Flo Brooks art installation in Clapham

On 25 January 2023, Flo Brooks will unveil a large-scale painting for Clapham – the artist’s first permanent public commission.

Inner Bark Out will centre on Clapham Common as a unique site of gathering, exploring the social, political and ecological threads encountered and generated in public parks.

 The work will weave historical narratives into the everyday uses of public space to celebrate the myriad ways the Common has been utilised over the last fifty years. A constellation-like painting on aluminium panels, Inner Bark Out will illustrate a lively contemporary scene of people and animals engaged in moments of play, work and rest. Referencing the many histories of occupation and activism connected to the Common, Brooks has inserted fragments of placards and ephemera linked to protests, gatherings and vigils in the area, suggesting individual and collective experiences that have shaped and informed the space over time. As the artist explains, “The painting is a kind of patchwork, a way of thinking through the Common as a complex ecosystem, with multiple, entangled and intersecting narratives. The textures, sounds and frictions of the space, its inhabitants and their histories: the white bar stool perched at the foot of a tree in the cruising ground, the earthworm recycling organic matter underfoot, someone sweeping and cleaning the Cock Pond in 1950. Traces of things left behind, things hidden from view, things left unsaid. In the mundanity of our day-to-day life, we encounter these moments and scraps of feeling that reverberate long after we’ve left.” Visual clues throughout the work will suggest some of the LGBTQIA+ and feminist histories associated with Clapham Common: Divine performing at Alternative Miss World beauty pageant in October 1978; The Women’s Peace Camp protesting nuclear weapons in May 1983; gay theatre group Homo Promos’s revival of the production Teatrolley performed at midnight in 1991; the safer cruising campaigns of the 1990s organised by queer UK direct action group OutRage; and the third ever Pride which took place on the Common in 1997.

 The artwork will also reference important heritage sites, including the Holy Trinity Church, ‘the Cock Pond’ and Temperance Fountain, a sculpture erected by the Temperance Society in 1895. Images of CCTV cameras, drones and signage will further suggest the contested nature of public space at large and the ways it has been monitored, regulated and commercialised.

 Over the past three years, Brooks has spent time speaking with Clapham residents and Clapham Common users including historians and photographers, and researching at Lambeth Archives, The Lesbian and Gay Newsmedia Archive (LAGNA), The Hall Carpenter Archives and the Digital Transgender Archive. The title Inner Bark Out refers to the 1987 poem The Laying-On of Hands by Pattiann Rogers, which speaks to a gentleness of touch between living beings, a movement from interior to exterior – the tiny aphid sitting on a leaf, the parakeet making its home in a tree, the bark of the dog and the shedding bark on the tree.

This commission forms part of Clapham Public Realm Programme produced by Studio Voltaire in partnership with This is Clapham BID. The project has been supported with funding from Lambeth Council, This is Clapham BID and Arts Council England, with additional thanks to Network Rail. Image: Flo Brooks, Preparatory sketch for Inner Bark Out, 2022. Commissioned and produced by Studio Voltaire. Courtesy the artist, Studio Voltaire and Project Native Informant.

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