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Public Garden Solutions is a project taking place across the public realm of Croydon in collaboration with Lira Valencia, a trained wildlife conservationist. Centred on a number of strategically placed birdboxes doubling up as public sculptures, the project also includes the creation and distribution of a bespoke DIY birdbox manual and a corresponding workshop and educational programme (a birdbox making workshop, a nature walk and a nature craft workshop). Public Garden Solutions has combined Lira’s expertise in urban wildlife, nature conservation and educational campaigning with my public realm artistic practice to “explore the possibility of a human and nonhuman coalition in service of local interests” (Turf, 2023). Playing out over the long term, the project hopes to reveal itself slowly over time, creating the conditions for an ongoing discussion regarding Croydon’s biodiversity (loss) and uncover any future planning decisions that may undermine the security of its local human and non-human community.


To encourage the nesting of Swifts in Croydon, we have produced a series of Swift Boxes which will be placed within a number of loved, sentimental and contested buildings under threat of closure, privatisation and the prospective transformation into luxury flats. Our selected buildings all serve a positive community function and are public, community assets which are under threat of being sold by local authorities in the name of combating its economic debts. Given that Swifts are Red List species with a number of legal protections, the purpose of the birdboxes is to irritate, stall and disrupt any future large-scale planning applications by laying the conditions for a web of red tape and negative PR.


Turf Projects, a non-profit artist-run space in Croydon, commissioned Public Garden Solution as part of their Desire Paths programme. Desire Paths, named after the public phenomenon in which trails and paths are established in opposition to official town planning and in response to urban public space management (Furman, 2012), is an attempt to demystify and creatively question the hidden mechanisms that are dictating the changing landscape of the town in which the gallery is located.


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Desire Paths has fallen under the broad remit of Croydon being awarded the 2023 “London Borough of Culture”, a title gifted upon a London Borough every year by the Greater London Assembly (GLA), with this title comes funding and an expectation for the local council to put on additional cultural opportunities for its residence. With this GLA funding, Croydon council invited Turf Projects to conduct a public art programme engaging with empty spaces throughout the borough.


Despite efforts by 'This is Croydon' (the branding behind Croydon's year-long cultural programme) to market the town as a happy, unified borough via council led Public Art initiatives such as “Croydon Stands Tall” (image 2 and 3) – a series of colourfully painted giant Giraffes dotted throughout the town “celebrating diversity” (Unnamed man, ITV News, 2023) – Croydon is experiencing an unprecedented level of socioeconomic turbulence, uncertainty, frustration and turmoil.


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Image 3


The council has faced severe financial difficulties declaring effective bankruptcy three times in the space of two years (2020 – 2022) and subsequently requesting the government bail them out of their £1.3 billion debt (Butler, 2022). The conservative-led local authorities have taken an austerity approach to combating the deficit, with the council selling off public and community assets as a common tactic for a short-term cash infusion at the expense of essential community services (Inside Croydon, 2023). In the name of saving money, the council have; closed a community ran garden centre offering occupational therapy to adults with learning difficulties (O'Connor, 2023), closed and sold numerous community centres (O'Connor, 2022), attempted to close down and sell off libraries (Inside Croydon, 2023), and attempted to close down early age state funded nurseries (O'Connor, 2023), to name but a few. Croydon Council has attempted to balance the books at the expense of severely destabilising the community and reducing community services that have proven to be critical to the borough's residents. The protagonist collaborator within this economic tactic of selling off public assets is the property developer, cloaked under “redevelopment” or “regeneration” and seduced by its quick transport links into the city, Croydon town centre has seen a dramatic change to its vertical landscape in the form of luxury appartements with one unnamed long-standing resident even labelling the towns new landscape a “poor man’s Manhattan” (O’Connor, 2022).


While we have observed the town's construction boom in the form of luxury flats in recent years, labelled as investment and regeneration, we have simultaneously observed the closures of public services and community assets in the same timeframe. The knocking down of old buildings filled with nooks and crannies (which have housed returning Swifts year after year) and the replacing of these buildings with a style of architecture branded by its slick glass has actively endangered the bird’s safety (Crook, 2022); the Swifts population has seen a decline and is currently listed as an endangered species. In the context of species decline and of nurseries being under threat of closure in the name of reducing spending, Public Gardens Solutions has sought to collaborate with these returning Swifts to intervene in the process that determines the fate of these spaces that home and hold the emotional memories of Croydon’s multi-species community. We have sought to be a disguised problem that is slowly unveiling itself, an irritation, a troll in the service of protection and care, and a tool of resistance against those who are determining the current and future conditions of our shared urban environments.


