The Bower in Brunswick
Written by Harry RM, 20th February 2020
When I first moved to Camberwell I lived on a quiet little street, that had a quiet little park at the end of the road. The park had some free tennis courts, a little playground and an old, unloved derelict toilet block. Boarded up and apparently abandoned this little building nevertheless had a strange charm to it but really, I thought little else of it.
That was until one day when passing the little block, I noticed something had changed, the lights were on. It wasn’t long until I found out what was going on inside: The Bower had landed in Brunswick park.
The Bower is a collaborative, crowdfunded project created by Louisa Bailey and Joyce Cronin, it consists of an exhibition space, a publication studio and a café.
Louisa has had a strong focus on books and publishing throughout her career whilst Joyce’s work centers on organising and collaborating with artists.
What inspired you to start the Bower, did you have the idea for the project first or did you find the space first?
Joyce: The idea was a slow burner that developed as we got to know each other over a couple of years. We had worked together on a couple of exhibitions when Louisa brought her curated bookshop, Luminous Books to Central Saint Martins where I organised exhibitions. In 2015, we set up Finishing Touch, a pop-up project based in a former barber shop where we programmed a series of events, screenings and performances. During that time, we found the building - a derelict old toilet block on Southwark Council’s website and applied for it. The project evolved from there and in direct response to the building and the park. There was no existing cafe facility in the park, and we thought this was important both in terms of hospitality and engaging with the community.
What exhibitions have you got coming up?
We have our first exhibition and publication of the year will be in March and is by Olivia Plender, who was born in Camberwell. The work will be a sound installation with posters produced in collaboration with the London Centre for Book Arts, who we work with a lot. The work takes its starting point from an unpublished play entitled 'Liberty or Death' (c.1913) by Sylvia Pankhurst about women’s activism in East London, the struggles to win better living and working conditions, as well as votes for women.
In May we are working with Rosa-Johan Uddoh on a radio project based around the writings of Una Marson a British/Jamaican activist, radio producer, presenter, and poet; the first black radio producer at the BBC in 1942. She is commemorated with a blue plaque on the house where she lived on Brunswick Park, the road opposite The Bower.
In the summer we are working with Irish artist Jaki Irvine and we’ll have the outdoor film festival then too which is in its third year.
Can you tell us a little bit about your publication studio at the Bower?
Louisa: The publication studio consists of a hot glue perfect binder, an electric guillotine, a machine for creasing book covers and a temperamental risograph machine. We also do a lot of printing and binding off site at LCBA where they have amazing facilities for use by their studio members to develop self-initiated print projects. We often develop publications through conversations with the artists we exhibit at The Bower. The publications offer an extensionof the artists’ practice and have a life of their own.
I started the London arm of Publication Studio several years before we moved into The Bower and for 5 years have been working as part of a network of 11 studios run in a similar way around the world from Vancouver and Rotterdam to São Paulo. The books from all the studios are listed on a shared website (www.publicationstudio.biz) and when a customer orders a book online the order is directed to the nearest studio who will print and bind the book on demand and send it out to the customer.
How is Camberwell significant to the Bower and how can the local community get involved?
Joyce: I studied at Camberwell College of Art, so it feels significant for me to be back here! Being close to that and South London Gallery is great. The Bower can only exist because of Camberwell and because of Brunswick Park. It is the park, a hidden oasis of calm and serenity off the beaten track of the busy high street that makes it special. Last year we received a civic award from Southwark Council and the Mayor - the Liberty of the Old Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell for our contribution to arts, culture and the community which really helped to make us feel at home here!
The local community can get involved by coming along to exhibitions and events - they can sign up to our mailing list on our website to find out when they are. They are all free. We also try to do as much as we can in the park - so our annual Film Festival takes place in the summer, with free outdoor screenings.
One of the best ways the community can support us is by using the cafe. We are currently open Fri-Sun, and anyone who buys a coffee, card or book helps keep us going. It may seem small, but it really matters. We are also volunteer-run and we’re always looking for students or recent graduates to help out.
What do you think of the art scene in Camberwell and South London?
There is a thriving art scene here in Peckham and Camberwell, in fact South London as a whole. East London used to be the epicentre of the London art world, but now it’s all South of the river! There are a lot of independent spaces and artists’ studios and a strong sense of community between those spaces in terms of networking and sharing resources.
What’s your favourite spot in Camberwell?
Brunswick Park of course! We also love The Chateau bar, and the falafels of course ;-)
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Thanks to the Friends of Brunswick Park, our regulars and our local Councillors for their ongoing support and encouragement!
To find more from the Bower visit their website:
Written by Harry RM