In her first institutional solo show in the UK, Ilona Sagar presents Correspondence O, a new installation, exhibition and publication exploring the overlooked history of the radical Pioneer Health Centre in Peckham and its subsequent conversion into a gated community.
Sagar’s two-channel moving image installation presents the complex, changing landscape of public health and the social shift towards a more egocentric, user-focused and technology-infused understanding of wellness. Following a female protagonist and group of young boys, the fragmented, non-linear narrative collapses past into present, melding architectural and human physicality with historical and experimental medical research, personal testimony and archival footage. The exhibition will also feature rarely seen material from The Peckham Experiment archives, including interview transcripts, publications, photographs, letters and other ephemera assembled by the artist.
In January 2018 a publication will be launched expanding the ideas explored in the exhibition. Conceived as an arrangement of text drawn from Sagar’s research, the publication presents original photographs and film stills, correspondence and the architectural plans for the Centre amongst other material. The book also includes commissioned essays by writer Owen Hatherley; Professor Paul Fletcher, Director of Studies in Medicine (pre-clinical) at the University of Cambridge; artist Ilona Sagar; Dr Felicity Thomas, Research Fellow on the Cultural Contexts of Health at the University of Exeter; and Dr Nina Wakeford, artist and Reader in Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London.
Correspondence O is informed by extensive research within the archives of the Pioneer Health Centre held by the Wellcome Trust and Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), and contemporary medical research conducted by the Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute at the University of Cambridge. Embodying the original collaborative nature of the Experiment, Sagar has also worked closely with residents of the present day Centre on the production and development of the work.
The Pioneer Health Centre in South London was founded in 1926 in response to rising public concern over the health of working class people and an increasing interest in preventative social medicine and social experimentation. It culminated in the Peckham Experiment, a twenty-four year study founded on principles of self-organisation, local empowerment and social connection as fundamental to health. The Experiment took place in a new, purpose-built space comprising large, airy rooms with floor to ceiling windows which enabled biologists to observe members of the local community as they took part in physical exercise, games and clubs. The Centre closed in 1950 when its innovative approach conflicted with the ideals of the new National Health Service, though its influence continues to resonate.
In parallel to Correspondence O, the South London Gallery’s young people’s forum Art Assassins are exploring the history of the Peckham Experiment with the Pioneer Health Foundation, the Wellcome Library, the Science Gallery at King’s College and community partners Peckham Vision and the Wilderness Wood, alongside a historian-in-residence, heritage experts and artists.
Correspondence O is co-commissioned and produced in partnership with The Ballad of Peckham Rye. Supported by a Wellcome Arts Award. Sound Partner: Bowers & Wilkins. With thanks to residents Tom Bell of Mowma Projects, James Hardy of Live Fit and Luke Frost of Heretic Studio for their contributions to the project.
Correspondence O will be presented at CCA: Centre for Contemporary Art for Glasgow International, 20 April – 7 May 2018.