Summer House – an essay by RESOLVE Collective
A text by RESOLVE Collective written to accompany the exhibition Summer House at Brighton CCA 05 November – 04 February 2022
“…we might, indeed, almost class Brighton as a suburb of the metropolis, for the London merchant now goes backwards and forwards to his marine villa, as regularly, with more ease, and in as little time as he formerly occupied driving to Hampstead or Norwood”
– Knight’s Excursion Companion, 1851
If, in 1841, the arrival of the London to Brighton Railway prompted the New Monthly Magazine to call Brighton the “lungs of the great capital”, the advent of the same line made Croydon the first breath of this newly extended Southern body. Far from the earlier, high-end debauchery consecrated by King George IV’s Royal Pavilion, by the 1840’s Brighton had become “the most convenient spot to all the southeastern part of the Kingdom, when in search of a ‘lark’”. During this time, Victorian high society would regularly abandon Brighton in the summer months to London’s “plebeian multitude”, with the newly mobile population of Croydon keen to capitalise on the opportunity.
At odds with the mythical image of the summer retreat – Marie Shelley writing Frankenstein on the shores of Lake Geneva or Thomas More entertaining Erasmus and Holbein at his Chelsea getaway – Brighton’s commonplace summer houses, historically indiscernable from its permanent residences, have been an day-to-day extension of London’s suburban expansion. An exploration of ‘Croydon in Brighton’ reflects the shared lives, leisures, and labours their everyday communities, but also their inner workings; from the urbanising effects of Britain’s industrial complex and its inextricable colonial project to the contested relationship between the capital and the towns and cities caught in its orbit.
Considering the ordinary lives of those who sought respite and those who worked to maintain the respite of others, we can see the entrails of leisure. In Brighton’s history, the peripheralisation of the town’s factory work and light industry along the coast to Shoreham and the significance of colonial figures like that of Sake Dean “Dr. Brighton” Mahomed in the proliferation of the 19th century town’s “circuses and crescents”. Croydon’s past existence as a manufacturing centre and the colonial history of the land around East Croydon Station likewise exposes the town’s ties with empire and, consequently, industry. The summer house, a ubiquitous and yet undefined and under explored typology, weaves its way throughout these wider systems as pause; a shared, generative place for rest, but also a space that is dissociated from communities both at the centre of and marginalised by the imperial project of leisure and industry in the South coast of England.
As such, underlying connections between leisure and industry in the Croydon-Brighton annex are the grounds upon which our project, Summer House, is set. Today, despite their aesthetic differences, Croydon and Brighton are united by more than just a transport link. Familial and friendship networks commonly extend from the shopping centres to the shores and the defining assets of both places are frequently shared by a common public. More importantly, actively disempowered communities in both Croydon and Brighton are engaging in a radical new industrialism; important world-building and organising work that supports their networks where mainstream provisions have failed and wrestles to create nuanced visions out of the popular images of their areas. Focusing specifically on Black community practitioners and artists in Croydon and Brighton, Summer House appropriates the Brighton CCA as an open space for generative rest, gathering, and organising for their enduring work.
Summer House asks: what are the relationships between radical work and rest that complicate over-simplified images of Brighton and Croydon today? How can we build recuperative and organizational spaces not for visitors in these places but for those who are working to sustain their communities? In order to do this, Summer House incorporates both built and programmatic elements into the space in the CCA Gallery. A built series of work and leisure furniture in the gallery, using salvaged and borrowed materials from various industrial and commercial sites around Croydon and Brighton, creates spaces for individuals and groups to use continuously throughout the length of the exhibition. The Summer House public programme then pairs three Brighton practitioners with three Croydon practitioners for a series of open events and closed exchanges, exploring the shared value in their respective work. Brighton-based artist manager and youth leader Bobby Brown will meet London-based Ella Adu, architectural designer and member of Tanum Sound System; Carolyn Bain of the inspirational Afrofi Books will collaborate on a photo exhibition and talk with Croydon-based photographer Theo Mettle, celebrating the lives and work of Black women in Brighton; and writer and curator Pacheanne Anderson will curate a multi disciplinary exhibition of student work recognising the lack of opportunity for emerging interdisciplinary curators, culminating in a public conversation with the incomparable Croydon-born interdisciplinary artist, writer and teacher, Rosa-Johan Uddoh.