LSD Magazine interviews Garfield Hackett

Overflowing with vibrant energy and radiant positivity, Garfield Hackett, the man behind the living, breathing creative matrix of Cordy House and one of the key driving forces behind the now legendary Mutate Britain has got a new project. And we’re talking some seriously next level evolution both in creative terms and in redefining the underground’s relationship with the wider world. Hardwiring London back into it’s lost consciousness and setting the spark for a dazzling new world of creative possibility, London’s Pleasure Gardens are about to explode into the throbbing heart of the capital. The original Pleasure Gardens were a sublime space where social hierarchy dissolved into the shady walkways of secret serendipity – where rampant hedonism rode free flow expression and Hogarthian downtown flooded through the blue blooded veins of polite society. Long forgotten and betrayed by the Victorian passion for all things rigid and self righteous, they were a place of uproar and euphoria; of whispered trysts in the moonlight and unbridled celebration under the flickering, glittering lamplight. Art and artifice washed through the breezes as glorious debauchery danced to it’s own fluid cultural identity and swept the perpetual party deep into the night and away into the mists of memory.

Having won the Meanwhile competition to renew the Victoria Docks in East London, the 21st Century remix as Garfield puts it is slotting into place as irrepressible ingenuity bolts raw atmosphere into place. Steamrolling the underground’s knee jerk fear of legality, negotiations with authority and the wholly subjective phantom of ‘selling out’ with overwhelming conviction, fierce integrity and an intoxicating positivity, the Pleasure Gardens are in many ways, the underground coming of age. In an object lesson in belief, talent and vision sweeping anyone and everyone away in an beautiful idea – in an intangible, infectious  vibe , the Pleasure Gardens are throwing open the underground dreamscape of sparkling creativity to a new universality , and infusing that connection with an all embracing inclusiveness that brings everyone into the heart of the headspace – no matter what their preconceptions. And entirely on their own terms. This isn’t about them and us anymore – this is about all of us and the yearning for magic and experience that unites us all. A new cultural nexus starts here

While we spoke to Garfield alone – the range of creative talents involved are extraordinary.

Just to take you back a bit – how did Cordy House originally come about

Well in a nutshell, a friend of mine told me about this space, and having spoken to a few people about the potential it had, we took it over and ended up being there for about 5 years.  The initial idea was to just do a little show in the building and things just mushroomed from there. We basically created a home for people to do stuff rather than formulating this cunning long term master plan – we had no idea how things would evolve – whether it would be major or not, but there we were with the opportunity to do something and on that basis – it was simple – let’s give it a go. It really was a case of things connecting up organically and riding their own momentum, and if you want the honest truth, it was a perfect creative hotbed because through no overt planning or specific goal beyond creating this free creative space and seeing how it developed, we got some great people together into one zone. And suddenly you had this flood of collaboration – often between people who never would have collaborated otherwise, and that idea of putting extraordinary people together and seeing what happens is exactly what I love doing.

Did that dynamic of a living, breathing 24 / 7 space create a channel of energy that no conventional gallery or exhibition could ever dream of generating

Oh yeah…completely. This was people’s lives. People were there day and night, day in, day out and rather than being limited to a show here or a show there, it was a constant, living, breathing show. There was never any sense of a 6 week exhibition that would run its course before we started to pull the next one together in that traditional linear format – from the moment we started to the moment we ended, it was this relentless, shape shifting burst of creative expression. And I say ended, but we’re planning on getting back in there at the end of the year to start doing some more stuff.

Garfield-GSo how did you then connect up with Joe Rush and the Mutoids to the point of total collaboration with Mutate Britain

I’d known of them for years and we’ve totally been in the same circles both directly and indirectly for a long, long time. Don’t forget, I’m an old geezer and from the same generation as Joe so I remember them from the early 80’s and their original projects and parties in West London. But over and above that, I think it was the timing. You know when things just HAPPEN. When things just cross paths at the perfect time and they fuse and roll from there. Well that’s exactly what this was and it totally clicked. I have to thank Spencer Style who was the person that introduced us to Cordy and the person that re-introduced us to Joe, and once we started talking, we just knew that we were completely on the same page, and it all synched beautifully. Our family have the same philosophy as Joe and the Mutoids and you always know when something really special is happening when there’s that sense of having been together for years after 5 minutes. It seemed so – it WAS so natural, and nothing we did from that point onwards felt like work in any way – borderline freaky in one sense but pure connection on every level. I think it was a great way for them to get back into London because after they had done Burning Man, they were looking for a project to do back in the UK, and Cordy House was the perfect marriage for them – the perfect place – the perfect fit.

Garfield-FYou’re dealing with pirate artforms born out of the street and the abandoned warehouses where exhibition in any defined, formal sense generally strips them of their power. How did you manage to put them in a legal, accessible context without them losing any of their spirit or integrity.

