Friday, 30 January 2015
A Danish word originally: husk, a remembering or being mindful. The cafe offers various glimpsed memories of its former existences as a chapel for Danish sailors. There's been a church here since the 1890s, the current luxurious sprawl of spaces, however, is the extended form of a postwar structure, the angular brick inner sanctuary, complete with organ and maritime trusses, hosts the gallery space.
The enterprise is invisibly overseen by London City Mission, the spaces are refreshingly devoid of tracts, clutter, or indeed any trace of an agenda beyond excellent coffee hospitably offered. I prodded for a vision statement, a how-would-you-measure-the-success-of-the-exercise. Ally Gordon, artist-in-residence begins to describe Jesus, meeting people in the street ~ that third space of warmer climates. The collection of rooms very successfully plays the informal sprawl, and indeed I chance to bump into not a few Jesuses in my hours spent loitering over my flatwhite.
The spaces are sensitively balanced, allowing a full range of inhabitations, from the roadfront DLR-facing benching, through the uncynical domesticity of armchairs, rugs and bookshelves, right back to a starker co-working hive of skylit industry and artist's studio. Husk has been given the gift of an existing 50s modern structure which allows the relaxed and worn Eamesie furnishings to roam without any sense of affectation. Strip lighting, would be a minor complaint, flattening what could be more intimately light-pooled corners. The thin paper artworks on display compete unsuccessfully with other artefacts, sewing machines, hymn numbers etc.
The sheer volume of space available allows the coffee-as-catalyst mode of missional presence to be worked out to a greater degree than at Wren, Host or Kahaila. The coffeeshop floor is well curated as a safe space, with a gradiation, all manner of ambiguities are accommodated in the roomy front-of-house, which serves as either a buffer for the unwilling or invitation to the willing - inviting a deeper involvement, in the work of the gallery, classrooms and studio out back.
But it is not just volume: the explicit diversity of uses which symbiotically sit alongside mutually reinforcing the other's mission is where the magic happens here. On the one hand, coffee's familiarity gathers a broad audience to an more typically elite class of use the 'art gallery' allowing a license for more ambitiously challenging curation than concern for access might otherwise allow.
While equally in this complementary relationship the transformative mission of art gives to the coffee space a depth and an orientation, comparable to Hive's efforts with local food. Hive being possibly even more successful than Husk in emphasising coffeeshop-as-gateway - a coffee-shop-as-tip-of-the-iceberg mode of mischief.
I'm still on the lookout for socially provocative experiments using the vehicle of coffee. Do be in touch if you want to chat or have any recommendations ~ London or further afield. 07729056452