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  • Shabazz Chapman

Home[Not]Less Ingenuity Installation

Irony of homeless work hanging at home


Shabazz Chapman is a London based artist creating an installation for Home[Not]Less Ingenuity, part of the Innovation Box intervention, to be installed 02 Jan 17.

The work is a response to us finding cardboard in the phone box in the very first days of the Innovation Box and the realisation it belonged to a person who is homeless. The project has deviated from it initial course to think about innovation in a broader context, and how people use ingenuity to come up with innovative ways of creating shelter in times of need.

This post has been written pre-installation. It discusses the difficulty the artist has had in approaching the artwork, the sensitivity of the subject and dealing with the potential of damage or loss of the work; previous work has already been damaged during the intervention, with artist Dawn Cole’s phone book artwork stolen.


Image: Irony of work hanging at home not lost on all involved.

Artist Statement

I often make work discussing shelter and the people who build/Inhabit them. My practice involves transforming soft fabrics, often relating to warmth, protection and comfort, into hardened solid forms. This process reflects the lives of the people who require these shelters. The artwork has a hardened and a tough exterior, however the softness and fragility of the material is still visible. As a result of this process the frozen forms that are created suggest a figurative element.

Home{Not]Less Ingenuity response

I was presented with the idea of creating a piece of work to be installed in a grade two listed phone box, in Holborn, London by Platform-7, as part of the ongoing The Innovation Box project.

I approached my initial ideas by comparing the modern day usages of the phone box to its historical origins. The phone box is no longer an essential means of communication; the common daily interactions with this iconic red kiosk appear to differ greatly from what they once were.

It became apparent that homeless people were using this particular box, possibly as a shelter and certainly as a place to store cardboard, an essential element when on the streets as it creates installation between the body and the pavement when sleeping.

The rising levels of homelessness is unmissable in London. You often see people utilizing spaces and materials with ingenuity born from survival. Faced with such deprivation and very few immediate resources, the homeless are forced to become highly resilient in spite of the limitations and restriction that they face.

Creating the work

When creating a piece of work within a public space/environment, the question arises; whose controls the space that I will be working in? In this case the owner of the box is British Telecom, who provides a service that is open to members of the public. Essentially anyone is able to occupy this kiosk, which then opens up the idea of territory and negotiation of space [read more here].

Another area of inquiry is who really needs the space; the person seeking to make a phone call, somebody sleeping rough, or me, the artist? This created a conflict about my intentions for creating the work and the reactions it would receive from the shared occupants of the space. I didn’t want to alienate people, but I did want to make a statement.

Being in a public environment, there will be no monitoring of the work (no invigilators), the viewers will be left to freely interact and respond to the installation. This aspect of interaction will test me as the artist to deal with the idea of ownership. Although this is ‘my work’ and ‘my creations’, I do not own the space in which I am placing it, and therefore have to be ready for a range of outcomes. Whether that will be destruction, disappearance or even addition to the work itself, I will need to be ready to accept the artwork’s fate. Similarly, the homeless person before me who had stored their cardboard in the box had also had to be prepared for similar outcomes for the stored cardboard.


I want my work to be a response to homeless, to show appreciation for the ingenuity that people have in these desperate times, as opposed to an insight into what it is to be homeless.

I don’t have personal experience living on the streets, but the artwork is my interpretation of the struggle that you witness people experiencing more and more regularly around London.

I wanted to make a piece of work that highlights the resourcefulness and originality of people without barely anything, who have to build shelters for themselves and often others, with nothing but the few belongings they have and any materials they can find.

Finding materials

Similarly, I wanted my work to be made from objects that I could find. By restricting my own materials in this way, it pushes my own way of thinking, my own resourcefulness, my own creativity. Though I am not making a shelter, I still wanted to use materials that I relate to the key elements of comfort, warmth and protection; essential to everyone, yet even more crucial when faced with the reality of living rough.

People are often moved on by authorities with little or no time to time dismantle or pack up their belongings, so being able to easily manoeuvre their structures/ beds/ shelters is also crucial when thinking of materials.


The central core of the work is constructed from duvet material, which I then began distressing and layering, adding different materials into the fabric folds. Newspaper, rope, plastic, cardboard. Although the soft folds of the fabric are visible the whole work is solid and stable to the touch.

I wanted the work to be a moment caught in this ongoing cycle of struggle. Fragile, yet with the strength needed to survive.

Shabazz Chapman ©2016 Platform-7 Events

Other articles relating to this artwork:

Creative Homelessness | A Study

Artist Response Vulnerability discussing Vulnerability Revealing Vulnerability Revealing Unseen Complexities

Shape of Innovation

Negotiating the Space

Creative Home: Human Ingenuity in Times of Upheaval

Londonist Out Loud (podcast)

More from Shabazz Chapman Tumblr

Through my practice I attempt to widen my knowledge and understanding of my own Bengali background that I know very little about. I began exploring the textile industry of Bangladesh and the shanty towns that are inhabited by 5.3 million of its expanding population. I draw similarities between the lives of these people and the fragile materials used to create their homes. Both are struck with the continuous strain of maintaining some form of stability whilst struggling through constant deprivation, resulting in each obtaining a considerable amount of strength and resilience. It is this inner strength that I wanted to portray within my work. Whilst maintaining an aesthetic of fragility, I turn the delicate soft folds of material into solid forms. By reworking and distressing the fabric, I attempt to create a visual history for each individual piece.People are often not equipped to build homes with the ability to withstand the continuous flooding in Bangladesh, resulting in catastrophic widespread destruction. It is within this chaotic environment that I set my work. Frozen momentarily, caught up in this on going cycle of demolition, yet displaying strength and stability needed to survive.The reflections within the still darkness below represent not only the continuous threat from contaminated flood water, but are a visual reminders of how near the next disaster could be.

#innovationbox #intervention

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