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Monthly Archives: November 2013

East London and The Fruits of The Forage

With 56 parks, gardens and open spaces, Hackney has the largest expanse of green spaces in London. Perfect for walking the dog, sitting in the sun, cracking open a cold Tyskie or dancing to reggae blasting out of a boombox, locals and tourists alike can enjoy the glorious bounties that Hackney’s green and pleasant lands can offer.

And next time you’re strolling through Victoria Park or Hackney Marshes or indeed, any of the green space in Hackney, instead of taking a deep breath to smell the autumnal leaves, why not take a closer look at what you could eat?

Keen forager and herbal medicine student, Jason Irving says there’s plenty of edible shrubs, leaves, berries and fungi to be found in and around the East End.

Jason and some wild, wild garlic

Jason and some wild, wild garlic

“You’ll not only find things growing wildly, but there are also plants put there by the council such as rowan berries which are poisonous raw but can be made into a jelly and are great with meat,” he says.

“Hawthorn berries are also commonly planted and you can find them in most parks and can be brewed into a tea or used as a traditional medicine.”

Since moving to London two years ago, Jason started his own walks, talks and workshops to teach people how to identify and use wild plants.

There's no slim pickings on this shrub

There’s no slim pickings on this shrub

This year he has led walks around Hackney Downs, Abney Park cemetery and conducted a foraging community class with local food kitchen, Made In Hackney, but the love for foraging has been with him long before the move to the big smoke.

“I’ve always been interested in mushrooms,” he says.

“They are unpredictable with more unknown varieties. You only get to see them for a few days and then they’re gone. It’s hard to get to know them well.”

There's no shortage of mushrooms in East London.  They pop up everywhere

There’s no shortage of mushrooms in East London. They pop up everywhere

Having enjoyed walks in the woods and reading up around the topic, Jason began working for his Uncle, a rather famous forager in foraging circles and the biggest supplier of wild foods to restaurants which included clients such as The Ivy and St John Bread and Wine.

And whether the use of foraged produce in restaurants began with local ingredient demand, a prominence of environmental awareness or the nostalgia that comes with eating a dandelion that you could have picked yourself, Jason says it all kicked off about five years ago with chefs becoming more interested in using wild foods which happened to be when he started taking foraging seriously.

But it’s not only top chefs and restaurants that have got on board with the grass and roots; it’s become prevalent on a residential level too.

Chefs George Fredenham and Gerland Waldeck (The Foragers) brought a taste of the great outdoors to The Dead Dolls Club in Dalston with their entirely foraged menu

Chefs George Fredenham and Gerland Waldeck (The Foragers) brought a taste of the great outdoors to The Dead Dolls Club in Dalston with their entirely foraged menu

Jason says that people get into foraging for different reasons and interestingly enough, in urban areas, it’s not nothing to do with eating to live.

“There’s a lot of interest in the survival thing, in bush craft. Then there’s those who are into food in general; cooking and making their own stuff whilst some like the traditional herbal-health and medicine aspect”.

With recent reports of “foraging gangs” stripping Ashdown forest of the finest mushroom crop it has had in years to sell on the black market, it’s important to not only follow the legal guidelines but also be ethical with it.

He knows the rules

He knows the rules

There is yet to be an official foraging code of conduct but Jason says it is all about common sense.

“Don’t take more than you need and be aware of what plants you’re picking and what part of the plant you’re taking,” he says.

“Plants have evolved for grazing; taking the leaves is just like cutting the grass. Take care when picking seeds and fruits and it’s what the plants use to reproduce; if you take them all, it won’t happen”.

Remember, just give the cress a little haircut to allow it to regrow

Remember, just give the cress a little haircut to allow it to regrow

Areas like Abney Park in Stoke Newington are protected which means that foraging is strictly prohibited and Jason says that some parks may not be keen to see people picking their plants.

However, there’s no law against foraging for personal use and Hackney council have yet to set any guidelines. The good news is, it’s definitely not theft.

