Lost Rivers of London 2: The Neckinger

The Neckinger is an odd river, both flowing out of and back into the Thames, making an island of an area south of the river currently occupied by South Bank, that for a while was called Jacob Island. The river has completely been built over – qualifying it as ‘lost’ and is the second such river of London along which I have invited people to follow the course. The idea is that there’s plenty of clues of the missing river and simply it’s fun to look for them. Where they don’t appear plentifully, there are other surface details to be intrigued by.

This year, we’d increased out number by personal recommendation from those who attended previously. I sense there’s a real thirst for group observation, with no real agenda of what’s worth noticing. Explanations of curiosities are approached by layered comment and observation. Perhaps we don’t get to the bottom of a ‘mystery’ but the shared experience of suggesting explanations, regardless of background – is a very satisfying experience.

The routes are all determined by Tom Bolton in his book London’s Lost Rivers. A few weeks ago, one of our river walkers pointed out that Tom was now marketing his own river walks. Ours are all-invite only (or by recommendation), done for the sheer fun of seeing what we encounter along the way and seeing who turns up for the event and the ad hoc ‘conference’ afterwards. I feel that at some point over the next five years, our paths will cross…

Neckinger where it enters Thames

Thames level

The premise of the book is that it charts the route of the river, suggesting evidence such as street names, landscape geography, public art and the occasional glimpse of the river itself. Where there is nothing to report, Tom comments on the history of the buildings, especially when there is a literary connection or grisly crime. I decided after last year’s Fleet trip to drop reading aloud most of these comments when we noticed that there were all sorts of bits of river evidence to be found that wasn’t being reported in the book. This may well reflect the publisher’s influence rather than Tom’s observations and I accept there is a finite market for people who want to peer into grids in the middle of the road. But for me, the walks are supposed to be about rivers rather than Marlowe’s bar brawls. As such, a lot of the walk was spent walking over the area we knew the river to be, where this was possible, looking for grids that may reveal the Neckinger. There is a real moment of intrigue when these usually ignorable grates afford an aperture into that lost watery world, like glimpsing a phantom.

For whatever reason, the Neckinger is largely invisible in any form, even climbing down to the banks of the Thames doesn’t reveal the outlet. There’s some evidence in the street levels and names of a river bank, then at the half-way point our discovery of the river window grid. There’s plenty else to keep us occupied, personal favourites being a fortress-like school wall composed of previous rubbled walls and a cluster of houses with a bizarre outline that hints at their mediaeval origins. Finally we finally see our river named in the Neckinger Estate where an archway into a block of flats seems to deliberately straddle the underground river, according to Tom’s map. We’d have missed all of these delightful moments in our usual movements through this city, and only one of these is actually in the book. Pub breaks are determined by occasional, rainfall – seems right.

neckinger_IMG_8451 copy neckinger_IMG_8460 copy

At the end of the walk, at St Saviours Dock, we finally see the Neckinger snaking over mudflats and back into the Thames. Stats show our speed was a leisurely 1 mile an hour. On the other side of the rive, wholly unnoticed by our party, the first stage of the Tour de France was entering the city.

 

Neckbrace

Photos by Helen Frosi ‘cept the one above.

 

 

 

Still Loitering – our opening event!

Still Walking gets full value from the intern: Danielle helps with the usual admin and event behind-the-scenes stuff but she’s also doing the opening event – no pressure there, then!

 

“Hello I’m Danielle and Ill be leading the opening walk of the new Still Walking festival on Fri 25th July: Still Loitering. It’s hard to pin a definition to loitering, but it’s often seen as spending at least fifteen minutes in the same place without intention, according to officials… when pushed, that intention really translates as ‘commercial intention’. This free event invites participants to contemplate whether loitering ought to be forbidden especially when the rhetoric of Birmingham’s homeless community is considered. Lots of places in Birmingham forbid loitering; and once you have seen one sign, it makes it easier to spot others in the city. Here are a few:

 

Loitering2 Loiter1

                                                 Loitering3

Working as a collective flash-mob, the purpose of this opening event is to purposely ‘loiter’ in places which forbid it to encourage authority to challenge our static presence. Who will feel more threatened; ourselves or our observers? I’m really looking forward to the event and I hope that you’ll join in to discover and experience your own definition of loitering. The larger our group, the more powerful our impact.

