© 2022



In this performative film, interdisciplinary artist Charly Monreal Pizarro explores the social, cultural, and material dismantlement of the former Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre in London, while posing questions about the aliveness of matter that shapes our built environment. Migrant Animacies. connects with what anthropologist Marc Augé identified as non-lieux (1992): places with no past nor future, but with a precarious present. The author describes the experience of “supermodernity”, or late-capitalist existence, as a state where everything is dictated by precariousness. The book explores the distinction between "place", embedded with historical meaning and creative of social life, and "non-place", to which individuals are connected in a uniform manner and where no organic social life is possible. Despite this first recognition, the shopping centre has been a cultural epicentre for the Latin American community living in Elephant & Castle. The Elephant and Castle area had recently been undergoing a gentrification process. In just a few years the area has been transformed beyond recognition – from a bustling neighbourhood of street markets to a spike of skyscrapers owned by different investors. One of the developers targets had been the shopping centre in the middle of the area. The architectural beauty of the building is debated, as it represents a 1960s design icon for some, a concrete monster to others. But it was without a doubt a living heart of a diverse working-class neighbourhood, with its many Latin American shops and cafes.

Once the shopping centre has been dismantled, the vibrancy of culture and matter becomes a debris, moving somewhere else, creating new entanglements with its surroundings. It does not disappear; materials keep existing as waste and culture migrates to other urban places in the neighbourhood. Jane Bennett reflects on the aliveness of things in her book “Vibrant Matter” in these terms:

On a sunny Tuesday morning on 4 June in the grate over the storm drain to the Chesapeake Bay in front of Sam's Bageis on Cold Spring Lane in Baltimore, there was:

one large men's black plastic work glove
one dense mat of oak pollen
one unblemished dead rat
one white plastic bottle cap
one smooth stick of wood

Glove. pollen. rat. cap. stick. As I encountered these items, they shimmied back and forth between debris and thing - between, on the one hand, stuff to ignore, except insofar as it betokened human activity (the workman's efforts. the litterer's toss. the rat-poisoner's success), and, on the other hand, stuff that commanded attention, as existents in excess of their association with human meanings, habits, or projects. In the second moment, stuff exhibited its thing-power: it issued a call, even if I did not quite understand what it was saying.

Bennett’s work resonate with a much needed re-orientation of how human– nonhuman relations exceed Western dichotomies of nature and culture. This call for renewal is urgent, as being aware of debris as alive and not inert challenge the anthropocentric hierarchy of humans being above all. Ultimately this choreographic video highlights, through on-site recordings of the dismantled shopping centre juxtaposed with Latin American music, how the physical networks of cities enable social life and forms of urban governance, creating a solid relation between materiality, heritage, and culture.

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