Home Sweet Home is an ongoing public art campaign by Olly Walker. Featuring a hermit crab with a coke can instead of a shell. Appearing at locations across East London, the image is one that represents gentrification and displacement. A topic well known to people living in the East End who see the city of London encroaching ever more into their lives.
The visual imagery has it’s basis in reality. In some parts of the world, hermit crabs have no choice but to use rubbish left behind by humans as replacement shells. Often due to the impact of tourism on the natural eco-system, the poor crabs can’t locate the shells that they would naturally migrate into. It means that the thrown away coke can could indeed be seen as a potential, if altogether, unsuitable, replacement.
Displacement of Communities
“I designed Home Sweet Home to represent the displacement of local communities in major cities across the world” says Olly Walker. Centered on his own experience of living in Hackney he had seen just how the local community had ever so systematically had to move from their homes. All so that new developments could take shape. Developments that would do nothing to preserve the local community infrastructure that once sustained a thriving community.
Loss of Amenities
“It wasn’t just homes that were removed but vital local amenities, bingo halls, pubs and community centres” says Olly. “These were taken down and entire areas redeveloped to meet the needs and wants of a new younger, more affluent population. This work is representative of divergent visions of what can be considered as home, and the fact that city planners did not respect Hackney residents’ flats as homes, but rather as property”.
The design of Home Sweet Home reflects the idea that the local communities amenities and infrastructure had been stolen. Taken in a way which left no option but for people to live in exodus within a borrowed system such as a Coca Cola can. Developing the work into a paste up series which would then be pasted around Hackney on the hoardings of new housing developments. “This work is a visual objection to the blindness of these developments and of local planning, and a protest against the wanton deconstruction of local communities and their bonds to place”.
Montana Gold Crabs
Further developing the idea of displacement. A further iteration of the Home Sweet Home project saw the Hermit Crabs make their home inside a Montana Paint Spray Can. Shoreditch and the East End of London is well known for it’s street art and in the 1990’s and 2000’s the street art movement bloomed in this area of the city. Artists from across the world came to paint on the areas walls. In a time before social media, it was the word of mouth buzz which would attract people to see new pieces as they appeared.
Now the area is very different. You don’t have to look too hard to see the gleaming buildings of the city encroaching. The walls which once were available for free painting have either disappeared or been taken over by managing agents. These agents still use the walls to create murals, except this time the works are completely devoid of artistic license. They are adverts and serve only to support the social media campaigns which associate their brands with the edgy east end.
Known as ‘art washing’ the activity has resulted in a massively reduced amount of street art in the area. Once popular locations now contain technically excellent but personality lacking painted adverts. On the positive side, the activity has ensured that for many artists , they can start to be paid for street art full time. Though, despite this, it is noticeable how few of them choose to add their signatures to the work.
Society and Community
The Montana Gold crab is designed to interfere with those adverts. A reminder that gentrification is not just about housing but that it runs through all aspects of society and community. The once vibrant and untamed East End is no more. The irony is that it is the reputation of the area and its history which makes the art washing possible. It couldn’t work in many other places.
Home Sweet Home is a public art campaign by artist and curator Olly Walker. All images in this article have been supplied by the artist. The words are inspired by those of Suse Hansen who has previously written about the project. To find out more about the street art of East London take a look at this post.