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Street cleaner becomes focus of manual labour art installation

James Harris regularly clears the towpath from Lisson Grove to the Cally

01 June, 2018 — By Samantha Booth

Mr Harris in the art installation

A WELL-KNOWN street cleaner had a change of scenery from Regent’s Canal to perform in a contemporary arts show.

For the last 13 years, James Harris has kept the pathways alongside the whole canal clear from Islington to Westminster.

But while working last month, an arts student approached and asked the local hero to feature in her degree piece based on manual labour.

Eunhong Kang, a fine art student at Central St Martins, said she wanted him involved as he represented the theme she was trying to capture.

“He does his cleaning job, just using his hands and feet walking alongside a canal for a long time,” said 28-year-old Miss Kang.

“I wanted to explore how people’s attitudes and behaviour, created by the relationship between people in society, can be interpreted differently from a socio-political perspective.”

For several hours on repeat over several days, Mr Harris, a dad-of-two, performed a routine at the university which included stacking bricks and inserting his arm into a metal cage while curious passers-by watched.

Mr Harris, who was paid for  his role, said: “It was very good, I was happy that people came by and read about what her art piece was and watched my performance. I still enjoy the street cleaning as I’m walking about 10 miles a day all the way from the tunnel in Caledonian Road to Lisson Grove in Westminster.

“It’s about looking after the place and I like meeting the people who live in the boats.”

This isn’t the first time Mr Harris, who came to Britain from Guyana, South America, in 1979, has put his acting skills into action.

He played a busker in the 1980s film Sammy and Rosie Get Laid and had also pursued a career in making reggae and dance music.

A crash in his younger years left him unable to hear from his left ear, but after a recent hearing aid fitting, he hopes to get back into the studio.

On any further acting career, Mr Harris said: “I’m 60 now. If jobs like this come up I’ll get into it, but it’s not something I’m really pursuing.”

Miss Kang, who lives in King’s Cross, added: “Through bringing him to the stage, James and I created together a place where both reality and fictional art co- exist. The collaborative project was so successful, and I’m so happy to meet and work with him. I’d like to say to him thank you so much.”


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