Nat Pitt has been asked to give a talk at the MADE symposium ‘Worcester – Building a Modern City’ which takes place on Tuesday, 30th March 2010 (that’s tomorrow!). As one of the original Interrogation agents, Agent Pitt made contact and invited us to come over and Interrogate the public art of Worcester. A contact point was established, and Agent Pitt, Agent Orange, Agent Winnett and I met up – the video piece above was the result of the days interrogation.
We met at a really weird fake country play area for kids and families, where there is a piece of public art which is apparently a cattle run for humans. The plan was to respond to each piece; interrogate the work in some way – give it some attention, question it, find out what it means; try to make some sense. It was fast, true interrogation style in that way, we simply arrived at each site, and then decided who would do what. I believe in a quick and responsive mode of working, but do think that some planning time is also necessary. I wish I could go to the symposium tomorrow where the video piece will be shown, but I am off to interrogate Glasgow…
This week has been another hectic one – juggling work, art and life. Today was the last day of term before Easter, and so I arranged to go to Walsall and Wolverhampton art galleries with the students. There was a bit of interest, and we said we would meet at the train station first thing this morning. Unfortunately only one of the students actually turned up though – which is not a very good turnout – especially considering that they are exhibiting and curating students. Anyway, I enjoyed the trip, it was great to get out and look at some art. The thing that really stuck out for me was Shona Illingworth’s video installation about Balkaniel ( a remote Scottish area which the RAF use as a bombing range, and Shona’s home town). Their was one main space showing a longer video piece – but it was the second space that I really loved – a 4 piece composite photo landscape of the terrain on one wall and some texts. The wall opposite had another video piece showing a choppy sea, the sound was soothing and somehow peaceful. Really good, and worth a visit. I hadn’t actually visited the Wolverhampton art gallery specifically to see Shona’s work – but had gone along to see the soft sculptures bofy Jann Haworth. I liked them, but felt that the space was overcrowded, and too hectic. Every inch of space in the room was filled. I liked the cloth doughnuts though.
Tomorrow I will be going to Worcester with Interrogation Agents Orange, Winnet and Pitt to make a film. Agent Pitt was asked to speak at the MADE conference – and so we are going to interrogate the public art of Worcester tomorrow for the conference. Should be fun…and I will put the video on the Longhouse Blog once it is done.
Some of the bits of the talking city ezine are going better than others…I haven’t really got started properly on the ask anna bit – until Saturday – when I went into the gallery. Glen and Andy got lights, reflectors cameras and tripods out and did a portrait of ASK ANNA for the site.
I realised that the Agony Aunt is the fourth of my characters now, first there was ‘The Director’ for WLTM – then there was ‘The Official Tour Guide for Stoke-on-Trent’ and then there was the Lead Interrogator for Interrogation: Walsall. This one is not so performative as the others, as I am not going to do a live performance within it, but it follows the nature of this residency – which is web based rather than in real space/time.
Anyway, Andy told me to watch a program this week called ‘Requiem for Detroit’ it was an amazing documentary on the fall of the motor city. Looking at the AMAZING buildings which supported the massive car industry in America. The city was once filled with 2 million people, but with the processes of deindustrialisation the city has seen a mass emptying out. There are now just 800,000 left – the beautiful buildings, homes to rich companies are now standing empty, falling down. It was beautifully filmed, and really showed what it is that creative people see in the places. We are looking at death, and the ghosts of greed – or something? Strangely the day before watching the program I came across Broken City Lab – a group of creative urban activists, based on the other side of the Detroit river in Windsor, Ontario. Windsor is in a similar position to Detroi, having survived and built it’s living around the motor industry. I have got in touch with the group and I am having a conversation with them for the website. Justin A. Langlois their research director says
“Detroit is at least 10 or 15 years ahead of Windsor, in terms of economic downturn and the social implications thereof. Windsor is suffering from the collapsing auto industry; we’ve lost a lot of jobs, we have the highest unemployment rate in Canada, and the city really seems to be struggling to figure out what to do next. Detroit already seems far past this point”
It must be like looking over the river to your future. We are talking about the way that though this is a very painful and difficult process for the city, the creative people within the city can be very inspired by it – making sense of the difficult situation.
You may have noticed the way that every page of the Talking City Ezine has a bird silhouette at the top.
