Gut Feeling and Staffordshire St present Memory Archive

Gut Feeling and Staffordshire St's workshop took South London residents for a trip down memory lane.

Peckham-based not-for-profit project space Staffordshire St kicked off its Festival of Community last Thursday, co-curated with Peckham Platform and F.A.T Studio with Memory Archive. An interactive workshop "reflecting on memories of South East London through collective experience, writing and artefacts," facilitated by Gut Feeling, a fortnightly peer-led writing feedback group co-founded by Ella Monnerat and Bella Aleksandrova.

Since launching their programme in the summer of last year, Staffordshire St have produced community-engaged events like these, working in collaboration with local creatives and communities to celebrate arts and culture. Through fostering a welcoming and conscious hub, they build on the architectural history of the gallery as a former community centre. This August, they open their doors for a Festival of Community, a collaborative programme running from August 10-13th and 17-20th to "celebrate our neighbourhood and the communities that fill its streets," with two long weekends of "workshops, events and fiestas". With the walls now sans the plush red velvet curtains which adorned their last exhibition, 'Full to Bursting,' Gut Feeling's founders returned to Staffordshire St for the third time this year to get the festivities started. 

Outside of their feedback sessions, Gut Feeling deliver workshops which engage with text, to play with alternative forms of art-making through our reflections of self and our relationship with our community. After their desire-themed textile zine-making workshop which accompanied 'Full to Bursting,' and performing at 'Bring some, seeds free,' a night of poetry hosted by Staffordshire St in aid of SE local food banks earlier this year, Gut Feeling invited us to another evening of reflection.

Accompanied by visions of community on the walls: from cyanotype prints made by Year 1 students and landmarks of Rye Lane such as Khan's Bargains and Peckhamplex, in an homage to the area; the duo urged us to reflect on our experiences in our local community in conversation with friends of friends, familiar faces, fellow writers, and residents of South. On  tables of stations numbered 1 to 5, Ella and Bella joined us to freely write down our associations to their collection of prompts prepared to poke at parts of us, in typical Gut-Feeling fashion. Through words, images, food, pamphlets and a baggie full of cigarette ends hidden amongst flowers, our collective memories began to unravel reflections. 

Mundane moments such as popping to Tesco were interwoven with pivotal parts of life; great love stories like someone's parents meeting on Commercial Way and eventually living there together, and tales of death and heartbreak. Coalesced together in biro and sharpie on vellum booklets, each group added their thoughts, overlapping on the transparent sheets that held our memories together. 15 minutes of each activity were disrupted by the familiar sounds of TFL announcing that we were now approaching New Cross Gate, bringing an end to our time at that particular station, and by the same token, our time with the other people there. Fated to us only through a piece of paper with a 5-digit number acting as our personal map to navigate around the workshop, Gut Feeling echoed the sensation of how we walk past the same places and sometimes the same strangers. At each station, we came, passed each other by, and went. At times, if the numbers allowed, we were brought back to each other again.

At one station, handpicked quotes convoluted with handwritten names of random streets in Southwark inspired us to share our associations with certain locations and build on the words of others with our own. With the mental stimuli of Sartre, Sarah Ahmed, and Sylvia Plath, to name a few, one quote in particular stuck with me: "You pile up associations the way you pile up bricks. Memory itself is a form of architecture." Thank you, Louise Bourgeois for lending me your words to encapsulate my evening. 

Whether friends or complete strangers introduced to me earlier that evening only through names, pronouns and our favourite bus routes in London, we got to share raw fragments of life, allowing each other to have a glimpse into our experiences, in all their differences and similarities. We saw each other through our individual memories of car boot sales, dinners at Persepolis, and where the taste of dried mango or the smell of an empty bottle of Magnum took us back to. We got to know about each other through memories of how we exist in the environment around us, what we've seen and how we remember it.

Through this workshop, I have left with another memory of SE that I cherish. Seeing our words hung around the gallery space — a collection of stories owned, borrowed and shared, which upon reflection show South East London to me, as a microcosm of wider questions of home, belonging, displacement and migration in the UK. This thoughtful sensory curation prompted me to remember that the spaces we inhabit are not neutral, they are imbued with rich, complex histories that have been disregarded and at times, urged to be forgotten. Through remembering, we celebrate them.

Article and photography by Faith Rubia

Check out Gut Feeling here

Check out F.A.T. studio here


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