The March of the Artists

Lauren Sagar, a first year MA Fine Art student at UCLan discusses her current project. Lauren is studying on the Projects for Places pathway, which is taught by In Certain Places curators Prof. Charles Quick and Elaine Speight.

A Walk and Talk I led at Artists Jamboree 2018. Photo credit Hannah Marie Photography.

A Walk and Talk I led at Artists Jamboree 2018. Photo credit Hannah Marie Photography.

The March of the Artists will see three artists; a theatre maker, Eve Robertson, a photographer, John-Paul Brown, and me, Lauren Sagar, a visual artist, walking the 250 miles from Manchester to London over 26 days, starting on 29th July and ending in London 25th August. Other artists and friends will join the walk for an hour, a day, a weekend, and we welcome anyone to join us. The project has been inspired by the March of the Blanketeers, which took place 200 years ago, and is driven by the recent creative response of Manchester’s artists to their displacement due to intense property development.

I discovered the story of the Blanketeers whilst researching a project for the touring exhibition, Tall Tales, during 2016. My project was called Call for Cloth. I, and over 60 other individuals who took part, shared details about our lives by talking about our relationship with special textile objects. These conversations had the effect of being ‘wrapped in warmth’. Many people spoke about blankets they have, remembered, had made or lost, and my attention was drawn to a profound human relationship with this particular cloth object. I created a series of three blankets, and the research took me to the story of the Blanketeers.

One of the Call for Cloth blankets. Photo credit Usarea Gul

One of the Call for Cloth blankets. Photo credit Usarea Gul

The March of the Blanketeers was one of a run of events, which culminated in the Peterloo massacre. It led to parliamentary reform and many of the rights that we now benefit from in the UK. Hundreds of spinners and weavers gathered in Peter’s Field, Manchester in March 1817. They each carried a blanket to identify themselves as textile workers, and a portion of a petition to give to the Prince Regent. The plan was that all the portions were to be joined together on arriving in London, and would highlight the desperate hardship faced by textile workers in the North West. The marchers were attacked by soldiers almost as soon as they set off; in Stockport several received sabre wounds and one man was shot dead. Around four or five hundred got as far as Macclesfield and Leek, some 20 miles away; most of them were turned back at the Hanging Bridge over the Dove as they were about to enter Derbyshire. Only one ‘Blanketeer’, Abel Cauldwell, managed to reach London.

The March of the Artists - paper, pencil, cloth, red cotton

The March of the Artists – paper, pencil, cloth, red cotton

Each of us will be researching our own lines of interest, taking advantage of the rarity of walking 250 miles through the country in one go. Our methods of documentation will be highly influenced by how much we are able to carry. We will be carrying everything on our backs, so small and light is crucial. We will share documentation; John-Paul is a photographer so will take pictures, Eve will be recording interviews with people, I will be drawing and writing – very small documents in very small note books.

Starting to sketch a Walk Around the House. Indicating points of pain, taking rests, encountering obstacles.

Starting to sketch a Walk Around the House. Indicating points of pain, taking rests, encountering obstacles.

My personal interest is in how to map the experiences and encounters of a walk. Poor health for the first part of this year has limited my research to walks within my home, and to memories of walking. It has also fed into my psychogeographical research, which normally relates to how it feels to be walking in nature. The experience of walking within such tight parameters, physically, socially and emotionally, engaged me strongly with my immediate environment and led me to think about how to express such movement through maps. I am looking forward to finding out how this translates into a 250 mile walk in the outdoors, encountering people and nature.

The project is funded by the Arts Council of England, alongside a crowdfunding campaign. Click here to donate or for more information about the project.

You can follow our progress on:
Twitter: @CallForCloth
Instagram @marchoftheartists

If you would like to join us on the walk  please email Amanda Hennessey at

The Expanded City Network: What do we need in a space for play?

Bubbles - Copy

Writer and artist Lauren Velvick on the informal discussion around spaces for play between Emily Speed and architect Lee Ivett, in the recently Grade II listed ‘bubble’ classroom at Kennington Primary School in March 2018.

