Monday, February 9, 2015

My Favorite Alley in Peckham, DKUK Salon, AYA café

DKUK Salon

There are times when one feels like there are just no options, no alternatives, no ways in which the ‘way’ things are will ever be not be that ‘way.’ This is a feeling that seems to be conditioned versus conditional. Call it postmodernism, call it neoliberalism, call it capitalism, call it the art world, call it whatever you want but this thing is so established that even sticks and stones won’t break its bones.

So what to do in the face of all that? There are a few options. One, is to just embrace it, love it, believe it, and ‘just do it,’ whatever that ‘it’ is whatever those goals are with whatever it takes. This route has the most success in a certain type of way and serves the conditioned goal model. Two, is to fake it till you make it, this meaning that you see what’s going and you do one thing day-to-day but in the background or private life you do another that counters these conditioned goal aspects of your life. This is a form of continuation of the conditioned goal but there is some sense, morally, egotistically or actually that counters one’s admittance and participation in the ‘hustle.’ Third, there is the option of the big leap. This leap can be a ‘fuck it I’m done’ aka cabin in the woods vibe. Or it can be a ‘fuck it I’m done’ which is like a slash and burn of one’s method and motivation of being. This can be idealistic and cliché in it’s own mannerisms but it can also be entrepreneurial and re-directional not just for a self but for the condition as well.

This is a very long introduction to my recent experience to an example of this third type of alternate condition in the face of our whatever we live in right now. A friend sent an email that brought to my attention a salon of sorts in my neighborhood, Peckham (specifically Peckham Rye). I was curious so I emailed a ‘let’s meet and chat’ message as I am wont to do and this past Saturday I did just that.

So those who don’t live or know about Peckham, it is in South London and it is a quaint assemblage of row Victorian houses on quiet streets that are not gridded in any manner but feel like paved meanderings. It’s the same tale here as it is in most cities with the buzzing word ‘gentrification’ which includes in this setting; generational families, investment renovators, students, artists, and a large mix of immigrant populations mostly of African and Caribbean descent. I am going into that because it matters in retelling of my Saturday findings.

One of the main roads in this neighborhood is Peckham Rye Lane and on this road it is a dense street of stores selling, veg, meat, fish, 99 pound stores, nail salons, hair salons, cell phone top up stalls, and a variety of other shops. It is bursting with a type of DIY entrepreneurialship that is familiar around the globe for the diasporic and it serves their own community while also mixing with their new home. Within this melee of shops and stalls there is a small alley, #135a, with open front arcade shops right before the Peckham Rye Overground station. It is in this alley some fabulous finds and examples of an invigorating demarcation of alternative can be found.

The alley is dimly lit and anonymous and walking through I was not sure if I was in the right place but then I saw the sign I was looking for, “DKUK” in neon green tape. The place is DKUK Salon and it is a hair salon run and envisioned by Daniel Kelly who is a highly trained hair stylist and also an artist. For a reasonable 35 quid (for women’s cut) you can get your hair dressed, tressed and chopped by these creative hands but the real added surprise is the setting in which this occurs. DKUK takes up two stalls which is about 8 feet wide by 20 feet long (I will never learn meters) and within there are all the accouterments for a salon; a hair washing basin, a swivel chair, blow dryer, shampoo, but then what is missing is the most notable and that is a mirror. The chair in which one sits faces not a mirror but a flat screen TV. On this screen is a video work of an artist’s whose name I don’t recall but it is of a fuzzy grey composite white noise screen and then there is a flash of a generated human head in the same position of where your reflection would be if siting in the chair. There are also two speakers on either side of the monitor and it creates a buzzing sound with a sharp tone when the face appears.

In addition to the TV monitor, on the walls, which are charmingly left with the interchangeable shelving planks, are works by Camille…(I also don’t recall the name in full and they don’t have a updated archive on their site). Anyways it is not the full show on view but the remainder of it which is large copy paper like posters that say “Man” in boxed out places. This salon, as you may have guessed, is also a gallery of sorts, one that uses the investment of time attached to getting your hair cut to being surrounded by and inhabiting art. There is a mirror of course which in the end you can gaze upon your visage and new 'do but I think it sheer (pun not intended) brilliance of using this type of time and focus to stare at a screen and to be within an installation.

