Our latest Page 23 consists of a full page image of an artwork by Prem Sahib, titled Helix IV (2018). The piece slots into this issue of Elephant’s wider theme, exploring community – what makes one? ‘And how does it maintain a positive, mutually reinforcing spirit?’.
One of four artworks selected by Paul Carey-Kent in his article ‘The Art of Combination’, Sahib’s pierced sculpture is an investigation into how space relates to identity.
The particular work, a plaster relief pricked with stainless steel rings and studs, is a tribute to London’s gay bathhouses, specifically inspired by the classical style of the Chariots Roman Spa in Shoreditch. The spa itself was demolished in 2016 to make way for – surprise, surprise – luxury flats. With it came the loss of a community that for 20 years had gathered in the pools and steam rooms, a space safe from the commodification or fetishisation of queerness. Places like that are impossible to replicate; a sculptural monument is one of the few ways to quietly memorialise the loss of a symbiotic relationship between a space and a community.
As all good artwork should, Sahib’s piece has gathered a new significance in light of recent events. While community – and our personal relation to – it is a universal and perpetual theme, it has become a point of contention in recent months, no longer a refuge, suddenly unsafe. Likewise are our spaces – most people I know are steeling themselves for the closing of some of London’s oldest social or cultural hubs that have barely survived gentrification, the independently run or the secretive.
Suddenly, Helix IV seems like a potent warning.