The wall of visual interpretations have expanded! Soon I will invade another side of the wall with my sketches.
In my previous post, I mentioned a major part of my work is creating visual interpretations as research for Public Goods, Proboscis’ new programme of projects exploring the intangible things we value most about the people, places and communities we live in. So far I’ve been creating sketches using images found online combined with my own knowledge. We decided that it would help to gather inspiration from the ‘real’ world in both drawings and photographs, to be surrounded by people and absorb the atmosphere of everyday life.
Usually shying away behind the PC, I agreed to take on the challenge and chose the Science Museum as my first destination. Upon entry there were many objects on display, from steam engines to planes to the evolution of technology. All these objects were traces of what used to be; evidence that reflected on the lifestyle of those that once lived. The objects were categorised in a time-line, indicating the different notable era’s in society such as mass production and the industrial revolution, it demonstrated the changes and evolution stages of specific objects and introduced new theories and materials that were readily available of that time and also the trends that influenced them. As I made my way through the different displays, I was overwhelmed by the thought that all these inventions were the stepping stone to today’s technology. If it wasn’t for these people, our world of convenience wouldn’t have advanced so much.
The next exhibition was the exploration of outer space, whilst looking at the different satellite and shuttle parts on display it hit me that curiosity is a big part of our human nature. Creating theories and exploring methods to prove them and making new discoveries. But it is science that makes it all happen, by making the intangible into tangible with the use of devices and tools; such as light or the ability to fly.
Going upstairs, leaving the historical part of science behind me, I came to the “Who am I?” exhibition. It delved into our biological make up with displays about how our brain is wired and exploration of dreams. The next few displays were about aspects that make us unique individuals such as our exposure to cultures and the environment we grew up in and how such aspects affect us psychologically. I really enjoyed my visit here, and appreciated objects which were the greatest inventions of their time. Although behind glass and never to be used again, just imagining the stories that accompanied it makes each object that more valuable.
During my time at the Science Museum I focused on photographing of objects so for the next outing, I headed to Westfield Shopping Center to create first hand observations of people in a public space.
From being used to sketching still life or just from imagination it was challenging to draw people that wouldn’t stay still! The aim for such an exercise is to capture the moment, through speed sketching; with enough detail to illustrate the subject’s form. As an artist who loves details, I struggled at first to sketch simplified drawings of people but because there was a chance that the person would suddenly move, I was forced to note down their action quickly.
I managed to spend some time just watching how people behaved, the gestures they made when with others and the body language they displayed. But one thing I noticed whilst in the center was; there was no concept of time – with no visible clock anywhere it made the experience feel so timeless and surreal with very little natural lighting. People would often check their mobiles or they too would stop and observe others from the upper levels of the center, whilst waiting for their companion. I’ll be doing more observational sketches later on but at places where people might not move around as often as they would in a shopping center!!
Whilst taking a break from Outside The Box I’ve been asked to create visual interpretations for a new project! I’ll be keeping a photo diary of my progress and will post up a photo each week for you all to see.
It took a bit longer than planned, but the set of cubes for Outside The Box have reached the first prototype stage! (Applauds) It took a lot of energy to meet the deadline but seeing the finished prototype makes all the hard work worthwhile, I am very pleased with the results and hope you all will grow fond of them too! Thank you Giles and Alice for your patience and advice in teaching me the palette decision making process and guiding me in polishing the sets to a finished prototype. Thanks to Radhika and Haz for taking time out to assist in assembling the cubes together and working on the story telling set!
What happens next? (grin) we play with them! The next stage will be to test them out, not just with the team but with our target audience – kids! We’ll be thinking of additional ways to play with them, making observations to check that children understand the content on the cubes and hope they will enjoy playing with them. Our findings in this stage will be taken into consideration when making decisions on the final product.
In August 2010 I was commissioned, by Mid Pennine Arts and Lancaster District Chamber of Commerce, to create a work about Lancaster’s independent traders, As It Comes. Building on my previous work about markets and traders I worked with historian Michael Winstanley and artist Caroline Maclennan to research the trading history of the city and to meet local people, shop keepers and traders.
I’ve been developing my use of drawing as a way to research the character of a place and to create a space for conversation; on my visits I began to draw in traders’ places of work, where we would talk about craft and knowledge; communities and friendships and the relationships they have with commodities, food, and people.
What’s inspired me is their skills, care and connection to local communities and suppliers; whether selling fabric, tailoring a suit, fitting a floor, repairing tools, advising on paint, gutting fish or butchering meat. Though I saw many tools of the trade, its not the physical things that people mention most but knowledge, ability to talk to people, honesty and trust.