Without sounding naff– the bottom line is that whatever we do – we do it from the heart. We do things as we feel they should be done and try and present things in the way we feel they should be experienced, and once we’re passionate about a project – the enthusiasm and the honesty naturally forms a platform for that concept. Now I’m going to use this term in a strange way, but what’s actually happened is that we’ve become ‘cuddly’ as we’ve got older!! It’s a very strange feeling where 20 years ago we were the outlaws, and now, somehow – we’ve become the accepted outlaws without anything having changed on our side. People have begun to see what we do not as a threat as they once so emphatically did but as something to glory and revel in and genuinely shout about as a part of their own culture rather than this weird, suspicious bunch of nutters who are completely alien to them. As I say, we’re still doing the same thing as we were 20 or 30 years ago, but just as everything  in history and culture alike moves in cycles – I think we’re hitting a peak in that cycle again, and the key now is to harness that and really make it last. We need to make it as constructive and as positive as we possibly can – throw all our energy behind it because I believe this is one of the greatest creative forms this country has ever produced and I want the whole world to know about it.

Art has this tendency to take itself quite seriously. How critical was injecting this freestyle party atmosphere and euphoric energy into the more traditional idea of looking at creative gems on a wall or in a space.

I gotta be honest – we wouldn’t know how to do it any other way. Sometimes I wish I did – but that is the only way we know how to do things….because that’s who we are (some seriously infectious laughter here – that we only wish we could translate to the page)

Love it. Skipping straight from the party to the more formal side of things, you’ve been involved in projects as diverse as Brent Eid and Harvey Nichols in Dubai. Obviously some of those events are well outside your natural zone, so how do you respond to the wildly changing context of projects like that

I love that…. I love the challenge. One of the things that defines who I am and what I do is that I hate being in a ghetto – be that a geographical ghetto or a ghetto of the mind – anything that imposes limits. I feel that what we do should be loved by everyone and how we do it should be loved by everyone rather than just being appreciated by our crew. Everyone needs to know about it and everyone needs to experience it because it’s wonderful and I totally believe that. And doing those projects further afield is a core part of what we do because we put our own spin on things and take what we do to ever widening audiences – if the context changes – the vibe never, ever does.  I mean….. we did the Ryder Cup last year!! We were living in Newport for nearly 3 weeks underneath that big red Steel Wave sculpture and it was brilliant because there were people who would never ordinarily experience what we do – they’re not from London – they’d never go to a festival, and they were there and loving it – and that for me is what it’s all about.

Garfield-IIt’s strange because you get this sense in the underground sometimes of people wanting it to remain this kind of closed esoteric circle with the perpetual fear of ‘selling out’ hanging over anyone who wants to break out. Is that just bullshit. Should we be trying to blow a hole in mainstream consciousness.

Absolutely. Why shouldn’t we?? Why should we just sit around and talk amongst ourselves? Especially when we all know what we’re saying and we all agree with it.  Surely we should be out there trying to spread the message to people who may not instinctively agree with it, until they’re on board too. The last thing we need is to become an ever decreasing circle of self involvement – we need to spread things right out and have enough conviction in what we do to create that conviction in others. And hopefully help unlock some of their own buried creativity in the process. We totally believe in what we do and that is an incredibly positive force in itself to keep pushing understanding and inclusion.

How did you even end up entering the Meanwhile competition to renew the docks.

It was an odd one. It all started with an idea Debs from Shangri La had to design an art hotel which I came on board with alongside my partner Andrea and her husband Phil. We were going to do it in Hackney Wick but there were some problems with the land and the idea was to construct this modular, mutated art creation which people could live in. Once we ran into difficulties with the original site, some of the people from various organisations who we’d been in preliminary discussions with told us about the Meanwhile competition. Debs really drove the whole thing at the beginning and she started putting together a proposal which if I’m honest, I didn’t even know that much about until literally 5 days before we were due to give a presentation when she rang me from Thailand saying we were through to the next round so we better sort it all out sharpish! It was amazing because the other entries in the running were from these seriously major companies – after all this was a prime piece of land and a very high profile redevelopment push. Then me and Robin Collings who glues everything together met for a few days, and went to do the actual presentation with Debs in full effect via a Skype video hook up from Thailand.

We had our scraps of paper and our talking points, but the reality was that we just went in there and were honest. Totally honest. We didn’t lie about what we wanted to do – they knew a lot about our pasts which we made no effort to deny or hide and don’t forget – ultimately the final decision had to be ratified by Parliament because it was an enterprise zone so the fact that it went through with all of that on the table was massively encouraging. And fortunately, 3 members of the board from Meanwhile London had used Cordy House as a model for the regeneration of derelict old buildings which I only found out about afterwards. And they loved it – they thought that we would bring some real vibrancy back to the area while keeping it very real. What I loved about the Mutate show we did in Ladbroke Grove was that people would arrive with firmly forged preconceptions and what they’d end up seeing was the whole of London in one thriving space. And when I say the whole of London, I mean rich and poor, black white or green from every background and headspace under the sun all together in that spectacular mish-mash that is the essence of modern London.