I come from a performance background, having just graduated* from the University of Birmingham’s Drama and Theatre Arts degree programme. Studying for my degree particularly ignited my interest in political theatre and political performance and how these practices are very different from each other; with political theatre being set in the institution of the theatre and political performance happening around us every day from begging and busking to even putting on make-up and taking ‘selfies’. I see this opening event as a political performance, particularly reflecting Augusto Boal’s Invisible Theatre, where the spectators of a particular action are not aware that it is a performance that has been organised and agreed on beforehand.

As well as facilitating this event, I am also Still Walking’s first festival intern which involves developing events with Ben and guides and dealing with event logistics and promotion. My first association with the festival was last summer where I was conducting market research for Flatpack Film Festival. I came across Still Walking’s Twitter account, and thought that this is a festival I really want to get involved in. I messaged Ben and volunteered for various walks. Among these was David Helbich and Shila Anaraki’s “Drag and Drop”. In this, audience members were instructed to wear ear plugs and remain silent, led through streets in one of two separate groups, before being individually ropped at carefully choreographed corners. After a few minutes standing alone, they were picked up again after five minutes or so by another guide and dragged to the next drop-spot. Ben experienced this for the first time in beautiful Brussels – and the back-streets of Birmingham on a dark autumn evening provided a very different experience! However, this event was certainly the first time I found myself consciously loitering. The experience made me acutely aware of myself and the environment around me, and it made me wonder how powerful a collective of loiterers would be to an unsuspecting public”.

Danielle

 

 

 

Thanks Danielle! Can’t wait to see how this turns out. Don’t hang around, book tickets today.

•with a First

Call-Out for Films!

On Sun 27th July, Still Walking will team up with The Magic Cinema to bring you a selection of walking-themed short films. Already it’s shaping up to be a packed programme: ‘Video Strolls’ is a loosely psycho-geographic video blog run by Owen Davey containing both original content and pre-existing examples of ‘strolls as stories told in video’. Owen will present a sample of films from the collection. Also showing is a short film by Michael Smith, who you may remember from his Brum segment for The Culture Show a couple of years back. Other Still Walking-related filmic rambles past and present will also appear.

The Magic Cinema has an “open-reel” policy, meaning that in addition to pre-programmed content we’ll also show any film that is submitted to us as long as it’s under 15 minutes and the filmmaker (or a friend of) comes along to introduce it. We encourage the submission of films that are in some way exploratory, ‘Meanderthal’ or somehow walking related but there’s no real selection process as such, so feel free to stretch these definitions. It’s not a competition but we shall be dispensing tokens of gratitude to those who submit and we’ll be particularly impressed with anyone who makes a film especially for the event. Now pick up a camera and get walking!

Spaces are limited so get your submissions in soon to assure your slot. To submit please email: TheMagicCinema@live.co.uk

The evening is part of the next Still Walking festival, running from Fri 25th July to Sun 3 Aug. Full programme to be announced soon!

More on Magic Cinema here: https://www.facebook.com/themagiccinema

 

 

What even is Free Seeing?

Now that more than ten people have asked me ‘What even is Free Seeing?’ I thought I’d better write a short blog post to explain it a bit more. Francis Lowe got in touch during the last Still Walking festival to tell me about his notion of ‘found places’ – to be regarded in the same vein as Duchamp’s found objects. Both the objects and the places were of course already there but the creative activity is announcing that there’s something further to be known about them, without actually altering anything. A small group of us wandered around Digbeth in the shadow of the viaduct arches, into Forklift workshops, across open land, reframing the world, tipping the horizon and generally being adventurous about visualising what was around us. Digbeth is already quite a bizarre place that naturally invites surreal interpretations.

It’s a recurring theme of the festival: people see the world differently. Indeed there’d be no festival if that wasn’t the case. It’s an intriguing moment in the walks when the guide describes why particular spot is relevant and yesterday we heard a different take on the same location from somebody else.

Francis’ theme is what the actual moment of seeing is comprised of, what we are actually doing to observe or notice something and how we can then be creative about it. We usually don’t need to be, so the subject never comes up. It helps to know that he teaches animation – a lot of the techniques of framing a moving image are appliable here.

All of this may involve looking over walls, lying down (mats provided!) remaining static, panning left to right, entering narrow apertures, looking at archaeological evidence, sitting in a croft and filing it all in an internal gallery. Advanced user may later get into testing deja vu, attention rehearsals, refining gut instinct, testing the edge of danger, losing found objects, learning to get lost and possibly a visit to moon as found object.

