Guided Tour: East London is the very first of the Guided Tour series. Gabrielle began this project in East London in 1998 during her year-long Watson Foundation Fellowship. Working in two venerable community institutions, Toynbee Hall and Hoxton Hall, she met long-time local community members and began, through them, to understand East London. Her eventual group of “tour guides” included teenagers from Hoxton Hall’s arts programs and seniors from Toynbee Hall’s older people’s programs. Their stories along with these photographs capture highly personal geographies at potent moments in her tour guides’ lives, as well as a moment in time in East London itself, just when people were beginning to ask themselves what changes might come with the few new businesses they saw opening on Hoxton Square.
Guided Tour : East London is one of a series of Guided Tour projects — in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, Oakland, California, East London, and Buenos Aires, Argentina. These works all focus on individuals’ lived experiences of neighborhoods as a way to understand the bigger connections to culture, ethics, and politics. The Guided Tour projects weave the local with the global, the personal with the political, and the embodied with the imagined. Uniting all of these projects is our original three-part arts research methodology to understand a place.
In East London, Gabrielle asked long-time residents she worked with if they would take her on a “guided tour” of wherever in the large boroughs of Hackney or Tower Hamlets they considered their neighborhoods to be. As the tour guide — Tendai, Daniel, Sheila, Mark, Helen, or one of the many others — held a tape recorder to record their stories, Gabrielle photographed along the way, considering how creative practice can be an important way of knowing.
Gabrielle was immersed in the neighborhood through her work at Toynbee Hall’s senior center, and Hoxton Hall’s arts education programs. These two venerable settlement houses — Toynbee being the settlement house on which the entire American settlement house movement was modeled — were an appropriate way to begin a project focused on the everyday ecologies of neighborhood.
Guided Tours in East London shaped all of our subsequent Guided Tour projects, and they were the subject of an exhibition at Abrons Art Center, on New York’s Lower East Side, making connections between two related neighborhoods. They also seeded our Playground project, and one of the tours was the subject of our artist’s book, Tendai’s Tour, shown below.
Related Projects & Articles