Mark Wallinger has a long track record for creating art that challenges the status quo. He’s hung a Union Jack remade in the Irish Tricolour from the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, placed an androgynous Christ figure onto Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth and he won the Turner Prize in 2007 with an installation which recreated an anti-Iraq War protest in Tate Britain. Now Wallinger is harnessing the power of his art to help the community near his studio in Archway, North London take on a pair of commercial giants.
For the past two years the retailers Ocado and Marks & Spencer have been repeatedly attempting to open a polluting 24/7 depot directly adjacent to a primary school and densely populated housing. They have even taken Islington Council to the High Court to try and get their depot built, but the case was thrown out. Since then the online retailers have continued in their dogged quest to gain possession of the Bush Industrial Estate in London N19, and are now trying for a third time using planning loopholes.
“The campaign has reached a critical stage and we went to Mark, whose studio is very close by, thinking he might give us the use of a piece of existing work,” says local campaigner Mark Hudson.“But instead he put a lot of time and thought into the project and created a major new digital work from scratch.”
The result of this endeavour is ONE POTATO, TWO POTATO, a new addition to the Wallinger oeuvre made especially as a fundraiser for the Nocado campaign and his first major foray into the digital. As much an event as a work of art, the piece offers members of the public the chance both to contribute to the cause and also to collaborate in its unveiling by revealing squares of the online image for £1 each via the Nocado website.
The theme, character and appearance of this digital experience is a closely guarded secret. Wallinger will only say that, as per its title, the image he has chosen for ONE POTATO, TWO POTATO references both the timeless games of small children throughout history which he has placed in uncomfortable proximity to contemporary consumerism. He describes it as “a land of ease, where normal rules don’t apply, inhabited by larger beings who are intoxicated by their own greed.”
The work will be revealed square by square as members of the public unveil the 66,528 parts of its surface in an order devised by the artist.“It’s a bit like the ‘Spot the Ball’ competitions I remember from the seventies” says Wallinger.
Once all the squares have been purchased and the image made apparent, each participant will receive a high-res reproduction of the piece. 46 signed posters will also be allocated via a draw with all proceeds going to the Nocado campaign.
“I spend over half my time in the area, so I feel like a local and for me the issues are clear-cut.” says Wallinger. "During the pandemic many were reliant on home deliveries but now we’re coming out of that we’re looking at the destruction this has wreaked on the High Street and therefore on the community.”
Following a lengthy battle with the community and its continued attempts, Ocado are also appealing to the Planning Inspectorate to reverse Islington Council’s rejection of their second application. All this will inflict substantial legal costs on the Nocado campaign and makes the need for Wallinger’s fundraising initiative especially urgent. And so that other local communities will not have to fight similar battles, Nocado are also expanding their efforts to a national level with the imminent publication of an independent research report. The report will examine ways to modify Britain’s planning laws to remove loopholes that currently allow polluting companies to site their operations close to schools, hospitals, care homes or existing housing.
So next time you are poised for your Ocado or M&S grocery shop, instead think of those children’s lungs and log on to https://nocado.org/markwallinger/artwork to buy a piece of a revolutionary artwork and fight the good fight!