I wanted to create distinctive identities for each page, and decided that city birds sum up the project for me pretty well. Beautiful, crafty, adaptable and flexible – they have learned to survive in the city against the odds. Each individual I have been in conversation with for the project has been asked to select a city bird to represent themselves. I am quite pleased with how that has turned out – very simple, but good.
This week was the closing date for the Talking City Com:missions. I was glad that people applied (considering the short time span from advertising to closing date). But realised on Thursday when I sat down in the studio to go through the applications that I actually hate the process of selecting. I feel so mean – and just want to accept lots of them, because most of the proposals had real value. In the end I had to really consider how well each of the applicants had responded to the brief, who had really considered the location of the art works, who had been innovative – seemingly taking a chance and perhaps pushing their practice. I also realised that for me, it was important that this small commission might be an enabling device for some – making the difference between doing or not doing something.
In the end I selected proposals which I felt fitted into the ‘Interrogation’ style approach – sometimes physically, and sometimes in their dialogical approach. I ended up choosing two that were very interventionist in nature – which would create a performative happening in a space for a certain amount of time; and two which were action research style approaches – doing in order to find out and generate outputs. I did not select any for the collaboration, consultation missions – but feel happy with the 4 projects that have been selected – hoping someinteresting things will come from them.
I cannot reveal the names yet, as I have not notified the artists – next on the list.
It is a funny situation, having applied for many opportunities myself, and been turned down, I know it can be disappointing – but it is the way of things I suppose. At one point a few years ago I started a spreadsheet, which would log how many things I applied for, and how many I got turned down for – I stopped doing it after a few months, because it was depressing – and also because I had reached a point in my practice where I decided to start creating my own opportunities. I thought, rather than just accepting that I can’t do the piece of work, because it was not selected, if I felt strongly about it, then I would find a creative way round it – do it anyway, despite the framework of the opportunity, or the funding. A lot of the ideas could still be completed (in one form or another) with a bit of lateral thinking.
I think this is a really important step to take – instead of waiting around for recognition – go out and start acting, making and doing. Strangely, then you start to build up a bit of a reputation, and then people start asking you to do things! Funny old world.
I went for a meeting at the Longhouse offices yesterday, amongst other things to meet Paul, so he could show me this blog, and how to set it up and get it going. I told Karl about how I wished I could stay at home from work last week and work on the website – really enjoying it, but feel like I am not getting a chance to spend as much time as I would like to on it. As usual I have put in place so much, and have given myself a bit of a task to complete everything! This happens because I get so enthusiastic about everything. The ‘In Conversation’ bit of the site is the bit I am most pleased and surprised about. The conversations that are unfolding are really uncovering some interesting gems – in particular in relation to artist’s processes, and how we go about finding the contexts within which our work happens.
Also, I am quite excited, as tomorrow is the closing day for the Talking City Com:missions, and I am looking forward to going through the proposals and selecting the ideas - hoping some good things will come from this…
Here is today’s thought for the day:
“The city fosters art and is art; the city creates the theater and is the theater. It is in the city, the city as theater, that man’s more purposive activities are focused . . . The physical organization of the city may . . . through the deliberate efforts of art, politics, and education, make the drama more richly significant, as a stage-set, well-designed, intensifies and underlines the gestures of the actors and the action of the play.”
- Lewis Mumford (1937)
So, I have been guest editor on the Longhouse website for a week now. It has been a busy week – I have been at University working every day, and then trying to fit this in, in between – so a busy one. On top of that it was Pecha Kucha on Thursday night – so that was quite a bit to organise, and meant that I didn’t get a chance to update the website that day. Thought for the Day for Thursday was not recorded on site until Friday night…but sometimes these things happen. I really feel that this is how things are for artists these days: juggling jobs, projects, writing, doing, exploring – we have busy lives, and have to be very flexible. I mentioned this to Keith Weston, and he said it has always been this way, especially when you are starting out – you have to be very enterprising – and really able to maximise every opportunity.