Tickets are £5, there are at time of writing 4 left, but once you learn the technique it’s yours to keep forever and to do anywhere.

Click here to buy tickets

Francis in wedge alley

Apertures of Seeing

This is Freedom – Amerah Saleh, Sipho Eric Dube and Alisha Kadir

Last year I ran a guided tour workshop for The Foundry, the REPs’s emerging professional performer platform, to encouraging thinking about city spaces as potential stages. We generally don’t spend much time standing still in the urban environment but if you do claim the space as your own, its rhythms and sense of the place quickly emerges. People will ask you questions – usually the way to the station – because they sense you belong there. Watching the hundreds of short stories unfold around you can give the impression (as a local playwright once claimed) that all the world’s a stage.

‘This Is Freedom’ by Amerah Saleh and fellow performers Sipho Eric Dube and Alisha Kadir responds to my original challenge. We ran a theatre promenade piece in the very first Still Walking and I’ve been keen to stage the next one ever since. The festival’s approach to commissioning new walks is to offer support where needed to make the event happen. That can mean anything from co-authorship of the event to just doing the risk assessments and tweeting about ticket sales. The theme of their piece is ‘freedom’: what that actually means and whether you yourself have it in an ethical, political, cultural, legal, mental or environmental sense. So freedom is what I’ve given them – when I see their performance on the night, that’s when I will be able to tell you more about it.

I know that ‘This Is Freedom’ draws from existing characters, narratives and ideas, reassembled and re-presented to respond to specific spaces. I’m looking forward to seeing these places as I know them transform into something entirely different. I know they are going into one of my favourites too: the ‘water gardens’ area behind the old Central Library, a space that a diverse demographic has already planted its flag into. I’m thrilled that Madin’s creation will see at least one more use before it disappears forever.

They’ve chosen to start it at sunset too, while most of the other guides are racing to avoid being caught out in the shadows. Join me for this bold and challenging premiere at 6pm, Tue 18 March meeting at the underpass on Navigation Street. Very limited tickets available.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/this-is-freedom-amerah-saleh-alisha-kadir-and-sipho-eric-dube-tickets-10639175059

Impermanent Collection – review of The Temporary at ARTicle Gallery

The Temporary is an cross-media exhibition curated by Rachel Marsden at ARTicle Gallery that explores the notion of temporality and the transitory – particularly in an urban context.

The Midlands has seen a cluster of walking art exhibitions recently that seem to have been put on for the benefit of Still Walking: among them Walk On at Mac, Land Art at Mead Gallery and Walking Encyclopedia at AirSpace gallery. A recent addition to this growing collection is Rachel Marsden’s concise exhibition at ARTicle (in Margaret Street School of Art). While not specifically about walking, it certainly covers my favourite themes of moving through a city, looking for patterns and weighing up how we feel about our surroundings. It’s also being held in an often-overlooked public gallery, itself in a jewel of a building that many seem to forget about when characterising Birmingham’s  architecture.

A first sense of the exhibition is of an overwhelming, incomprehensible and uncontrollable Ultrametropolis that leaves its citizens baffled, blitzed and bamboozled, spluttering in its own dust cloud. What initially appears to be a far eastern focus (and knowing Rachel’s Shanghai connections) proves on closer inspection to be international phenomenon. Being constantly being wrong-footed by one’s own city is an experience much closer to home. Birmingham’s long-term unsentimental adhesion to its motto of ‘Forward!’ has variously left in its wake huge, useless viaducts, the demolition of unfinished high rises and campaigns to save iconic buildings scheduled to be razed less than 40 years after their creation. By know, we are used to it: right or wrong, that’s the character of the city. People know that if they return to Birmingham after several years’ absence, they won’t be able to find their way around – not even out of the station. But it’s not quite the same: Rachel knows she won’t be able to find her way round once familiar streets in Shanghai after just one year away. Something has gone wrong, or is at least worth examining. That exploration feels like it should be heavy, dispiriting and pessimestic but it is curiously liberating, spiritual and certainly sublime.