At the start of Emily Speed’s ‘What do we need in a space for play?’ event she outlined why play in particular had become an increasingly important part of her practice. Just as this (Expanded City) project was beginning in 2016 Speed gave birth to her first child, and notes how the trajectory of the Expanded City as a whole has been in line with her personal life. It is interesting to map this observation on to the other artists’ projects, which each candidly engage with aspects of the city deal that are relevant to their lives. For Speed this meant growing more and more interested in spaces that are friendly and welcoming for parents and children, questioning whether spaces for play and imagination were going to be provided for in Preston’s new city deal developments. This event was structured so that both Speed and her invited speaker Lee Ivett gave a short presentation followed by a conversation between the two, and questions. During Speed’s presentation she explained how an earlier commission to design a playground had led to the realisation that children would often choose to play on structures that had not been designed for that purpose. Alongside the Expanded City Speed has recently completed a number of commissions that aim to construct a space for play, one at Bootle Library and one at Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool. Both libraries and galleries, like housing developments are spaces that, on paper, should be welcoming and usable to parents and children, but the need for specialised commissioned hints otherwise.

As part of her presentation Speed pointed to Roland Barthes’ writing on toys and play, referencing something that is also inherent to Ivett’s practice; the idea of play as an action in itself, rather than a form of learning, or as practice for something else.

“Faced with this world of faithful and complicated objects, the child can only identify himself as owner, as user, never as creator; he does not invent the world, he uses it: there are, prepared for him, actions without adventure, without wonder, without joy. He is turned into a little stay-at-home householder who does not even have to invent the mainsprings of adult causality; they are supplied to him ready-made: he has only to help himself, he is never allowed to discover anything from start to finish. The merest set of blocks, provided it is not too refined, implies a very different learning of the world: then, the child does not in any way create meaningful objects, it matters little to him whether they have an adult name; the actions he performs are not those of a user but those of a demiurge. He creates forms which walk, which roll, he creates life, not property: objects now act by themselves, they are no longer an inert and complicated material in the palm of his hand.”

The above quote is relevant in understanding both Speed and Ivett’s approaches to designing for play, but in Speed’s case is troubled by her simultaneous interest in architectural models and model villages, stemming from a fascination with the scale of the body in relation to architecture. This is observable in her recent work that has involved designing ‘archetypal’ structures that relate to, but do not completely reproduce existing buildings and rooms. In line with this for her work with In Certain Places Speed has been investigating the concept of breaking ground and the simultaneously destructive and constructive act of digging via sunken structures like the amphitheatre. Speed also describes her working drawings as ‘pits’, and has been considering the myriad ways that these could be utilised toward play. These designs have been influenced by workshops whereby children were invited by Speed to image playgrounds in clay, but that were made from the leftover parts of a building site. This raises the question of whether a design for play could ever be as thrilling as a space dangerously repurposed for play, and whether this is something that it makes sense to attempt.


This also relates to Ivett’s argument against over designing, and thus limiting the possibilities of how a space or structure can be used. Ivett’s work as a designer and architect is often specifically related to deprived and excluded groups of people and places, which adds a socio-economic dimension to his work beyond the theoretical outlined above. In line with this he spoke about the importance of an entitlement to intervene, and how expecting people who have been marginalised to suddenly engage with redevelopment is unrealistic, and often unfairly characterised as laziness. Ivett argues that environments are now often designed around surveillance and fear, with assumptions about how people will behave fuelling safety concerns, arguing that it is the ways we learn to behave that affect safety, rather than our external environment. To illustrate this he pointed to the example of the bare tarmac, chain link fenced courts that can be found on parks and housing estates throughout Britain. They are empty of anything that could be put to nefarious uses, and yet it’s not unusual to see small children say high up in the basketball hoops having climbed the fence. In a way this could be said to conform to Ivett’s practice of ‘underdesigning’ so as not to alienate behaviours that aren’t anticipated, except that in these cases the few interventions that have been made in the name of safety, or at least to discourage unwanted behaviours, have the opposite effect.


