In April we ran a walkshop at GRAD gallery, near Oxford Circus in central London, inspired by its exhibition Unexpected Eisenstein, on film director Sergei Eisenstein’s time in London.
Some research we’re doing on Following at Clarence Mews. First outing will be in Berlin at the end of June.
Stranger’s journey from city to city
] You will be walking around the city alone – this tour aims to find out the different ways in which different people explore the city, and it involves an encounter – and an exchange – between two strangers. Bring a notebook to write on (or some paper) and a pen or pencil – that’s all you’ll need. [
– from instructions to I’m A Stranger Berlin / Belgrade
I’m A Stranger is a piece we devised for B_Tour, a festival of alternative art tours which began in Berlin in 2013 and branched out to Belgrade in 2014. (In 2015 we’re planning to do it in London, and possibly Glasgow and elsewhere.) While we were talking to other tour-makers at the festival, we came up with a description for it as a make-it-yourself tour – it’s a participatory work in which participants make their own tour and create a map of it in part one, then take a tour that someone else has mapped.
The great (and sometimes scary) thing about participatory work is that you can’t predict what participants will do, and how they will interpret and influence it. Working on the streets of a city contributes more elements of randomness, and the piece takes on its own life, growing up and away from the intentions and designs of its creators… We are learning more about this process as we go, trying to lay down starting points, rules and tasks that will generate something interesting and rich, and trying our best to let go of our preconceptions about how that will turn out. The versions of I’m A Stranger we’ve done so far have turned out rather differently to our plans – and have been quite different from our initial idea.
When we started thinking about I’m A Stranger we wanted simply to arrange a (rather mysterious) rendezvous between two strangers; when they met, they would exchange the routes each one had taken to arrive at that point, and each would follow the other’s route in reverse to find out where they started. The first part would involve working out a path through the city from home/hotel/arrival point to the city centre; the second part would be an adventure of following a stranger’s route in reverse and it could take all day, depending on the length of the route, how easy it was to follow, getting lost etc. Along the way the separate participants might discover a part of the city they had never seen or would see it from a different point of view to their usual one. Perhaps they would arrive feeling a little as if they had walked into the life of the stranger. This idea was more like a walking protocol or strategy that could be set to be taken at any time, all we would do is put two strangers together and arrange the rendezvous; if they shared their reports of the experience it would be online rather than in person.
There are possibilities in this simple version that we have still to explore, but when we decided to pitch I’m A Stranger for B_Tour we realised we would need to make it work in the context of the festival, and it became something quite different. For the B_Tour version we came up with something time-limited and more contained, which could work for a number of individuals paired at random depending on who reaches the rendezvous point first. We discussed it with B_Tour’s Christin and Yael and tested variations in London in the first few months of the year, which pointed up the potential problems and challenges and helped us clarify what sort of experience we wanted to explore.
The initial inspiration had come from thinking about the characteristics of the city – as a place where strangers meet and exchange things (goods, services, ideas); and as a place where people arriving in the city have to negotiate routes through unknown streets. At one stage we wanted people to travel symbolically from a given entry point to the city such as a main railway station (in Berlin we were going to start at Ostbahnhof, which had been the main station of East Berlin and was now the city’s second most important station) to a rendezvous at a well-known symbolic meeting point (in Berlin, the Fountain of International Friendship in Alexanderplatz; in Belgrade, the statue of Prince Mihailo Obrenovic in Trg Republike).
Testing I’m A Stranger in London (at Waterloo and St Pancras stations), we discovered that time pressures limited the number of ways you could get from one point to another, as well as constricting the amount of time you could spend recording your route. What’s more, after the exchange, participants had to follow their new route backwards – from the meeting point to the starting point – which added an extra layer of complication.
The solution we came up with was to ask participants to take an hour to walk a very short route – from one landmark to another – which meant they could vary the route and the amount of detail they recorded as much as they liked. In Berlin, for example, the starting point became the World Time Clock in Alexanderplatz; the Fountain of International Friendship is just across the square and you can see the top of its sculpture over the tangle of market stalls in between. This also meant participants no longer needed to work backwards along the route they had been given at the exchange – they could return to the starting point in a few seconds in order to set off again.