The exhibition is dominated by a large scale work occupying the entire width of the far wall: Lu Xinjian’s City DNA is a dense grid of symbols and shapes that reminds me of an urban planner’s figure ground map – the rendering of buildings as silhouettes and the removal of all other visual map information. The familiarity and character of the city map is changed utterly when see this. Other patterns can then present themselves and the results can be hypnotic, as is the case on this epic scale. Eventually, junctions, roads, rivers and contours present themselves from the seeming chaos and you might even guess which city this is. The exhibition is not wholly about visual art, and If your exploration is to be genuine, then it needs to be done across a variety of scales and media. IPods mounted on top of City DNA play you a selection of further musical and sounds that work as further investigations, and naturally there is a remix to download. Manchester band Part Wild Horses performed an newly commissioned work in the space on the opening night. Modular furniture by Li-En Yeung and Tom Vousden is scattered around the room and you are invited to reassemble it to suit your needs (as happened during the live act). It can be a precarious undertaking and you need to become part structural engineer to make sure your design doesn’t topple.

The remaining walls display the photographers’ work, scrambling and reassembling sizes, locations and even the photographers themselves, better revealing the themes of the exhibition. Some are apparent for their meaning, such as the former Shanghai residents returning to their homes, now rubble, being dwarfed by a wall of tower blocks behind them. Other images are more personal reflections; snapshots of disorientation. Elsewhere, in Cyril Galmiche’s ‘Pudong, Summer’ projection splits Shanghai’s business district into vertical strips, dividing the day up into equal but remixed zones. From nowhere, a boat floats across a band then disappears into another time wormhole. I’m reminded of the installations in last Spring’s mesmerising Metropolis at BM&G and want to see this piece at room height, and with a beanbag.

Image

Credit: Li Han, Hu Yan

The most affecting works are those by Li Han and Hu Yan, whose incredible work appears on the poster for the exhibition. Their intense, technical, isometric renderings cover not only the poster but page after page of what looks like a whole series of graphic novels. Every railing, pane of glass, brick, twig and leaf in the city is given the same minute scrutiny. After living with this reality for a few minutes, staggered by its precision and sheer bewildering scale, it becomes apparent that the scenes are populated by humans too, nearly invisible amongst the endless rows and grids of…stuff.

I bought the badge set and took home two of the beautiful posters. They were short lived, alas: I spilt tea over the first then mistakenly tore up the other to use as a shield for an iron on transfer.

The Temporary is on at ARTicle Gallery until 4 April then at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, Manchester from 17 April – 11 May 2014

www.thetemporary.org.uk

Vanessa Grasse ‘Movementscapes’, Juncture Dance Festival, Leeds

Movementscapes – Vanessa Grasse

Juncture Dance festival – Sun 9 March 2014

In a festival programme of largely stage based rhythmic movement, Vanessa Grasse’s Movementscapes stands out for being a two mile linear group walk, involving no dancing. The walk functions as a means for festival attendees to locate a remote venue in time for a screening and in doing so to experience Vanessa’s approach to moving through a space. What seems like it should be a simple activity actually prompts many moments of reflection, self awareness, experience of places and spaces and a greater understanding of the city’s natural rhythms. It also manages to do this largely in silence.

How many of the assembled group know exactly what’s in store? After a quick explanation of the event, we are advised not to take photos, nor talk to each other, or to use our phones (cue an urgent phone call being answered at the back of the group).

A familiar guided walk instruction is to cross the road at the prompt of the green man: banal yet also an opportunity to observe the rhythms of the city in action. The walk is prefaced by a split stance / eyes closed exercise which allows us to become gently aware of our own body sense. Not easy on the cobbled slope: I sense a few people other than myself tipping or wobbling. Vanessa invites us to become aware of a space a metre – or just over a metre – above our heads. Specifics like this subtly suggest there’s a precision to her invisible art that we should take seriously.

The first few minutes are spent getting to less busy, more open spots in the city. Our group is quite large and we are taking the Sunday shoppers of Leeds head on. At the first crossing, we are faced off by a family outing of adults and many princess-costumed girls. Our group splits neatly and seemingly automatically in two to accommodate the opposition within a central stream. This doesn’t usually happen, but our group now has ‘hive-mind’.

There’s a quiet grace in seeing her simply pick up a stick as if she’s alone and enjoying the first glorious Spring afternoon of the year. However, three separate entities are observing the moment: the public who occasionally become aware of the strangeness of the group: perhaps not from its size but from subtle clues such as our silence or the twigs clutched in our right hand. The group itself has been instructed to watch for Vanessa’s signals and are always keeping her in sight. The cue is often a ripple effect via others’ motions: from my usual rear position of any group, the cervine presence of Vanessa is often lost in the crowd. The event is being photographed too by a Juncture employee: it’s occasionally a jarring moment to feel aware of more than one of these greater eyes at once.