In the discussion that follows the conversation turns to practical considerations, and the place of play within wider debates around regeneration. Ivett points to maintenance as something that is often overlooked when projects such as his organisation’s ‘Baltic Street Adventure Playground’ in Glasgow. The cost of upkeep and the skills necessary to manage a resource are often overlooked, which can lead to projects being deemed failures unfairly, and as mentioned above communities being unfairly maligned as lazy or incapable. There is a need to look at the whole economy of regeneration, and where possible to reject the notion that the best thing to do in every circumstance is to try and save money. This leads onto a discussion of rules and where they are appropriate, as well as the duty of care towards the children who make use of these theoretically informed and underdesigned structures. The figure of the play worker is relevant here, reminding us that designing spaces for play around principles of maximum freedom still requires care, maintenance and observation: it has to be a collective effort that can evolve alongside use and need.

Lauren Velvick

Watch a film of the event

Treading Lightly

Steph Shipley, a second year MA Fine Art student at UCLan discusses her current project and upcoming exhibition. Steph is studying on the Projects for Places pathway, which is taught by In Certain Places curators Prof. Charles Quick and Elaine Speight.

Steph Shipley – City like me
Solo Exhibition – the first scene of Treading Lightly
The Gallery at St George’s House, Bolton BL1 2DD
Preview: 12 May 2018, 1-3pm.  Artist’s Talk at 1.30 pm
Exhibition continues until 13 July 2018
Gallery Open: Monday-Friday 9am – 5pm

Ruhwinton of the Middle Ages, now Rivington and its Terraced Gardens just below Rivington Pike on the outskirts of Bolton had been beckoning from its rugged, lofty heights as I began my final year MA Fine Art research project. Lord Leverhulme, global industrialist and local philanthropist of Port Sunlight fame, acquired the land in the early 1900s; his country retreat described by local garden historian Elaine Taylor as an ‘Edwardian theme park’ reflects the eclectic travelogue of influences evident in the landscape’s design and structures. It had been his childhood haunt, a place of courting, of ambition, opulence and retreat, of returning, of love and loss, of altruism, and of growing old – substance worthy of note; personal and universal.

I am interested in what remains. What has drawn me there and calls me back and why did I choose the vestiges of the once elegant Ballroom, the mournful Japanese Lake and the overgrown Italian Gardens to investigate? Melancholy weighs heavily within such sites of heterotopia – those places that exist physically within our everyday culture, but are often set aside or transitory with a capacity for imagination or otherness; I tread a cautious path through their offerings, mindful of their capacity to reflect and disturb what surrounds them; mindful of my own fragility in matters of nostalgia.

City Like Me filmstill by Steph Shipley.

Mine is a tentative cross-disciplinary approach, the surfaces where these things meet being of significant yield beyond the deep excavation of one. I find an uncertain yo-yoing between the capricious analogue and abundant digital that speaks of past and present, of obsolescence and the contemporary. Photographs, film, projections and site recordings that have evolved through text, voice and ultimately dance are embodied with the place as I have experienced it through the changing seasons. Still and moving images seem to depend on each other reflecting the gravitas of the site and my transient relationship with it; the large scale overlaid screen-prints on provisional drafting film are a ‘screen memory’ of the hours I have spent there usually at dusk – fugitive, floating, blinking, like the blueprints where I found them in the basement of the local archives office.

City Like Me screenprint by Steph Shipley.

City Like Me screenprint by Steph Shipley.

I have been treading gently, finding different ways in, feeling my way as the year has turned on the twilight of the Ballroom; its backward gaze on Leverhulme’s loss of love and place replaced by a lightness of spring; the Japanese Lake – the balletic ritual of the symbolic crane transformed into tentative etchings and then into dance; a choreographed continuum, a lifting of mood, a dexterity of step and agility of pose.

Treading Lightly. etching by Steph Shipley.

Treading Lightly. etching by Steph Shipley.