While we lost a symbolic dimension of the journey from the city’s periphery to its centre, we regained the ability to give our participants a great degree of freedom, both in how they made a pathway and how much time and detail they used to record it. With an hour to spend crossing a space of less than 50 metres, they could make a route that zig-zagged across the square, looped through the backstreets around it or simply went very, very slowly in as direct a line as possible and included every detail. The only fixed points were the starting time and place, the rendezvous time and place, and the final ending time and place.
They were equally free to record their journey in any way they liked – by writing down, drawing or mapping the route they took, what they saw or what they heard, or any combination of writing/mapping/drawing any or all of these. So the work generated a host of different alternative “maps” – routes participants had made and their records of those routes which could (in theory) be kept as documentation, as works in their own right and as directions for future walks.
At the rendezvous, the participants – the strangers – recognised each other by writing “I’m a stranger” on a piece of paper and holding it up, and these in turn became an effective visual part of the work. It was interesting to see how many people felt awkward doing this and wrote it in quite small letters and/or held it up as inconspicuously as possible. Others didn’t make a sign at all, but relied on finding someone else’s first.
This structure of journeys and exchanges culminated in a final exchange – a sharing of experience between each pair of strangers who had exchanged routes and a general sharing for those who wanted it. We hadn’t really thought about this when we started out (it was something B_Tour were very keen for us to have) but it ended up seeming like a completely logical outcome of the exercise. During the Demolition Project piece that gave us our name we had discovered that one of the most rewarding parts was that it opened up conversations between those who participated, sometimes along unexpected lines. The delicate task for us (we’re still trying to get it right) is how to facilitate those conversations without forcing them. In many cases, people who had exchanged routes were really keen to talk to each other about what they’d discovered or found puzzling on each other’s maps. Sometimes people found unexpected connections in the way they perceived the world – for example, a couple of participants paired by chance in Belgrade had both focused on the soundscape of their routes. Others made fresh discoveries – one participant in Berlin who worked in Alexanderplatz found the route showing him parts of the area he had never noticed before; others who knew and disliked Alexanderplatz for its superficial ugliness discovered how interesting it could be once they started using details as landmarks.
Repeating I’m A Stranger in Belgrade brought a fresh challenge on the second day, when a planned demonstration in the city centre meant Trg Republike was filled with riot police and we had to relocate at short notice. This turned out to be a bonus as we found a fresh site, with a starting and meeting point at different doors to the Bitef Theatre, which is next to the busy Bajloni market amid a tangle of small streets in the Dorcol area of the city.
The marketplace setting gave the tour a different feel – less “touristic” and with a background as a place of outsiders and exchange. Bajloni is especially interesting as it has a mix of official stallholders within the gated market and unofficial street sellers with makeshift displays spread on the surrounding pavements; we were told they are illegal migrants and gypsies who have come to Belgrade from the country.
The necessity of having to move away from the “obvious” meeting place made us rethink the type of site we want to stage our next outing of I’m A Stranger.
Another thing we discovered was the difficulty of documenting the piece without a third and fourth person to run round after participants, ensure they agree to us photographing and reproducing their routes and comments etc. It made us consider how we document our work – and whether that’s important. There’s enormous pressure for artists to document participatory and performance work thoroughly in order to have something to show potential funders and commissioners, to market themselves with and to give something transient a more permanent life.
At the same time, what seems really important to us is the actual encounters at the heart of it: in the case of I’m A Stranger, the encounter with another person’s pathway, with another person’s way of perceiving the urban environment – and of course the encounter between self and city. We are very interested in the physical product of I’m A Stranger – the route “maps” – but it proved harder than we thought to capture these: it was difficult to photograph them on the spot (bad light, stiff breezes) and people understandably wanted to keep their maps or hold on to the map of their opposite number.
