Ritual for Residents of Wimbourne House, Southwark, 2007

Music by Tim Lee (Vexkiddy)
Photography by Nick David
Commissioned and produced by Southbank Centre, London, as part of the event ‘100 Ways to Change the World’

Client: Residents of Wimbourne House, Southwark, London

Location: Hayward Gallery, London, UK

Question: How can we build an identity for our community?

Wimbourne House is a block of flats in Oval, in South London. Coates offered his services to the resident’s group and invited them to witness the ritual he performed for them at the Hayward Gallery.


[Marcus Coates discussed the question with the audience and then, accompanied by live music from Vexkiddy, he began his ritual. After an interval, he recounted what he had seen.]

Marcus coates: I was on mud flats on the shoreline. I saw so many birds, nothing unusual or extraordinary. They were in groups or on their own, some large, some small, they were all behaving differently, some had long legs and long bills like the curlew. They could get food deep in the mud, others, like the sanderlings, with their small legs, ran furiously, following the shallow edge of the distant waves as they washed in, uncovering food. Others didn’t eat much but found protection from predators on the wide mud flats. After what felt like a long time, a peregrine flew past and all the birds flew up at once and circled around, and landed once the danger had passed. All these groups were like cliques, they had their reasons for being there, but acted separately until this bird threatened them. The birds didn’t have a single identity but there was a trust between them; they relied on each other to spot danger, for example.

There are issues in the flats that will combine everyone, but you could create a more long-term community if this was not based on fear (crime, eviction etc.). If the problem is transience, then visibility is important. All the birds could see each other – they knew who was coming in and who was leaving, which created a mutual trust. In the block you can get isolated. Maybe it’s as simple as direct personal contact, meeting everybody and often, knocking on all the doors, welcoming and inviting people to join in. Don’t rely on leaflets and notice boards.

(Transcript excerpt)