October 24, 2011 by elenafesta · Comments Off on Internship Final Impression : Elena Festa
Four months ago, when I started working as an intern at Proboscis, I wrote how pleasantly surprised and perplexed I was in finding myself in such a stimulating and challenging environment. My disorientation sprang from my own unfamiliarity with workplaces in general, having spent most of my adult life either at University or in the company of books, and from the inherent shifting quality peculiar to Proboscis. This crossdisciplinarity allowed me to try my hand at activities I could hardly have done anywhere else: projects I was more aware of and versed in, and a project I was less skilled at.
The outcome of my months spent here at Proboscis are a series of eBooks extrapolated from the visual essay I composed on Proboscis’ wall, loosely based on their work and enriched by my own series of allusions, suggestions and relations. First it developed as a concise mind map which outlined the fundamental design underpinning Proboscis’ long journey and then evolved in different and unexpected directions, feeding on my past knowledge, fortuitous connections and new sources of inspiration. It was elaborated following different paths and along the way I published several posts about themes I found fascinating and prominent. Unfortunately, the result of the other project I followed, Pic(k)ing out London, was less fortunate and successful in terms of stimulating participation but the reflections that were stirred proved to be neat and helpful for future research. Alongside I had the chance to grow more and more familiar and feel more comfortable with Bookleteer platform (absolutely brilliant!), Flickr and posting on blogs.
I want to deeply thank Giles and Alice and everyone at Proboscis for hosting me these months. I am confident and optimistic that my experience here will mature and take shape and, even retrospectively, will prove to be valuable and irreplaceable.
October 21, 2011 by elenafesta · Comments Off on Pic(k)ing out London – How it went
Last August I started planning and outlining the details of my personal project named Pic(k)ing out London. Alice and Giles helped me adjust and refine my initial blurred design, propelling questions and making objections in order to show me how intricate and elaborate planning even a simple project like this is. At first I was pretty enthusiastic about that as I thought I would have had the chance to test my ideas – how ever scattered and ephemeral they might have appeared – about urban interaction against the merciless reality. My aim was to select people from different backgrounds who have diametrically opposed points of view of London. That meant avoiding close friends or at least I meant to pick only a few and try to differentiate my recipients as much as possible. That again meant that I should run through different channels in order to recruit people who could possibly match my criteria and expectations. At first I sent emails to contacts I was provided by Giles and Alice and although the response was quite poor from the beginning I was at least pretty satisfied with the initial goal achieved: yes I had found six people willing to take part in the project (being six the minimum threshold we had set) and even if among those six there were some acquaintances or some friends of a friend they altogether formed a varied lot!
How ever promising it could be, it was not destined to last long. People disappear, they don’t get in touch or, when they do, they vainly assure me they will eventually do it. People then abandon the project along the way for various reasons and I should say I soon realized I was not in a favourable junction at all as all sort of unfortunate circumstances seemed to come together: computer crashes, camera breakdown, memory card not inserted and many other personal misfortunes.
In order to compensate for this ever weaker inflow of material Alice and Giles advised me to enlarge both the scales of time of the project and the spectrum of potential participants by adopting less-beaten methods to recruit and involve people. We cut the days people had to commit and proposed a 5-days, one-weekend or even a one-day involvement. Besides I tried to broaden my horizons by contacting associations and various community clubs, posting on different websites, boosting the group Facebook and Flickr pages, approaching strangers on the streets and handing out flyers. I should admit that I also went back to those very friends I had at first neglected and begged for help. However, as hard as I tried, it just did not work!
After the inevitable discouragement and frustration, I became aware that a reflection about the reasons why the outcome shattered my anticipation was absolutely indispensable and, all things considered, it was the only thing left to do. Giles and Alice were not of secondary importance in this process, as they always tried to make me understand that a marginal failure is unavoidable and predictable when doing projects that require the involvement of people. As long as you stick to your ‘sacred cows’, you have to be flexible and adapt your ideas to any change of circumstances which may occur.
As the project was initially designed, it was perhaps too demanding, too specific and not so straightforward as I thought it was if you consider working with people from a distance. This implies an autonomous effort from their part and if the tasks are a bit challenging they may easily get lost and lose interest in the project. Then it is mandatory to understand how people have their own concerns and duties to care. Therefore in a situation where the participants feel no obligation whatsoever, apart from being a mere act of helpfulness, and they see no reward in actually accomplishing the task, it is too tricky to trust in their complete commitment. Now I guess that having worked with a closed community would have made a great difference as people might have felt duty bound to carry out the research and might have found mutual help and support.
I have also reflected about my own attitude towards the whole project and in particular the strategies I adopted to convince people not just to say ‘yes, I’ll do it’ but to feel positive and intrigued by the principles and values of the whole plan. I therefore recognize in my own approach some flaws due not so much to a lack of faith in what theoretically underpins what I was doing, but mainly due to my own inexperience in translating some abstract concepts to a more varied audience. I feel that people outside the ‘field’ may find this sort of engagements quite silly or, at least, useless and unfruitful. So the puzzle, still unsolved, is: how to connect with people who may be, initially and on principle, suspicious and uninterested? How to make my aim and desire be understandable to a wider arena?