I spent time with traders to have conversations, collect audio interviews, make drawings and take photographs which have inspired new works combining traditional embroidery with drawing and digital printing on fabric. Lancashire was once famous for cotton manufacturing. Embroidering in cotton seemed appropriate to capture fragments of conversations about intangible skills, experiential knowledge, an uncertain future and the unique relationships these traders have with their customers.
The project was commissioned to investigate the trading history of Lancaster as well as to use some of the empty shop units in town so some of the work is currently in the windows of 18 New Street until the end of Jan 2011 where after it is planned move to another home.
Mid Penine Arts are offering to post free copies of the Project Publication to the first 20 people to share their thoughts on the project. If you’ve seen the work in Lancaster or been have following the project online it would be great to hear your thoughts. You can post in response to this, or alternatively go to:
There are two publications and a special set of StoryCubes printed using bookleteer.com – you can download the print and make up version, or get in touch if you would like a specially printed version.
You can download print and make up versions of the project publication and StoryCubes here:
As It Comes by Alice Angus
A Lancaster Sketchbook by Caroline Maclennan
Outside The Box is a project inspired by the Love Outdoor Play campaign, which supports the idea of encouraging children to play outdoors. We brainstormed about possible games children could play and creating props to assist their gameplay using Diffusion eBooks and StoryCubes made with bookleteer.
The first idea was a visual game using the StoryCubes, which Karen had blogged a sneak peek of a few weeks back. It was a brain teaser type of game, where one image was spread across two squares – so one face of the cube had 4 halves of an image along each edge of the square. The aim was to match up the top and bottom half together. The puzzle only worked if there was nine squares, any less and it wouldn’t have been challenging enough.
The original set had 4 themes, the first being domestic pets, the second insects and bugs, the third sea creatures and the fourth snakes.
After leaving this set out for members of Proboscis to try and solve, they thought it was humorous mismatching the animal halves together. They came up with many wild combinations such as a mer-dog (top half of a dog and lower half of a fish) which struck the idea of another way to play with this set of cubes – make the sound of the animal on the top half and move like the animal on the bottom half. Keeping this idea in mind, I redeveloped the set by adding different animals which make funny noises or move differently and as a result it made the puzzle easier for a younger age group because it resembled the card game Pairs.
The next set consists of a role playing game, encouraging children to use their imagination and interacting with each other if played in groups. With elements of exploration, this set was most fitting for the Love Outdoor Play campaign. There are six characters to choose from, each occupying one face on each cube with a mission. Just like the first set, this game used a total of nine cubes – meaning each character had a total of nine missions to accomplish. Characters for this set included spy, detective, super hero, storyteller, adventurer and scientist.
The last set is a story telling game, the set of cubes acts as a starting point in telling a story leaving children to fill in the gaps with their imagination. One cube decides the genre of the story, another cube decides the time setting and a third cube decides how the story will be told. Keeping the consistency of using nine cubes in one set, the remaining six cubes consists of words to which the player will use in their story.
At the moment these games are in prototype stage, where the final colour palette is to be decided and the finishing touches to be made and polished. Although I had hoped to have finished the prototypes sooner I guess working on 162 faces was a lot more challenging than I thought (laughs). 120 of the faces were illustrated and the remaining 42 contained words, which the Proboscis team kindly assisted with (thanks everyone!) Nonetheless, I have enjoyed the whole process and think that this project has given the opportunity for team work and I still feel that I have much to learn and look forward to learning more about the different methods used in deciding a colour palette for the final product.
Wow, it’s already time for me to write about my second impressions huh? If you’re wondering, it’s Mandy here! I started in July as a Creative Assistant for Proboscis, it’s been five months already!! Where did all the time go?! (laughs)
It’s been pretty busy during these five months, Giles and Alice have been cracking the whip to keep me busy working (T_T). Just kidding haha. They’ve been great fun, and most generous when offering advice and enlightening me with their knowledge, it always leaves me in awe with the amount of things they know.
Also, there has been more placements on board! Christina and Radhika are such lovely people, they both have a great sense of humour, easy to talk to and are always offering to help when it seems like I have too much going on (laughs). Oh and Moin; our programmer, joined just recently too! As for Haz… he’s been picking on me since day one!! that aside, he offers me assistance and I’ve enjoyed his blog posts and look forward to his future posts. Thanks guys for your help and support!
During the past few months I have been working on various projects. The first being Tangled Threads, then my current project Outside The Box and offering assistance here and there with City As Material.
Throughout these projects I sincerely thank Giles and Alice for trusting me with creating work without any pressure and just allowing me to carry out the projects to the best of my ability whilst offering kind encouragements. I tend to get carried away with trying to perfect everything so I thank you both for your patience and apologise for the delays!
