By Miruna Tiberiu
For those who have strolled down the streets of Shoreditch, past the swathes of fashion students standing outside designer vintage shops, on the hunt for the least overpriced coffee in a two-mile radius, the idea that East London once looked completely different seems almost mythical. The area’s past lives are felt by their ghostly presence, superimposed, as the ever-changing city shape-shifts once more. Its histories, too, permeate through these streets. Turning to these past lives precisely, and perfectly timed for this year’s LGBT+ history month, Richard Squires and Emily Richardson embark on their latest collaborative project; a jubilee exhibition in the name of the grassroots queer art event they hosted in Shoreditch in 1998. JUST COPING 25 sees the coming together of a queer artist community on the margins 25 years ago, remembered today through an intimate and powerful archival exhibition.
On the 19th of August 1998, the Shoreditch bar 333 was temporarily taken over by a group of troublemaker artists hungry to show their queer art to the world – starting with East London. The result was JUST COPING.
To the organisers of JUST COPING, Shoreditch in the late ‘90s was a glorious and terrifying place. Unknowingly at the time, the event perhaps became caught up in these changing tides and confused visions of the future spurred on by the birth of Tony Blair’s New Labour. The organisers, all regulars to the neighbourhood, remember with a shudder the Lads Lads Lads culture which they ran away from at all costs. Britpop, Young British Artists, Cool Britannia, and the ‘commercialisation of culture’ seemed to fill London’s art scene. Things were about to change, however. In the same space, ‘Gayditch’ was about to be born, together with its electrifying club circuit and cult house parties. JUST COPING, in some ways, marked this start.