A child in one of the apartments built in the former stadium

Quiet is what first strikes the visitor to the former Arsenal stadium. Where once fans yelled and chanted in unison, now there is the pristine glass and grass of a modern housing development.

Highbury Stadium Square is a housing complex with more than 700 flats constructed between 2006 and 2009 within the grounds of the former Arsenal football stadium. Stands Alone is a multimedia exhibition at the Geffrye Museum that explores the ambivalence of the community living in this development, and by extension others like it.

Through multi-layered portrayals, photographer Simone Novotny reveals the lives and stories of the inhabitants of 32 of the 700 flats through photos, interviews and videos. The designers, lawyers, students, teachers, engineers, architects and others live behind front doors distinguished only by their numbers. They reside together in a place they seem to like, yet they are also beset by an evident isolation.

As part of the project, Novotny asked her subjects to write on pieces of film words that described how they felt in their flats. ‘Relaxed’, ‘happy’ and ‘contented’ and ‘calm’ figure heavily. But probing beneath these immediate reactions, Novotny also asked people to write longer notes on their feelings of place. It is in these more reflective descriptions that a sense of separation and lack of real community creeps in: “Sometimes you feel you are alone,” says Renata. “Everyone just wants to get on with their lives, enjoy their surroundings, but they have nothing to do with anyone else who lives here,” remarks Bill. “I rarely see the same person twice,” notes Elle.

Others comment on the architecture, which fosters mutual observation but also distance. “It took me a while to get used to looking into other people’s flats,” says Elaine. Dan complains: “I don’t like sitting on show when we are just watching telly.” Sarah sums it up with “squares, squares, squares everywhere”.

Together yet separated, each in their own goldfish bowl, the residents of Highbury Stadium Square clearly have an uneasy relationship with their surroundings. Novotny herself has lived in the development, so these are her neighbours. It is perhaps somewhat ironic that the spirit of this community should emerge only via art, or maybe it is a fitting testimony to modern urban existence.

Stands Alone: Making a home at the former Arsenal football stadium
Until 26 August 2013
Geffrye Museum
136 Kingsland Road, E2 8EA

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