Treading lightly is a means of negotiating time and space, of navigating loss and of respecting what remains. As Paul Carter (2004) suggests the ground is never given, treading lightly has made me alert to my own time and the fact that Rivington Gardens and Leverhulme’s legacy will outlast me by far. Therefore, as I await the full bloom of the Italian Gardens, the first blush of summer heat on the loggias and pergolas, I will continue to tread lightly to enable a place to linger, a longer past, as Siobhan Davies (2018) implies, and one far more than its surface value.


Carter, P. (2004) Material thinking: the theory and practice of creative research. Melbourne, Melbourne University Press

Davies, S. (2018) Future Recollections: The body we are. Available at:

Amplifying civic space in Preston: The Flag Market

DNA Screen

When Appearing Rooms (2006) by Dutch artist Jeppe Hein was installed by In Certain Places at Preston’s Flag Market the work provided the initial splash of imagination to what had been a long overlooked site. Once a space only used to ‘pass through’ on the way to elsewhere, cascades of people began to arrive in Market Square with purpose – some testing their luck dodging in and out of the fountains, others balanced around the installation’s peripheries, shaking their heads at soaked children emerging from the watery walls. For the first time in a long time, this temporary feature provided life, sound and energy to the Flag Market and was sorely missed when it was removed. With the departure of the work however, came the realisation that the space was in great need of attention if it were to become a focal point of the city once more.

Although the turbulent economy of 2009 and the subsequent cuts to available funding haltered Preston’s plan for a large-scale regeneration of the area, more modest variations were made to the landscape. In 2013, ICP collaborated with architectural practice Research Design to create a temporary staircase leading from the Market Square to the Harris Museum – aptly named the Harris Flights. The flights saw these two iconic features of Preston, its heart and its head, linked for the first time. During it’s time in place, this piece not only exponentially increased visitor numbers to the Harris Museum but also provided visitors and residents of Preston an opportunity to rest. Happening upon these places within a city, the landscape no longer seems to usher its occupants along but instead invites them to stay a while. These spaces, much like Exchange Square in Manchester, have been transformed by their ability to offer respite to weary shoppers or lunch time ‘out of office’ explorers. Whilst the stairs where in situ over 60 events took place within the Flag Market with the steps serving as staging, theatre seats, marathon terrain and picnic benches. On the removal of Harris Flights it was apparent that the Flag Market had the potential to serve as a multifunctional space, with traditional events such as Remembrance Sunday and the Guild Scroll reading featuring prominently within an expanding and immersive schedule.

Continuing their work alongside other artists and professionals, In Certain Places have been creating opportunities to test the pre-existing architecture of Preston’s Market Square bringing momentary pieces such as The People’s Canopy (2015) and Homing (2016) rather than imposing, permanent features. In an area that has the potential to facilitate so many occasions, the work presented have intertwined with, respected and highlighted magnificent features of the city that may have previously overlooked. Now, rather than just being an inconvenient place to get caught in the rain without an umbrella, the expansive square host’s theatre, markets, live music, art installations and sporting activities. Whether it is scheduled day out or a chance encounter, interventions from In Certain Places have made the Preston’s Flag Market not only an occasional performance space but a space that is able to perform for its city.

Stephanie Cottle

Watch the Flag Market film

Read Charles Quick’s essay Amplifying Civic Space from the book Subplots to a City. Ten Years of In Certain Places

The Expanded City Network: Precarious Landscape

Stephanie Cottle introduces Precarious Landscape, an excursion with artists Ian Nesbitt and Ruth Levene to the western bounds of Preston on 8th December 2017. Participant and writer Lauren Velvick reflects on the experience .

Continuing their exploration of Preston’s boundaries, Precarious Landscape saw Ian and Ruth invite an audience on an immersive journey, visiting four sites the artists have encountered whilst conducting their walking practice along the outer reaches of the city.

Embarking the coach in the centre of the city before moving out towards its edges, the event provoked discussions regarding changing landscapes and shifting territories.  At each of the four sites Ian and Ruth unearthed historic tales, recanted community memories and indicated views where the landscape itself showed signs of stretching and reforming.

Back on the coach, with the windows framing the view, the artists gave provocations for what might happen to these places in the future. What these made clear is that frequently the driving influence behind the changes in the landscape are external market forces; agriculture, housing development, roadbuilding and the most contested at the moment – hydraulic fracking.