The issue of documentation is one that we really need to sort out in the coming year: how we approach it in principle, and how we make it practically. Is it a prompt for an experience (eg walking protocols such as those of Wilfried Hou Je Bek) or is it a trace or a record of it, or are experience and documentation part and parcel of the same work? On the one hand, there is a lot of depressingly dull documentation of walking art which seems beside the point; on the other, there is work where the record/trace seems to be the work itself, from Richard Long’s Line Made By Walking onwards. With I’m A Stranger we hope to build up documentation that has multiple uses – as traces of pathways actually made, as routes that can be attempted by others at a later date, and as a set of rules that will enable anyone to reproduce it in any city.
Demolitions: A Progress Report
When Rich Mix in Bethnal Green gave the Demolition Project a slot in their Small Story/Big City performance strand it seemed like the ideal opportunity to review the project so far. Here’s a little piece about what we did for anyone who missed it…
When Rich Mix in Bethnal Green gave the Demolition Project a slot in their Small Story/Big City performance strand it seemed like the ideal opportunity to review the project so far. The date, 30 May, was almost exactly a year after we started the project and participants had made about 160 demolitions of all sorts of buildings, streets and areas in London. Here’s a little piece about what we did for anyone who missed it.
Demolitions: A Progress Report was a way for us to sum up the past year’s work on the project, using the participants’ own words to describe the demolitions they made and their reasons, illustrated with images (photos and video) of the maps, the demolition sessions and the “real” streets of London.
To compile the report, we started by collecting together all the reasons people had used to explain their demolitions of London over the past year.
We grouped them together into categories, then selected which ones we wanted to highlight as examples. Alisa photographed them all and took pictures of the holes that their destruction had left in the map. We went round taking more photos, of the sites we were planning to discuss and made some videos.
From all this, Debbie wrote a script and Alisa put together a slideshow, structured around nine demolitions but including lots more along the way and explaining the background to the project. What emerged was a story of our collective destruction of London. And we combined and consolidated a year’s worth of demolitions, cutting all the holes out of one map so we could show everyone the extent of the devastation. We unfolded this at the end and stuck it on the wall so that the audience could become participants by adding their own demolitions.
Feedback was very positive – but some people wanted more stories and more participation, so that’s definitely something to bear in mind the next time we do it.
Bring on the future: the joy (and pain) of demolitions
In 1929, the demolition of slums in an impoverished part of London known as “Little Hell” was a popular spectacle; 85 years later, a demolition of tower blocks in Glasgow will be part of the celebrations for the Commonwealth Games – but it faces a barrage of criticism. What lies behind the production of demolitions for public entertainment?
In 1929, the demolition of slums in Somers Town, an impoverished part of London behind Euston Station known as “Little Hell”, was turned into a spectacle. Huge, detailed models of the pests that infested the old housing – a cockroach, a rat, a flea and a bedbug – were made in cardboard and straw and piled up in a heap of rubble and half-demolished buildings, an audience gathered, the press were there to report on it and a retired general was brought in to set light to the pyre. The event provided a symbolic destruction of the houses and by extension the eradication of the area’s appalling living conditions, some of the worst in the capital at that time. Ben Campkin in his book Remaking London: Decline and Regeneration in Urban Culture describes it as a “physical, performative and visually impressive act”.
The old slums were replaced by bright new social housing developments by the local council and St Pancras House Improvement Society, a housing association run by middle-class activists. The publicity for the demolitions was seen as a way of heralding a new era of hope and regeneration. There is no hint in the reports of the day that the demolitions were seen as anything other than positive – no suggestion they were criticised as the actions of misguided do-gooders and money-grubbing developers, or regretted by people who had lost their homes and community.
Eighty-five years later, a new demolition-spectacle is being planned by a housing association. Again, an audience is being gathered to witness the event and press will be there to document it for a wider public. Again, a notorious housing estate – this time, the Red Road towers in Glasgow (pictured above). The plan is to blow up five of the remaining six Red Road tower blocks, with film of the explosions shown live on giant screens in Celtic Park for the opening of the Commonwealth Games on 23 July.
