installation performance

pages under construction (07.12.23)

VACANT (1999)
in collaboration with dan milne's the space project and in association with the architecture foundation.

VACANT was a durational performance/installation, which spanned the breadth of a day and an evening and took place in disused Edwardian toilets in Forest Gate, Newham. The brief was to inspire the local council and residents into imagining the toilets as something else altogether. After quizzing locals about what they might require or desire (as well as scratching our own heads) we chose the most surprising suggestions. We would undertake transforming the The Gents into A Garden and The Ladies into A Dining Room. Themes which arose in the making of VACANT included: regeneration, resurrection, transformation, sanctuary, community connection, re-wilding/green spaces, nourishment and hope for the future.

Garden (n. ) An enclosed piece of ground devoted to the cultivation of flowers, fruits and vegetables: a pleasant spot; a fertile region.


Over the course of the day, The Gents was transformed into The Garden; it was turfed and earthed, flowers and plants were bedded, lights were placed throughout the space and underneath the urinals. Each cubicle was a dedicated small space, quiet and for reflection; so for example, one cubicle was a shrine to Elvis, who notoriously died on his toilet; another, a spot where visitors could (take a label and) write something pertinent in their moment of solitary contemplation, whilst sitting on the loo. Local residents of all ages, including children, helped to plant and water, earth and turf - they made the garden grow.  A small envelope was given to each participant at the end of their visit. Inside was a sunflower seed to plant, grow and remember our day together. Throughout the day, the sculptural transformation of the toilets was buoyed by performances and storytelling. We created tales around the history specific to these public toilets (as well as other public toilets), their geographical position in Newham (they were built on a crossroads, which at one time was on the edge of a large forest) and in reference to that, the history/myth of the place on which the toilets stood.  Danny and Sarah said they felt the spirits of the past very strongly in these strangely beautiful and resonant spaces, and they believed it was crucial to acknowledge them. So for example, a war song transports us to the 2nd World War, when the toilets were used as a bomb shelter; an electric toy train running atop the toilet cubicles subtly hints at the film Brief Encounter - if you can work out the connection, you shared in the secret life of toilets, which have often been meeting spots for swift trysts. 

dinner (n ) 3 a. a formal evening meal, as of a club or society, etc.

restaurant (n) a place where people sit to eat meals that are cooked and serv ed on the premises. The words derives from early 19th century french 'restaurer' literally 'to restore to a former state'


The Ladies was a different kettle of fish all together, smaller (no surprise!) and more intimate, it lent itself well to becoming a dining room - it would be cosy. The adjoining office was used as a kitchen.  8 guests were invited, none of whom knew each other. These guests were locked into the toilets for the duration of the event and were not allowed out. It was pre-big brother by a year and VACANT was indeed a social experiment; we would watch the guests interact by video link to a screen outside, or through the bars of the locked gate at the entrance to the toilets - a human zoo! Inside, at the top of each cubicle an alarm clock stood, each one set to go off at specific intervals. Under every clock was a sealed envelope. When an alarm rang, the envelope underneath the ringing clock would be opened and a guest, chosen by the group, would read its contents aloud. Inside were a set of instructions for a task, in which the group would participate. As the day and the night wore on, the group were compelled to find ways to survive: their drunkenness or sobriety; going to the toilet whilst in close proximity to other guests (they chose to sing in chorus each time someone went to the loo); negotiate a smoking space and time for the smokers, which would respectfully accommodate the non-smokers. They had a lot of fun.