If you remember reading my first impressions, I mentioned the many different assets in the studio either tucked away or on display and wondering about the story behind them… well… I’ve joined in with my own clutter! I’ve made so many Story Cubes I can build a fortress! Soon I’ll have enough to make a draw bridge to go with it (laughs).
It’s been really fun so far and I’ve learnt a great deal from Giles and Alice. I’ll do my best to fulfil my role and create work which others will enjoy! Have a great Christmas everyone!
For the past few weeks I’ve been heading up and down from Lancaster working on As It Comes. It was commissioned by Mid Pennine Arts and Lancaster District Chamber of Commerce and is inspired by both the heritage and future of local traders and shopkeepers.
I have been interviewing and drawing with some of Lancaster’s current shopkeepers and traders to understand more about their businesses and talk about; craft and knowledge; communities and friendships; and the relationship with commodities, food, and people that is different from chains and supermarkets.
The project is continuing my work on markets and shops exploring the people and communities they engender. I’ve been continually inspired by the skills, crafts and care of traders I’ve met in Lancaster – whether selling fabric, repairing tools or butchering meat. The As It Comes blog is recording some of the thoughts and conversations as the project continues.
Next week I am hanging some large scale work in New Street that combines traditional embroidery with drawing and digital printing on fabric, inspired by these conversations, the history of trade, development of textile technologies and history of cotton weaving in the area.
On the 4th December I’ll be leading a walk around of Lancaster talking about some of the issues raised by the project and thinking about the future of independent traders and town centers. NEF (New Economics Foundation) have published a follow up to their 2005 Clone Town report, entitled Re-imaging the High Street: Escape From Clone Town Britain which supports the need for independent traders; and the Transition Town movement – among others is gathering pace – so I am wondering what we want the new ecology of the high street to be? If you believe that supermarkets and large chains are unsustainable environmentally and socially, but we need some of what they offer, what new retail ecology might we build in the future?
Earlier this year I was asked by artist Dan Thompson of Revolutionary Arts Group and www.artistsandmakers.com to create new work inspired by Worthing Pier for the tremendous Worthing Pier Day and the Made in Worthing Festival.
I recommend a visit to Worthing Pier, its not the longest or the oldest but in its fabulous streamlined charm it has all the hope of the future. When the wind blows you feel it might break loose and sail off, past the kite surfers, windsurfers and yachts, beyond the lifeboat men and fishing boats and way on out over the misty horizon and over the high seas.
I think Dan just wanted a couple of drawings but after getting the chance to explore the Pier and get to know it better I got carried away by the stories I discovered and set out to make a new series of works on paper and an animation. I’m interested in our relationship to water and how it is changing;- the life above and below the pier, in and out of the water, the characters of seaside entertainment, the ghosts of past fishermen, sailors and boatmen, all the tall tales of the sea, the lore of tides and weather, the survival of coastal communities and the feat of the engineering of the pier.
I made some visits to the Pier to explore it above and below, at low tide and high tide, walking, swimming, in a kayak… I thought very much about the icon of the pier and its visibility all along the coast. I found so many intertwined stories of lives lived, and lives imagined around the pier and decided to make a series of 100 views of the pier, partly inspired by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi‘s legendary 100 Views of the Moon published in 1885. The views incorporated characters from legends as well as real life.
Around 40 of my 100 Views of the Pier were installed temporarily on the Pier in September for Pier Day and the festival the remaining ones will eventually be published via Bookleteer.com and launched alongside a short film I’m working on of my explorations above and below deck.
Tangled Threads consists of a storyboard in the form of a Diffusion eBook, that reflects upon the different projects and aspects to which Proboscis has delved into. You can download a copy of the eBook here: http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=2171
My task was to create a storyboard using only the text Karen had scripted. With her words I had to create a series of fast sketches within a short time frame, jotting down the first visual that came to mind. It was later decided that the finished storyboard was to be presented in the form of an eBook, as a counterpart for a new Proboscis film that will be presented as part of a Leonardo/MIT mobile digital exhibition curated by Jeremy Hight.
This was my first time creating a full scale storyboard, but it was also my first time adjusting it to an eBook format. It encouraged me to use different panels and discard frames which can be reduced to one panel. I am also glad it became an eBook because it would have been a real shame if others could not see the impressive text Karen had written.
The most challenging part of this project was the initial sketches: being asked to do fast speed sketching within a time limit. This method made me stay focused and avoid swaying off into different artistic directions and just sketching the first thing that came to mind, then only further developing that idea. Although this method sounds like rushing, the results were pretty interesting!
