Rat-a-tat-tat! There’s somebody at your door … however not somebody you’re anticipating. Slightly, it’s a younger Italian man and he’s asking a relatively weird query: would you prefer to swap doormats with him?
What would you do subsequent? Invite him in for a cup of tea to listen to extra about his proposal? Or shoo him away and alert Neighbourhood Watch that there’s a weirdo within the space?
It’s one thing Alex Urso has been discovering out as a part of a month-long artist’s residency in London. Intrigued by the UK’s present political local weather, he needed to know simply how open-hearted the capital was and got here up with The Welcome Mission. He would go door-knocking across the metropolis, armed with recent new doormats, to see if residents could be comfortable to alternate their mats as a token of friendship. If the encounter went properly, he would depart with someone’s outdated doormat, which he might use as materials for an art work.
“The plan is to make a mosaic out of all of the doormats, one which represents Londoner’s willingness to be open,” says Urso, once I be part of him for a cold afternoon’s door-knocking round Hammersmith. I quickly get an thought of how time-consuming the challenge will need to have been. Not each dwelling has a doormat to swap, and even after they do, most raps on the door are left unanswered. We rouse the odd barking canine, however there’s not often signal of an individual. One aged woman opens her door, however is difficult of listening to and might’t perceive what Urso is providing, so we depart apologetically. One other lady involves the porch, however gained’t open it, suspicious of what Urso needs. As he explains his inventive challenge to her by means of the glass panels, she tells him that she’s really on a telephone name and hasn’t obtained time for it at present.
Nonetheless, Urso has had worse encounters. In Islington, a person began yelling at him – “Politics is crap! Europe is crap! England is crap!” – till he beat a retreat. “I needed to talk with him about these emotions, however there was no method to calm him down,” Urso explains.
Lastly, we knock on a door that opens. It has a zig-zagged doormat exterior that has notably taken Urso’s fancy and the girl is keen to hearken to his story. After listening to him out she says she could be comfortable to swap mats, however wants to talk to her husband first, because it was a gift from his mom. Sadly, he’s away, and as soon as once more Urso leaves empty-handed, greater than slightly dejected. I begin to marvel if anybody in London will give us a doormat at present. However a number of knocks later we strike gold. Caroline is from France and, regardless of retaining an air of bemusement, is very happy to talk to us about what it means to be welcoming in fashionable Britain: “I really feel that everybody on this avenue is fairly open,” she says. The one factor she will be able to’t perceive is why anybody would need to swap a recent new doormat (basic brown with “Welcome” written in black) for her well-trodden one.
“Most individuals are suspicious at first. They assume you should be promoting one thing,” Urso tells me over espresso and a croissant in a restaurant after our journey. “However they’re usually keen to talk to me, to inform me their tales. There’s solely a small minority of people who find themselves closed.”
After all, he’s conscious that being keen to swap doormats is not any concrete gauge of a welcoming angle. However he says he didn’t measure openness solely by the doormat alternate, however relatively when it comes to dialogue. Provided that an encounter was deemed to be hostile would he go so far as together with this in his mosaic, with an upturned doormat to symbolize unwelcomeness in ugly black rubber. Alongside the 35 mats Urso has collected after we meet, there are seven black spots – not a nasty ratio.
Urso talks in regards to the constructive tales he’s had throughout his travels – like John from Barnet who was so involved in regards to the chilly climate that he despatched him on his means with a bottle of whisky to maintain him heat. Whereas not precisely scientific, Urso has gone to nice lengths to soak up every a part of London. Armed with a huge map, numerous highlighter pens and a pocket book to report every response, he’s been knocking on doorways in each path, from the centre all the way in which out to the suburbs in zone six. And whereas not desirous to saddle his challenge with politics, he made certain to go to London’s leave-voting areas corresponding to Havering and Barking and Dagenham, to see if there was a distinction in response there. He says, if something, the depart voters have been extra welcoming. “There might have been extra disagreement however they have been extra open to dialogue,” he says. “Whereas in stay areas individuals may very well be extra suspicious, particularly once you encroach on their non-public property, maybe as a result of they’ve extra? It explains loads in regards to the political developments nowadays.”
Urso’s work is usually about constructing bridges: the 31-year-old at present lives in Warsaw, the place he’s additionally closely concerned in curatorial initiatives that join Polish and Italian artists. However after a number of weeks of assembly strangers in London, what does he really feel he’s realized about them?
“That there’s a variety of confusion across the politics,” he says, “but additionally that almost everyone needs to be open. They simply want an opportunity.”
Certainly, there’s one thing fairly heartwarming about seeing Caroline’s preliminary scepticism dissolve right into a heat chat about embracing strangers. If nothing else, Urso’s challenge ought to make us all reappraise how we really feel subsequent time we hear an unfamiliar knock on the door.