architecture / art / People

Welcome to Little Manhattan

14 February 2024

Last week we visited the Little Manhattan exhibition, at the Croydon Clocktower, which celebrates Croydon’s striking skyline, and captures the memories of those who lived through the regeneration of the area between the 1950s and 1970s. Whilst we were there we caught up with the artist behind the exhibition, Becci Kenning (who is also our current social media header artist).

Croydonist: First of all, Croydon native or convert, and what area do you call home?

Becci: Born and bred in Kingston upon Thames. Moved here in 2001. I live just on the border of Croydon in Hamsey Green.

Croydonist: You describe your art as using a co-authored approach. How did you create the striking buildings on display in Little Manhattan?

Becci: I was commissioned by Digital Drama (Kate Valentine and Alison Ramsey.) Little Manhattan was a Heritage lottery funded project with partners including the Museum of Croydon.

Workshops within the communities of Croydon were set up for me to lead print sessions inspired by the architecture development from the 1950’s . Workshops were held at Croydon Library, South Norwood Library, Play for Progress Group, TURF projects. Over 500 prints were created over a 3-month period in Summer 2023. I then used the prints as a palette of textures and shapes to create collage print art on a very large scale. Co -authored references the many creative hands that were involved in creating that palette.

Croydonist: How did you come to work in the way you do?

Becci: From years of working within community, heritage and site-specific commissions and projects, I have developed a practice that is process led and keeps the people and places that I work alongside, very central to the creation of the art.

Art is communication, and my co-authored work is a very authentic expressive way to communicate who was involved in the projects.

Croydonist: How did you decide which buildings to depict for the exhibition?

Becci: As I was commissioned by Digital Drama as part of their wider Heritage project, the focus of the project was collecting oral history from residents that lived and worked in the area from the 1950’s and had witnessed the changes. The buildings I focused on were influenced by that interaction and working with the Museum of Croydon.

Croydonist: You work under the name ‘Art in transit’ – could you explain the significance behind the name?

Becci: As my work is very often community based, I use Art in Transit as an umbrella to bring all the co-authored work together. Art in transit was first used by me when at Art college (a long time ago!). My work always seems to be evolving and can even involve processional work. It expresses the often-non-permanent nature of the work I create.

Croydonist: Where do you create your work?

Becci: The work takes place in several locations, as it starts with the community groups that I worked with on this project. I watch and listen to participants of the workshops, to see how they engaged with the source photographs that we used. I encouraged focusing on pattern and shape, so that their work would then link together. Once I had all the prints (some physically scanned and some through photographs) I then curate the source palette at home in my studio. The final pieces are created there in digital form to realise for the large-scale print of the art works.

Croydonist: How long did each building take to create?

Becci: Once all the prints had been scanned, cleaned and I had chosen the core palette of prints (about 250) Each of the buildings then took approximately 2 full days to complete. The building I wrestled with was the St Georges tower. There were more versions of that piece, but I am really happy with the result.

Croydonist: What’s next for you this year? 

Becci: I have been commissioned to create a theatre set design for a play by Barney Norris ‘The band back together’. It tours in March/April 24. I have been using my digital collage process to create a main focus of the set. I am also working on a project on suffrage and voting rights with the London School of Economics Library outreach team and a year group in a Primary school in Purley. Artwork will be displayed for the LSE Festival in June.

Croydonist: Favourite spot in Croydon for inspiration?

Actually, two spots come to mind.

There is a place on Riddlesdown road, where you can look down on the Croydon skyline from above. I am often there early in the morning with my daughter. We have nicknamed the spot ‘Gotham’ as it is so dramatic. In fog with the red lights blinking on the silhouette of the tall buildings, equally on a clear day the buildings gleam with the sunlight and you can see the distant skyline of the city beyond. Even though I know the view so well, it always takes me by surprise how much it changes.

The other was a moment in the Whitgift Centre car park looking out over the underpass to Lunar house. There was a moment where the now older architecture sitting alongside the 21st century additions created an inspiring image. I love the lines and colour.

Thank you to Becci for chatting with me. The exhibition really is worth a visit in person, as the scale and beautiful detail of the artworks just can’t be conveyed digitally.

Little Manhattan runs until next Friday, 23 February 2024, at Croydon Clocktower, Katharine Street, Croydon, CR0 1NX.

Find out more about Little Manhattan on the following websites: Digital Drama, Art in transit, Museum of Croydon or This Is Croydon

Keep up to date with Becci’s projects on her Instagram, X (Twitter), or Facebook.

Images courtesy of Becci Kenning/Digital Drama (exhibition photos by the Croydonist).

Posted by Julia

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