Vision Quest, a Ritual for Elephant and Castle, featuring Chrome Hoof, 2008 –12

In collaboration with Michael Smythe
Digital video, HD 16:9 1920 × 1080
51:42 min.
Filmed in London, UK
Directed by Marcus Coates and Michael Smythe
Camera by Annemarie Lean-Vercoe
Sound by Sam Nightingale
Edited by Ariadna Fatjo-Vilas
Post-production sound by Finn Curry
Assembly edit by Maria Benjamin and Nicolas Abrahams
Additional camera by Llewellyn Thomas, Michael Smythe, Nicolas Abrahams
Original music by Leo Smee and Chrome Hoof
Promotional artwork by Matthew Appleton and Chris Bianchi
Lighting design by Barra Collins
Stage design by Roderick Maclachlan
Film production by Piera Buckland
Post-production by Pundersons Gardens
Concert produced by Nomad Projects and Qu Junktions
Executive production Rockfeedback
Photography by Nick David
Commissioned and produced by Nomad Projects

Local residents, businesses, Southwark Council and developers
Elephant and Castle, London, UK
What could be the vision for the Elephant and Castle redevelopment?

The Mayor of London and Southwark Council’s visions to redevelop Elephant and Castle in central South London resulted in one of the biggest planned redevelopments in Europe at the time. A large area, including existing flats, was to be demolished to make way for new flats and businesses. The replacement flats were fewer, with little or no provision for social housing, meaning that most of the existing communities were to be ‘decanted’ (re-housed) elsewhere.

In response to this corporate vision, Coates worked with many people affected by and involved in the planning of the redevelopment process, to form their own visions of how the Elephant and Castle could be developed.

Coates gathered this information and used it to inform a ritual at the Coronet Theatre at the centre of Elephant and Castle. This improvised performance was a collaboration with Chrome Hoof (a psychedelic, doom metal, funk orchestra) and was witnessed by 1,300 people. After the concert, Coates held a meeting with the council planning team and reported his findings based on the visions he had on stage. The film documents some of the encounters, conversations and performances that led to the concert. It marks the passing of the community, while questioning the motivations of the current plans.

[Conversation between Marcus Coates and Timothy Tinker, one of the architects of the Heygate Estate, built in 1974.]

Marcus Coates: What was the ultimate goal? What was the vision?

Timothy Tinker: To provide housing in an area which really was bad before… there was a very clear vision to provide better housing for existing residents.

MC: So is there a different vision this time round?

TT: I’m quite sure of it – it’s not that the Heygate Estate failed – it’s that it happens to be right by Elephant and Castle (Central London) and offers a real estate gain. There were 3,000 people living here and they are not going to be re-housed here.

(Transcript excerpt)

[Visions from Waheed Chakar, local property development consultant, the Southwark Council Planning Office.]

Marcus Coates: What’s your role here?

Waheed Chakar: I’m a local property development consultant and have been working on elements of this project for the last couple of years. I’m also local as well to Elephant and Castle and as a young boy, my father used to tell me, ‘Son, one day, knock it down will you’, and here I am.

MC: This new place (the redevelopment of Elephant and Castle) that some people are excited about and others are incredibly angry about, where did (the idea for) this place come from? Who’s idea was it?

WC: It has come from a professional and statutary-driven process, but also, as with all these projects and big ideas, there are clearly prime movers and key individuals that have helped to bring that vision about in the form we are now seeing.

MC: Do you think that motivation is primarily commercial or is that motivation to do with the improvement of society?

WC: That’s the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question that strikes at the heart of this re-development.

MC: What I will try and do in this ritual is embody this transformation (history of Elephant and Castle) – what it was like before, what it’s like now and what the vision is for the future. It’s all right having these corporate and scripted visions but everyone has a personal investment in this place. So what I would like now is to be directed by you. OK, I just want to go through three postures, in a way. The first posture moving into a second posture, which you can talk me through, and then a third…

WC: You want me to determine the form?

MC: I want you to direct the form, to explain it to me.

WC: What is the point of the form?

MC: The point of the form is to – I think physically – give a voice to this transition. Or for me to embody this transformation, this transition.

WC: OK. To inform the form, I’m going to use the Tai Chi principle of returning, which is that everything must go back from where it came.


[MC moves the table. MC climbs on the table.]

