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An Artful Deconstruction of London’s Gentrification Problem

Artist Max Colson repackages the tools of gentrification to highlight London’s urban integration issues.

A New Investment Vehicle (2015) from Max Colson on Vimeo.

When thinking of art that responds to gentrification, street art with bold, often clichéd statements and renderings of re-appropriated dollar signs spring immediately to mind. Instead of hitting the same tired banknote like so many others, British artist Max Colson takes a refreshing, conceptual approaches to London’s "regeneration," or, rapid gentrification problem, a recurring element in his practice.

Last year, Colson exhibited his project Images of Enjoyment and Spectacle with a show curated by After at the 5th Base Gallery and the Royal Institute of British Architects in London. The body of work is an appropriated infusion of digitally rendered images of planned luxury urban developments, stock images of the “target-audience” of these spaces, and the marketing texts used to promote these developments.

Re-contextualized and re-organized, the resulting installations are cynical representations of digital dystopias. Who wants to live in a city overwhelmed with yuppies traversing non-descript, artificial silhouettes of monolithic developments? This nightmare scenario, strangely familiar, becomes increasingly stomach-churning when surrounded by enormous taglines that read, “A Visionary New Community with Character Areas.”

“I’m drawn to the way that choices in the built environment are implicitly framed for us through a combination of design, advertising, and media,” Colson writes. “For me, the dramatic interest is pushing the hidden logic already out there to be more explicitly in what it wants.”

Indeed, the British artist seems determined to work with the unspoken frameworks of gentrification and urban redevelopment. One of Colson’s latest projects, A New Investment Vehicle, is a video that poses itself as a “fictional promotional reel for an imaginary set of international Chinese investors,” in Colson’s own words.

The viewer is given a tour of a digitally rendered bus as it floats in a sky reminiscent of the iconic Windows XP background. A Chinese text-to-speech voice, represented by an ever-changing avatar who is at times a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Anglican poster girl, and in other moments an equally Westernized brunette, narrates the absurd features of the bus, including gems like, “the space design will carefully encourage passengers not to be criminals” and “this inclusive design will attract the elite user, often alienated by the ‘one size fits all’ feel of existing public spaces.”

“The video is a response to the high pressure, hot-money induced demographic and income partitioning that London has gone through in the last five-to-ten years. London wasn’t a perfectly integrated place when I was growing up, but it’s leaning away from having any aspiration of doing so now,” Colson explains. “The London bus service is interesting because it’s a genuinely public and egalitarian space in its design and use. It’s frequented by many different kinds of Londoners, unlike the more expensive Tube service. The change in the video is symbolic."

Peer into more of Max Colson’s work here

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