I think the Talking City ezine is going really well. I have been quite surprised by the willingness of other artists and practitioners to engage in conversations for the site – and feel that this in particular is turning out to be a successful element of the project. I think the conversations are really exposing some of the issues which artists working within the public realm face; and this is always worthwhile. There have only been a couple of people who have not responded to my request for a conversation; and unsurprisingly these are what I would describe as public realm employees – people employed in public sector jobs, and in charge of urban renewal, and cultural development. The fact that yet again it is the arts practitioners who are willing to enter dialogues, and be reflective and critical about the role of arts and culture in the city, and the public sector employees are disinterested, flags up for me the problems that we face. Until the conversation becomes joined up, and until those ‘in charge’ start to truly care about the issues, and becoming willing to push themselves and question their practices, we will always be stuck in a position of unhealthy status quo. It seems that they are always working to rule, doing it becasue they have to, and not because they care or want to.
Hewitt and Jordan speaking in 2004 drew attention, I think, to how artists can make work which directly dissents against the tick-boxing methods of councils and other public realm bodies, who employ art and culture as an easy option;
not even a video—not that we can make
video anyway. We know that we are
making it difficult for ourselves. I think
that the reason for this is a desire to focus
the attention on the intervention/process
itself rather than on an object—an object
brings ‘relief’ to the normal spectator of art.”
-(Hewitt & Jordan, 2004, p. 47).
If what we make has no longevity, it cannot be used as tangible evidence for how well the local authorities are doing at investing in arts and culture (for change) in an area. Perhaps in Stoke-on-Trent we should have some sort of art strike – where we all refuse to make work for a week in protest over the lack of meaningful investment in arts and culture in the city?
MONDAY, MARCH 15th 2010
“Instead of living in just one place, and trying in vain to gather yourself together there, why not have five or six rooms dotted about Paris? I’d go and sleep in Denfert, I’d write in the Place Voltaire, I’d listen to music in the Place Clichy, I’d make love at the Poterne des Peupliers, I’d eat in the Rue de la Tombe-Issoire, I’d read by the Parc Monceau etc. Is that any more foolish, when all is said and done, than putting all the fyrniture shops in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, all the glassware shops in the Rue de Paradis, all the tailors in the Rue du Sentier, all the Jews in the Rue des Rosiers, all the students in the Latin Quarter, all the publishers in Saint-Sulpice, all the doctors in Harley Street, all the blacks in Harlem?”
- Georges Perec
SUNDAY, MARCH 14th 2010
“Cultural policy can be divisive. Culture-led regeneration is only representative of a wider constituency and wider culture of the city when it is developed alongside a social policy that stems from a vigorous and democratic political process. This demands a political system that has the confidence to take on and discuss the bigger and longer-term problems affecting the city”
- Hewitt and Jordan (2004)
SATURDAY, MARCH 13TH 2010
“You Will All Be Situationists.”
- Henri Lefebvre
FRIDAY, MARCH 12th 2010
“Just as language has no longer anything in common with the thing it names, so the movements of most of the people who live in cities have lost their connection with the earth; they hang, as it were, in the air, hover in all directions, and find no place where they can settle.”
- Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 – 1926)
THURSDAY, MARCH 11th 2010
“All great art is born of the metropolis”
- Ezra Pound (1885 – 1972)
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 10th 2010
The Tesco development has created a psychological severance between my house and the city centre – I feel cut off…
TUESDAY, MARCH 9th 2010
“The life of our city is rich in poetic and marvelous subjects. We are enveloped and steeped as though in an atmosphere of the marvelous; but we do not notice it.”
- Charles Baudelaire
MONDAY, MARCH 8th 2010
“To look at the cross-section of any plan of a big city is to look at something like the section of a fibrous tumor.”
- Frank Lloyd Wright, (1867 – 1959)
Sunday, March 7th:
This month I am guest editor on the Longhouse website, and under this banner I have started ‘Talking City’ an Ezine which uses traditional magazine features to explore and investigate the artist’s role in the post-industrial world. There will be a number of exciting features of the Ezine – including Ask Anna – an Agony Aunt page for public realm artists; an in conversation section where I talk to artists about their work, and a series of exciting com:missions; amongst other things. I am really excited, but a bit daunted about using a different web based package. Have got to grips with it a bit today anyway, and have already put out the call for the com:missions. Go to the Longhouse website & follow my progress this month.
One of the Ezine Pages is a Thought for the Day – each will be a quote, thought or observation around cities. I will also put them on here:
SUNDAY, MARCH 7th -
“…in city planning… you start with the people and have motor traffic and buildings as second priorities.”
- Jan Gehl, 2010