Overall, it was a great challenging project which allowed me to experiment with a different technique to spark my imagination and creativity. It gave me a chance to use some of my own knowledge about storyboarding and panelling, and Alice had given me a lot of freedom with the concepts. It was also a great opportunity to practice artistic techniques and being aware of areas that may need more improvements.
Here are a few samples from the eBook and initial sketches, the first stage as I mentioned earlier was creating the quick rough sketches of what popped up in my mind. Then I condensed frames to a set of panels on a single page, with this it is scanned in and cleaned up. The final stage was digitally painting the images and resizing them according to the Bookleteer guidelines.
Alice has been invited by Revolutionary Arts in Worthing to create a new series of works inspired by Worthing Pier for Worthing Pier Day on the 12 Sept 2010 and the Made in Worthing Festival 17 – 19 Sept 2010. This is currently involving her in blustery days filming from a kayak, drawing on and under the pier, talking to people on the pier, wading on the beach, falling over the groynes and tripping over the shingle and researching history in an effort to understand the allure (and engineering) of the pier, the seaside and this particular aspect of the British seafaring relationship to water. The project links to Alice’s ongoing body of work At The Waters Edge, about our human relationship to water, land and traditional knowledge of water.
I have just sent off some new works on paper, that are the first part of my project In Good Heart, off to Confederation Centre Gallery in Prince Edward Island, Canda for the show Dig Up My Heart: Artistic Practice in the Field curated by Shauna McCabe which opens on Saturday till September 22. The show; brings together a group of practitioners who start from the same impulse – a visceral connection to the land and to place, and the transformative potential of that attachment in response to issues of landscape change…
In 2009 I was invited by our partners Dodolab to visit the Charlottetown Experimental Farm on Prince Edward island and spend some time researching its history, exploring the site and the island. The Charlottetown farm was one of a network of Experimental Farms created in the 1880’s to research and improve farming methods and production, the network hub was the Central Experimental farm in Ottowa.
The visit to PEI which triggered many questions about farming and the factors that impact on this most ancient of skills. The works bring together several strands of research, conversations, interviews, historical and folklore research to explore the perception of “Farm”, its origins, what it means to people now and the way in which the disappearance of traditional skills and distance from the sources of our food serve to disconnect people from their link with land and nature. It is part of my ongoing series, At The Waters Edge looking at peoples local and personal relationship to land and environment.
There will be a publication with the series of works and stories published in June. You can see the works on flickr.
I am grateful to all at Dodolab, Confederation Centre and the Public Archives and Records Office for helping with my research. A huge thanks to the people who kindly sent me their thoughts on the word “farm” and I would like to thank; Andrew, Angela, Adriana, Barb, Chick, Deborah, Danny, Dan, Frank, Gillian, Joyce, Joe, Kei, Mervin, Niharika, Tarin and Sarah. This work was commissioned by Dodolab who invited me to PEI in 2009 as part of an ongoing partnership with Proboscis.
At the end of March I headed up to draw Coventry indoor Market to spend a few days on the next leg of the artistsandmakers.com Empty Shops Network Tour created by artist Dan Thompson (and involving Jan Williams (Caravan Gallery), Steve Bomford Natasha Middleton and podcaster Richard Vobes.) I’ve been commissioned to draw some of the spaces (and their occupants) the tour is visiting and Coventry Market follows from my drawings in Granville Arcade in Brixton.
An ancient city, Coventry’s medieval buildings were almost all destroyed during the second world war blitz that devastated the city. Its rich history is crossed by stories of King Canute and Lady Godiva. Today Coventry now has a maze of traffic free precincts and modern buildings built in the postwar period and it is far from what the medieval city must have been.
These precincts are watched over by many surveillance cameras and again on this project I to the issue of private and public space that has come up so often for Proboscis in the last 2 years as we find ourselves prevented from taking photos in shopping malls and public squares. PD Smith writes about this issue in an interesting blog post about Ground Control: Fear and Happiness in the 21st-century City, Anna Mintons Book looking at control, fear and the city.
Coventry’s indoor market is a circular space in which you can get lost, dizzy and a bit confused about which door you came in but in the process find everything from a cup of tea to 5 kinds of sweet potato, dog biscuits, birthday cards, fake flowers, fresh rolls, loose cake mix, baking tins and graph paper. Its got a real sense or people mingling from different communities and backgrounds and ages using it to meet, chat and hang out, not just shop. They once celebrated it in a musical.
In many of our recent projects people tell us its less regulated more informal spaces that draw their communities together, Watford Market, Coventry Market, Brixton Market…But these more informal spaces are on the decline it seems and everywhere we see what Paul Kingsnorth wrote in In “Cities for Sale” : From parks to pedestrian streets, squares to market places, public spaces are being bought up and closed down, often with little consultation or publicity. In towns and cities all over England, what was once public is now private. It is effectively owned by corporations, which set the standards of behaviour. These standards are the standards that are most congenial to their aim – getting you to buy things. … There will be no busking, and often there will be no sitting either, except in designated areas. You will eat and drink where you are told to. You will not skateboard or cycle or behave “inappropriately”.
