How much is your memory? May I exchange it with my memory?
Barter Archive is a community-led archive constructed by artist Pat Wingshan Wong in collaboration with the fishmongers at the Billingsgate Fish Market at Canary Wharf, London. The archive engages with the idea of barter physically and symbolically. It includes memorable objects ‘bartered’ by the artist using her observational drawings of the happenings in the space, as well as videos that document stories and memories of the people. It preserves the collective memory of the Billingsgate community and challenges the domination of capitalism, highlighting and questioning the ways value is assigned through culture and society.
Over the past two years, Wong has immersed herself into sketching the Billingsgate Fish Market every morning at five o’clock from Tuesday to Saturday, thus opening up dialogue with the fishmongers. As an early exploration of individual and communal identity, she recorded and documented the fishmongers’ stories, and witnessed their strong community bonding. However, the City of London Corporation announced a relocation plan which will move the market to Dagenham, an industrial suburb, in the next five years due to the rapid city development at Canary Wharf. Wong has since sought to construct an archive that involves the fishmongers in order to give visibility, respect and compassion to the invisible or marginalised communities.
Wong created highly personal sketches and 3D-scannings stemming from individuals’ lived experiences, providing an innovative perspective to conventional institutionalised archives that prioritise tangible objects over ephemeral stories and effects. She engages with the fishmongers and incorporates their voices into the works based on transparency and mutual trust. In Barter Archive, Wong transforms passive artwork creation into active socially engaged practice, and at the same time probes, the ways in which ‘value’ are defined in our society amid urban development. Through bartering her drawings with the fishmongers’ memories, the artist determines what records have enduring value with the community who may not otherwise engage in archiving, denoting a bottom-up and grassroots method of re-examining history.
The Bartering Process:
Wong used her observational sketches of the Billingsgate Fish Market in exchange for memorable objects of the fishmongers. By using the language of bartering, she opens up a dialogue with the Billingsgate community and investigates the public and personal significance of the space, and how it is affected by the rapid urban development of Southeast London. Once the barter has successfully been conducted, they will have a 15-minute video interview to document stories with photographs and videos. The memorable objects will be returned to the fishmongers after 3D scanning and printing.
Pat, Wingshan Wong (aka Flyingpig) is a Hong Kong community-based visual artist. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree at the Royal College of Art and based in London. Pat has exhibited at various art museums and organisations, including Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Art, the Hong Kong Museum of Art (HKMOA), West Kowloon Cultural District, M+ Museum and the Hong Kong Science Museum. Her works have been included in HKMOA’s collection.
The project is a collaboration with many people who used and care for the Billingsgate Fish Market community.
Curator: Wan Yi Sandra Lam
Creative Technologist: Kachi Chan
Documentation Photographer: Jimmi Ho
Editor: Vivien Chan
Exhibition Design: Anya Landolt
Website Design: Max Kohler
Publication design: Jörg Schwertfeger
My foremost thanks to the Billingsgate Fish Market community for their generous hospitality and boundless trust in this project. I am deeply grateful for the conversation with my tutors from Royal College of Art, including Jessie Brennan, Hilary Powell, Debbie Cook, Peter Nencini, Tracey Waller.
The project is supported using public funding by Art Council England, supported by Tower Hamlets Council Arts, Parks and Events Team and funded by Varley Memorial Award 2020.