The Spirit House in Kentish Town is a shrine to community memories

Classic spirit house

Classic spirit house - Credit: Archant

Bridget Galton discovers a pop up art project dressed as an estate agent where Kentish Towners can bring memories and feelings about changing area

Artists have taken over a derelict Kentish Town shop for a month-long residency exploring development and gentrification.

Curated by West Hampstead artist Nicola Lane, The Spirit House offers a pop up “shelter” for the community’s memories and feelings about the changing area, with film screenings, installations and interactive events.

The shopfront at 18 Malden Road has been mocked up as an estate agents and painted gold to evoke the Thai concept of a spirit house, a miniature shrine believed to shelter a building’s protective spirit.

Lane, who spent part of her childhood in Bangkok says: “I have been wanting to do something inspired by the spirit houses of Thailand and Burma for some time. When they build somewhere, to be respectful to the spirits of the land they are displacing, they give them a mini house to live in. Inside are figures, the guardian spirits of the land, who they keep happy with offerings of food and presents.

“Even when they demolish a house they leave the spirit house standing and make another for the new building.”

The scheme is part of Camden Council’s project to temporarily let disused or vacant shops to local artists, start-ups and entrepreneurs.

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“We will transform the building into a shelter for the community memories and history of the area,” says Lane.

“We want community groups to bring their memories to the house. We will display them and we will encourage passers by to wander in and take part in the process of creating the Spirit House.”

Photographs and objects will hang in the window which is dressed like an estate agent “with a subtle difference”.

“We are painting it gold and subverting the iconography of their displays. Instead of property for sale, we are putting things that are not for sale, like memories and hopes for the past and future.”

Film maker Anna Bowman will show her work based around Eleanor, the daughter of Karl Marx who lived in Kentish Town. Artist group Lux, based in Waterlow Park which holds the archive of London Film Co-op will show footage of squatters in the area from the 70s. Photos and maps from the borough archive at Holborn Library will go on display, and a group from Kentish Town theatre company Clean Break, which works with women who have experienced the criminal justice system, will perform songs.

“I knew a lot of people who were involved in the squatting scene at a time when everybody was squatting. It was an extraordinary period of creativity,” says Lane.

“Wherever you see a beautiful terrace like Prince of Wales Road, they are only there because of the squatters.”

Lane is interested in creative responses to change, and cites artist Ai Wei Wei’s installation of old doors from the demolition of Ming and Quing dynasty properties as an inspiration.

“I am asking how do we deal with change collectively, how do we respond creatively to the change that we see around us? And when landscape disappears what happens to our memories?”

The Spirit House runs in partnership with Geddes Gallery and Holborn Library Archives until March 20.