Last month I went up to Coventry Market to spend the day talking to traders and shoppers about set of works on paper I made last year as part of an ongoing series about markets, food and the informal spaces that draw communities together. The Coventry Market Traders found the works online, contacted me and bought them to hang permanently in the market hall. It was a honour to have the traders buy the work and bring it back home where it was created. You can get a sense of Coventry Market from this film made by the traders. The drawings will be on permanent display later this year but for now you can see images of the 10 works on flickr here. They grew out of a commission from Dan Thompson of the Empty Shops Network to record some of the places the ESN Tour was going to. I was inspired by the vibrancy of Coventry Market and the care traders take over arranging and decorating their stalls as well as the range of produce; from pet food to ribbon, cards to cucumbers, roasting tins to yams, fishing tackle to carpets, cakes and cranberries, you name it, someone will have it. You can find out more on the market website.
I want to say a big thanks to Bill and Sophie for looking after me so well last month and to Brian and all the Coventry Market traders for making me so welcome.
For everything we sell we provide a back up service which isn’t what many people do nowadays… but at the current time its very hard…Independent shops are going to be a thing of the past and I think everybody, once they are gone, is going to realise how important they are but its going to be to late.
Yesterday Lucy from Mid Pennine Arts and I moved the As It Comes work to St Nicholas Arcade as the project was commissioned to tour to different sites in Lancaster. At the same time we dropped into see some of the traders who had been part of the project and I was reminded of some of the conversations we had about the intangible aspects of knowledge and skills (which is feeding into our new programme Public Goods). Whilst I was drawing and interviewing traders I tried to work out what were the tools of the trade, and what were the unspoken skills of the independent traders. The obvious tools were not necessarily the only or main ones, there were many unspoken less obvious tools – things about how people talk to customers, their body language, how they use their hands, their knowledge of the tools, food and produce they sell and their experience;
Its the knowledge, you go to B&Q and you just pick it off the shelf but if you come here you can ask and we’ll tell you about it… you can come here with a description of what you need and we will disappear into the back shop and reappear with one single screw.
We had a lovely hardware shop but he has gone. They can’t compete with the chains, but you go into those places (chains) and ask for help and they are running away from you, they don’t want you to ask “what size screw?” or “what kind of glue?”..
He’d go, “Just a minute…” and he’d go in the back where he had hundreds of drawers and then he’d come out with it and you’d go, “Thank you so much how much?” and he’d go, “5 pence please”.”
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?
In June Alice Angus joined our partners Dodolab in Rijeka Croatia to join in the lab’s activities and public events and to research a new video installation and series of works on paper about Rijeka City Market, its place in the community and its many traders.
Dodolab have been working in Rijeka in 2009 and 2010 with the city authorities and local groups to explore perceptions of Rijeka, collaboratively examining ideas about the city and its future, thinking about resilience and sustainability. Alice worked with Lea Perinic to speak with market traders traders about the market and some of the issues facing it and observe the flows and uses of the market space through the day and at night. The market is contained in three large art nouveau halls and the streets between them, the fish market building features reliefs by Venetian sculptor Urbano Bottasso. There are buildings dedicated to fish and meat with traders selling all kinds of produce including fruit, vegetables, dairy, bread, nuts, dried fruit, honey, flowers and clothes. The resulting work will be a series of works on paper, some publications and an installation that will be shown in Rijeka City Market, as well as in the UK, to spark new discussions on the value and future of traditional markets.
DodoLab were working with a number of people and organisations in the community including Hartera Music Festival, Rijeka City Puppet Theatre and artist Tomislav Brajnovic on a number of site and locally specific projects including surveys, poster campaigns and performances.
Dodolab is a dynamic and experimental project exploring issues of resilience in places undergoing change and urban regeneration. The lab creates performances, artworks, interventions, events and education projects through an engagement with sites and communities.
Pictures of the market and Dodolabs activities in Rijeka can be seen here.
You can see images of Dodolabs work in Rijeka here.
Alice has been commissioned by Mid Pennine Arts to undertake a new commission in their Arts Talking Shop programme. The commission is to explore the issues and history surrounding independent shopkeepers and retail in Lancaster and it draws on Alice’s interest in markets, shops, common spaces and the way communities define the identity of a place.
The issues of local distinctiveness and the idea of ‘creative city’ have recurred in Proboscis work across commissions in both the regeneration and art sectors. Independent shopkeepers play an important role in shaping the notion of ‘creative city’ as a shared, flexible space; using the street and pavement a selling space, a meeting space, a space of exchange. The project will be exploring the inherent creativity of shopkeepers; how the presence of shops affects life on the street and the way informal things can happen around local shops and markets. Local shops sometimes foster a very human scale of vibrant life on streets that have not been sucked dry by a shopping centre and often its the less regulated more informal spaces like markets that draw their communities together.
The project is a Mid Pennine Arts Arts Talking Shop project, delivered in partnership with Lancaster District Chamber of Commerce, Storey Gallery and Lancaster University.
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.
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.