At times the event seemed almost nostalgic, as if mourning for a loss that is on the brink of occurring. We often think back fondly to places we have visited and sculpt the scenes in our minds, we rarely are provided the luxury of stopping to look into the future and envisage what might be lost or gained in the re-imagining of the city, through this experience Ruth and Ian provided the opportunity to both consider and discuss our changing lands.

Stephanie Cottle


Moving out, out, out

The journey from the centre to the edges is still how it has to start, on a bright freezing day. The coach is too big for the narrow lanes that we’ll be travelling down so we’ll have to be ‘decanted’ into a smaller one at some later point. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a trip where the correct coach arrived, perhaps there’s an unsolvable bureaucratic issue at the very heart of private coach hire.

The way that the architecture changes the further you travel out of city centre reflects the changing ideologies and fortunes that fed into its construction; with the cheaper, short-term buildings being thrown up amongst the old sandstone parkside churches, (once black with soot, now blasted back to sandy yellow) then the suburban semis and carefully designed ex-libraries as we reach the outskirts.


Ladyewell Shrine

Holy wells – the places where deep water surfaces – are an abiding interest for Ruth and Ian, and seem to constitute a nexus where the ideas that the artists’ are aiming to explore with this ‘Precarious Landscape’ event converge. The spiritual and ritual are obviously present here, but so too the bureaucratic and metric, in the ways that holy wells are cared for and managed in order for them to remain within the Catholic tradition, and to remain a part of active and current knowledge within the local and wider community.

The simultaneous ways that sites like this beckon and amass tradition, whether it be spiritual, bureaucratic or both, is exemplified in a story my mother tells. I’ve mentioned before in these posts that Preston is my home town, so that family and old friends occasionally coincide with the project, and this is something I’ve decided to emphasise rather than overlook. With that in mind, when everyone else might be considering the spiritual and ritual more generally, I get stories of ancestors, like my great aunt Agnes who taught at the Ladyewell school, and was apparently an ‘independent working woman’. I suppose that since I’m not a practicing Catholic, Agnes can be my lady of the well.

HMS Nightjar, Inskip

Screenshot 2018-02-26 16.46.55

On the way to our next stop we pass the HMS Nightjar, otherwise known as RNAS Inskip, a naval base on the outskirts of Preston, nowhere near the sea. I know of this place already from being ferried past by an old friend who delighted in sharing tidbits of local esoterica, and it’s a little amusing to hear a couple of people on the trip discussing it, each coming up with different theories as to what it is, both wrong.

Once we alight it’s difficult to intellectualise anything in the freezing wind and piercing sunlight, but we are invited to consider how this land was overlooked until it could be harnessed into the service of industry and capitalism. Described as a marshy wasteland where the locals hunted up to their necks in cold water, now farmland that is in turn contested by those that have come to see this configuration as the way the land should be, and those that would develop it further. Maybe it’s better to remain unrecorded and unproductive – safe.

Ruth and Ian’s ongoing interest in, and knowledge of water processing is relevant here as we consider the recent protests against fracking that have taken place in the area. These may not be explicitly or deliberately spiritual, but they do bring to mind the protests around the Dakota Access Pipeline led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and the designation of ‘water protectors’. Whilst it is easy to think of clean water as a right, and even a common, our access to it is already privatised.


Water then cows then concrete

How can and do we understand land as sacred? – is it a conscious designation or is it in the actions of the land users, and does a collective protective act towards the land make it necessarily sacred? In the discussion that follows we are encouraged to consider the history of protest against land development, and the motivations that it has been driven by. The slogan ‘Cows not Concrete’ * strikes me as particularly ill-conceived and shortsighted, but comprehensible in the context of these rural boundaries.

Irregardless of everything else we have considered and discussed, people are still fascinated by the shimmering of the grass in low sunlight, describing cobwebs and condensation as though they’re the first to have noticed it.

* ‘Cows not Concrete’ was a slogan used in protest to urban expansion in Preston in the seventies, introduced to Ian and Ruth in a conversational anecdote.

