BY Izi Glover in Reviews | 07 JUN 97
Featured in
Issue 35

Andrea and Philippe

BY Izi Glover in Reviews | 07 JUN 97

Chelsea is an area of prime properties purveyed by venerable realtors. These agents display their details in their windows and also advertise them rather more selectively alongside their country cousins in the glossy pages of august publications such as Country Life. In these advertisements one's home, and often one's castle, are photographed with perfection in mind. In the case of the county properties, it takes some skill to include a swathe of manicured lawn, several mature trees, some blue empyrean and the massive house in the image which illustrates the particulars. But this art does not go unappreciated ­ even Princess Diana has revealed that daydreaming and dawdling over the properties in Country Life is a favourite pastime.

In Smith Street, off Chelsea's main vein, the King's Road, respectable passers-by have been idly engaging in the pastime of window house-shopping. For temporarily the Independent Art Space has assumed a different guise. In the gallery's stead, an estate agent's office offers its wares: immaculate perspex frames contain particulars, suspended à la mode on taut wires. Below the red and white Landfill logos, sunny photographs show the properties whilst summary typed details provide the nuggets of information that the window shoppers crave: 'breathtaking views', 'good condition', and the occasional 'original' feature. The particulars have even captured the most discerning eyes: a couple of neighbouring estate agents have swung by to check out their new competitor.

Yet these descriptions are not those of desirable SW3 residences, nor indeed stately piles in the shires. For the last five years a project of infiltration and stealthy amelioration has been in operation over this sceptr'd isle: the artists Andrea and Philippe have undertaken to locate concrete emplacements and glaze their viewing slots. These silent, stalwart relics of World War II were nicknamed pillboxes by the military because of their low octagonal structure. Constructed mainly along the coastal reaches of Britain, they were built wherever a landing craft could beach, but also at vital crossroads inland. Now pillboxes stand squat and inert, forever anticipating invasion. Crudely built in concrete and aggregate, they have withstood the British climate, but not always the British youth. Some are ignominiously defaced and daubed, sites of mischief during misspent adolescence. Brutish and anachronistic, they have been silently subsumed by encroaching surroundings ­ and then forgotten.

Until the artists come along with their madcap endeavour to glaze the slots. As objects, the pillboxes were just waiting for the artists to slightly displace them from their undeserving environments. From Warbleswick to Happisburgh Beach, and even at Kidwelly, the structures were latent 'pieces', awaiting the artistic intervention that could transform them into the desirable commodities arrayed in the Landfill window. All in need of modernisation and slight alterations, they are blessed with great potential. The artists' act of 'vernissage' is akin to the British penchant for home improvement, which precipitates perhaps the greater penchant for observing other people's property improvements. A desire that is sated privately by the pages of Country Life, and more socially by the estate agent's window. The accomplishment of the Landfill display is such that the ruse is successful, and the pillboxes are perused at leisure.

It is when interest is piqued sufficiently to tempt the potential buyer inside Landfill that Andrea and Philippe have the upper hand over their neighbouring rival estate agents ­ prices are only available upon application. Estate agents' offices are not universally acknowledged for their pleasant nature, yet here the interested party is made to feel at ease. Landfill is bright and airy, its interior highly conducive to speculation, due perhaps to Andrea and Philippe's unprecedented step of engaging a geomancer to oversee the office installation. This feng shui master advised a round table, water opposite the entrance, and that the front doors should be black to aid communication. Intimidation is obviated by the amenable agent employed by Andrea and Philippe to deal with queries.

The viability of the Landfill operation has been predetermined in part by the British appetite for property conversion. If the Englishman's house is his castle, it has, in recent years, also been his converted church, barn or warehouse. This potential for home shape-shifting is absurdly glorified by the pillbox project. Refined by glazing but with original features intact, a pillbox is a nigh perfect piece of national heritage to purchase. But in the speculative meantime, the property details offer particularly engaging images for daydreaming, perhaps even for a Princess.