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Decima Gallery, Hackney Wick

Decima Gallery, Hackney Wick

To get to the Decima Gallery in Hackney Wick, you must walk through a deserted industrial estate in London’s notoriously crime-ridden Tower Hamlets borough. In the middle of an abandoned peanut factory, there is a blue metal door with the word “Decima” scrawled across it in dripping white paint.

When the door rasps open, the bustle of life is quite a shock after the empty streets. People of all ages wander across a central courtyard. In the corner, a rack of art magazines stands out in the rain – the first clue there is a gallery nearby.

In fact, the Decima Gallery seems like more of squat than a place to exhibit art. White board walls – covered with photographs by local artist Stephen Gill – swing back on hinges to reveal tiny makeshift bedrooms in the space beyond. There is a toilet and cramped kitchen, where dirty tea towels lurk behind a saucepan full of congealed fat.

Inside DecimaDecima is one of a handful of similar studio and gallery spaces that have opened up in Hackney Wick over recent years. Semi-derelict but still residential, the area is being touted – by some – as the new centre of the contemporary London art scene.

However, with the 2012 Olympic site so close (Hackney Wick runs alongside it), most of the artists renting studio space in Hackney Wick will only be able to do so for another few years.

Someone I know has just moved out of their 100-square-foot living and working space after 7 years,” says photographer Ali Richards, 28. “If the developers take over, the atmosphere will change and the artists will leave.

Telltale signs of Hackney Wick’s ‘up and coming’ status are already beginning to appear. “You see it in the warehouse conversions, the new rave weekend casualties and the flow of sterile city boys strolling along the canal to their wanky flats,” says Ali. “You don’t get the burnt out cars anymore. Or the prostitutes.”

Others mention the new pavements, the growing numbers of skips and even the arrival of a second kebab shop. The question ‘Is your building being demolished?’ often crops up. Yet despite the insecurity, artists continue to descend on Hackney Wick like hungry locusts.

The Hackney Wicked festival, 2008Philip Reeves, 23, runs the Main Yard Gallery. The building is being pulled down for an access bridge over the canal to the Olympic site next year, but he plans to stay in this part of London. “It’s a more grown up crowd than the one you get in Shoreditch; there are less students and out-of-towners. Everyone here is an artist or industrial estate worker,” he says. “It’s a micro culture.”

It is perhaps this micro culture rather than the art itself that makes a trip to Hackney Wick worthwhile. At Decima some of the work on display seems downright amateur, stuck on the walls with Blu-Tack, but the current (and fleeting) opportunity to see Hackney Wick’s artists enjoy their cement playground is not to be missed.

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