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.
“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.
We have been working on Ears to the Ground for around 3 months now and the phase of being out there talking to people and doing activities is almost over with our energy now being focused into how to condense over 200 voices and quotes into a small publication. We’ve been roving around Hertfordshire meeting young and old, talking to them in groups, in their homes, at events. As well as the many people and groups we have met we have; set up a stall in Watford Market to talk to market goers, set up outside Broxbourne Station to speak to commuters, set up a map outside Stevenage Job Centre and annotated it with post it notes of comments from Centre users and ran a drawing workshop with a youth group. We’ve taken our anarchaeology approach of using informal and creative approaches to excavate layers of meaning and understanding. I’ve enjoyed all the people we met who have been so generous, and as I go through the hours of recorded audio two of my favourite quotes so far have been from the Meriden Comunity Centre Community Bar on the Meriden estate in north Watford, and the list of what young people saw around their Neighbourhood in the Chells area of Stevenage.
In the Meriden community bar we asked: How long have you been here?
1962 I moved onto this estate.
I was going to say half past seven.
I’ve been a member of this club for years since it first opened.
I’ve been here so long I’ve worn a hole in the carpet.
You certainly don’t get any trouble in here fighting or all that, its just all mates really I suppose
Like a big extended family
We come down here to insult each other
Don’t know what we’d do without it, we’d sit indoors and watch telly.
We’re all living round here so we don’t need to drive.
The atmosphere, you know, you come in and you know you’re not going to get into any trouble.
And in Chells Manor Community Center we went for a walk with the youth group and after making a large drawing we asked: What did you see and draw?
I saw a fox
I saw the pub, shops, chip shop
I saw, a cat , a man smoking
I saw a tree and a road and an aeroplane
I saw a red flower, a broken glass
I saw myself
I saw a load of people at the youth club
I saw my house
apparently we saw a train going up a tree
I never saw two men shooting each other
I saw darren
I saw houses, dogs,
I saw the green, football, cricket, cycling down fairlands
The book will be published in December.
DodoLab is a collaboration between Render, Proboscis and the Musagetes Foundation – a dynamic and experimental co-creative lab for engaging participants in events and communities to challenge accepted ideas and develop insights into contexts, processes and situations.
The first DodoLab was held in Montréal in May 2009 at the 5th World Environmental Education Congress – a creative intervention in the exhibition hall and out and about in Montréal itself. Led by Andrew Hunter of Render, the DodoLab team created a series of projects engaging the congress delegates in questioning concepts of sustainability and environmental education with a focus on resilience and adaptability. Giles Lane devised and a facilitated a mapping and StoryCube activity engaging several hundred delegates in annotating a world map with their location and connections to other places, and completing a StoryCube about their ideas on sustainability and resilience.
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
Proboscis was invited to take part in the Art & Cartography symposium exhibition, zoom and scale, at the Academy of Fine Arts and Kunsthalle Wien project space, Vienna in January 2008. We exhibited a set of 27 StoryCubes exploring the Social Tapestries research programme, a set of 8 StoryCubes reflecting our creative practices and process and two films, Social Tapestries and Play to Invent.