Tunnel Vision – Walking the Inner Ring Road Tunnels

The Ring Road tunnels opened again today after six weeks of closure and the city’s petrol powered traffic can once again circulate at will – at least until 10pm when the curfew sounds.

Earlier in the year, friend-of-the-festival Roxie Collins suggested an excellent walk: a night-time pedestrian stroll through the tunnels. If approved, it would be a rare opportunity to walk in the usually exclusive domain of the motor car. Roxie is a fan of car parks and car spaces in general and her tour for the festival year visited the city’s landmark car parks and subways. Going by the quick take up of tickets, many others were too. I thought I’d try to arrange it, thinking how long it might be before another opportunity to do this (safely) came around. The earliest Still Walking festival featured a walk led by Joe Holyoak, talking about the Inner Ring Road from a planner’s perspective – a walk that stopped short of entering the tunnels themselves. This would be an elegant way to complete that missing section. Indeed the festival has a recurring obsession with the ring road: in March this year, Glen Stoker accompanied a dozen people around the Middle Ring Road. And in 2017, the festival will feature an epic trek around the outer ring road…

My email efforts to contact the BCC tunnels boss or head of tourism at Amey led nowhere unfortunately, even though I pitched the benefits of having a public access event to offset the inconvenience of tunnel closure. However, a week later an email arrived from a colleague: Amey were now advertising a guided walk by Construction Manager Kevan Lambe. Anyone was welcome so long as they had full PPE ie., hard hats, hi-viz and work boots. I signed up immediately and scrambled some kit together.

Two weeks later I was sitting in a container office near Spaghetti Junction, receiving the H&S training, evacuation procedure, general tunnel tips and tricks and most interestingly for me a slide show of Queensway history (also called Tunnel Vision) and tunnel facts and figures. During Kevan’s presentation, the assembled group learnt that the concept of the Ring Road dates back to 1944, while the country was still at war. There are times when you have to respect that kind of commitment to the Forward motto. Likewise the 1971 launch date, which came six years ahead of schedule. And everyone knows the Queen’s blunder in naming the jewelled  carriageway…

Some intriguing details emerged before we set off to explore: when the tunnels closed last year, people tended to stay on longer in the city after work, shopping or heading to restaurants and bars having left the car at home. Businesses reported an increased turnover, which was maintained even after the tunnels reopened. Kevan also detailed the various work being carried out in the tunnels: new LED lighting that varies in intensity throughout the day, actually becoming dimmer at night to minimise the contrast from driving from darkness into an illuminated environment. Ventillation and fireproofing is improved and there is now support for emergency services radio communications. Video cameras automatically detect incidents or collisions and email the relevant personnel and switch on an in-tunnel voice alarm / public PA system. Leaks have been fixed.

The feeling of walking in the tunnels is very much that you shouldn’t be there. Not from a permission perspective but rather that walking in the spaces I’ve previously watched thousands of cars zipping through just plain feels dangerous. When driving through previously, I’ve noticed doors on the left hand wall leading somewhere… on this walk we entered such a door, ascended a spiral staircase into a cavernous plant room, with vents opening up to the carriageways below. All along the tunnel, on cherry pickers and magic carpets men work through the night on overhead gantries and fixtures. An occasional beeping means such a platform is descending and we need to watch out. Former access gates from the surface have been sealed off, being infiltrated by the curious while the tunnels are closed. Bags of fireproofing powder lie in piles, waiting to be sprayed onto the surfaces. We’re in there for around an hour, with a full commentary on every aspect – details usually missed completely by motorists as they whizz beneath the city in a matter of minutes.

The final pix courtesy of Andrew Kulman – follow his Twitter stream of 60s /70s Brumicana @AndrewKulman

 

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Why Waylosing?

Bill Aitchison on the Waylosing walk: it sold out in a few days but we hope to rerun it later in the year in conjunction with the wayfinding tour.

 

The idea of leading a waylosing walk may sound a little perverse but it not just a joke, for it comes from the solid principle that if you never go out of your way you never discover new places. I’m aware the terms ‘losing your way’ or ‘being lost’ have negative connotations, they sound like a problem, like a lack of something, but these states almost never exist in an absolute form, we almost always have some idea of where we are: which country, city and neighbourhood we’re in. Even Christopher Columbus landing on and ‘discovering’ the the Americas, which he mistook for Japan and China, was not completely lost. He knew he was five weeks sail west of Europe.

I’m not planning anything quite so ambitious as this for the voyage on the 2nd August in Birmingham with Still Walking. More modestly, I’d like to share some techniques and ideas which I use to put myself off my habitual tracks. This walk will therefore not follow a predefined route that pushes us ever further into obscurity, the route will instead be decided in the moment depending on who is taking the walk, which areas we are unfamiliar with and what we find. In this way it will be about the process of waylosing, the decisions we have to make and how we can make sense of the journey. Since most of us on the walk will know the city to a greater or lesser extent, the chances are we will not be well and truly lost but we might well come across a few unfamiliar streets, talk about what we find, what it means to not know where you are and not know where you are going. 

I’m excited that this walk has been paired with a wayfinding walk as I see the two of them as dealing with very similar issues. I did some waylosing experiments in Beijing recently, as it is easier to get lost in a foreign country, and I found I had to think a lot about how we navigate and find our way. It was necessary, for example, to choose the right area to get lost in, to locate landmarks in order to lose them and to keep a detailed mental map in order to know when it had been irreparably mangled. Like the unruly younger sibling then, this waylosing walk is cut from a similar cloth but attempts to know the rules only in order to break them.

