Meet Dominika Kieruzel, one of seven artists working on a project for The Cage in Thamesmead.
Tell me a bit more about your background. What is your practice and what led you to the arts?
I come from Poland, I moved to London in 2007, and with a couple of small breaks, I have been here since. I was brought up on a small farm in a couple of small villages. My family on both sides were small farmers in the Polish countryside. Although my dad was the first person in the village to go to university, he still studied farming machines and went back to the countryside afterwards. I was born in 1985, which meant that I was 6 when socialism in Poland finished. I regret that I cannot remember it well, nevertheless the nineties were really interesting too. I remember the world around me changing, both in good and bad ways. The older I get the more I can see the significance of that time – having this variety in the experience of social structures. I loved performing as a child, I wrote poetry, recited poetry, I got into logic and chess at the age of 6 and decided that I wanted to be a fashion designer. I drew a lot. Then, life took over and I spent a few years living in my own world, I cannot remember much from that time, apart from an awe that was related to nature, sensing the air, my body, movement, sun on my skin, the darkness and silence of still warm summer night and the warmth of the winter sun reflecting of the snow. So, all those experiences shone through a very difficult time in my life and stayed with me. That really gave me an ability to appreciate an aesthetic experience as something that gives a person freedom and dignity. This is something I am coming back to now.
And you are overseeing a project for The Cage in Thamesmead, can you tell me a little about The Cage and what it is you are doing?
The Cage is a basketball court in Thamesmead, very close to the Lesnes Estate in Wolvercote Road, where I live. It is a really fascinating space and very creative. People do graffiti there, they play basketball, football, shoot music videos, dance. However – the space is a bit uncared for, the equipment needs refurbishment and it feels a bit unsafe. I remember the first few times I went in there I was worried that people are looking at me, felt a bit like I was alien to that space. Its changed now, I feel much more comfortable. But that is one of our targets – for The Cage to be a vibrant and lively place, to have an atmosphere of spontaneous sports and creative culture. It really is all there, in people who go there, in people who live around it, what the space needs is the investment and the engagement program – and both of those are now in place. I am a part of a group of 7 local residents who are producing the new artwork for the ground of the Cage – something that now is called an ‘artcourt’. We have put together an open call for a proposal for this artwork, as well as a party with sports, arts, and dance activities, we’ve had conversations with people, focus groups, interviews and more. We are slowly getting people excited about this space, getting people to use it again and feel safer there. Supporting people in stating their own activities.
What do you hope to achieve through this project?
In the first place we want the space – the cage – we want people to feel special there. If you go to play basketball there, paint or dance or hang out with friends, we want you to feel like you are important, like you are a star. Because there is care put to it, it is high quality, and it is for you. Another thing we want to happen is for it to become a space where people can just come to play, where they feel welcome and safe. We want people to develop organised activities, to strengthen the bonds in our neighbourhood, and for people to be able to see it as a place where they can learn high quality sports skills.
What value do you think artists can bring to a community more widely?
Art gives life dignity. No matter how difficult life is, an experience of beauty, in nature and in art, that space where one can feel like a human being, not an automaton, this is lifechanging. Sometimes, generic popular culture, like most of the stuff on Netflix, that just creates compulsion, another addiction. When art is meaningful to people, it opens up the space of inner freedom. In Thamesmead we all are a community. I am not only an artist, I am also a teaching assistant locally, so I think that for all of us to be together, work together – that is meaningful. We get asked that question quite a lot, it seems in the contemporary world we have to justify it – how do artists influence community? A friend of mine said once, that if we are truly serious about it, it will be the community that will change us. And I think that it will happen both ways. Because what we do is not about place making, it is not about social engineering, it is about the dignity of a human beings, whoever they are.
The Open Call for The Cage is looking for artists, creatives, and those with a great idea to submit designs for the basketball court floor.
Deadline: 29th December.
Find out more here.
Follow The Cage on Instagram for more updates on this great project.