To Dream, to Collect

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By the time you read this, the games might have already closed on Hxyxyxy Road, London.

Just because every house rented out by social housing cooperatives needs to be evacuated and re-assigned after the tenant passes away. That’s the case with the late Gerry Dalston’s house: a two-rooms + kitchen, ground floor abode with a backyard stretching all the way along the Grand Union canal. Whatever the initial conditions may have been when Dalston moved in 36 years ago, returning the place to such state now would not be so easy.

They’ll be astonished by what they’ll find in my garden in years to come. It’ll be like Pompeii or something — Gerry’s Pompeii 

(Gerry in 2014 during an interview with neighbor Roc Sandford)

 

Dalston house from across the canal back in August 2008.

 

Gerry was Irish. He served in the military. He was raised Catholic. And he always spoke of himself as a gardener — which he was, and a pretty impressive one. Yard after yard, he beautified a pretty long stretch of shoreland, part his own, part his neighbors’. He stuccoed tiles, inscriptions, and ornaments all over the back wall, then used it as a backdrop for several statues of more and less known historical figures.

That was all that the world could see of his place, until last month. And nobody knows for how long still.

To cut it short, the whole public side of this story is about what nourishes a community, and if truly we have to pick between the need for a roof or the need for places that inspire our imagination.

Ideally, we should have both — an affordable house for the next family in line, and Gerry’s Pompeii for the community and the next visitors.

Even more ideally, Gerry’s Pompeii would be protected by a large number of donors and social institutions, in a rare act of expansion of public space not driven by commercial speculation or cultural appropriation.

Interest in Gerry’s Pompeii is sprouting, from huge press and big cultural names, to almost a thousand visitors accompanied every day by curator and Pompeii’s custodian Sasha Galitzine — who first enjoyed the discovery of this world guided by Dalston himself — and her fellow pioneers, artist Niklas Gustafson and Ruthie Falconer.

The ongoing crowdfunding campaign is a very detailed and heartfelt promise, so here it is — and seriously, give it a thought — the clock is ticking, and every little helps.

 

 

Now, to the personal side of all this: the actual experience and thoughts that I went through by visiting this cornucopia of DIY model palaces, hand-painted photographs, and concrete garden gnomes-turned-royals.

 

    

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nobody can tell exactly what will happen to Gerry’s Pompeii, but I believe that if you’re in London, these are the best days to visit it — it still feels as a genuine testimony of a member of a community, his public generosity and his private endeavors. It’s a curious, anthropological deep-dive into the tastes, the interests and the obsessions of a good neighbor.

It’s the real thing, at least until now.

Big Art interests are closing in on the place, and at least for now the Pompeii is not a “thing” yet — which is good, given how much fetishizing can go around dead “outsider artists” (often in lieu of living and struggling ones) and how the C-word (community) is often abused and perused. Before those clouds arrive, go visit this authentic gem.

 

In some way, even if the place were to be evacuated, Sasha, Niklas, Ruthie, and also locals like Roc Sandford have already saved it.

This long month during which they worked shifts to show the treasure they found has been what the Pompeii deserved most — a resolving goodbye to the man and a long, astonished hello to the craftsman nobody really knew.

Egyptian Pharaohs built their belongings for the afterlife throughout their entire existence, then took them all down to the tomb with them — Gerry did the opposite, and left it all ready for us to discover. We have no way to know whether he acknowledged the existence of an art world out there or not, and how such information shall be used in deciding what to do with his house.

Speaking of houses — we live in borrowed places. The majority of people live in rented homes, which is places with an expiration date, where we think twice before even drilling a hole and where we definitely do not make stuccos, and transform walls as Gerry did.

In hindsight, Dalston seems to have been driven by a visceral need to perpetuate outside of himself the intimate resonance that certain (countless, actually) historical facts and characters had on him, inside his theater of the mind.

His works are the works of a blissfully obsessed mind, going back to the same subjects over and over again with sweet morbidity.

Those houses and statues and pictures hit you all at the same time as you walk in, like cakes and sweets in a bakery. Colors, shapes, letters, faces, horses, miniatures — it’s a visual bomb inside a place that is as British as British can be.

He didn’t make his works to prove a point, he made them for the sake of making them, every night of his late life — he did all this just because, and that just because is the most fascinating mystery of all artists.

Until his recent death, Gerry created an entire world. His wild imagination drove him to create a complete kingdom inside the walls of his housing association house, out onto the garden and a large stretch of the canal.

Walking through the sculpture garden is cringing and delightfully peaceful at the same time.

Take the time to accustom yourself to an aesthetic that doesn’t try to be “aesthetic” at all, or at least not in the “formal” terms that most people are used to. As vernacular as it could be, bear in mind that the Irish are (supposedly) “the men that God made mad, for all their wars are merry, and all their songs are sad.

Three different layers of time converge in this place: there is historical time, scattered in shrapnel of distant battles and models of generals, musicians, and many more characters; then there are chronicles, of times current and past, all revolving around Gerry’s passion for the lives of Royals. And finally, there is personal time, Dalston’s own individual and subjective dimension, paced according to a purely individual measure, like circles in a section of a tree.

I have a feeling his statues somehow marked the passing of time. One figure after the other, Gerry’s time went by but simultaneously gave more time to historical figures to emerge from the past. Time takes and time gives.

I feel Gerry’s Pompeii has a teaching for all those who feel like they want to make art but are blocked by apparent obstacles such as time, space, and instruments.

Gerry’s traces invite us all to come up with our own unique definition of time, one that frees our minds and hands so we can live by it — and create with it.

For artists, this means to try and work with posthumous wisdom; to have the guts to look at death as a half-time bell and not a final whistle, and let go of the fear of not getting “discovered” in time.

Suddenly, life becomes much, much longer. As will hopefully be the life of this very special place.

If you want to visit it and think you can help with the rescue operation email gerryspompeii@gmail.com

 

Stay Tuned on Kooness magazine for more exciting news from the art world.

 

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