It's not an offence to forage, so no need to wait for the cover of cloud to get on with your mushroom picking

It’s not an offence to forage, so no need to wait for the cover of cloud to get on with your mushroom picking

It’s also important to not go too wild when eating mushrooms as there are many edible types that look similar to the poisonous ones. Make sure you don’t put any unknown plants in your mouth or eat something you are not sure of.

But Jason says there’s only so much you can read up about foraging before you have to take it outside.

“Foraging is something that needs to be learnt by doing. It’s far more useful to get out there and see and smell things and learn that way”.

You can learn foraging skills in this handy guide by Jason's Uncle Miles, but you'll also need to head out and get some hands on experience

You can learn foraging skills in this handy guide by Jason’s Uncle Miles, but you’ll also need to head out and get some hands on experience

And at this time of year, there’s a field of things to see in Hackney.

You’ll find a flourish of greenery along the canal, nettles and berries in Victoria Park, cow parsley and deadly nightshade in Abney cemetery – a plant used in 19th century Italy by women to dilute their pupils and make them appear all the more seductive.

Aside from accidentally eating something poisonous, Jason does warn about a current contamination in Hackney Marsh; the giant hogweed.

He's not scared of the giant hogweed

He’s not scared of the giant hogweed

An invasive species, the hogweed may cause those who touch it to become photosensitive resulting in blisters and burning skin when exposed to the light.

So next time you’re out having a polish beer in the park to the sound of Bob Marley, have a look around and see what’s up for eats.

For more information about Jason and his walks see his website.


Karin Janssen: GROWTH, The Uncanny and The Artist Run Space

From screaming mouths to kinetic tapestries, the group exhibition at Karin Janssen Project Space on Well Street, GROWTH follows Karin Janssen’s curating debut in April, and shows that she is well able to juggle her personal practise with artist collaborations alongside running the gallery.

Silent Screams in the Valley of Uncanniness #78

Silent Screams in the Valley of Uncanniness #78

Netherlands-born Hackney artist, Janssen, prides herself on operating an “artist-run space” meaning approaching her approach is more artist-to-artist, rather than as a gallerist wishing walls to be filled.

She said: “We talk about our work, why we make it, what it means to us and the materials and techniques we use.

“It is really quite an amazing thing to be able to do: to see an artist I admire and then to be able to offer them a space and work with them. It’s a privilege not many artists have.”

The Karin Janssen Project Space in full swing

The Karin Janssen Project Space in full swing

From a rather long shortlist of 25 prospective artists, Janssen chose Gemma Nelson, Anna Smith and Rachel Bullock on account of the impulsive way that each artist works, the theme is central to GROWTH.

Emergence by Angela Smith

Emergence by Angela Smith

The work is allowed to take over in the vulnerable ‘creatures’ of Angela Smith which start with the pouring of paint which is then left to run and Gemma Nelson’s obsessive, cell-like tapestries appear to breed across the canvas.

Flaps by Gemma Nelson

Flaps by Gemma Nelson

Rachel Bullock’s charcoal drawings rise up like a flowing mountain of hair and fur coats while Janssen, whose work here features a paintings of a screaming mouth, plays with abstraction and familiarity in her human body series, Silent Screams in The Valley of Uncanniness.

Morand Lesovil by Rachel Bullock

Morand Lesovil by Rachel Bullock

Janssen said: “In some of the works the artist quite literally started in one corner and then saw where they would end up.

“That comes across in the work itself; you can see the searching and the chance findings.”

But it’s not only the GROWTH exhibition that has emerged from the evolving nature of each artist’s practise, Janssen said that over the last few months, she too has seen a change in the way she works.

Silent Screams in the Valley of Uncanniness #113

Silent Screams in the Valley of Uncanniness #113

“My practise has evolved a lot in the last few months as I have taken the narrative out of my work; it is pure emotion and flesh now.

“Often I start with a screaming mouth or something that vaguely resembles a mouth and then just see what I feel like drawing or painting around it.”

Silent Screams in the Valley of Uncanniness #114

Silent Screams in the Valley of Uncanniness #114

Janssen says that after independently curating her first show, Raw Skin in April, it suddenly became apparent that she needed to “take her work to the next level” and since the exhibition ended, she’s been “exploring the depths of an immense iceberg” in her work, which she says she is “nowhere near finished”.

