The Memory Exchange

The Memory Exchange was an Art Licks' supported project run by Flora Bradwell and Lily Hall as part of Space Makers' Empty Shops initiative in Brixton Village Market. Despite the project drawing to a close, we now look back over a selection of the archive to see the outcome and response of local traders and the community.

at Brixton Market

Art Licks interviewed The Memory Exchange last week to hear more about the project and the expected outcome.

AL: Starting off on a simple question – what is The Memory Exchange [TME], how did the idea first develop?

TME: The Memory Exchange is a ten-day pop-up installation in an empty market unit in Brixton’s 1930’s arcade, Brixton Village. It’s an interactive project that celebrates the Market’s history, contemporary life and potential future.

The idea for The Memory Exchange developed in direct response to a call for submissions from London Associated Properties (who own the market) the Space Makers Agency (who facilitate the creative use of empty shops nationwide) and Lambeth Council. They were looking for a mixture of creative projects and new local businesses to re-occupy twenty empty market units in Brixton Village, in order to regenerate the market and bring people back to the area. To pull people in they were offering the units rent-free for up to three months.

We went to look round the arcade on a freezing afternoon in November, and decided it was an ideal location for the kind of project we had in mind. We found some of the empty units held traces of their previous use and owners – floral tiles and taps in an old salon, a jewelers with it’s original 1930’s glass window cabinets, or a textile stall called ‘Taj Fabrics’ with a painted sign still above the unit. We decided then that we didn’t want to instigate a project that would whitewash over the market’s history. We thought perhaps it would be more interesting to create something that responded to the market’s present character, its past life, and to the fact that it is now on the cusp of change.

So The Memory Exchange is a living archive, where documentary material from Lambeth Archives is presented inside our unit in the style of a wunderkammer – a cabinet of curiosities. Historic images of Brixton and the Market are projected on the inside of the original 30’s shutters, there are photos and press clippings dating back to the 30’s lining the walls, and we are inviting market stall traders, local residents and members of the public to come in and view the exhibition in exchange for their own memories of the arcade.

AL: How did the project’s first week go? – have people reacted well to you being in the market?

TME: The market traders have been super friendly, curious, and (almost!) unanimously interested in the project. We’ve gathered some bizarre stories but also a strong sense of underlying tensions as the market has changed rapidly over the past few decades. There are a few stalls that go back two or three generations – the fish mongers, the butchers and the wig shop! But other units have had businesses coming and going regularly. Ours used to be a fruit and veg stall.

AL: The project interacts with the local area, in particular those who work within the market – are you also working with artists from the local area?

TME: Yes. Over the weekend we invited a local artist from ASC studios on Stockwell Road to lead a workshop for children and young people in the market, using The Memory Exchange as a base. We’ve also invited a local storyteller, a photographer and drama students to be involved in the process of gathering and documenting stories from the market’s history.

AL: What has been your favorite story so far?

TME: The Fishmonger across the market from The Memory Exchange has been telling us stories from his childhood, as his father ran his stall before him and he grew up around the market before taking over the business. In the seventies there was a trader who owned a parrot – a huge African Blue Macaw – that apparently swore all day and insulted his shoppers. He apparently sold the parrot to someone, for £100, and a cage for £50. But it swore so much they brought it back – he told them he unfortunately couldn’t give them their money back for the parrot, but he could reimburse them for the cage. So he made £100 out of it. Then he’d sell it again and the same thing would happen…

Then there’s a story of a man who used to come and just sit and play tunes on the spoons every weekend on a Saturday, and a guy who always danced the whirling dervish in the entrance to the market. Also, Lulu the prostitute – shouldn’t tell that one!

AL: What do you hope will be the final outcome of the project:

TME: We’ve aimed to capture the imagination of the traders at Brixton Village as well as the general public passing through the market. We will deem The Memory Exchange a success if we manage to generate and maintain a buzz on each of the ten days and gather a substantial body of material for our final display, and to pass this on to the Lambeth Archives.

Another measure of the project’s success will be attracting media interest in the project on Thursday the 17th, to raise the profile of the market, and having Art Licks as a sponsor is great. The greater number of people that we can entice to The Memory Exchange who were previously unfamiliar with Brixton Village the better.

AL: What will happen to the work when the project finishes?

TME: Lambeth Archives are keen for us to donate edited footage from The Memory Exchange to their collections. We’re also looking to instigate future projects in other London markets, to develop ideas from this project in new ways.

The Memory Exchange, Conversation between Hatty Morris and Nicholas a local residentThe Memory Exchange, Conversation between Laura Herbert and Jennifer White, local resident and shoppThe Memory Exchange, Conversation between Lily Hall and Gareth, the fishmonger at BrixThe Memory ExchangeThe Memory Exchange, Gary the fishmonger in conversation with Flora BradwellThe Memory Exchange, Jennifer White in conversation with Laura HerbertThe Memory Exchange, George at Kumasi Market, Afro Carribbean shopThe Memory Exchange, Nicholas in conversation with Hattie MorrisThe Memory Exchange, Mr LongeThe Memory ExchangeThe Memory Exchange, shop owner

Opening Times

Brixton Market
Unit 72 (on the corner of First and Fourth Avenue in Brixton Village) Coldharbour Lane