Saturday, 7 September 2013

Finding the Antiuniversity: A Walk Through the Graffiti of Rivington Street

On 12 February 1968 a group of artists, writers and intellectuals started the Antiuniversity of London. The free university was led by people such as the ‘anti-psychiatrist’ R. D. Laing, the academic Stuart Hall and the Situationist Alexander Trocchi. Run at 49 Rivington Street in Shoreditch, London EC2, the group advertised education in the area of “Music, Art, Poetry, Black Power, Madness, Revolution”. The aim of the university was to open up education to more people in an effort to desinstitutionalise it (hence R. D. Laing’s involvement, since he was attempting to do something similar in the institution of psychiatry). Teachers at the Antiuniversity included Herbert Marcuse and Gregory Bateson. It was to be “a meeting ground for discussion, discovery, rediscovery and revelation. It [was] intended as an on-going experiment in the development of consciousness and [was] related to other revolutionary experiments in universities”. Unfortunately, even at the opening, there were arguments between the committee, students and teachers about press coverage. The Antiuniversity did not last long.

The above image of the building where the Antiuniversity was located was taken by Peter Műnder and dates from around that period. This blog takes you from the entrance to Rivington Street, from the Old Street end, via the graffiti and street art I spotted on the way. At the end you will see the building as it is today.

Today the building is the retail shoe outlet Fiorentini + Baker. It looks very different from its time as the Antiuniversity. This part of Shoreditch has been smartened up so much since I first moved to London in the late 1980s. It’s now a trendy, artsy, boho area. Although, thankfully, there is still something gritty about it in its scruffiness, especially when entering from Old Street.

Mayday Rooms on The Antiuniversity of London
Negotiating Brutalist Space at the University of Leeds