Robots of Brixton depicts a dystopian vision of South London’s most infamous and celebrated area, recalling the riots which took place there twenty years ago. It is one of 6 short films recently shown in a special screening held in Brixton Village to celebrate the launch of Factory Fifteen, a new animation company.
The six members of Factory Fifteen are all graduates of the Bartlett School of Architecture, where they trained together as part of a unit specialising in film, video, animation and motion graphics. The six films are their individual degree pieces and fall under the banner of ‘future cities’. Each film imagines a radically different cityscape of the future, magnificently realised through digital wizardry and demonstrating both Factory Fifteen’s technical and aesthetic prowess.
Unlike most of the films, Kibwe Tavares’ film is not set in an entirely invented future city, but in the recognisable streets of Brixton. “In the future, there will be more old buildings than new” says Tavares, by way of explanation for his choice. A simple rationalisation perhaps, yet telling of his understanding of the organic way in which western cityscapes, and places, are formed:
“When people imagine cities in the future, they think of flying cars and brand new everything. But if you look around London, old is meshed with new and buildings which are hundreds of years old sit alongside buildings which are 50 years old, which sit alongside contemporary stuff. In fifty years time, most of the fabric of Brixton will remain the same, which is why I concentrated on additions”.
Brixton born and bred, it is unsurprising that Tavares looked to his home town for inspiration and to the area’s colourful past. In Robots of Brixton, Brixton has degenerated into a disregarded area inhabited by London's new robot underclass. The mechanical population of Brixton has rocketed, resulting in unplanned, cheap and quick additions to the skyline.
Tavares’ digitally mutilated Brixton forms the backdrop to riot scenes, which are elegantly merged with real footage from the 1981 riots, offering the film a subtle poignancy. Key public buildings, such as the town hall, have been transformed with a multitude of add-ons and extensions - structures inspired in part by the densely populated urban slums of Kowloon’s Walled City, and also by an installation, ‘Favela’, by Spanish artist Dionisio Gonzalez, who created a series of photographic collages using images of the shanty towns of Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro.
The film is not all doom and gloom, however, and is punctuated with moments of humour. When, in the opening sequence, Tavares’ robot protagonist strolls through Brixton Market, the scene is an active and lively one, celebrating the particularities which make Brixton the much-loved home of a joyous and creative community today.
Other shorts in Factory Fifteen’s thirty minute show included The Battersea Experiment, by Dan Tassell, depicting Battersea Powerstation, resplendent amongst a chaos of mutant plants, and Megalomania, by Jonathan Gales.
Gales’ film depicts an intimidating and desolate cityscape of towering megastructures under construction, yet it is strangely beautiful and entrancing. Inspired by incomplete icons such as The Shard and Burj Khalifa, Gales’ piece makes a comment on the capitalist ambitions of much contemporary architecture as unsustainable, unobtainable and unfulfilled. It is highly topical in a climate where a newly environmentally conscious public are questioning the sustainability of enormous buildings clad entirely in glass.