This enigma and my own unfamiliarity obviously made my conviction in the project be full of ups and downs and inevitably led to a poor and visible self-confidence. And that is not the ideal tack to prompt someone to complete a task! Moreover, the continuous alterations on strategies adopted, in order to make up for the scarce response, did nothing but weaken my ease. To be honest, one should take into consideration other factors to explain why it did not work as expected, such as the time of the year (it started in August when most people are on holiday) and a bare series of misfortunes which had diverted my initial idea. Anyway, I think it is essential to be critical and analytic towards both the context and one’s own faults. What I can say is that I would definitely like to put myself on the line again and test my unresolved issues if the occasion arises in the future and now I am confident that from this disastrous experience I may learn something precious. Most of all, I should learn not to take for granted what I used to and to ask myself those very questions that the project helped to bring to the surface.
Finally, I want to thank those who, despite snags, helped and supported me and those who did contribute to the project by sending me pictures and diary entries.
This is the new project I am undertaking as part of my internship with Proboscis.
‘Pic(k)ing out London’ wants to prompt reflection about the ongoing interaction with the urban environment and how this affects people’s feelings and shapes their daily life. By collecting some of these unique gazes on the city and some of its multiple expressions I intend to compose an emotional map which will tell the story of the many moods that daily mingle and overlap in London.
Because of its variegated population, its vastness, its contradictions, London is made of contrasting voices, dissimilar faces, peculiar places and each individual is an irreplaceable tassel which contributes to compose an outstanding mosaic.
Participants will be asked to take three pictures a day and to keep a short diary for ten days. The pictures should be about a place, a thing or a situation they encounter, anything that catches their attention, both familiar or unfamiliar, usual or unusual in their daily life, and about a place or a situation they respectively enjoy or dislike in the urban environment. The pictures do not need to be technically perfect because what I value most important is the act of taking the picture itself, of being a little more aware and awake to our own surroundings.
“London is over-lit, its streets are monitored by CCTV and the avian police, its inhabitants monitor themselves using webcams, digicams and mobile-phone cameras; yet the nocturnal city can never be wholly regulated. […] 3am is the dark heart of the city, when the carefully repressed anxieties, aspirations and dreams of its emotionally parched inhabitants can no longer be contained”. (Night Haunts: A Journey Through the London Night, Sukhdev Sandhu).
The streets carry a note of elusive, disturbing, electrifying mystery that is not concealed by its supposed complete regulation. The layers underneath, piling up little by little, create a dense bundle of voices and meanings to be heard and interpreted. The street is a site to enjoy and play, a site to survey and describe, to contest, claim and reinscribe. The street stands for the fortuitous and the transient, for wandering, mobility, arrival and departure, a proper metaphor for the travelling poetics of the postmodern migrant condition.
July 28, 2011 by elenafesta · Comments Off on Visual Essay – Mapping Perception
Mapping is not only about exploring and depicting a portion of territory but it can also entail travelling into, investigating and representing some unfamiliar trails inside people’s mind: setting the boundaries and drawing the many trajectories collective consciousness can cover. “The human landscape can be read as a landscape of exclusion”, starts David Sibley in Geographies of Exclusion, and the same organization and orchestration of space follows the construction and position of the self related to the category of the other and the wider context of society. If we look at our surroundings as the phenomenal embodiment of our shared imagination, then we will decipher not only the imprint of power in its many forms but also the scattered marks left by individual imageries. Alternative, subaltern stories, all those visions that are thought not to fit in, because they belong to the other side of the fence, where all that is not pure enough, according to a set of ready-made prerequisites, is dropped off.