Walking past a railing, I don’t quite see if she taps the stick along it. The stick is in the right hand to do so. Those ahead of me don’t tap. I do. Those behind me do.

The ripple effect is the only way to follow the instruction of one exercise. We are now used to seeing Vanessa from behind but outside Broadcasting, she stops to face us. The usual guided tour cue is that we are now about to learn something but we know to turn round ourselves. The unvoiced instruction is to walk backwards into the area we have just observed, which we now cautiously do. Our guide is the peripheral awareness of the larger group. We assume we’ll know – more or less – where to stop. Vanessa then lies in the shadow of the monolithic edifice. Some who lie down do so wrongly: they are not looking up with the hulking tiered tower behind them and the difference in the experience is critical. I suspect I may have missed some of the subtle cues along the walk. Before I can get too comfortable, we are shifting again and now closely face the rusted iron surface of Broadcasting Place. The spectacle of many people doing this in a line must surely be comical for those encountering Movementscapes in action but individually this gesture of close wall-facing is saturated with associations and emotions from shameful to terrifying. Choosing to do this demonstrates a willingness to be viewed as a faceless outsider, and there is surely an element of hypnotism in Vanessa’s work. As an amateur geologist it’s occasionally necessary for me to get closer to building facades and it can be an incredibly self conscious activity – nobody looks at building materials so the only response from people is deep suspicion. Here, fortunately, we are in good company and it is the spectator of our group naughty-step that temporarily becomes the outsider.

The walk concludes and I feel I’ve been part of a rare and affecting experience. Being part of any group that is thinking alike, even by instruction, is (for me) a welcome moment. Having experienced it amongst mostly strangers, and wordlessly too makes the experience rarer still. It’s perhaps not the main focus of the walk but for me the most powerful. Also, that I barely talk about the event with anyone: I arrived late and have to leave immediately – the walk is all I have done in the city.

A guided walks as a means to join the dots can sometimes invite problems, especially where the dots are venues where other people’s art is happening. The guided tour in its purest form disregards convenient routes and landmarks to focus on the places that really need to be visited. I’m even slightly suspicious of circular routes – it just seems too convenient and I always sense there better places we didn’t visit for the sake of convenience. It is a joy then to discover the route takes in Vanessaesque spaces in abundance, and indeed it is those rhythms and spaces that make up our city. Since my first Movementscape last September I now see the possibilities of spaces everywhere.

Juncture Dance Festival runs in various locations around Leeds until Sat 15 March

www.juncturedance.com

http://vanessagrasse.wordpress.com/

I Was a Teenage Walking Artist – my visit to Walk On at Mac.

In October 1990 I’d just left home was studying sculpture at Wolverhampton Polytechnic. My first works were walking art pieces – although it would be years later that I’d discover the term and recognise where I fitted in. To establish myself in my new environment, I’d go for long walks in remote areas off the tow path, never quite sure whether I was rambling or trespassing. I encountered sculpture parks of twisted, rusting post-industrial residue that I found more deeply affecting than the minibus trips to Yorkshire I’d been on during my foundation course. It reminded me of a film I’d seen on Channel 4 a year or two previously: Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (ask any walking artist what their favourite film is).

Sculpture in Manchester 1989

Zone Art, 1989 – pity I couldn’t use a camera

I’d rearrange things in situ, then vex my tutors by announcing that my work for the term was located beside a series of disused M&B pubs six miles away. I was encouraged to instead photograph my sculptures or recreate them the studio. To my regret, I took their advice and it would be ten years or more before my efforts to guide people through these zones would naturally resurface. I’d quickly discovered the gulf between being in a location and creating a representation of that experience for an audience who probably wouldn’t ever see it. When I graduated, I didn’t become a sculptor but I did eventually become a tour guide. There is now no gulf of experience: I am sharing my understanding of the place by taking the audience there and we then talk about it. No need to report back to anyone – though I occasionally blog about it.

Hyde, Manchester installation 1989

Good sculpture but terrible photography (and storage)

Great to see Walking Art in Birmingham on the ascendant! The Walk On exhibition at mac pleasingly spills into every part of the venue allowing many chance encounters (it also seems to move about between visits). For what seems like a unifying medium, the walking artists communicate in radically different ways and focus on different aspects of the event. Some visually represent the route as their art while others report back what they encountered. Others are naturally drawn to map making or the landscape itself and tap into a long established path of walking art.

