In 1970 the 14 houses of Regency Terrace were bought and demolished to make space for Wellesley House office blocks. However, the stubborn resident who lived at number 9 of Waterloo Place, Harriet Sylvester refused to sell her home and remained there whilst the offices were built either side of her house. In 1974, Ms Sylvester’s death at the age of 89 allowed the contractors to demolish the remaining terrace house and complete the office blocks of Wellesley House. The building operated as office space until the ’90s. Later, when the building stopped being used, a group of artists headed by John Varah took up residence and squatted in the space which became known as ‘Eye Level’ and throughout the years transformed to Phoenix Brighton, which operates today.
The exhibition will be situated in the exact same location with Ms Sylvester’s house used to be, today the Green Room. Her unique story still inspires artists, who work in the building, to get involved with concepts related to broader ideas of home, space, urban buildings and the way we interact with them.
The exhibition aims to bring together Phoenix’s artists to rethink and retell Ms Sylvester’s story which addresses issues of home, resistance and the transformation of urban buildings. Regarding the concept of home, Sylvester’s story tells us that home is not just a place to live in, but also a shelter; a sanctuary to find your inner peace in this hectic lifestyle we live in. Maybe this is the reason why Ms Sylvester was so determined about not selling her home and resisted being part of a corporate scheme, which destroyed the bliss of the area with a building which seemed to be out of context. The transformations which urban buildings go through, throughout the years, witness the history of an area which can encapsulate loss, trauma, regeneration, revitalization and heritage. Spaces become points which encourage us to rethink about our own points of reference and engage with their history and the process of their transition through time.
The works presented in the exhibition are reflecting upon these ideas and pay tribute to Ms. Harriet Sylvester, an integral figure of Phoenix’s history.
Veronica Slater and Arya Harditya Rusmadi