Beacon Tree

This work explores the utopian origins of the garden city movement so as to re-imagine new models of communal living within Dagenham’s Becontree Estate (East London), once the biggest municipal housing project in the world. The starting point was the meaning of the name ‘Becontree’, as recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086, which derives from the words ‘Beacon’ and ‘Tree’. The original tree indicated the location where early hundred meetings took place. Dagenham’s Beacon tree is an example of what is called a ‘trysting tree’; trees that were meeting places for social, political and religious gatherings. The project proposed a reenactment of this tradition through a series of paintings (en plein air) of characteristic trees on the green corners in the Becontree estate. Whenever passersby showed interest in the painting, they were asked if they wanted to be included in the picture. The finished paintings got exhibited at a local art center, The White House. All 80 participants received an invitation for the opening of the exhibition and were given a printed copy. Simultaneously, they met all the other residents, effectively restaging the painting. During a workshop people were asked to imagine a narrative that would explain the paintings. What was the reason why these groups gathered around the trees?