Sitting across

Photographer Ronan McKenzie celebrates the diverse future of London...

To mark the launch of Tate Modern’s new Switch House extension, Tate Collective London programmed a series of installations and performances around the future of visual arts. In collaboration with Tate Collective, photographer Ronan McKenzie celebrates the diverse future of London asking where do you come from? Where do you call home? Young people from all over the world plotted themselves and on a map illustrated by Tate Collective member Joey Yu that grew over the evening. Here, Ronan reflects on her experience and the people she met:

Just a week ago, I had the pleasure of sitting across from and essentially speed dating around 100 people over four hours of the opening of the new Tate Modern’s Future Late.

c. Dan Weil

c. Dan Weill

In these intimidate conversations secluded by two high back red velvet chairs in the middle of the light flooded fifth floor of the beautifully constructed new Tate Modern, any and everyone was welcomed to watch my 30 minute short film about the beauty of diversity in London, have their portrait taken and have a chat with me about London and where they’re from, then invited to stick that portrait up onto a beautifully hand drawn map by Joey Yu, with strings and post its to describe where they call home. Surprising to me, there was a queue for the whole evening of people excited to be involved in a visual project where they could have their say and show people what they love about our city.

It was incredible – yes tiring – but overwhelmingly exciting to have the opportunity to not only take portraits of people that I may never have crossed passed with otherwise, but hear their experiences of London and if not born here what brought them here. It was so interesting seeing who wanted to chat and could have kept nattering with me for hours, and who just smiled and jumped out of the chair as if the velvet was lava.

There were two American kids who slumped themselves down in my chair following instruction from their dad who was stood behind me validating their answers to my questions. “What are you guys upto in London?” – Looks up at dad, who tells them that they’re on holiday – Looks back at me – “We’re on holiday”, the tiny older sister wrapped her arm around her even smaller brother and pulled him in close as the beamed widely for the polaroid which they both stuck their grabby little hands out in excitedly as it slowly came out.

Then there were numerous amounts of people who had travelled around the world, a model booker who moved countries close to 17 times, and people who were born and bred in London but left beautiful comments like “Home is on the inside, I take it wherever I go.” There were people that spoke 3, 4, 5, 6 languages, and a Peruvian lady with her husband who moved to London a year ago and had been telling the rest of their family to move but her sister had only just visited and wants to move herself!

There were two girls who sat down and told me that they were worried I’d heard them complaining about how long the queue had been, but when I replied with an apology they instantly felt terrible and spent the rest of the conversation trying to make up for their initial comment.

Some of the conversations I had to put an end to as they could have gone on for hours. I spoke with a girl from South London about our equal soft spot for London’s homeless crisis and what could be done to change it. There was an incredibly intelligent Polish construction manager that spoke about the good and bad things about London, his critical nature was prominent and we could have gone on for hours about the referendum.

C Dan Weill

c. Dan Weill

Argentina, England, Peru, Poland, Barbados, Scotland, Mexico, America, Korea, India, Canada, Israel, Jamaica, Congo, Afghanistan, China, Hungary, Italy, Nigeria, Spain, Estonia, Finland, Russia, Ethiopia and Kenya were just few of the places that people called home. Then there were all the different parts of London, Enfield was out in full force, Hackney, Camberwell, Barking, Camden, Lewisham, Newham, Lambeth, Waltham Forest, people were from all over.

Some people had personal connections to Tate Modern, some having their first dates, first kisses, or making friends, discovering passions and more at other Lates held there. People were in London for completely different reasons; to work, to study, on holiday, to visit friends, and had found themselves at Future Late for even more reasons. One lady from Redbridge just worked across the road and saw masses of people going in and out and wondered what was going on, one Italian student tries to get to as many Lates as possible and one Korean mother with a 2 year old with the cutest little cheeks who knew how to speak Korean and English already wanted her daughter to be part of history.

I had a conversation with an Indian Ugandan GP who had recently closed her food truck business, as it was too tricky to balance with medicine but absolutely loved cooking and hoped to have more time for the food truck in the future. I discussed experiences of feeling disparate in the country that your parents are from but you didn’t grow up in with an incredibly eloquent 14-year-old Ghanaian with the most beautiful hair. I spoke music, politics, food, fashion, travel, poverty, world issues, summer, holidays and so much more with people who found themselves in London on the 17th June 2016.

The messages left on the wall were comedic, personal, memories, drawings and messages of solidarity. “Fuck Donald Trump”, “A Levels Suck”, “Be Fearless”, “Failures is just another step closer to success (hashtag)Daretodream”, “From Rome to Roman Road”, “LOVE WINS, LGBTQ” and “Vote Remain”. I didn’t think that 8 days after this beautiful celebration of my favourite thing about London – diversity – that leaving the European Union would not only be a thought that disgusted me but a reality. I’m nervous as to what changes will occur, and my love and support goes to all the people who have been made to feel unwelcome, my only message to them being that you are welcome in this city, and it wouldn’t be what it is without you.

 

Ronan Mckenzie

25 June 2016.

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