Sanctum Ephemeral outdoor photo installation – London Festival of Architecture

Artist, Mark Aitken writes about his latest project ‘Sanctum Ephemeral’ which explores the lives of Londoners before being displaced by property developers.

These pictures are about seeking sanctuary in the ephemeral.

The context is also ephemeral. Property developers have cast a shadow over the homes in these photographs.

I have pressing conversations with neighbours. We shed frustration. The impositions are beyond our control. Proposals beyond comprehension.

There’s nothing wrong with my house. Why do they want to knock it down? 

Words fail us. We feel impotent and angry.

People let me into their homes. I hear stories; gather evidence. Some of it makes sense. Some of it troubling. The rooms, the memories and the inhabitants reflect each other. Empty rooms as full as those overflowing. We talk about making pictures. We shape inanimate tableaus. An ephemeral trust develops.

An old Jamaican man tells me…

When you wake you should knock three times on your pillow to remember your dreams.

I ask people about their dreams…

I speak with children. The world is their dream.

I speak with adults. Some want to know what happened.

Others know their dreams are behind them and are more concerned about being awake.

I learn that everything is ephemeral and that if there is such a thing as sanctuary, it lies within this understanding.


© Mark Aitken


Sanctum Ephemeral is an Arts Council England funded series of photographic portraits of residents living on Cressingham Gardens Housing Estate, Brixton. Cressingham Gardens is a much loved low density green estate adjacent to Brockwell Park. Lambeth council has proposed the building of new public and private owned housing and Cressingham Gardens has been earmarked for demolition. I’ve been engaged with the project since September 2015 and lived on the estate since 2004.

The photographs are an exploration of how home as a repository of memory defines identity. We define our homes. Our homes define us. Participants aged 1 – 96 yrs are collaborating with me. Exhibition is on the estate itself, at Peckham 24 (Photo London) in May 19th – 21st, libraries and other local social hubs as well as a dedicated website, a newspaper and a book.

© Mark Aitken

© Mark Aitken

The installation is over four weeks in June 2017 as part of the London Festival of Architecture. They are hosting 500 events throughout the month relating to the theme of memory.  Sanctum Ephemeral has been selected as a stand out event.

Large 2 x 3m portraits will be hung on walls around the estate facing a main road and Brockwell park. The installation will transform the estate into a gallery offering intimate access to homes and residents in a unique way.

A takeaway newspaper that may be used as a pop-up exhibition will also be made available during the estate installation.

My practice includes film, photography and writing. Born in New Zealand, raised in South Africa, I moved to the UK to study art. I also lecture at Goldsmiths University and Central St Martins and hosts a radio series on Resonance fm. I’m interested in communities: their dynamics, their bonds, their insularity, their fragility and sustainability. This is currently the research of my doctorate thesis at Goldsmiths University.

To find out more about the project and Mark’s work please visit:

Featured image: © Mark Aitken