Lauren Velvick

Watch the film of the event

The Expanded City Network: Routes In, Routes Out

Connected City Network - wide

Writer and artist Lauren Velvick reflects on the second Expanded City Network event, Routes In, Routes Out, held at Avenham Park Pavilion in Preston on 27 July 2017.

Gavin Renshaw’s Expanded City research and output continues to oscillate between instrumentalised cycling advocacy and an artistic investigation of landscape that takes into account socio-political and cultural influences. In line with this, for his ‘in-conversation’ event, Renshaw was joined by Jack Thurston, presenter of The Bike Show on Resonance FM. In order that Thurston would be able to speak on the cycling infrastructure of Preston in particular, the day of the event was spent on a ride with Renshaw that was referred to throughout. The cultural history of cycling has been instrumental to Renshaw’s project from the earliest stages, and this was reiterated in order to set the scene for the discussion that followed. In ‘36 Views’, Renshaw’s series of photographs of Preston taken from the vantage point of cycling routes around the periphery of the city (see below), it is easy to discern the links between grand ideas about landscape and the activity of cycling, which offers the ability to move swiftly across the land whilst simultaneously in physical contact with it. This emphasis on the physicality of travelling by bike is reiterated in Renshaw’s consideration of what can be seen from this specific vantage point, and the idea of travelling as far as the eye can see, or perhaps seeing the potential for travel in the landscape.


As a continuation of, and tangent to, Renshaw’s ongoing interests, Thurston emphasised the material links between art and cycling, particularly the nature of cycling as a cheap form of transport and artists as often lacking in disposable income. For his radio show, Thurston developed a method of interviewing by bike, which brings to mind the evident difficulties in cycling two-abreast on the majority of Britain’s roads, and how this is in contrast with the Clarion motto: Fellowship is Life. This point was raised by Renshaw and Thurston during their discussion, whereby if fellowship is life, presumably lack of fellowship must be death, which raises the grim spectre of road deaths and the very real danger inherent in cycling on roads that are not fit for shared use and a motoring culture of resentment towards cyclists. Renshaw drew attention to the sinking feeling provoked by collections of flowers at the sides of roads commemorating those killed, comparing these to plaques installed by cycling clubs that commemorate hill climbs. This tension around cycling as promoted on the one hand and resented on the other was cited by Thurston, who went on to discuss how the very idea of a ‘cycling culture’ indicates a ‘sub culture’. This is a problem, because in order for cycling to be reasonably safe it has to be accepted as a form of transport integral to urban infrastructure, rather than a specialist hobby.

It is clear that both Renshaw and Thurston are deeply invested in cycling both as a form of transport and as a culture of fellowship, however they were also careful to acknowledge that this can engender a kind of elitism. Renshaw raised the issue of how cycling infrastructure is so confusing and disjointed that, even with the best of intentions, it is difficult to navigate for beginners. I’m sure that every city has instances of cycle paths that run directly into walls and the like. There are also the practical issues of protecting a bike from bad weather or arriving at work sweaty and dishevelled after a cycling commute; concerns that can only be addressed by a paradigm shift in how we consider cycling within everyday life. This was acknowledged and expanded on by Thurston, who cautioned against the temptation to replace infrastructure with training, emphasising that coping mechanisms developed by cyclists in order to survive on overcrowded, hostile roads do not constitute solutions. It is valuable to articulate these points in the context of The Expanded City because we are in the rare position of having the opportunity to question the ways that, as Thurston outlined, motoring is essentially subsidised by the rest of society in the form of parking that uses up valuable public space.

Watch a film of the event.

Gavin Renshaw

The Expanded City Network: Traces of Place

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The first Expanded City Network event, Traces of Place, was held at the Final Whistle café in Preston on 4 July 2017, and considered the question ‘What makes us feel at home?’. Writer and artist Lauren Velvick looks at the event in the wider context of The Expanded City project.