The reasoning for the spectacle is very much the same as that of the 1929 conflagration in Somers Town. Quoted in the Guardian, David Zolkwer, artistic director for Glasgow 2014, said: “It’s a bold and confident statement that says ‘bring on the future’.”
But this time there has been a flood of protest.
From Scottish newspaper the Herald:
While organisers said the demolition, the brainchild of creative teams within the organising committee, will make an “unforgettable statement” about Glasgow’s history and future, destroying buildings that were once home to thousands to provide a spectacle has been described as crass and offensive by critics.
Signatories to the petition [against the spectacle] have described the idea as vulgar, callous, arrogant and ghastly. Nicola Page, who spent her childhood in Red Road, wrote: “The world is now invited to laugh at and applaud the final death of the home that so many will mourn.”
The petition states that the demolition should instead be carried out “with dignity” and that the current plan would send out a message to asylum seekers in the one remaining tower that “they are not human enough to deserve decent housing”.
Alison Irvine, author of a novel about the Red Road estate, described the spectacle as “crude, insensitive, blunt” and accused the Glasgow 2014 committee of “trampling over the memories of people”.
Writing in the Scotsman, Joyce McMillan suggested the context of the spectacle, as part of the Commonwealth Games celebrations, “seems as uneasy and tasteless as it is bold”. She points out some other reasons for the hostile reactions:
The embrace of old and disused industrial spaces during 1990 was essentially an act of creative reinvention, and of imaginative tribute to the past; the spaces themselves were often beautiful, with a terrific melancholy grandeur, and the work created there was often breathtakingly powerful.
The demolition of Red Road, by contrast, is an act of outright destruction, and a highly ambiguous one. The flats may have been notorious … their design and construction was certainly part of the long decline of paternalistic municipal socialism, a shameful triumph of theory, ideology and influence over grass-roots democracy and common sense.
… It seems both problematic and strange to ask people to stand and cheer the destruction of such a large area of social housing at a time when the nation is in desperate need of cheap, affordable homes, and difficult to trust that the same council which built the flats in the first place, and its offshoot housing company GHA, will automatically replace the flats with something better.
It’s a view that contrasts with that of the organisers. According to Eileen Gallagher, the chair of Glasgow 2014’s ceremonies committee: “By sharing the final moments of the Red Road flats with the world, it is proving it is a city that is proud of its history but doesn’t stand still.” Gallagher describes the demolition-spectacle as a “celebration” of Glaswegians’ “tenacity, their genuine warmth, their ambitions”.
Perhaps in 1929 London, the idea of demolition as a bold celebration, of saying “Bring on the future”, held no irony and provoked no cynicism. Indeed, the estates that replaced the filthy, pest-ridden slums of Somers Town were designed by idealistic (if paternalist) architects and social workers who thought carefully about residents’ needs. Eight decades on, Britain has had more than enough experience of housing developments put up cheaply and quickly, motivated by profit, and now we are sceptical of grand statements of intent.
And maybe in 1929, there were also people resisting change, mourning the end of an era and the destruction of their homes; it’s just that they didn’t have a voice.
UPDATE 13 April
The demolition of the Red Road flats as a spectacle for the Commonwealth Games has been scrapped for “safety reasons” after an online petition protesting against it attracted thousands of signatures. From the Guardian:
In a statement, the Glasgow 2014 chief executive, David Grevemberg, said: “The demolition of Red Road will now not feature as part of the opening ceremony.”
Grevemberg said the decision was taken after opinions were expressed that “change the safety and security context”.
I wonder whether the sheer scale of the spectacle planned was what tipped the balance of disapproval – the Glasgow Housing Association which owned the flats had claimed 1.5bn people around the world would be watching the collapse of the 30-storey blocks on TV. Behind the display were the same good intentions that motivated the Little Hell demolitions – Grevemberg claimed the idea was to tell “the story of Glasgow’s social history and regeneration” and the housing association said the demolition would “serve as a respectful recognition and celebration of the role the Red Road flats have played in shaping the lives of thousands of city families”. But instead of respect and celebration, the protesters spoke of the act as disrespectful, “disuniting”, ruthless and insulting; in the contest of emotions, their anger has won the day, and presumably the demolitions will go ahead out of the spotlight.
