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 is a community-based visual artist, a lecturer in Kingston School of Art and recently graduated from the Royal College of Art in MA Illustration. Her practice lies in the intersections of architecture, technology, memory and identity. The emotional significance of an architectural space, its relation to personal memory and the collapse of time are the central themes of her works. Her illustrations that portray community stories, which range from people, to landscapes and objects from my surroundings, are evocative meditations on urban development and its public and personal significance.
Her work experiences land on education and community-based projects. Apart from the Kingston School of Art teaching, she experienced different scales and formats workshops were partnered with institutions including, Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Art, the Hong Kong Museum of Art (HKMOA), the Museum of London, Royal College of Art for artists, new art generations, and local communities.
The community project, Barter Archive, was supported by the Varley Memorial Award and ACE Project Grant in 2021. This has manifested in two exhibitions held in the Billingsgate Fish Market, Canary Wharf Group, an interactive online archive of oral histories on barter-archive.com. The project is ongoing with connections to the Museum of London, Brighton University, Royal College of Art, and curators from the Tate Archive and the Whitechapel Gallery. And it is now collected by the Museum of London, where Pat also work as a researcher.
Project Director, Curator, Artist: Pat Wingshan Wong
Co-Writer & Content editor: Vivien Chan
Website Design: Max Kohler
3D scan: Hannah Terry
Documentation Photographer: Jimmi Ho
Creative Technologist: Kachi Chan
Co-Writer & PR: Wan Yi Sandra Lam
Barter Outlet Exhibition
Identity Design: Europa
Photographer: Jimmi Ho
Co-curator: Wan Yi Sandra Lam
Contributors: Chanfly, Anya Landolt, Sophie Châtellier
Barter Auction Exhibition
Identity Design: William Jacobson
Interior Design: Dennis Lam & Joyce Kwok@ JMKD studio
Photographer: Max Leighton
Exhibition Setup: Arthur Wilson
Production: Théo Welch-King
3D print studio: Kwambio
Auctioneer( actor): Crispin Holland
Performers: Konstantina Benaki Chatzispasou, Myrna Marianovits, Nick White, Lucie Levrangi, Alastair Kwan, HeiYiu Ng, Claudia
Contributors: Ellen Wong, Lai Ho, Carmen Yiu, Suthata Suthmahatayangkun
My foremost thanks to the Billingsgate Fish Market community for their generous hospitality and boundless trust in this project.
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.