Hamish Fulton is undiluted walking-as-art. What you find in the gallery is emphatically not the art itself but rather a no-nonsense report of key data from the event. Thus a map of Europe is criss-crossed with epic journeys which merely state the year each walk was undertaken. For him to reproduce the walk requires you to undertake the walk, whether that’s shuffling across a concrete dais in Eastside or ascending Everest. It’s an important foundation for any understanding of the practice: none of us experience the world in quite the same way. Fulton is committed to his cause but I sometimes feel I’d like to know what notes he made on those journeys.

Plan B take a similar approach, beautifully etching digital GPS information of their Berlin walks into perspex that say nothing about the experience or terrain. But within the mechanically etched filigree lines lies a human narrative – regular routes, familiar territory with the occasional foray into the unknown.

Sarah Cullen beautiful drawings do are perhaps plan B’s analogue equivalent. There is no mystery about her process: every aspect of the process is on show. A pencil hangs in a wooden box (intriguingly cut down from what looks like a woodcut print block) which is carried over varied terrains and marks the paper accordingly. We don’t know the geography or the route – we don’t need to. Yet the journeys are there to behold – exposing the fragile rhythmic evidence of a body moving through the landscape.

Simon Pope’s approach is perhaps the most ephemeral and fragile of all the works: a recording of a dialogue between two strangers who shared a journey into unfamilar territory to determine a common ground. Straightforward, yet art like this cuts right to the heart of the human walking experience.

Jeremy Ward takes the interface between bronze age hill figure art and walking art head on. The landscape at White Horse Hill in translated digitally into GPS contours and then again into a laboriously constructed card equivalent. The horse is nearly lost amongst it all. How to respond to something as affecting as being at the Uffington White Horse, connecting with the earliest landscape artists – and maybe earliest walking artists? Ward concludes that we’ll never know why the figure was created, being viewable only from above. Having visited this location recently, and having seen the horse from ground level from several miles away, I can’t draw the same conclusion. Intriguingly, it does disappear from view as you get close to it and only reappers once you are on top of it. I’d love to believe this was intentional.

Rachael Clewlow has a similarly methodical approach, recording in tiny, hand rendered lettering all the things she walks past, and at what time, whether that’s Homebase, a Londis or a roundabout. There are no notes in her notebook, it could easily have been taken from a trade directory. There’s the sense that there’s a code to be cracked to determine what her greater pattern was. Short of retracing her steps, we’ll never know – perhaps that’s the point: the gulf is too wide to ever report the experience accurately.

Perhaps because of my tour-guide background, my favourite works tend to be those by artists who share their en route discoveries and are less concerned with what shape the whole thing made.  Walkwalkwalk’s trails round east London treat ordinary objects found in the street with as much importance as an archaeological dig. They document fleeting encounters with people on flyposters which are then returned to the location. There’s a pleasing circular economy at work.

Richard Wentworth’s photos of the ordinary objects and arrangements he encounters whilst walking revel in the creativity, absurdity and sheer joy of the human condition. Gently inviting the audience to share our minds’ flawed interpretations of the world is a revealing, fragile and humbling business – and in Wentworth’s hands, very very funny.

Each visitor to the gallery will have their own experience of moving through it and different works will get their attention. Their conclusions will all be different. For me, the exhibition prompted the realisation that I steer away from prescriptive heritage industry ‘top-ten must-see’ tours as much as the dogmatic artistic statement that each walk is unique and recording the event is the lesser, even pointless, experience. Lying at various points within those two extremes are the Walk On artists and indeed the whole human experience of moving through the world, looking at it and wanting to say something about it.

Walk On runs at Midlands Art Centre until Sunday 30th March 2014

Buy the Catalogue

Buy the Catalogue!

Seeing Workshop

Seeing Workshop at Airspace Gallery

The starting point of any Seeing Workshop is the notion that there is too much visual information around us to absorb and that in order to facilitate our working lives, we have learnt to see what we need to.

This means that as we walk to our various destinations, we are generally retracing an established route and need only look out for obstacles or danger on the way. In unfamiliar territory, we focus on location and direction to effect arrival.