• Florence Foster talks about growing up in Little Hell in the early 20th century
• Photos on Flickr of present-day Somers Town
• The demolition of part of Red Road flats in 2012 – video
Destroying monuments part one: the dissolving city
Monuments are always more than decorative fragments of the urban scene. Here’s a public artwork that stirs up questions about their meaning, the transience of fame and “the bubble reputation” of those commemorated.
I found out the other day that Butcher Cumberland was still hanging round Cavendish Square. That’s not his official title – properly speaking, he’s called Written in Soap: a Plinth Project – but Butcher was the nickname of Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, who sits astride a horse in the middle of the square, just behind John Lewis. He’s an effective piece of public art by Korean artist Meekyoung Shin that raises all sorts of questions about the nature and purpose of monuments.
At first glance, Written in Soap is a standard equestrian statue. It looks like stone, it sits comfortably on a stone plinth and there is a little plaque telling you that it was erected in 1770. The thing is, although it was put up as a statue to the hero of the the 1746 battle of Culloden, it was taken down under a century later for political reasons, after the Duke of Cumberland had gained a shocking reputation for brutal killings and plunder (hence the nickname) and his hero status had become too tarnished to justify public memorialising. The plinth was bare until 2012, when a remarkably convincing imitation of the original was erected, in soap crafted to look exactly like weathered stone.
Written in Soap is designed to weather rather faster than stone, of course. The project was supposed to last a year, but it has worn better than expected – although the supporting metal armature is now sticking through the washed-away surface in several places – and in contrast to the original, public demand is apparently responsible for the decision to leave it in place.
I never consciously noticed the absence of a statue when I used to walk through Cavendish Square, but I remember being shocked when I first registered its presence – a man on a horse had appeared from nowhere yet it looked as if it had been there for centuries. I would have been less disturbed to see a new building – sometimes central London can seem like one giant construction site – but a modest, unassuming monument slipping into place seemed like a much bigger deal, as if I had stepped into a parallel, subtly different world, like someone in a Philip K Dick story.
Written in Soap is a work with many layers. You can simply appreciate the skill in its making or enjoy the joke it makes around the nature of the material, which convincingly imitates stone in appearance while having the opposite qualities in terms of resilience, while perhaps “washing away” the Butcher’s war crimes along with his presence. Or you can see it as a commentary on the transience of fame and “the bubble reputation” (the Duke of Cumberland went from hero to villain within a century and, before his fatty resurrection, was largely forgotten, at least in England, although in Scotland the project stirred up some anger among nationalists), or as a work that engages with the meaning of monuments and their presence in the cityscape. At the very least, it made me look twice, which is more than many works of art achieve.
But, while Written in Soap certainly looks like a monument does it qualify as one, or is it a piece of public art. And is there a difference?
In his book Written in Stone, which was one of Meekyoung Shin’s inspirations, Sanford Levinson writes that “a public monument represents a kind of collective recognition – in short, legitimacy – for the memory deposited there”. A monument is always more than just a decorative fragment of the urban scene, it’s an argument in an ongoing debate over history – what monuments depict, who decides when and where to erect them, what values are embedded in them, are all important questions.
Yet London is overrun with public statues and few people really notice them. Apparently, there are so many monuments and memorials in a part of central London between Whitehall and St James’s that Westminster council has declared in a “monument saturation zone”. But how many of us really see them or know what they represent? Even in Trafalgar Square, the central spot in the capital for people to congregate in celebration or protest, there are three plinths that tend to be overlooked, although most know that Admiral Nelson is on top of the column in the middle and that the “fourth plinth” in the north-west corner is the site of a succession of new commissions. But whose statues are on the other three? (King George IV, Sir Henry Havelock and Sir Charles Napier if you’re interested – and I had to resort to Google to discover that the latter two were 19th-century army bigwigs who played important roles in Britain’s rule over India.) How long would it take for anyone to spot the difference if they were replaced overnight?
