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Review: Croytopia

Croydon is littered with forgotten spaces, as old gems are lost to perpetual closing-down sales and shiny high rises. On a mission to revive the space, Richard DeDomenici and Jess Mabel Jones offer fresh insights into Croydon’s cultural history through the eyes of its inhabitants.

Fittingly temporary in its location, CROYTOPIA takes over the upstairs of Turf Projects – Croydon’s locally founded, artist-run contemporary art space. Not its main exhibition space, this is an emphatically unshowy affair as the makeshift gallery wall leaks glimpses of studio spaces behind. A TV welcomes us with an introductory video from DeDomenici, and posters displaying screenshots from phone-recorded videos tease a look at the wider project.

Next door, locals take us on a tour of the town through projected smartphone-filmed footage. They present a striking reminder of the unknown and overlooked narratives that populate Croydon’s unassuming streets through an eclectic collection of personally significant memories tied to locations that largely cease to exist. As DeDomenici and Jones curate these stories and map them digitally onto the town, they question what happens to memories when the architecture that once housed them is destroyed, and offer them renewed life.

A laminated wall map reveals that the narratives collated so far are limited to the town centre, but this is only the beginning of a project that plans to tour the borough. We are encouraged to share our own stories, and this centring of community has the potential to empower residents in the framing, understanding and future development of the town. However, such interactivity lacks integration with the exhibition. Post-its invite visitors to contribute but offer no direction on how to use them, and while videos have been collated into an online interactive map, their presentation at Turf offers visitors no agency in how they experience them.

CROYTOPIA could be smoother in its execution, but this work-in-progress is hugely evocative in what it achieves. Presenting a first look at what will hopefully evolve into an elaborate, anecdotal tapestry, it promises to be an invaluable resource that celebrates and preserves Croydon’s expansive history, with residents firmly at its core.

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