Finally on a practical note, the walk is going to take some time and we will try to include a stop for light refreshment on the way, though obviously that depends on where we end up. There will be quite a bit of walking involved, so dress appropriately, and the plan is to find our way back into Birmingham City Centre by 6PM at the latest. You can bring phones but using their map function is absolutely forbidden!  

Bill Aitchison

Bill Aitchison

Thanks Bill; I’m secretly hoping we do find some lost continents.

You can read more about Bill’s other events over at his blog.

Sights in Motion – a Pedal Powered Invisible Cinema – the reviews are in!

Last night at the Magic Cinema screening at Ort Café I asked Alan Fair (Small Heath-born cinephile and former MAC film programmer) to cobble together some notes about Saturday’s bike ride around the old picture palaces of Brum. Here’s his amazing essay less than a day later:

 

Alhambra, Essoldo, Tivoli, Rialto, these are names for the mouth to conjure with, as a child these words were the closest I came to exotica, these were words that ended in vowels that weren’t ‘e’ ferchristsake!

Of course and more importantly these names were the abracadabra that allowed me to see all those things and places and people that weren’t in the quotidian world of inner city Birmingham. Picture Palaces was such a wonderful term and it rang as true to my experience as did the dreams I woke from on summer mornings. The cinema names not only conjured the Mediterranean, the Moorish citadels of the Spanish plains there was also those reminders of closer to home but still no less exotic for these names revealed the class nature of British history, the grandiose harkening back to medieval times; The Grange, The Coronet, The Manor, those dreamy distant images rendered hyperbolic in the comic books I would read. Alas all it appears is lost, like the flickering shadows on the screen and the blue smoke paisley patterns written in the air above my head as the brilliant light of the projector was rendered palpable by the luscious lips of Rhonda Fleming, the impossible masculinity of Victor Mature. Open mouthed I saw in those brief gaps in the soot laden street of Birmingham 10 as the way to the stars, the sweeping staircase of the Grange unfurled onto Coventry road and beckoned me up just as David Niven was beseeched upwards to share a space with the demigods of European thought.

So mostly the names have gone, but thankfully not the memories or the architecture of those oneiric forms, saved but transformed by the changing moods and cheapening desires of the marketplace, where now not dreams but plastic buckets and paint and occasionally and more appropriately these buildings are still places of social gathering and community. It was armed with this arcane knowledge of what was called “Sights in Motion: A pedal-powered invisible cinema” that a group of us, signed up already to the inherent philosophy of the wonderful ‘Still Walking Festival’, embarked on a peripatetic pilgrimage pursuing these transformed halls of memory.

 

Tysley

The mistake made by all urbanists is to consider the private automobile (…) essentially as a means of transportation. Such a misconception is a major expression of a notion of happiness that developed capitalism tends to spread throughout society. The automobile is the centerpiece of this general propaganda, both as sovereign good of an alienated life and as essential product of the capitalist market.  (Guy Debord, “Situationist theses on traffic” 1959)

What became clear as we pushed off was that such a quest but not just the journey into nostalgia of a couple of old folks but was rather a wonderful pathway to the past in the present, a group of seekers buoyed by pneumatic tires and enthusiasm, men and women young and old and all sharing the common complaints of backsides on leather seats and the joys of cycling in the inner city, urban explorers reaching the euphoria common to those in tandem with each other’s thoughts. The first cinemas we came across, in Stirchley, had now been transformed into workshops, this became a theme of the trip, the city once known as “the workshop of the world” had rediscovered its heritage in the abandoned dreams of years gone by. Armed with the knowledge of our leader (literally) we began, as all travelers must, to discern these hard (crumbling?) facts of transition and history.

We must replace travel as an adjunct to work with travel as pleasure. (Guy Debord.1959 Ibid)

As the earth began to move beneath the sun’s warmth so to we moved across the built environment, also involved in our small way with a transformation. I wondered as we wandered how many people back in the thirties and forties had traveled to their local cinemas by means of a bicycle, how many patrons pushed forward on pedals while puffing on Woodbines and Park Drives, eager to catch the charismatic fallout from Errol Flynn, from Paul Robeson, from the transcendent Bette Davies? Through Small Heath and Greet, through Alum Rock  and Washwood Heath, we dawdled alongside impossibly grand edifices, The Capitol, watched over with benign warmth by the patrons of the Muslim Community centre, who told us with glee about visiting the cinema in “the old days” to catch the antics of Bruce Lee, then further on to Malik & Sons Cash and Carry, still delightful in deep azure and startling white, the fascisti (sic)emblems picked out perfectly in their stucco rendition of imperial (another name often given to cinemas) Rome.

Even if during a transitional period, we temporarily accept a rigid division between zones of work and residence, we should at least envisage a third sphere, that of life itself (the sphere of freedom, of leisure – the truth of life)Unitary urbanism acknowledges no boundaries; it aims to form a unitary human milieu in which separations such as work/pleasure or public/private will finally be dissolved. But before this, the minimum action of unitary urbanism is to extend the terrain of play to all desirable constructions. This terrain will be at the level of complexity of an old city.  (Guy Debord 1959 ibid)

What seemed, at first, like the ruins of the dream life of angels  quickly became a celebration of the dynamics of the city, as our group of seekers learned to find, so did we begin to enjoy the city captured through the screens of our own desires, to re-map the city as an environment for sharing rather than dividing up. The lines of our drift through Birmingham’s car city presumptions made new byways of discovery, by ways that cyclists and pedestrians learn to re insert themselves into the urban environment where, what was clear to us was, we can once again celebrate the city as a place for people.

Thanks to all on the “Invisible Cinema” trek, it really was a day to cherish.

 

Photo: Mark Wilson

Photo: Mark Wilson

Alan Fair

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.

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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

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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/

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