Perhaps this is a reflection of how relaxed Londoners – and maybe the English as a whole – feel about their identity – the Scots’ reaction to the resurrection of Butcher Cavendish shows this complacency isn’t universal in Britain. Or perhaps it’s to do with the fall from fashion of the “Great Man” view of history, or of figurative art in the west – certainly more recent monuments and memorials in London have tended to be non-figurative. Elsewhere, the survival and significance of statues has been a very different story.
Part two of this piece looks at the smashing up of monuments that refuse to gently dissolve in the rain, in countries where national identity is far hotter issue.
• Thanks to Jonathan Polkest for reminding me about Written in Soap: A Plinth Project. For more on the artwork and Meekyoung Shin, see the website and Facebook page
Demolition of the day: White City flyover
In June 2013, Frances demolished White City flyover because:
Under this flyover
areis a load of temporary housing. So families are having to live with billions of cars flying above their heads the whole time… So getting rid of the flyover give them a bit of peace & quiet.
Sounds of the city
We often talk about the city in terms of what we see – think of sightseeing, tourist sights, eyesores; architecture that frames a vista or lets in the light or blocks the view. A sound walk offers a different type of urban encounter, one that radically shifts the way we perceive the world, away from what we see and towards what we hear.
I reckon most of us (if we’re sighted) tend to think of the city in visual terms, whether we’re aware of it or not. We talk about sightseeing, tourist sights, eyesores; buildings or landmarks that look ugly or beautiful or dull; architecture that frames a vista or lets in the light or overshadows its neighbours or blocks the view of other sights we want to see. Certainly that’s true for me – it’s just that I’m so used to taking it for granted that I don’t even consider other types of urban encounter.
I recently went on a sound walk through part of south-east London, led by artist John Wynne, that radically shifted this perspective. About a dozen of us gathered in the drizzle outside Island Gardens, the misleadingly exotic name of a DLR station at the southern tip of the Isle of Dogs. We’d been told the rules: no photographing, no sound-recording, no talking (unless absolutely necessary), try to stay more or less with the rest of the group. I’m not usually a fan of lots of rules, but it would soon become clear that these were necessary to the task of cracking open our comfort zones and showing us the city as a world of sound.
John’s tactic to move our attention from sight to sound was a simple one: the group was split into pairs, with one in each pair wearing a blindfold and being guided by the other, who wore earplugs. After a time, we swapped roles. This was just the first part of the walk – after about 10 minutes we continued without blindfolds and earplugs – but for me it was very effective. To set off walking, relying on a partner I’d never met before to keep me away from collisions and trips, was a jolt. As I settled down and started trusting him, I became more aware of the sounds around me as well as the feel of the ground beneath my feet and the wind on my face. When I exchanged blindfold for earplugs, sound was transformed from something in the world outside myself into an interior pattern of muffled vibrations in my bones. By disorienting and defamiliarising, these artificial handicaps prepared us to listen.
The ritual initiation into the city-as-soundscape took place as we walked through the foot tunnel under the Thames – a site that was interesting acoustically, with its echoes and rumbles, as well as providing an almost-too-perfect symbolic crossing-over. Not that this was spelled out – I wouldn’t want to equate south London with the afterlife, and at the time some of us were just too glad to shed our blindfolds and unplug our ears to worry about the semiotics of river crossings – but it seems typical of the way the walk as a whole was thoughtfully structured to introduce us to sound as a sensory experience and an alternative approach to exploring the city.