Ben Waddington is a Birmingham-based historian and is the director of the Still Walking festival. His Seeing Workshops represent an opportunity to re-see familiar surroundings with a view to better understanding our environments. Exercises on the walk will examine subjects such as static observation, magnification, archaeology, local history, design trends and will consider our pace, perception apertures and arrival motives.

The walk will last around 80 minutes and begins at Airspace Gallery, 4 Broad Street, Stoke-on-Trent. It forms part of the Walking Encyclopaedia exhibition currently showing there.

The route is accessible for wheelchair users but will occasionally venture off the pavement – so good walking shoes are recommended. Bad weather will result in a shorter tour, but please be prepared to brave the elements and dress accordingly.

Click here to buy tickets.

Pete Ashton’s Sensory Walk vs SOUNDkitchen

A few Saturdays ago I joined one of Pete Ashton’s recent series of Sensory Photo Walks, this one being created in collaboration with SOUNDkitchen. The purpose of Pete’s photo walks is to explore a location and take photos, prompted by Pete’s suggestions on how we might reframe what’s around us. The most recent series of walks have been informed by an extra layer of influence – on mine this was SOUNDkitchen’s Iain Armstrong’s gentle audiophile exercises in how to listen to the world.

I’ve long believed that seeing the world is a layered and inherently inaccurate, lazy and filtered undertaking that tells us as much about the unreliable agents our brains are as it does about what’s actually out there. Fortunately, the process is something that can be derailed, broken down and fine-tuned for our better understanding of the world and our enjoyment of it, if we know what to do. The Photo Walks provide a means to slow the moment of observation down to the point where we notice what we notice, what to do about that and how to adjust it. The audio world is perhaps even less noticeable, routinely filtered out immediately we’ve identified something as a threat, a nuisance or nothing. In September, SOUNDkitchen created a walk for the festival looking at (or listening to) those themes, revealing the many aspects of happens when we choose to listen to something.

What happens when you let one approach lead to the other? Can listening to the world then affect the way you see it?

One aspect of the Photo Walks that I find interesting is the slowing down of the time it takes to frame and take a photo. What seems like a relatively straightforward decision turns out to be fraught with conflicting motives. The first effect I noticed is also echoed in Karen Strunks 4am project: it’s easier to take photographs in a group than solo, particularly so with a leader. Karen’s events take place in the middle of the night, are often locations you can visit anyway but despite that are usually booked out instantly. The value is that you are not undertaking the experience alone. Being freed from the perceived role of outsider (in both Karen and Pete’s events) affords more time to weigh up the location, what it is doing, how you feel about it and what the shot should therefore be. Looking at things becomes the norm, whereas undertaken individually it can appear suspicious or even confrontational. People in the group (which can get quite spread out) are thinking alike, and knowing this can be a consolidating force. They have planted a temporary flag and the lone, unfocussed pedestrian who encounters the school is the awkward newcomer who will cross the road, or apologise for interrupting.

I found being freed of the need to finish a shot quickly, and actively being led by two authorities really allowed some active consideration. How this actually manifests is an individual moment (and my photography is shit) but I found I was doing things I wouldn’t normally do. The opening exercise was a sweeping search of the quality of sounds in a rare wide-open spot in the city centre. Sounds were coming from all directions: nearby skateboarders grinding and clattering, a train zipping by, traffic hum from the city. I listened for the most distant sound and then applied the feeling of perceptive expansion to the visual horizon too. The results stretched the capacity of my compact camera’s zoom function and revealed the kind of hazy pylons, masts and overhead signal gantries beloved of Tarkovsky or Godspeed You Black Emperor. Were they good photos? No. Did it alter my perception of the world? Yes!

Elsewhere I matched sonic rhythms to visual ones and considered the notion of duration in a photograph (by switching to the Fireworks setting in a dark road tunnel). In the car park of the Dog’s Home I looked for visual puns and stoopid jokes.

Towards the end of the walk, I spotted a very narrow aperture between two buildings, several feet deep but perhaps only six inches across. I told the people I was walking with about a movement artist (Vanessa Grasse) who recently has become interested in squeezing into narrow alcoves and hollows in the urban context. Would any of us fit in? I didn’t really expect anyone to try but one adventurous woman was curious enough to shed camera and coat, and shuffle into the gap. I took a photo – we all spotted it was a great photo opportunity. I sensed that it was the instructional walk, the social environment of fellow creatives and the unspoken seizing control of the area that allowed this wonderful moment to happen at my suggestion.

Conclusion: ’Group looking improves the world.’

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.