We have consulted with Alan Yap during the research process for this project; Alan is an Assistant Ecologist who works professionally in the field of ecological surveying. Alan's knowledge and understanding enabled us to navigate the legal realm of conservation and assisted in demystifying the incredibly intricate and complex relationship between wildlife protection, planning, and development, as well as how best one can be leveraged to affect the other.


The birdbox design has been created specifically for Public Garden Solutions and has been conceived in line with the interventionist nature of our project. We have worked with architectural collective Feral Partnerships to design a Swift box which can be quickly installed and can be attached via a hanging mechanism suitable for drainpipes or any other hangable building feature. Feral Partnerships are a collective whose research lies in the archiving and speculating of “Multispecies Cohabitation” (Feral Partnerships, no date) and shifting common architectural practice towards “building worlds with the other-than-human in mind” (San Mei, 2022). The birdbox is accompanied by a freely distributed step-by-step manual, which has been made available as a digital resource for individuals or organisations to use as a tool of resistance to protect spaces under threat within their local context or as a way of attracting and protecting Swifts within their area.


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We have distributed two different Swift box designs; FÅGELHUS (Image 4) and FÅGELHUS 2.0 (Image 5), FÅGELHUS functions as a more accessible and utilitarian model for the DIY user, whereas FÅGELHUS 2.0 has been treated as an opportunity to be experimental within the design by exploring creative and alternative methods of hanging. We were keen to incorporate a hanging element within the design as it lends itself to a quick guerrilla style of installing. The fact that it does not require any permanent fixings also serves the practical purpose of side-stepping local planning technicalities. We have appropriated the visual language and branding of IKEA within this element for a number of reasons; firstly, to legitimise our use of the flatpack by associating it with a familiar model of assembly, and secondly, to imitate a corporate language in order to gain credibility and therefore operate in disguise. This mimicking as a means of infiltration is a theme which runs throughout the project (an idea informing our title Public Gardens Solutions).


IKEA has somewhat successfully branded itself to be associated with a cool style of ethical Scandinavian socialism and sustainability, while actually operating under the most elaborate and lucrative tax avoidance loopholes and consuming 1% of the worlds wood consumption (Thompson, 2017). We enjoyed the gesture of subverting the aesthetic language of a profit driven company into a free tool of resistance against the same neo-liberal infrastructure it upholds.


For full leaflet link here.


Image 5 


While considering the visual language of the FÅGELHUS 2.0 as a physical object, we were very keen for the birdboxes to be placed within the public realm of Croydon to have a sculptural presence. This employment of visual distinctness and sculptural form has helped us situate ourselves more comfortably under the guise of “Art”. A visual connection can be drawn between the FÅGELHUS 2.0 and that of minimalist and modernist sculpture which in turn carries with it the principles of purity of material, form, geometry, a rejection of representation and the autonomy of art.


Image 6, FÅGELHUS 2.0, 2023 Feral Partnerships x Public Garden Solutions


Image 7 Untitled 1957-1958 Carl Andre

This notion of artistic autonomy triumphs ideas of aesthetics, independence and a separation from art and life. Theorists such as Adorno suggest that artistic autonomy has the ability to resist Capitalist corruption, believing that it is the decision to retain art as an autonomous realm above that of capitalist entertainment and politics, which is itself the political potential of art. He states, “an emphasis on autonomous works is itself socio-political in nature” (Adorno, p.194,1962), demonstrating the belief that political potential does not lie in its ability to represent and depict politics through representing political ideas and events, instead by remaining above the nitty grittiness of everyday politics, he calls for the protection of arts as an autonomous sphere, safe from capitalist co-option and governmental Image 6, FÅGELHUS 2.0, 2023 Feral Partnerships x Public Garden Solutions Image 7 Untitled 1957-1958 Carl Andre influence. Like these ideas privileged by Adorno, the politics within our project does not lie in its imagery and in any attempts to depict, illustrate or represent any political subject, rather we hope to operate within the political subject being depicted.


Corporate circles operating under neo-liberal language are familiar with the value of public art and have sort to build a positive relationship with highly visual public sculpture as they have recognised its ability to positively contribute to placemaking schemes, drive up property prices and generally plaster over the effects of social displacement or acts of enclosure. Miwon Kwon has pointed out;


“At best, public art was a pleasant visual contrast to the rationalized regularity of its surroundings, providing a nice decorative effect. At worst, it was an empty trophy commemorating the powers and riches of the dominant class - a corporate bauble or architectural jewellery” (Kwon, p.65, 2003).


