The Cineroleum was an experiment in the the potential for the wider re-use of the UK’s 4,000 empty petrol stations. ©

Assemble

Two members of Assemble, a collective who won Turner Prize in 2015, Lous Schulz and Lewis Jones, visited Korea in the second of week of December in order to participate in this year’s Cultural Enrichment Forum as speakers. They explored two very different cities-Seoul and Namwon- to share their experiences.

About Assemble

Assemble are a collective based in London who work across the fields of art, architecture and design. They began working together for The Cineroleum, a self-initiated project that transformed a petrol station on Clerkenwell Road into a cinema, in 2010. They are comprised of 18 members. Assemble seek to actively involve the public as both participant and collaborator in their work. 

In 2015 they won Europe’s most prestigious contemporary visual art award, the Turner Prize, for their regeneration project in Granby, Liverpool. They were the first collective and the first architecture or design studio to win the prize with an age range of 26 to 29. Charlotte Higgins, the chief culture writer of The Guardian, wrote that ‘to some, it seems like a monumental category error, like giving the Man Booker to, say, an oral poet.’

Granby Four Streets

Until their nomination, Assemble had never actually considered themselves to be artists.

Assemble’s Granby Four Streets was the result of a 20-year battle by local residents to save a series of terrace housing from demolition. The project presented a vision for the area that built on the hard work already done by local residents: refurbishing housing and public space, and providing new opportunities for the area’s residents. 

Formed in 2010, Assemble has developed a reputation for collaborating closely with the communities that inhabit their projects. Granby Street was once a lively high street at the centre of Liverpool’s most racially and ethnically diverse community. Following many attempted regeneration projects, all but four of Granby’s streets were demolished, and the community was scattered across the city and beyond. Following the resourceful actions of a group of local residents, a campaign was launched to ‘reclaim their streets’. “Over two decades they cleared, planted, painted, and campaigned,” explains Assemble. Eventually forming the Granby Four Streets Community Land Trust, the residents hired Assemble to devise a vision for the area, which could bring the empty homes back into use as affordable housing.

Their response nurtured the ‘resourcefulness and DIY spirit’ of the area and included the renovation of 10 houses and the creation of new social spaces, alongside local training and employment opportunities. All work was delivered in partnership with the local community. After sitting empty and neglected for over 30 years, new residents have now started to move into the renovated houses, breathing fresh life into the community. Until their nomination, Assemble had never actually considered themselves to be artists. "We were mostly confused,” they told The Observer’s architecture critic Rowan Moore of their surprise nomination in an interview in November 2015. “I think the nomination in some ways created a quite uncomfortable sense for us in terms of our work here [Granby] as there was suddenly this rarified eye coming to Granby and looking at people’s lives and the way they occupied space and their activities, which had been so organic.” Assemble member, Fran Edgerly, explains in the Tate video above.

An illustration of Granby Streets
An illustration of Granby Streets ©

Assemble

First collection for Granby Workshop ©

Assemble

Granby Workshop

As a means of continuing their support of the community in Granby, Assemble set up the Granby Workshop, which sells experimental, handmade products for homes, all of which are made in the local area. Each product they sell is unique and all profits go back into the business, which trains and employs local people. For their contribution to the Turner Prize 2015 exhibition the collective built a showroom displaying the products of the Workshop, which visitors were invited to buy to help fund the launch of the project. 

What's Next?

When we met them in Korea, they seemed not to be bothered by all these spotlights. They were asked what their biggest challenge was during the round table at the Headquarters for Regeneration of Areas near Seoul Station. They hesitated for a while but then Lewis Jones answered that how to make their work sustainable for all of the members is what they are still working on, which didn’t sound very distant from where we are.

For them, many projects are still on-going. They acquired their own HQ at Sugarhouse Studios in east London after winning the prize as well as a number of commissions including Goldsmiths Art Gallery, the new gallery that will be built out of a network of existing spaces within the former Victorian bathhouse at Laurie Grove. On the other hand, there is neither a starting nor an end point for many of their projects. We can tell it from Granby Four Streets and Granby Workshop still under Live Project on their website. 

 

This is the first part of a series of two articles by Kyu Choi, Creative Director of UK/Korea 2017-18, and Yunung Kim, Projects Manager of UK/Korea 2017-18, who accompanied Louis Schultz and Lewis Jones while they were in Korea. 

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