And with each exhibition she sets up, Janssen says that she comes closer to her personal vision and that it’s important to get the balance right.

Installation at previous show, Raw Skin

Installation at previous show, Raw Skin

“It is truly a privilege to be able to wear those two hats, of curator and artist and to be able to let them feed into each other.

“But, as much as they complement each other, it’s an eternal balancing act, and I am very aware that I am first and foremost an artist; I wouldn’t want the gallery to take over my artistic side.”

After the success of Raw Skin, Janssen felt under pressure in the same way as those releasing the sequel to a best selling novel and said the whole thing was “nerve wracking”.

Growth by Gemma Nelson

Growth by Gemma Nelson

But the proof is always in the pudding and GROWTH, running until 17 November, has given Janssen confidence and inspiration for future exhibitions.

Having set up the Karin Janssen Project Space two years ago in an old hairdressers on Well Street, Janssen says GROWTH ties in with Hackney, in ways she did not initially see.

Silent Screams in the Valley of Uncanniness #141

Silent Screams in the Valley of Uncanniness #141

“The area is changing and growing quickly, but it happens organically and there doesn’t seem to be a big master plan.

“That’s what makes it such a dynamic, lively and interesting place to live.”

Drawing on the uncanny, the beautiful and ugly in the human body in her new work, Janssen suggests her latest series of paintings create a “repulsion/fascination” in the viewer and has noticed this reaction in the community who visit the gallery.

'Silent Screams in the Valley of Uncanniness #117' by Karin Janssen, part of GROWTH in Karin Janssen Project Space, 25 Oct - 17 Nov

“Hackney has a very varied population, you get people from all walks of life here and that is really reflected in the audience of my space.

“I love that, to have to talk about the art I show here to everyone, from a highly educated art audience to teenagers who live down the road, and to see all audiences react strongly, is a big compliment.”

GROWTH runs until 17 November

Karin Janssen Project Space
213 Well Street, E9 6QU

Painting The Way To Men’s Health

Every Movember, men across the world stop shaving and let their top lip whiskers grow wild to raise funds and awareness for prostate cancer and men’s health.

But what happens if you can’t grow a moustache?

The buy-a-beard.  For the hirsutely challenged

The buy-a-beard. For the hirsutely challenged.

For illustrator, Ben Rix, 25, the jostling jibes from friends about his inability to grow a “sponsor worthy moustache” was enough to put down the ‘tache comb and pick up a paint brush.

The Movember Series is made up of watercolour portraits of iconic musicians, all of whom are well known for their moustaches.

You wanna be in my Movember gang?

You wanna be in my Movember gang?

Paintings of Freddy Mercury, Lional Ritchie and Carlos Santana all feature in the show at The Lauriston, Victoria Park Road and Rix said: “I think I may already have a buyer for Lionel!”

One of the most significant pieces in the exhibition is a portrait of Frank Zappa who died of prostate cancer in 1993.

Frank Zappa, the man with the mo

Frank Zappa. The man with the mo.

Ben is also open to ideas for those who want a bespoke watercolour mo-mento.

“I am also taking requests for Movember portraits so if people want to commemorate their tash or have a hairy lipped icon painted they can get in touch and cash from the sales will go towards the cause.”

Although Rix works in different mediums from large scale murals to animation, he chose a different style for this series.

Freddy Mercury.  He knew what he was doing

Freddy Mercury. He knew what he was doing

“I chose portraiture as I find it stirs great emotional reactions in people which is very heart warming and gives huge purpose to my art.”

Rix’s Movember Series was started last year, and despite a great response, a lack of exhibition space meant that there was no platform for sales.

But thanks to spotting an advert in his local pub, Ben got in touch with Mr Gresty, a designer and curator who comes up with creative briefs, inviting artists to get involved with the opportunity to hold their own exhibition.

Carlos Santana.  Mexi-mo

Carlos Santana. Mexi-mo.

Mr Gresty said: “When I first saw Ben’s portraits I was blown away, it was a double take moment, you can be fooled into thinking they are photographs.”