Garfield-KExcellent. Because there is this in-built suspicion of authority with our sub culture – was this a case in point that if you’re up front, positive and have a vision, that councils and Conservative mayors etc will understand and respect it and there really doesn’t need to be this divide a lot of the time.

There absolutely doesn’t need to be this divide. I’ll hark it back to the One Foot in the Grove show. We went 100% legal there – it was totally above board in every respect – fully licensed and passed every single official hurdle and throughout we were working with the council. And that was a dramatic learning curve as we went through the initial round of community meetings and then into the license application process which was littered with objection after objection stemming from people’s misinformation about who we were. And then ultimately, getting it, doing it and winning over the community to such an extent that when we reapplied, not only were there no objections, but there was full throated support from the same people who had been so sceptical the first time round. I know this may sound all hippy, but at the end of the day, we’ve all got the same hopes, the same fears and the same worries and most people are intrinsically quite good so let’s take that as a starting point rather than mutual suspicion.

And after all the work – after all the expense – because we fund everything ourselves so there’s no question of surrendering identity to sponsorship or external interests – I could sit there when the show was in full flow and see the life that I lead being lived out in front of me. I knew everyone there  from all sorts of different angles of my own life and the show’s life getting to that point and I want all our events to have that kaleidoscope of life running through it – because that’s the world we live in.

Garfield-CHow much is this relatively new concept of doing things completely legally an intense boost to the creative potential of a show or an event when suddenly budgets and set up times offer this totally new platform of possibility

It gives people a chance to really show off what they’re capable of without the limitations of time and money. Some of the best producers out there today learned their craft in the illegal scene, but now they have the chance to push all those ideas which were just too big or too complex before and prove how good they actually are. The quality of the work was only really hinted at in the illegal past, and now that people really do have the space and the liberty to let rip, unbound by artificial constraints – the creativity is flowing. And it’s getting better and better.

How much did that mad decaying sense of an industrial, imperial past that the site in the docks has impact on the design and how much did the landscape itself kind of frame the ideas for the Pleasure Gardens

Well funnily enough, well before any of us had even heard of this competition, Robin had spied out the land from a passing train, and it was totally that feeling that inspired him about the land. He’d been sat there on the train thinking – wicked – we have GOT to do something there, and sure enough synchronicity took its course. The landscape is absolutely a fundamental element of the project’s dynamic and I see this as a seminal opportunity for our scene to show the whole world how great they are….and that for me is a buzz and a half. We get a bit spoiled because we see so many mad things that we get used to it – it is our world, but for most people, that’s not at all how it is – it’s fantastical and I can’t wait to see people experience it and I can’t wait for the rest of the world to see it. I don’t want to call it the ’growing up of the scene’ but I do think that we have the chance here to push things into a whole new stratosphere.

Garfield-DHow important was it to breathe new life into the forgotten concept of London’s Pleasure Gardens

where people in the regimented social structure of the 18th Century found a leveling hedonism and the barriers came down – the city rediscovering it’s own lost identity.
That’s driving it completely. When we started researching and reading about the old pleasure gardens – the parallels with what we’d been doing all these years just hit us and it seemed such a natural fit. It’s a 21st Century remix of a pleasure garden…

How do you see the experience unfolding for a visitor.

I don’t want to reveal too much as we’re still in the design stage, but there’s going to be something there for everyone and elements of everything we love. It will be somewhere that we feel comfortable spending every single day – and to distil it down – the best way to describe it is that we are creating our world – and we firmly believe that once we’ve built it – everyone will come and love it.

How fluid will it be – how much will someone revisiting 6 months later find new aspects and new experiences

It’ll be constantly updating – again – that’s the nature of who we are. There always has to be change and ongoing creation and mutation – partly because we can’t help ourselves and partly because we feel that if we ever stopped enjoying ourselves or finding new dimensions – the public will too. You have to consistently keep things fresh – and that was one of the fundamental characteristics of the Mutate Britain show – it was never the same, and to be honest – the happiest we were with it was about 2 days before the end.

Well that’s a beautiful thing – constant evolution and a constant drive to keep pushing.
And the public love it because they feel a part of it. I used to get people coming up to me at Mutate who’d been there 5 times which is exactly how I want the Pleasure Gardens to be – and for them to come back not just to see new physical things but for the relaxed, friendly atmosphere. We literally want to create a new cultural entertainment zone that’s not Shoreditch – that’s not Dalston – but ours – and if we make it work – it could be there for years – it could be a game changing hotbed.

Garfield-MWhat is the timeframe on it as it stands and when does it all kick off

The current timeframe on it is to 2014, but with all of these projects – original schedules rarely survive contact with reality, so I think it will end up being much more like 2015 and maybe longer. But as someone said to me from the council – the London Eye was only meant to be there for a year. We open on June 1st 2012, so from next year, we need as much involvement as possible. Anyone who’s got any ideas, suggestions, offers of help please get in touch. We’re going to need as much help and as many volunteers as possible – so please email us at the address below or contact us through the website and we’ll get straight back to you within a couple of days
Mutate Britain Website