Unearthed Underground: is there still space for subculture?

Liz Glynn has uprooted a metaphorical sewer system and transplanted it onto the rooftop of a multi-storey car park in south London.

The network of tunnels fans out across the roof deck of the car park in Peckham, the annual summer home of  Bold Tendencies, the arts organisation which has been commissioning site specific art work, architecture and performances for the space for the last 13 years.

When Liz Glynn was invited to create a piece for this year's show under the theme Fiction, she tapped on London's rich punk history, as well as its infrastructure to tell a story of vanishing subsculture. For Unearthed Underground (2019) the American artist drew specifically on Joseph Bazalgette’s sewer system, which was created after a protracted public campaign to eliminate the disease and stench of open waste disposal, and finally put to use in 1875. “I don't know exactly what got me into the sewer. But I discovered all this information about the the ‘Great Stink’ in London,” says Glynn. 

For Glynn the sewer is a metaphor for the underground, communities of the unheard and ignored, and the installation is a very physical disembowling and exposing of these issues. “This thing that was just such a glaring physical problem everyday took 35 years to correct,” she says. “I feel like it also may give some hope that the some of the more dire situations, whether it's Brexit or Donald Trump or so forth, could potentially change." 

But this feeling of optimism is coupled with concern about the "straightening" out of cities in an aesthetic and ideological sense, leaving no room for the underground movements that Glynn feels shaped her as a young artist. “Talking to younger artists, not just the aesthetics of an underground movement, but even the idea of kind of the agency to start one like – does that still exist? Or is that completely disappeared?," she wonders. "I think as someone who was formed by the sense of being an outsider, it makes me uncomfortable that that doesn't exist for other people and also thinking about the space of society, having this kind of wider discursive arena is something that continues to be important to me."

She sees this rooting up of subculture reflected in the architecture of the city, noticing a profound change in LA, where she first moved in 2008 to study at CalArts: “There's something actually kind of creepy about being in a city that used to have kind of a lot of character and subculture, and being somewhere where everything is it's just clean and glassy.” It's here where LA and Peckham converge, with gentrification also putting pressure on the artist community that has grown up around Camberwell and Goldsmiths art colleges – and threatening the closure of Bold Tendencies itself as the carpark faces redevelopment. 

Inside the tunnels, Glynn has placed objects symbolic of the underground's power – the accoutrements of a dinner party said to have taken place in the sewer on its completion, and a well-worn leather jacket. 

Unearthed Underground
 stands amongst newly commissioned works for the Fiction show, such as Matt Copson’s Agape (Infernal Cityscape), an airbrushed fairground-like prop, as well as works from previous years including the wavy snail-trailesque lines of Richard Wentworth's Agora (2015). 

Unearthed Underground
Bold Tendencies, London
Opening dates:
Until 21 September 2019

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