MC: Right. Now, we have to think about where I start and where I end. So how do you envisage that I embody the Elephant and Castle as it was?

WC: In the form of closing.

MC: In the form of closing? OK. Will you give me some pointers in terms of directing my body for that?

WC: You could either open your body up to allow things in, or you can close it down to repel.

MC: So how to decide? OK. [Movement.] Is there something I should do with my hands or face?

WC: It’s how you feel it.

MC: How I feel it, OK.

WC: It depends what you feel yourself to be doing.

MC: So I need to stay open to possibilities, or…

WC: If you wish to.

MC: OK. And how does this reflect on the past?

WC: Something we’ve had is changing. Something we had is moving forward and becoming something else.

MC: OK. From this very open position, how would you expect me to move into the present?

WC: Well, now you have to make choices, because you can’t actually move in the position you’re in, so you have to change the position you’re in to move forward, so you need to change to move.

MC: [Movement.]

WC: You’ve been neutral in your expression; you’ve simply moved. You haven’t opened or closed. You’ve moved with purpose. Why are you moving? What is the point of your movement? Why not be still?

MC: The point of the movement is that I need to transform in some way, so this is a posture that is ready to transform, but it’s neutral.

WC: OK, so if we want to make the analogy, where we are having to embrace new things, but we’re having to embrace those new things with old arms.

MC: So I think for this present position, I don’t think this is particularly…

WC: No, it’s not.

MC: I feel like I need to be in a position where I could almost do anything.

WC: Yes.

MC: [Movement.]

WC: OK. Expectation. Readiness. But there’s intention.

MC: Yup. There’s intention to do something…

WC: Where’s the intention coming from?

MC: The intention is coming from the idea that there is definitely a transformation.

WC: Right. And it’s going to happen.

MC: It’s going to happen.

WC: It’s going to happen.

MC: It’s going to happen. [Laughs.] According to you it is, yeah.

WC: No, it’s not according to me, it’s going to happen!


WC: Something’s going to happen.

MC: Whatever it is.

WC: Whatever it is, something is going to happen.


WC: And as I said to you, to quote a popular contributor: ‘All that is solid melts into air’. Buildings are much more difficult to shift than people.

MC: OK. The move into the next phase?

WC: Well, that’s an open sea, isn’t it – how we move, with what intent we move – will affect where we go.

MC: In terms of your aspirations and dreams, can you direct me in any way?

WC: Yeah. I’d like to start at the ground floor level and bubble up, and in the manner of the Pied Piper, carry the people with me to the neo-world that we’re trying to create here.

MC: It sounds like a slow, graceful movement, do you think?

WC: I would love it to be a slow, soaring, curvaceous movement. No straight lines, no edges – and flow. I would like it to flow like a mighty river.

MC: [Movement.]

WC: OK, that’s perhaps a little closer. At least we’re doing something now.

MC: OK. If this isn’t maybe what you envisioned… This is feeling like… it’s fluid.

WC: Yes.

MC: But I’m pretty stuck.

WC: Well, you need to take the punctuation out of it.

MC: The gesture?

WC: Yes. We’re talking about form and flow.

MC: So it’s too conscious, too self-conscious.

WC: Think of wind. Think of water. Think of the qualities of rudiments of water.

MC: [Movement.]

WC: Think also how water can give life and take life in the same way.

MC: [Movement.]

WC: OK, we’re flying a little bit more easily, and more gracefully now. We’re beginning to feel the flow. Now we have to put intent into what we’re doing. It’s not enough to simply flow. We have to flow for a reason. So in the one-ness of the movement, find the reason. Feel the reason. Why do we climb the mountain? Why do we swim the river? OK. You have to find intent and purpose. Without purpose we have nothing. What is your purpose?

MC: I think the purpose is to be settled, but to be fluid.

WC: A contradiction, no?

MC: Yeah.

WC: How do we resolve that contradiction?

MC: By being settled, but maintaining fluidity, or maintaining the idea of being able to move at will.

WC: OK. Again, Tai Chi principle: stillness in movement; movement in stillness. My body is still but my mind is moving. My mind is still but my body is moving. Stillness in movement; movement in stillness. There is no contradiction. It’s how we think about it. I can’t… I’m just getting too hot. It’s really hot in here. I’m absolutely burning up. Sorry, mate.

[Waheed leaves the room.]

MC: No, it’s fine. I’m still moving.

(Transcript excerpt)