The Empty Shops Network is aiming to celebrate the kind of local distinctiveness that gets lost in these developments and it is working with communities to use empty shops for projects in the spaces and times inbetween other uses. The Network’s projects involve public meetings, informal training for local artists, and showcase the tools needed to run empty shops projects. See artistandmakers.com for details.
You can see more images from Coventry here.
There are no fences here … when you go out of town there are no fences, but I wouldn’t call this a wilderness because peoples homes are here, people live here.
This week I’ve been packing up a set of drawings to send out to the Canadian arctic town of Inuvik for the first leg of a touring show during the the 25 year anniversary of Ivvavik National Park in Canada which was created by a historic Aboriginal land claim settlement The Inuvialuit Final Agreement, signed in 1984. In it the Inuvialuit agreed to give up exclusive use of their ancestral lands in exchange for guaranteed rights from the Government of Canada. The rights came in three forms: land, wildlife management and money. (read more on the Inuvaliuit Regional Corporation). As a result Parks Canada and the Inuvialuit co-operatively manage Ivvavik National Park with the Inuvaluit Wisdom that the “The land will protect the people who support the protect the land“. Parks Canada has organised a touring exhibition of work from their Artist in The Park programme which I was invited to be part of by artist Joyce Majiski, in 2003 with whom Ive been working with since them on projects such as Topographies and Tales.
Middle of Nowhere?
Bordered on the north by the Beaufort Sea and Alaska on the West, Ivvavik sits at the north western tip of Canada. A highly biodiverse region of the Western Arctic, its Inuvaluktun name ‘Ivvavik’ means nursery or place of giving birth. It is a portion of the calving grounds and migration route of the Porcupine caribou herd and forms a part of the Beringia Refugium; an area untouched by the last glaciation where an ice-free bridge allowed humans and animals to migrate from Asia into North America over twenty thousand years ago.
In summer 2003 I met up with artists Joyce Majiski Ron Felix, Audrea Wulf and James Ruben, guide Mervyn Joe and elder Sarah Dillon and flew out of Inuvik, across the Mackenzie Delta towards Sheep Creek. From the air (and in the imaginations of the temperate zone) the arctic taiga and tundra, is a frozen desert. But landing at the junction of Sheep Creek and the Firth River we saw tussocks of wild flowers, embroidered cushions with succulent jewel like plants, luminescent mosses and ferns; miniature gardens of Babylon. Out on the land there were larger traces of life and stories of trappers, miners, hunters and travelers. The language of the north I grew up with paints an image of bleakness, but there the myths of desolation fell away.
“Have good time miles from nowhere!” someone had said before I set off. In the world’s ‘wildernesses’ like Ivvavik it is easy for a visitor to be lost in such a reverie of wonder at landscape that you miss the lives and culture that are part of it. There is a disjuncture between the notion of wilderness as barren, by definition disconnected from the social, and the view of land as homeland, a social place of culture, food and everyday life. To many outside the north the Arctic is still shrouded in an aura of romanticism portrayed, as it has been through the history of polar exploration, as a landscape of sublime desolation. To some, I expect, it’s not a place but an imaginary landscape far away from their everyday lives. I wonder what is the global consequence of this enduring vision of the land?
One day we see five caribou. Pregnant cows lead the herd from Ivvavik into the calving grounds in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR); an area rich in oil reserves. So important are the grounds the Gwitchin people refer to them as the “sacred place where life begins”. If the ANWR is opened for drilling many people believe it will result in untold damage to the herd and the people whose lives and traditions depend on it.
I went to the Birmingham Total Place summit last week with the specially commissioned cubes and illustrations Orlagh and I had made for the Early Intervention Project, in response to conversations with parents, carers and workers. They revealed some of the difficulties faced by children and their families and the often very intense frustrations they have in accessing support or working with local services. Proboscis was commissioned through educator and organisational consultant Lesley Cramman, who was facilitating the strand on Early Intervention and we were all driven, in making these, to bring the everyday voices of families, parents and carers into the event. Total Place is a government initiative to look at how a ‘whole area’ approach to public services can lead to better services at less cost.