So yes, things like this might seem vaguely familiar to you. Art gets sucked up by non-art settings in all sorts of ways. Subway cars, restaurants, elevators, bathrooms, etc. have all been site specified in one way or another but trust me, DKUK is not about co-option of this type of model as it is just too raw, weird and funky to be anything but sincere. I am not sure what is going up next or what will come or how it will change but it feels great to be inside it and it made me so happy that it exists. Talking with Kelly about the project themes of money, time, labor, exchanges of value were discussed but from this convo the thing that I appreciated more then anything was his forthrightness about the point of commercial exchange as well as his ideal intentions for the project. On the first count, the transaction of money for a very good hair cut to fund this experimental art and the setting is so one-to-one that full transparency is brutally at the fore hence compromises need not apply. On the second point, his desire for the salon to be a part of the neighborhood, to be a happened upon art experience by those that are not necessarily art world insiders is endearing albeit I’m not sure how maintainable. I commend that impulse though and there is an unassuming openness and flexibility of this idea, which I think, may promote this ideal.

After visiting DKUK I was nosing around and in this same alley are a variety of little shops. This includes a vintage clothing store, a record shop, a tchotchkes and small collectables stall and a brand new café which I fell absolutely in love with. It is called AYA and it is run by the talented and sweet Aya Abdrassilova. It is a similarly scaled space, narrow and small like DKUK but it has a vibe which meets its purpose which is serving delicious sandwiches, crepes, teas and ice creams. I have been watching a lot of food shows on BBC and the chefs/cooks on the shows often speak of food that is made with ‘care,’ ingredients that are treated with ‘love.’ A little hokey but I can’t think of any other words then these types when thinking about the food at AYA. It is very much made with care and love and you can just taste that in the food. The sandwiches are large and yummy with fresh made bread and they are perfect proportions of filling, greens and spread. There are savory and sweet crepes made to order and they are as delicious as they look and smell. There is a warmth radiating from this food nook although it is in this alley setting. You can tell people who are eating there are enjoying themselves immensely and that they feel they are in on some sort of secret. This is how I felt eating here the other day I brought friends along because I wanted them to see this secret too. It’s simple, yummy, comforting food and it is not pretentious or overthought. Also at 4.50 quid per crepe or sandwich it’s an absolute steal for the quality you get.

I rarely eat out because I have certain standards that are easy to meet but usually are not. This is not  the case for AYA which I will patron many times a week. In addition she displays and sells clothes by young local designers and they are actually really good and creative clothes. What can you not like about this place! Well maybe the only thing is that it is small, only one table which fits maybe 6-7 people so don’t come thinking you will have a restaurant experience but I think it's better that it's small. Come alone or with a friend or two and have private conversations while eating yummy, reviving food.

Okay, so I have been gushing about these two spaces, which you know is not something I normally do. I do not gush because most things either bore me or underwhelm me in their obviousness or their necessity. A salon/art space and a café/fashion stall are not world changing or mind-altering things but that’s not the point. These two spaces exist in a time when ‘living’ is considered successful if it is conditioned and meets a series of set goals. DKUK and AYA are clearly not about meeting goals in that type of way but are actualizations of other types of goals; personal, creative, dream type of goals. There is an investment of self, of time, capital, and resources. There is a leaping of sorts into an unfinished and unknown model of operating and being. It is a refreshing form of entrepreneurialship but not in the trendy start-up sort of way which is abstract, strategic and conditional. These are such personal and honest displays of small business creation that it makes you think, hey, capitalism doesn’t need to be that way.

Long meandering yelp like review later, I again give my stars, thumbs up, likes, what-have-you to these businesses and to this little alley in Peckham. The local, the personal, the doing what you love is the best types of places to support and to spend your hard earned money at.