On the afternoon of 22 May 2013, a British Army soldier, Drummer (Private) Lee Rigby of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, was attacked and killed by two men near the Royal Artillery Barracks. At the time I was at work and heard of the news over the radio. To begin with, I only registered that a British soldier had died. Then, as the announcement was repeated in increasing detail over the course of the day, it struck me. This act of intense violence had taken place only a short bike ride away from where I live and that made it somehow more relevant – it made it real.
Thus my interest in Woolwich as subject for study began with death.
My interest shifted towards the general military presence in Woolwich. Through some exploration and research, I realised how strong that presence really was. At the same time, it was almost casual, too obvious to notice if one was not looking.
The barracks, in the urban context is just a more sombre kind of gated community – it has a concierge, its perimeter is enforced and only the privileged get inside.
I started to wonder how the military presence informs the wider lived space, or what Bourdieu would call the ‘habitus’ of Woolwich. The consensus of the area seems to be one of change, always being rebuilt. On the other hand, every now and then, it seems to react and retaliate in response. Woolwich was the site of the UK’s first McDonalds – in the same year the Provisional IRA bombed a local pub, killing two. The barracks were a site for the 2012 Olympics – the following year a soldier is killed. To continue, the riverside Arsenal is undergoing major development into housing by Berkeley Homes at the moment, which also sought for Woolwich to be linked to the new Crosslink line due to open in 2018.
I chose to concentrate on the barracks, how it functions as a type of gated community, but also seeps out into the surroundings and civilian life. I canvassed the area looking for human signs in the military as well as military signs in the human.
I try to abide by Levi-Strauss’ words that the truth has no author. In this respect I chose to include archival material of the area to arrive at a multiplicity of accounts. More specifically I was looking for material relating to change of use in the landscape that could inform the new work.