The event, hosted by BeBirmingham drew a much more varied crowd than I had expected and most people I spoke to expressed real concern and care about their communities and neighbourhoods. However its hard not to be just a little bit skeptical about the ability of Local Government to open up to new ways of thinking and working, despite the obvious commitment, imagination, skills and passions of many of the people I met who work in it. I had some moving and inspiring conversations with a group discussing how to make meaningful connections between the Local Authority and neighbourhoods and how to improve democratic engagement. I hope that the ideas of these people are present in the decisions that come out of Total Place and that the “better services” can lead before the “reduced costs”. I’d love to see staff being allowed to take risks to effect changes and be supported to have more time to talk with and listen to the people and communities they work with and for.
We have just received the first bound copy of our publication for With Our Ears to the Ground; a project by Proboscis commissioned by Green Heart Partnership with Hertfordshire County Council to explore peoples ideas about community. The project focused on four very different types of community in order to get a broad range of opinions across the county.
I’m really excited to see the final version and especially happy with the middle tracing paper insert of scenes and people Orlagh and I encountered during the project. The book draws together the multiple layers of ideas and experiences we found across the different communities we met in Watford, Stevenage, North Herts and Broxbourne and it is designed to reflect the many ideas and voices we encountered. It is organised in the six themes of Transport, Movement, Listening, Community, Getting Involved and Perceptions the emerged during the project. The book contains drawings, photographs, quotes and writings. It can be read in any direction and you can interweave the pages of the three sections as you read, to find new perspectives.
The With Our Ears to the Ground book, will go to selected libraries in Hertfordshire. The publication draws together the multiple layers of ideas and experiences we found across different communities and it is designed to reflect those ideas and voices.
We have a small number of copies please contact us if you would like to acquire one.
We have also published the main chapters as Diffusion eBooks – books to download print and make up published using Bookleteer. Booklets to make, carry in your pocket, browse in your own time, rather than read on screen. You can download them here.
Last week I was lucky enough to be asked to spend a few days drawing Granville Arcade/Brixton Village, on the first leg of artistsandmakers.com Empty Shops Network Tour to six towns across England, created by artist Dan Thompson.
I joined Dan, Jan Williams (Caravan Gallery), Steve Bomford and podcaster Richard Vobes, for lively discussion and to create new work on site for an all day event on the Saturday, you can hear Richard Vobes podcasts of about the project here.
Its been a while since I had the chance to stay in one place for a few days drawing, talking to stallholders and getting to scratch a little below the surface, seeing the flows of life. This year we’ve (Proboscis) been involved in several projects that have looked at the issue of common space and how its changing alongside the implications of huge shopping malls, department stores and the privatisation of public space. It was a real pleasure to be in a place where the character of it is created by the people using it to trade and to socialise. There was an almost constant sound of conversation, laughter and music and the smells of all the food being cooked or sold.
Exploring empty shops is about celebrating local distinctiveness and the project will also show local communities how to use empty shops for meanwhile projects. Each project will last less than a week from start to finish and Dan makes a very open space for artists to follow their interests. Each week will involve public meetings, informal training for local artists, and showcase the tools needed to run empty shops projects.
The tour has been organised by the Empty Shops Network, with the first event happening just a week after the project was conceived at a meeting of organisations involved in bringing empty shops and spaces into meanwhile use.
The tour is supported by the Meanwhile Project, and the Brixton event is using a space provided by the Space Makers Agency. After Brixton, the Empty Shops Network project will visit five further towns, with dates in Shoreham by Sea, Coventry, Cumbria and Durham to be confirmed in coming weeks. See artistandmakers.com for details.
You can see more images from the Brixton week here.
Jan, Dan and Steve.
Steve and Terry – the butcher – in front of the pictures Steve and Jan took during the week.
A series of drawings as part of our work on a part of the Total Place initiative in Birmingham. In January and Feburary we were asked to undertake a small commission to produce some StoryCubes for the Total Place summit to provoke conversations about issues to do with childrens’ services, support for young people and parents in Birmingham. We were asked to work on the Early Intervention strand so Orlagh and I went to meet some parents and workers to understand a some of the issues facing them in terms of at how various services and networks come together to support families and children under 10. These drawings are based on the conversations. (Total Place is a new government initiative that looks at how a ‘whole area’ approach to public services can lead to better services).
Over the last year we have been involved in several projects where we’ve aimed to intervene creatively in the planning process, opening up avenues for the voices of individuals and communities to be heard. In this project several quotes and conversations will be represented on the cubes which are to be used to provoke conversations at the Be Birmingham summit will be taking place on 3 February where the main focus will be to generate new ways of thinking and collaboration. Anything to do with children can be an emotive, sometimes inspiring and sometimes heart wrenching area and in the short time we worked on this it was so clear that so many lives are affected by the availability of support, whether intervention becomes interference and how if people are not heard or listened to it can have a huge impact on their lives.
