Visiting Piccadilly Community Centre is probably one of the most disconcerting encounters with ‘art’ that I’ve ever had. This place does what it says on the tin: it’s a fully functioning, socially enriching community centre bang on Piccadilly in the space normally occupied by Hauser & Wirth’s up-market gallery.
There’s a canteen, a prayer room, charity shop, access to the internet and a constantly rolling program of classes to enhance one’s physical and mental well being – hula hooping, laughter sessions, zumba, aromatherapy; you pick your therapy. More than that: there are people. Yes, actual humans who occupy the space not as paid up components of an installation but of their own volition. Members of society, be that the Big Society or Broken Britain, depending on your political leanings when visiting the space (I feel pretentious calling it a gallery now), who are making the most of the opportunities available in a place which wouldn’t, I imagine, usually draw such a crowd.
Were it not for my familiarity with the original gallery and some judicious Googling, the fact that this whole enterprise was created by artist Christoph Büchel could have passed me by. Büchel creates fully immersive, life-like experience installations that do their best to hide the traces of their contrivance. Hauser & Wirth has been rebuilt from within to create the buttermilk coloured corridors of your average community space. It even smells authentic.
Detractors have snipped at the Piccadilly Community Centre for mocking those who use and indeed need it. But as a visitor from the art world (rather than the real world), creeping round the place with my sense of irony on full beam, trying to intellectualise the motives behind the work, I couldn’t help think that if someone here is being treated like a twat, it’s not the people enjoying a cup of tea and a chat over an IT class in the canteen.
Is this repackaging of reality actually art? Should we treat it with suspicion or stick our names down for the next belly dancing class? Whether you treat it as virtual reality or actual reality, the Piccadilly Community Centre is certainly an engaging space whether you’re challenged by it or find solace in its offerings. For the time that it occupies this place within the cash-rich yet community lacking area of Central London, it’s definitely worth exploring.
-- Laura Bushell
All Images courtesy Piccadilly Community Centre
Tags: immersive sculpture mixed-media installation performance, conceptual