The exhibition also features eight portraits of Rix’s close friends but as the show ran into Movember, Mr Gresty asked if he could include his Movember paintings.

“It all made sense!” he said.

Lionel Richie.  Is is mo, you're looking for?

Lionel Richie. Is is mo, you’re looking for?

For Rix, painting his moustached icons turned out to be far easier than growing a moustache himself.

“The Movember paintings didn’t prove too difficult to execute, just a lot of meticulous layering and fine brush work, especially on the tash!”

The exhibition continues until 15 November
The Lauriston
162 Victoria Park Rd
To submit your own commissioned moustache icon painting see Ben Rix’s website
For more about Mr Gresty’s art projects see the website

The Hackney Society Relaunches 2009 Publication: Modern, Restored, Forgotten, Ignored

There’s no doubt that the buildings of Hackney have long served their community throughout history. From a 1930s night out at the dogs courtesy of the Hackney Stadium, to providing a place to get clean in 1904 at the Haggerston baths, the area has seen ups and quite literally downs, in its architectural heritage.

Which is something that the Hackney Society, are highlighting in the reissue of its 40th anniversary publication, Hackney: Modern, Restored, Forgotten, Ignored.

First released in 2009, the publication features 40 Hackney based authors and the rise, fall and restoration of 40 Hackney buildings to celebrate 40 years of the heritage organisation.

The new book cover

The new book cover

The book sold out at the beginning of this year and was the winner of the 2011 Walter Bor Media award for best publication.

Editor Lisa Rigg, 42, who began fundraising for the Hackney Society, said the idea behind the book was to do what the society did best.

“I thought it was important to do something which the Society had previously been well known for – its local history books.

“The book was a celebration of Hackney’s wonderful built heritage. We hope it will raise pride as well as highlight what has been lost and how historic buildings are irreplaceable.”

The Trowbridge Estate in Hackney Wick was demolished, although contested, in 1985

The Trowbridge Estate in Hackney Wick was demolished, although contested, in 1985

Retired professor and writer, Ken Worpole, 69, a Hackney resident for over 40 years, wrote the introduction to Modern, Restored, Forgotten, Ignored along with a piece on the demolished Mother’s Hospital, where he, his children and his grandchildren were born.

The hospital, built in 1913, is just one historical site that Mr Worpole said contributes to the unique townscape of Hackney.

The Mother's Hospital, Clapton Road.  Demolished in 1986

The Mother’s Hospital, Clapton Road. Demolished in 1986

“With the canal and 16 railway stations, the borough is broken up so that it could never become a kind of uniform development.

“It will always have these nooks and crannies and back streets and with such a range of buildings, going from Tudor to contemporary, it’s such an interesting streetscape and it’s partly why people like living in Hackney so much.”

Sutton House on Homerton High Street is a grade-II listed Tudor manor house

Sutton House on Homerton High Street is a grade-II listed Tudor manor house

Since 2009, Hackney has seen many architectural changes including the new overground transport system.

Hackney Society trustee, Margaret Wilkes, 67, said: “I have lived in Hackney since the early 1980s, and this change has accelerated in the last few years, with lots of young people coming into the borough to live.

“Broadway Market has been transformed, The Arcola has moved, the Rio been refurbished but needs more support and the Hackney Empire, after a rocky few years is now expanding its activities.”

Broadway Market, 1985

Broadway Market, 1985

The decision was made to keep it as a “snapshot of Hackney in 2009”, with certain updates such as the liquidation of Free Form Arts Trust, who were based in the Hothouse on Richmond Road.

With Haggerston Baths having just been announced as one of the top ten endangered buildings in the country, Ms Willes said: “Restored is the happy story, forgotten is not such a jolly subject, and the worst of all is ignored.

“The book is not only a celebration of the rich architectural heritage of Hackney, but also a salutary reminder of how fragile that can be, and how important it is for organisations like the Hackney Society to be around.”

Event details: 6 November,
Broadway Bookshop, Broadway Market, E8 4QJ
7pm, Free Entry

For more information about The Hackney Society see here.