In the background to a lot of the work we all do at Proboscis is an underlying interest in the handmade and in particular in drawing. Many people know us for our work with technology but there is a strong undercurrent in our practice of drawing as part of design, illustration or installation.
The interest dates right back to Proboscis first project, Coil Journal of the Moving Image, which included drawing and illustration commissions by artists, film-makers and illustrators. I’ve begun a process of looking back on and gathering together images of work by us and the other artists we have worked with over the years and this is the first of a series of posts exploring the presence of drawing in our work.
Recently, for With Our Ears to the Ground Proboscis were commissioned by Green Heart Partnership with Hertfordshire County Council to explore peoples ideas about community and create an artists book/publication. Orlagh and I spent several days driving around the County to run events and meet people but at the same time the journeys we took were important in our understanding of live in the county. As part of that I’ve been making the sketches that appear on this page and and on our flickr page to investigate the ideas of flow and movement of people in the county. Some of these appear in the final publication but for the most part the process was about gaining another level of understanding beyond the events, interviews and workshops we did.
Carnival is a time when everyday life is suspended – a time when the fool becomes king for a day, when social hierarchies are inverted and the pavement becomes the stage, a time when everyone is equal. There is no audience at a carnival, only carnival-goers.
A single screen video work, by Proboscis, drawing together line animation, visualisation of sensor data and video footage of a live event featuring European carnival characters Mr Punch and The Plague Doctor as they cavort around London in costumes instrumented with environmental sensors.
Orlagh and I are just finishing a short video, inspired by our Snout project, which will have its first outing at the upcoming Mobilefest Festival in Sao Paulo Brazil. A single screen video work – it draws together line animation, visualisation of sensor data and video footage of a live event featuring European carnival characters Mr Punch and The Plague Doctor as they cavort around London in costumes instrumented with environmental sensors. It reminded me that Snout was featured in 2008 in Zona 2; signs in the city, a supplement to the Italian architecture and design magazine Abitaire. So to accompany the video here is the short essay and my drawings from Zona about the project:
A theatre of the everyday
Carnival is a time when everyday life is suspended – a time when the fool becomes king for a day, when social hierarchies are inverted and the pavement becomes the stage, a time when everyone is equal. There is no audience at a carnival, only carnival-goers.
On 10 April 2007 the Snout ‘carnival’ performance and public forum (featuring Mr Punch and The Plague Doctor instrumented with environmental sensors) drew together artists, producers, performers and computer programmers to explore how wearable technologies with environmental sensors can combine with Internet sharing technologies to map the invisible gases in our everyday environment. The project by Proboscis, inIVA and researchers from Birkbeck College also explored how communities can use this evidence to initiate local action.
For Proboscis public space is a focus for convening conversation and dialogue. It gives context to shared issues such as pollution, the environment, and our personal and communal relationships to them. In Snout, we sought to meld the problem of measuring pollution in public space with ways to begin a conversation between local people that can inspire a path to change; not just frighten people with statistics.
Our world is increasingly affected by human behaviour and industry – there is awareness of pollution in public spaces but we rarely have access to actual data. What is the local air quality of our street like? What ground toxins are present? The participatory sensing concept seeks to put the science and technologies of environmental sensing into the hands of local people to gather and visualise evidence about their environment.
We chose Mr Punch as an allegory of Western consumer culture. Punch is the fool, the trickster, an anti-authoritarian figure – challenging social structures, yet never taking responsibility for his actions. In the traditional Punch story – The Tragical Comedy, Comical Tragedy of Mr Punch, he defeats authority, but at the same time kills all the people close and dear to him. Ultimately he is left alone. We also chose the Plague Doctor because of his ambiguous relationship to technology. The doctor’s outfit is a kind of seventeenth century HazMat suit, but is he a real doctor or is he a quack hiding behind the cultural and hygienic prophylactic of the costume? With both the characters we are questioning the social and cultural role not only of technologies but also of those who use them, and why.
The data collected by the sensors in the Snout costumes are the ingredients for a feast of conversation; a recipe that includes various ingredients (sensor data, statistics culled from official websites and local knowledge shared by the community) to cook up local feasts of conversation. In addition to the data picked up by the sensors on the Snout costumes (carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, noise, solvent vapours etc), other sources were aggregated such as local health statistics, local education and the ‘deprivation’ index.
Consumerism drives a headlong scramble of production, underpinned our concept of individual freedom and choice. Our desire to have technologies which ‘free’ us, enable greater communication and ability to travel are also ones which contribute to accelerating ecological damage. The technologies we manipulate to help us make sense of these issues are also part of the problem. The question then becomes, how do we take responsibility for the impact of our desires upon the environments we live in, and their effects on the environments of others? How can we shift our perceptions of what can happen on the street, in public space, to create the context to begin conversations?
