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The Wicked One: Laura May Lewis

How did you come to Hackney Wick & Fish Island (HWFI)?
In 2006 – it was the building that captivated me – the light and the space. I wasn’t aware of all the artist studios tucked away and how many creative people lived here. That was a very nice surprise.

What aspects of HWFI do you love most?
It would have to be the community and creative energy; people look out for each other here.

When were you happiest here?
I’ve always been happy here. I’ve made so many wonderful friends, personally and professionally, but shortly after I first arrived was a truly magical time to be here, when nothing seemed too big an obstacle. We were young, a bit crazy and very determined. It was the coming together of artists, musicians and performers to create something unique and important like Hacnkey WickED. You could really feel the energy.

What simple change do you think would improve things here?
There’s nothing you can do to stop the inevitable; the area was always going to change in the wake of the Olympics. More still needs to be done to support the artist community, creating further opportunities for inclusion with the wider community, too. That needs resource, coordination and most importantly compassion, which frankly has not really come from developers. Talent needs to be nurtured and allowed to breathe. Anna Maloney was great in continuing to push forward with Hackney WickED in that sense, creating a balance between funding streams and being as true to its origins as you can in the face of change. It doesn’t just come down to a brief from some developer who doesn’t get it and wants to tick a few boxes, it runs deeper than that. 

Tell us your favourite local hangouts, and why?
My favourites ever were The Residence Gallery run by Ingrid Z, and Elevator Gallery run at the time by Simon Reuben-White and Snoozie Hexagon. Plus of course the annual Hackney WickED art festival in its glory days (and beyond) but the early years were the best for me personally as they really embodied the freedom we had then. It was a wonderful opportunity to come together as a community; the galleries, pop-up exhibitions, performances and open studios. It was organic and everyone owned a little bit of it. If you had the privilege to have been there, you’ll understand.

Today it would have to be Grow, which is one of the remaining venues to continue the fight for artists in the area. They made it happen themselves and have a real commitment to advocating sustainability in everything they do. They’ve made a serious effort to maintain a safe environment during the pandemic which is commendable, as have The Pearl where you can bump into anyone for a catch up, be it local customers or staff.

What has this area taught you about life?
Just go for it and don’t be afraid. I need to remember that more the older I get. Also, know when to let something go.

What do you feel is your greatest achievement to date?
Co-founding Hackney WickED, that’s now been running for more than 10 years and meeting wonderful artists and friends in the process, I will be forever grateful for that. It really was a steppingstone for me to explore curating in many new ways. I’m very proud to have worked with some wonderful artists whose work I admire. Also, working with other venues outside of the area like the former Red Gallery, who we enjoyed many collaborations with over the years. Oh hell, I almost forgot the Hackney Wick sign – yeah, that too! 

And your greatest regret/mistake?

I try not to harbour regrets as they just weigh you down.

What motivates you in your work?

People, politics, environment. Art creates a platform for discussion of all three, which is important.

Who is your true local hero?

Tobias Hug. A long-time neighbour, a good friend and a wonderful human. He advocated and supported Hackney WickED from the get go, giving encouragement and advice when needed and just listening. He also gave the best hugs. He brought his pool of talent to perform each year and every time they fricking killed it. He was a great asset to this community and many others over the world. A wonderful and talented soul, he is sorely missed.

Describe HWFI as a sound and a smell?
Beatboxing, Fear of Fluffing and helicopters. I can still smell the baking of bagels from when the Bagel Factory was still a factory.

What would you like the future to hold for HWFI?
It would be lovely to see creativity and diversity prevail. I do miss the more varied communities, like the travelling community riding horses through the streets, who we’ve not seen since the Olympics. Sadly a lot was overlooked in the masterplan. It’s not (yet) completely sanitised, and I hope that an element of the spirit will remain. Basically ‘Keep Hackney Wick Shit’….a bit! I am looking forward to an evening and a pint in the Lord Napier. 

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