After we emerged on the far bank of the river, we followed John through a hugely varied progression of sounds and soundscapes, full of elements that were random and spontaneous but felt carefully orchestrated. The crunch of feet on shingle, the museum-like peace of a tourist attraction on a rainy day, chatter amplified by the high ceilings of a grand hall, snatches of music mingling with heavy machinery, a jostling market, busy traffic, lorries on an industrial estate, construction work, the gush and rush of a small waterfall beneath a railway line… And an hour and a half later we reached a cafe for the after-walk conversation out of the rain.
A couple of people talked about how the sounds of the world came to seem hyper-real, like an exaggerated soundtrack to a film they were in – which was either disturbing or enjoyable, depending on your point of view. Part of the walk, in the market, had struck some people as being like a bad film filled with stereotypical market dialogue – showing that if you listen, you can hear people genuinely talking in clichés in real life.
Some found paradoxically that their other senses were heightened – touch, smell, even vision – once they started paying attention to hearing.
One felt that we were like ghosts because we were moving through the world in complete silence. This was most obvious at one point where we all stopped in a relatively busy courtyard to listen to the sound of music rehearsals in a nearby room – passersby were clearly freaked out by the sight of a dozen people standing still, unnaturally quiet, all listening intently.
We also discussed the difference between indoor and outdoor sounds – outside, you listen to particular sounds with little or no idea where they are coming from; inside a building, you listen to the space – the way the architecture shapes the sounds.
A different angle
One thing that interested me was a double-defamiliarising that I glimpsed from time to time on the walk: not just switching my attention to sound, but a letting go of the compulsion to make meaning from it – to identify sounds as eg cars, footsteps, birdsong, wind in trees – and instead enjoying sounds as pure pattern, pitch and rhythm – as music, if you like. And we talked a little about how once we start listening to sound as music, we stop judging sounds as unpleasant, mechanistic, irritating etc – it’s all potentially interesting.
All of these ideas are interesting to explore further as a way of approaching the city from a different angle (argh, those visual metaphors are hard to escape!). And this is the sort of walk anyone can do – though it helps to take a friend, of course, if you are going to experiment with blindfold/eyes shut at the start. Although having said that, I felt lucky to have the chance to benefit from John Wynne’s expertise and his calm authority as a guide. One tip he gave us (familiar to anyone who’s done mindfulness meditation) was not to worry if our concentration flagged, but to just acknowledge that and bring our awareness gently back to listening.
There’s nothing obviously earth-shattering or agitprop about this sort of artistic activity (plenty of people would argue it isn’t art at all) but it attempts to wake us from our everyday sleepwalking through life, heighten our awareness of the world and shake us out of our habitual views and for me that makes it worth doing and worth talking about. Any views?
>> The sound walk was co-ordinated by Tommy Ting, an associate artist at Open School East, a bunch of artists in east London who do all sorts of interesting stuff, including a lot that’s open to the public and free/cheap.
>> John Wynne’s website is full of information on his sound installations and his work with endangered indigenous languages.
sites we like
Personal, detailed and highly enjoyable accounts of guided tours offering a subtle critique of an aspect of the tourist industry via an enthusiastic engagement with it.
The Tour of All Tours is a blog by performance artist Bill Aitchison, described as:
A creative review of guided tours worldwide and thinkpad for art and tour projects more generally.
This seems to have started as a diary of Bill’s work of the same name in Stuttgart last year, but a lot of the posts are personal, detailed and highly enjoyable accounts of guided tours he has taken, with lots of photos, offering a subtle critique of an aspect of the tourist industry via an enthusiastic engagement with it. The latest posts are about tours around the area of Shoreditch, east London, as research for a site-sensitive performance of the Tour of All Tours he is giving at Rich Mix in July. Easy to spend hours wandering round this absorbing blog and we’re looking forward to taking Bill’s Tour …
Picture by Bill Aitchison, from the Alternative Tour around east London
Demolition of the day: the Thames
In August 2013, Annalisa drained all the water from the Thames:
Keep the bridges, but the water (life) of that Thames River has to go! Bleurgh! Bring the mountain to London!
In conversation, she promised to replace it with clear blue Mediterranean water. It’s not entirely clear which mountain she brought to London (or where she’s hidden it).