A film made in 2006 which demonstrates several of the interfaces – PDA, mobile, web and Google Earth – that were made for various tests and trial of Urban Tapestries. Also contains footage of participants in the trials and bodystorming experiences.
A film by Alice Angus and Joyce Majiski using music, oral recordings, drawing, animation and storytelling to playfully unearth local and personal stories, memories and myths against a picture of how concepts of space and environment are shaped by ideas of belonging and home. A personal exploration of the intimate way people form relationships with their environments, Topographies and Tales takes a journey through the myths and perceptions the filmmakers encountered on their travels in the west of Scotland and the Yukon.
Topographies and Tales is part of Alice’s long term collaboration with Canadian artist Joyce Majiski. They began a collaboration in 2003 which took them to Ivvavik National Park in the Canadian Arctic, Glenmore Lodge in the Cairngorm Mountains, Scotland, the Klondike Institute for Art and Culture in Dawson City, Canada, Joyce’s Tuktu Studio in Whitehorse and the Proboscis Studio in London.
At The Waters Edge: Grand River Sketches
As part of Proboscis ongoing creative research partnership with Waterloo, Canada based RENDER, Alice was commissioned to develop a new work specifically for the atrium of the University of Waterloo School of Architecture in Cambridge. Combining new media and traditional methods, the project reflects the Proboscis strategy of engaging the social, cultural and natural histories of specific sites and territories. Alice brought interest in rivers as life-lines, connectors and definers of place that has grown out of her long term work on Topographies and Tales.
For this project she, and RENDER Director and artist Andrew Hunter, explored the Grand River from its mouth at Port Maitland on Lake Erie to Elora. By bicycle, car, foot and kayak, they wandered through and around the numerous cities, towns, villages, communities, farm fields and industrial sites the river penetrates, defines and skirts, making focussed stops along the way at Chiefswood National Historic Site, Paris, Galt and Kitchener. Alice’s inquiries have also taken her to libraries, museums and archives and into conversations with numerous individuals whose lives have been touched by the river. The resulting work is a personal and poetic reflection on a significant body of water whose role as a critical thread through the region is often forgotten or obscured by more recent grids of development, pathways of transportation and community boundaries. As with her other work At The Waters Edge: Grand River Sketches maps a dialogue between the artist and place emphasizing a process of inquiry.
At the heart of RENDER’s ongoing collaboration with Proboscis is creative research grounded in local history and the built environment. Past collaborative projects have included Anarchaeology and The Accidental Menagerie. At the Water’s Edge will be further developed into a publication and Proboscis will play a central role in RENDER’s upcoming GROUNDWORK community garden project at rare.
Proboscis and RENDER would like to thank Robert McNair (UW School of Architecture), Paula Whitlowe (Chiefswood National Historic Site) and Joyce Majiski and Tuktu Studio in Whitehorse (where Alice spent a week working on At The Water’s Edge) for their support of, and contributions to, this project.
Photographs by Robert McNair 2008
As part of our research for the project, we conducted an anarchaeology of the city and its people and created a series of Impressions to inspire different perspectives on the key themes for workshop participants and project stakeholders.
The Impressions, initially created as a means of conveying a local sense of place to national and international participants, were inspired by the series of ‘Wanderings’ that Proboscis undertook with local people in Peterborough as a means of conveying a local sense of place.
We were inspired by the people of Peterborough and the seeds of the future they showed us that Peterborough already has; the diversity, talent, river, and green spaces, fens and waterways, the history and folklore and the great generous friendliness of people who never turned us away. Our Impressions therefore were about the seeds of Peterborough; visible and invisible, from past and future, for hopes
and concerns. They are about what could be seeded, nurtured and grown and what seeds exist here already to help everyone do that.
The wanderings involved conversations and encounters with over 20 local people of different ages and backgrounds. Proboscis journeyed through townships, villages and city by taxi, train, bus, bike, kayak and on foot to investigate and explore the city and its surrounding landscapes. We gained a richer understanding, through local and grassroots perspectives, of people’s perspectives of what it is like to live in Peterborough and their aspirations for the future. The resulting series of Impressions include short films, audio collage, eBooks, StoryCubes and drawings that can be shared physically and digitally and combined with existing policy material to add new perspective to the visioning process.
- Lines of Mobility Diffusion eBook
- Blocks of Change Diffusion eBook
- Bus Adventures Diffusion eBook
- Underused Assets StoryCubes
- Monsters and Mermaids (8 panel french fold booklet PDF)
- Flows Film
- Perspectives Film
- Voices audio piece
- Briefing Pack Book (PDF)
- Briefing Pack StoryCubes (illustrated by Matt Huynh).