For thirty-five years until her passing in 2020, 68 Anstey Road was Barbara Steveni’s home, studio and archive. It was a space for living but also for the expression of her artistic practice through making, conversation, and reflection on her past endeavours. Photographer Jean-Philippe Woodland began documenting her home in 2018 at Barbara’s invitation. Her personal history and personality was expressed so distinctly throughout in the material of her home, Jean-Philippe has been able to capture both a portrait of the space and of Barbara herself.
After Barbara and her then partner John Latham (1921-2006) separated in the mid-1980’s, they left their former home in Holland Park and both chose to move to South London. They selected properties a few streets apart and their work together continued. Peckham had a reputation for crime and poverty and at the time property was cheap in this inner-city area. Over the following years the neighbourhood slowly regenerated then gentrified, leaving this back street, Victorian terraced house in a rather different environment to the one Barbara found it in.
When arriving at Barbara’s home, a close friend would know not to knock but rather tug a rope hanging by the doorframe. Once pulled, it rattled a collection of oyster shells and Barbara would know she had a friendly guest. On entering, the two rooms on the left are open as one, hosting her sitting room to the front and an office-studio leading to a garden at the rear. Ahead, there is a kitchen leading to a workshop . Upstairs are a bedroom, bathroom and Barbara’s archive space.
As the photographs by Jean-Philippe convey, the property is imbued with Barbara’s character. Throughout, the walls are of bare plaster; metal panels cover holes in the floor and hold the banister together, becoming smoothed and polished over the years. A fish tank is perched on top of the bathtub. The open leaves of an Alocasia are tightly pressed against a bay window. Doors lean against walls and mirrors are ever-present creating multiple perspectives and casting light from space to space. Of particular note are the numerous interventions by the sound artist Z’EV (1951-2017) with whom Barbara began a relationship with in the late 1980’s. They sit alongside Barbara’s wall mounted assemblage works, artwork by Latham and others, and further modifications of Barbara’s invention. At times it proves hard to conclude what is and what isn’t artwork, the determination being rather redundant.
As so much of Barbara’s artwork was social and discursive it proved an incredibly convivial meeting space. Right up until her final days people would visit Barbara’s home to develop new projects, often over a bowl of borscht. She would welcome friends and family to join her, as well as artists, curators, academics, politicians and people from the many fields her career had intersected with over the course of her long life. As well as hosting this discursive element of her practice, of critical import is her archive in which she welcomed archivists and researchers. The home hosts various projects Barbara worked on over many years including the piles of newspapers she amassed and the deliberate collection of dust at specific points.
Appropriately for an artist who described herself as ‘an archive’, these continuous projects demonstrate a preoccupation with the ceaseless passing of time, and her position within this changing context.
The author of these images, Jean-Philippe, is also the partner of Barbara’s granddaughter so his photographs give a uniquely intimate portrait. Sitting in her living room I would often find myself examining some detail, deliberately placed item or photograph, an artwork, book or crack in the wall. These photographs reconstruct this sensation, presenting a home which performed as a collage of her long and story-filled life.
Text by Gareth Bell-Jones
Jean-Philippe Woodland is a French photographer living in London. He went to school in Belgium, studied photography in Paris, and art in South Africa and Belgium. Jean-Philippe’s work explores photo series and collections, collage and installation. He has exhibited in Brussels, London, South Africa and Paris, and collaborates with artists internationally. Alongside pursuing his projects, he works as a still life and interior photographer.