point Gallery

The project opens with ‘The Peculiar People’, an exhibition and event series tracing the history of ideological and social-political communal living experiments throughout the 20th Century to the present day. These include the pioneering industrial worker estates at East Tilbury and Silver End, as well as the many alternative ideological communities such as the Tolstoy-inspired anarcho-naturist colonies; each revealing Essex as a place where utopias were imagined, traditional ways of living were challenged and revolutionary politics, art, architecture and literature were born and flourished.


Focal Point Gallery’s main exhibition space will feature an extensive archival display speculating on alternative living experiments from the late 1800s to the 1980s, alongside visual art, architecture, design and literature that relate to these counter-cultural histories. The gallery’s second space will house an installation by the artist Christian Nyampeta. This will give a framework to an evolving radical library and dynamic programme of performances, permaculture experiments, readings and public discussions which extend, question and re-examine modes of non-conformity within a wider cultural and political context. 

The exhibition culminates with a shift from socialist-focused agricultural developments to the growth of the financial sector in the East End of London and Britain’s first credit card company establishing itself in Southend-on-Sea. This shifting landscape is explored through the inclusion of Cedric Price’s 1972 model of an unrealised proposal for a lightweight pneumatic roof over the pedestrian shopping area of the town’s High Street.

‘The Peculiar People’ includes artworks and archival material from Access Credit Card, Alan Kane, Jeremy Deller, Dan Mitchell and Simon Periton, Alan Sorrell, Alfred Hitchcock, Ashingdon Colony, Basildon New Town, Bata International, Caspar Heinemann, Cedric Price, Christian Nyampeta, Colin Ward, Dial House Farm, Dunton Plotlands, Eduardo Paolozzi, Essex Wildlife Trust, Gloria Jackson, Graham Burnett, Hadleigh Farm Colony, Hammer Prints Ltd., Hannah Black, Henri Chopin, Ken Worpole, Laindon Labour Colony, Lina Lapelyte, Margaret Thatcher, Mayland Colony, Milly Thompson, Nigel Henderson, Nina Pope and Karen Guthrie, Osea Temperance Society, Othona Community, Purleigh Colony, Roderic Barrett, Ronald Reagan, Silver End Woman’s Institute, Silver End, Southend Libertarian and Anarchist Broadsheet (SLAB), Spiralseed, The Peculiar People, Wickford Colony and many more.

The Peculiar People’ 19th April to 2nd July 2016 An exhibition examining radicalism in thought, politics, agriculture and lifestyle.

Focal Point Gallery The Forum Elmer Square Southend-on-Sea Essex SS1 1NB 

Bata Rubber Factory, East Tilbury Courtesy Bata Heritage Society

About Radical Essex:
Radical Essex is a project aiming to re-examine the history of the county in relation to radicalism in thought, lifestyle, politics and architecture, though a series of exhibitions, commissions, events and festivals. Programming under the themes ‘The Modernist County’ and ‘Arcadia for All’, the project will assess the crucial role the county has played in the history of British Modernism, and the utopian ideologies in unique living practices and innovative thinking in the late 19th and 20th Centuries.

The project is led by Focal Point Gallery in partnership with Visit Essex and Firstsite, taking place throughout Essex in 2016 to 2017. Supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England it forms part of the countrywide Cultural Destinations programme, a partnership with VisitEngland, supporting arts organisations to work with the tourism sector to deliver projects that maximise the impact culture has on local economies.

About Focal Point Gallery:
The gallery is south Essex’s only publicly funded gallery for contemporary visual art. It currently produces up to seven major gallery exhibitions a year. Each programme includes a series of educational activities and aims to establish ongoing collaborations with international arts institutions and a wide range of local community groups.

The gallery is located on the ground floor of The Forum building in Elmer Square, 100 yards from Southend Central Station. (Trains every fifteen minutes from London Fenchurch Street, journey time fifty minutes.) Focal Point Gallery is funded by Southend-on-Sea Borough Council and Arts Council England. The gallery also receives regular support from both organisations and additional funding from other trusts and foundations.

The Peculiar People Public Programme:

16 April 2016, 7:00pm | The exhibition will open with artist Lina Lapelyte’s (LH), Ladies, 2015, a performance-concert featuring four women from the Lietuva ensemble.

28 April 2016, 7:00pm | Artist and writer Caspar Heinemann (UK) will read from their ever-evolving pastoral poem Good Health & Safety 2015 – ongoing.

12 May 2016, 7:00pm | Ken Worpole (UK) writes on architecture, landscape, planning, design, and social history. In this talk, Worpole provides an overview of the nonconformist impulse in the Essex landscape (and its forms of settlement), and asks how this impulse fares today.

26 May 2016, 7.00pm | Under the heading of OPEN DOOR, OPEN HEART, poet, philosopher and social activist Penny Rimbaud discusses notions of community, radical lifestyle and acts of resistance.

4 June 2016, 2:00pm | Artist Christian Nyampeta (RW/NL) will address and extend his research into idiorrhythmy, a formational concept for regional utopian imaginaries drawn from early monasticism, proposed through Roland Barthes’ How To Live Together.





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