What does your local High Street mean to you? What is its future?
In October/November this year SHU is proud to be presenting the exhibition ‘the High Street of Exchanges’ by Sheffield social enterprise architecture collective Studio Polpo, which formed part of the British Pavilion at the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale.
Recent years have seen increasing inequalities and a crisis in care. Declining wages and the impact of large multinationals on retail led local economies have exacerbated the decline of the high street. However, there is evidence of communities self-organising to provide mutual aid on their local high streets and re-orientate local economies. The High Street of Exchanges argues that the current simplistic model for the high street is socially and economically unsustainable.
This exhibition invites visitors to imagine the high street as an infrastructure of mutuality, care and civic action. Presenting fragments from real high streets in Sheffield – a barber’s, a library, a pay-as-you-feel café – within an interactive ATM, the exhibition explores the social activities and interactions that exist beyond the commercial, those non-monetary transactions which occur in the shops, backrooms, thresholds, cafés and pavements of our towns and cities.
These exchanges form the starting point for a series of spatial propositions for community-led developments within high streets across the UK.
Alongside the immersive installation and associated programme of events, which include a panel discussion with speakers from academia, the third sector and community activism, and a workshop hosted by CRESR and Power to Change, which will explore the pilot High Street Community Improvement Districts, we are inviting SHU staff and students working in relevant fields to contribute to the debates around the future of the High Street through the presentation of relevant projects as part of the exhibition.
Responding to the premise, artist Becky Shaw presents Supershopjackets, a series of photographs of the paper covers used by local councils to cover vacant retail spaces. Nestled amongst the very ordinary shops of her local High Street – pound shops, vape shops, discount supermarkets – these images project an aspirational lifestyle aimed as much at luring would be retailers as hiding the gaps in once thriving shopping frontages. Over the past five years, Shaw has passed through her local town centre with her children, becoming an afficionado of the form: “We pose as dummies in fashion shops, we attempt to sit on rendered chairs, to read blank books, hide amongst the flowers and grab handbags”, recasting these images and this place as a space to perform and activate other kinds of dreaming.