A community-led archive constructed by artist Pat Wingshan Wong in collaboration with the fishmongers at the Billingsgate Fish Market at Canary Wharf, London. The archive engages with the idea of barter physically and symbolically. It includes memorable objects ‘bartered’ by the artist using her observational drawings of the happenings in the space, as well as videos that documents stories and memories of the people. It preserves the collective memory of the Billingsgate community, and challenges the domination of capitalism, highlighting and questioning the ways value is assigned through culture and society.
Over the past two years, Wong has immersed herself into sketching the Billingsgate Fish Market every morning at five o’clock from Tuesday to Saturday, thus opening up dialogue with the fishmongers. As an early exploration of individual and communal identity, she recorded and documented the fishmongers’ stories, and witnessed their strong community bonding. However, the City of London Corporation announced a relocation plan which will move the market to Dagenham, an industrial suburb, in the next five years due to the rapid city development at Canary Wharf. Wong has since sought to construct an archive that involves the fishmongers in order to give visibility, respect and compassion to the invisible or marginalised communities.
Wong created highly personal sketches and 3D-scannings stemming from individuals’ lived experiences, providing an innovative perspective to conventional institutionalised archives that prioritise tangible objects over ephemeral stories and affects. She engages with the fishmongers and incorporates their voices into the works based on transparency and mutual trust. In Barter Archive, Wong transforms passive artwork creation into active socially engaged practice, and at the same time probes the ways in which ‘value’ is defined in our society amid urban development. Through bartering her drawings with the fishmongers’ memories, the artist determines what records have enduring value with the community who may not otherwise engage in archiving, denoting a bottom-up and grassroots method of re-examining history.
This project is supported by Tower Hamlets Council Arts, Parks and Events Team.
Curator: Sandra Lam
The artist used her observational sketches of the Billingsgate Fish Market in exchange for memorable objects of the fishmongers.
Once the barter has successfully been conducted, the artist will have a 15-minute interview with the fishmongers to document their stories with photographs and videos.