BAIT & The Pursuit of Space
The transience of home, for those who have it and those who don’t
"I only want one simple thing: somewhere to live – everyone takes it so for granted, but once you have that everything falls into place."
— Jimmy’s Resident, p.3
Next to this quote from page 3 of the upcoming issue 5 of BAIT (on Space) is a black-and-white picture, which looks out and down from a steely, spider-web scaffold structure, onto a small group of people below. They’re most likely tourists – or are they schoolchildren? Maybe a large family (or two)? What matters is that we’re looking down on them from a place of security, of power. And yet, there seems to be no floor under our feet – our superiority is at risk of only being an illusion; the threat of plummeting down through the structure to certain doom is suggested.
It’s a complex and striking image, like many of those featured in BAIT, and it draws up questions of what it means to have or not have shelter, and of the power dynamics in play when we take someone in or refuse them accommodation. Being a student at Cambridge is to be constantly reminded of these sorts of spacial dynamics – we live in grand, beautiful buildings which exude wealth, and are wildly privileged to be able to do so, but at the same time we live in a city which is disproportionately hit by homelessness. It's heartbreakingly difficult not to notice, especially in such a concentrated city where so much student life occurs within the centres, and those on the streets can all too easily become familiar. It's all too easy for their voices to be lost, blurred into the background.
This is why it's so important that BAIT's fifth issue begins with a quote from one of the residents of Jimmy's, the Cambridge-based charity which supports the homeless in the city, and which editor-in-chief Alice Gilderdale (who I had the joy of talking to this weekend) has decided to partner up with once more (all profits raised from the issue will be donated to Jimmy's). For her, the permanence of the homeless here is exactly what saddens her most, "the fact that you get to know the homeless people here, it’s the same faces that you see, especially women that I recognise day in day out."
Whilst Alice does express sadness, one of the biggest takeaways from our conversation was the sense of action she had towards tackling problems. As she sees it, BAIT is a way for awareness to be raised about the issue of homelessness throughout the city, but it also acts as a celebration of the power of student activism. One of the most stirring pieces in this collection is Esme Cavendish's essay 'On Occupation,' which picks apart the political, ideological and communal implications that 'Occupations' (such as those Zero Carbon have initiated) suggest. It's the first time I've seen someone really engage with what it means to take over one of these spaces, and why it's such an important tool for not just local change, but a global one. There's a lot in this issue about reaching out beyond ourselves, through the intimate, enclosed spaces we have access to.
Outreach is something that Alice and I touch on – I've come to talk to her in her room at Robinson (who financially supported the production of the zine), and I ask her if she sees a certain doublespeak behind the college supporting a collection which is so fascinated with spaces and privilege, and their being subject to deserved criticism from the Cut the Rent and Living Wage campaigns.
"I was saying to someone yesterday, because you know the whole thing about King’s not flying the trans flag – the stereotypes of these colleges come from the students, and they’re taken over by the bureaucracies of the colleges, but the bureaucracies of the colleges are never forward-thinking (unless you get colleges that do have quite forward-thinking management) and I feel like they steal the wonderfulness of the students and take it over as their own image.
"And that’s the thing, we [at Robinson] have high rents for rooms, our living wage rate is the worst, there are many negative things with Robinson that students and staff have to deal with… they said send us your bank details, and we’ll send you £100 [for the magazine], but why can’t this go to the staff getting paid an actual living wage? And it comes back to the fact that they can’t see beyond their own remit: we’re an academic space, but you are also part of a community, and I feel like this community spirit has been lost in translation between the students and management, and the staff and management."
We talk about how change must happen, and how space – and the idea of home – can help realise the way towards that change. Home is especially pertinent to Alice, as she comes from Cambridge as well as studying here. Speaking to me about the duality of this sort of life, she says that "when the holidays come and everyone leaves, Cambridge becomes such a different space, and I’m navigating different routes. I see this space as a very much contained Cambridge space". This is somewhere that her sister can visit easily (as she was just as I got there), or where she might bump into her family in the middle of the day on her way to a supervision. Spaces collide and home is, as Cameron Walters writes in the very first line of poetry in the collection, "a transient place".
His poem, aptly entitled 'change,' is a fitting beginning to the collection – it is gentle, inviting, and gracious. It behaves the very way we all should towards those who aren't as privileged to share the same amazing spaces as us, and empowers home to travel outside to those who need it most.
Before I left, I asked Alice what she thought made BAIT so special. Firstly, she talks about the quality of the final product, crafted by "a team of perfectionists", as she calls them. "It looks good, it looks professional, it's once a term so it's not rushed," and I couldn't agree more. Perhaps her second reason is more pertinent however – trying to open the conversation out to as many people as possible in as humane a way. Art is a wonderful opportunity for us all to connect, and the physical book of 'On Space' 'keeps things a bit more tangible'. Space goes from our most intimate spheres to the outer regions of the cosmological sense of the word, and if we can relate the space we make for art and conversation to these places we cherish, who knows what we could accomplish?
BAIT are launching their fifth issue 'On Space' on Saturday 2nd March in the Sidney Sussex Squash Courts, 6-8pm. Tickets are £6, which includes entry to the event and a copy of the collection, and all profits will be going to Jimmy's Cambridge. Buy tickets in the link below.
Header credit: Maria Calinescu.