July 14, 2011 by elenafesta · Comments Off on Visual Essay – Mapping
“Space is a part of an ever-shifting social geometry of power and signification”, this is an inspiring quotation drawn from Doreen Massey’s Space, Place and Gender and immediately it puts light on two major ideas underpinning the understanding of space: its non-neutral and non semantically univocal essence, and its intrinsic conflict. Space harbours a wide spectrum of semantic nuances and potential political definitions and thus produces continual challenges in terms of interpretation and agency. “The map is not the territory”, even if it is thought to be so, but an interpretation, a graphic and linguistic exposition of a portion of territory and how ever it strains to be scientifically irrefutable, the discursive component shines through mainly in the very moment such codes are disrupted. The elaboration of alternative maps make overt that “maps, like art, far from being a transparent opening to the world, are but a particular human way of looking at the world”. The idea of embracing alternative tube maps came to my mind because I was already familiar with Alex Roggero’s Underground to Everywhere map where he replaced the tube stations with the immigrants’ city according to the main ethnic minority living in a specific area. This travel book is in every aspect an homage to the author’s wanderings across the city and a sincere admiration to the vibrant, Babylonic and multicultural London. The author himself mentions several alternative tube maps which have been produced during the years. The tube map itself is not scientifically accurate but it was designed in such a way, so readable and clear, that has become hugely popular and iconic. Moreover, a recent visit to the Museum of London gave me the idea to insert in my visual essay some samples of hand-drawn maps which are displayed at the museum entrance in order to further underline the discursive, subjective aspect of the act of mapping. In partnership with Londonist, readers were encouraged to submit hand-drawn maps, focussing on their own experiences and connections with certain areas of London and obviously the aim was not to provide a factual representation of the city but to capture the different and variegated personal projections on the cityscape. The galleries themselves, which go through London’s history from when London was just a piece of desert land to the very present, are full of fascinating maps, each revealing a peculiar sphere of London according to the point of view and the intention of the composer. Booth’s poverty maps, based on his survey into life and labour in London from 1886 to 1903, assess varying levels of indigence and criminality in different districts across London, graphically accessible through a colour code, so for example, dark blue stands for ‘Very poor. Casual, chronic want’, while black stands for ‘Lowest class. Vicious, semi criminal.’ The textual level of the mapping process discloses diverse perspectives on the emotional and biased degree involved in any act of representation and this leads us to think that the entity represented, in this case the city of London or at least a portion of it, is to be found where more or less codified and official discourses and a multitude of singular experiences meet. Regarding this, it is very illuminating to address Proboscis’ Urban Tapestries project which, combining mobile and internet technologies with geographic information systems, looked at how people could actively map the environment around them and earnestly share this ever-evolving body of knowledge. This kind of collaborative mapping hints at another aspect implicit in the mapping process: its blatant lack of innocence suggests a potential political use, either as a tool of coercion and possession – unequivocal, for instance, is the case of Imperialism as Edward Said suggests – and as an instrument to reclaim and re-conquer one’s own right to the city and to build an alternative organic mutuality.
I see mapping as a central issue in Proboscis’ work not only because several projects have focussed on contemporary perceptions of the human, social and natural landscape around us – see for example the Liquid Geography ebooks series – as well as on fertile and rewarding ways to affect it, but their general conceptualization follows the mapping procedure. Proboscis’ approach simulates an unexpected plot, a thorough exploration, rich in ramifications, bends and junctions, sudden and unpredictable directions.
This is my third week here at Proboscis, still pleasantly stunned as I found myself catapulted in such a fertile and constructive milieu. My name is Elena and I come from Italy, and although I lived in London before, this new dimension I am going through here has an inspiring as well as touching nuance. A little more than two months ago I eventually got an European Phd in Comparative Literature and Culture from Università Roma Tre including a semester spent at the School of English and Humanities at Birkbeck College. My dissertation was about the representation of London in postcolonial and contemporary European Literature and my analysis basically started from the assumption that urban space is not an inactive and semantically univocal dimension, but a text marked by conflict and personal memories which requires different readings, interpretations and models of literary and political
agency. This in part explains how keen I am on Proboscis’ approach on certain issues such as geography and identity, the relationship between private and public spaces and public authoring. And then this Spring I was lucky enough to be awarded a 4 month internship grant under the EU Leonardo da Vinci scheme and, especially, lucky enough to have a positive response by Proboscis. So here I am, reading and taking notes – I feel quite at ease with this kind of task actually – about the astounding story of Proboscis, running through their brilliant projects, trying to compose a coherent idea in my mind of their peculiar work. Before coming here, peeking at their immense website, I was thrilled to find words and concepts, the harsh terminology of academia simplified and brightly expressed in concrete projects. The more I read and the more I observe the activity going on in the studio – something is still shifty for me to tell the truth – the more the ability to combine thoughts and facts, art and society, the beautiful and the functional strikes me. I am particularly interested in their work and reflection about people’s emotional geography and the individual potential of positively and confidently affecting the texture of urban space so that a more equal society could emerge. I tried to outline the fundamental design underpinning Proboscis’ long journey – according to me obviously – in a concise mind map (see picture below).. yes I know there is a childish tone in it, hopefully I will improve. In fact, one thing I am sure I would be invited to do during my time here is to explore other ways – creative, artistic, ‘technological’ – to translate intangible ideas and make them real and touchable (and hence more effective).
For the time being, this is just a kind of vague proposal from my part to read Proboscis’ work along a trajectory that departs from the individual, who belongs to a society which is always and inevitably locally specific and geographically defined, and comes full circle to the very place we inhabit. In between – what I think Proboscis’ aim is mainly about – the subject is warmly invited to expand his/her creative potential in order to develop personal agency, to challenge monolithic received notions of space and time and collectively exert a positive, autonomous influence on culture and society. This basic map is just the core of a so-called work in progress which will be spreading out unexpectedly and, hopefully, entertainingly as well, with multiple suggestions and influences – I’ll keep you posted about any progression!
Finally, I’d love to thank Giles and Alice for giving me the opportunity in the first place to live this challenging experience and I thank as well my fellow colleagues at Proboscis for the warm welcome. The atmosphere here is unique, calm and relaxing with an electrifying vein streaming underneath.