Generally, local authorities and private investors have welcomed the presence of visual public art due to the inherent cultural capital it possesses. Within this project we have sought to operate within the gaps between the collusion between Public Art, local authorities, and private investment. The corporate act of artistic co-option and instrumentalisation has been turned to work against itself, in an attempt to culturally profit from an association with artistic activities, they (the council) have inadvertently opened the door for us to enter an area of policy in which we are not welcomed. The appropriation of modernist aesthetics within the visual language of the birdboxes and the assertion of them also being legitimate Public Sculptures has played into our ability to operate under the banner of artistic autonomy, to appear apolitical and therefore be dismissed as harmless. Lucy Lippard has identified the Trojan Horse as the first activist artwork (Lippard, 1984, p.4). Like the Trojan Horse, we've chosen to announce ourselves as a gift, protected by the clichéd gentleness and do-gooder attitude of biodiversity campaigning and community-oriented art projects; we've deployed birdboxes as Trojan Horses of irritable resistance.


We have sought to mobilise the principles of artistic autonomy (in visual form and as an autonomous context) as a vehicle to ultimately leave the realm of art all together and enter a completely different arena, to leave art and to enter the realm of British Law. Lippard argues that affective activist art must function on multiple levels and “worms its way out of the prescribed channels” (Lippard, 1984, p.4). Our use of artistic autonomy as a vehicle to exit the prescribed realm of art demonstrates the political potential of autonomy outlined by Adorno. By defending arts protective layer of autonomy, it can become a fluid agent and possess the ability to sneak through the cracks between different spheres of life.


Concluding beyond the sole principle of artistic autonomy, we have mobilised the broader mechanics and conditions of contemporary art into a weapon of direct political action. The common mechanics of contemporary art being; the commissioning process, cross-discipline collaboration, workshops, the production of objects and then the display and distribution of these within a gallery or locally funded Public art initiative. These pillars of contemporary art and its institutional framing have all been mobilised within this project as a way of infiltrating an area of political intervention closed off from democratic politics. Public Garden Solutions is an ongoing project with the ability to grow, enter new phases and develop parallel to the political situation of its context. We will place more FÅGELHUS’s in response to the direction of change, viewing these as sleeper agents ready to intervene within the austerity driven erasure of community and public space.


Image Reference List

Image 1

Absolutely useless circle. Russia (2015), Imgur. Available at: (Accessed: 17 January 2024).


Image 2 Image Untitled. Two workers in high vis wheeling a Giraffe included in Croydon BID ‘Croydon Stands Tall’ (2023) Inside Croydon. Available at: 1000-used-app/.


Image 3 Image Untitled. Mayor of Croydon Jason Perry (left) and CEO of Croydon BID Matthew Sims (right) (2023) BID’s brass neck over plastic giraffes, as only 1,000 used app. Inside Croydon. Available at: neck-over-plastic-giraffes-as-only-1000-used-app/. Image 4 FÅGULHUS (illustration and plan), (2023) Original design and illustration by Feral Partnerships commissioned by Public Gardens Solutions


Image 5 FÅGULHUS 2.0 (illustration), (2023) Original design and illustration by Feral Partnerships commissioned by Public Gardens Solutions


Image 6 FÅGULHUS 2.0, (2023), Assembled by Sam Wills, Original design by Feral Partnerships commissioned by Public Garden Solutions


Image 7 Untitled 1957-1958, by Carl Andre, (Artwork size 21.6 x 8.9 x 8.9 cm). Paris + Par Art Basil. Available at:



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Crook, L. (2022) Dezeen. Glass facades are ‘the main culprit’ for billions of annual bird deaths. Available at: (Accessed: August 2023).


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O’Connor, T. (2022) My London. Croydon Community Centre on sale for over £1 million as council tackles finances. Available at: (Accessed: 08 January 2024).


O’Connor, T. (2023) My London. Council may be forced to shut or merge 5 nurseries with £500,000 deficit, Available at: (Accessed: December 2023).


O’Connor, T. (2023b) Cherry Orchard Garden Centre to be closed down by Croydon Council. Available at: centre-closed-croydon-council/ (Accessed: 08 January 2023).


O’Connor, T. L.D.R. (2022) Thousands of flats under construction in ‘Poor man’s Manhattan’, Surrey Live. Available at: (Accessed: 03 January 2024).


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