As I’ve noted previously in these posts, the methodology of this second year of The Expanded City is subtly different to the first, but continues to move at a gradual and careful pace. Much of last year’s research was conducted if not in isolation, then individually, with each artist conferring with the city. This year, it was proposed from the start that each artist would design one public event, where a second speaker would be invited to reflect on their own research . In the first of these events, Traces of Place, Olivia Keith invited Director of Lancaster Arts, Jocelyn Cunningham, to form and facilitate an information-gathering workshop adapting the techniques that Keith has developed through her large-scale map drawings. In line with the wider project’s strategy of tentative research, rather than an insistence on drawing premature conclusions, this event focussed on listening rather than telling, and asking rather than knowing.

At the beginning of Traces of Place, Cunningham emphasised the difference between dialogue and listening, encouraging the audience to approach their conversations as vehicles for internalising and remembering what other people think, with nuance and sincerity if not total accuracy. The process of the workshop meant that participants were required to write down what they heard, rather than what they thought to begin with. It is interesting for me, as a writer and critic, to see this approach articulated as though it is unusual, when for the most part my role is to recount what was said or done by others, as I’m doing here. As an outside observer, this leads me to consider where interpretation might fit within the process outlined, and whether it can be understood as a conscious action at all.

In collecting the reflections of the participants, who were introduced to Keith’s project and aims and then invited to respond, Cunningham warned against the temptation to ‘shoehorn’ ideas together, emphasising the importance of the subtle differences in individual experience and encouraging participants to search for an intertwining ‘golden thread’. The responses were collected and iterated back to the audience with a gravitas that betrayed Cunningham’s training as an actor, and gave the participants’ disjointed memories of each other’s statements a poetic cadence:

Home is just a roof over my head
I like the walk to town more

Repeats schedules
And surrounds
And notes
And surroundingness

I know people
By the names of their dogs

Some maps are not very useful
Shopping areas
For people who don’t like shopping

Although a proportion of this event was given over to cautioning the participants against rushing towards conclusions when further questioning is pertinent, Cunningham did enumerate some outcomes, albeit with a light touch. Particularly fascinating for me was how these mirrored my own findings from the project’s first stage; affirming a simultaneous desire – or need – for both privacy and community, what Cunningham referred to as a ‘meta-theme of internal versus external’. The participants also raised issues that problematise the narrative of Olivia’s project, but in a way that is vital and generative, with one woman insisting that we must acknowledge the fact that local history and heritage isn’t of interest to everybody, and that perhaps naming for the future is as important as ‘what makes it through’ from the past.

Watch a film of the event.

Traces of Place.jpg

Photos: Lucy Cattano and Katie Billsborough

Communal living: adapted social contracts and a new type of household

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Lauren Velvick discusses her research for The Expanded City. As well as conducting her own research for the project, Lauren will be following the progress of the other artists and providing a critical context for their work and the project as a whole. 

Ever since the Expanded City Symposium, I’ve been thinking about demographics with regards to housing. It seemed to me that the way people were grouped assumed that all adults are coupled, or would be eventually, and that housing was being constructed with couples and small families in mind. This vision of society doesn’t bear out in my experience, nor does it acknowledge or anticipate things like the ageing population in Britain. It’s no secret that our society rewards marriage and the construction of a nuclear family, however, the continuing scarcity of jobs in many industries necessitates moving to follow the work, meaning that living as a single adult is requisite.

Furthermore, as rents rise above inflation but wages stagnate, shared housing amongst adults becomes increasingly necessary. Yet, there seems to be little thought given to these kinds of households, beyond the assumption that they are temporary. In order to develop a greater understanding of how they function in terms of interpersonal and financial relations, I have been conducting a series of interviews with people living in different kinds of shared housing. The first of these is transcribed below, and recounts a conversation with Jon Davies, a music producer and postgraduate researcher based in Liverpool whose work you can follow here.

Lauren Velvick: I’m thinking about forms of household that have become increasingly appropriate to the way we live now, and how this works socially and economically. There are things like co-ops that are quite structured, and then the position I find myself in is that I simply can’t afford to live on my own, but neither do I have the time to get involved with a co-op, so I end up having to try and form these temporary households here and there, and being responsible for other adults which can get quite confusing.

In ‘The Consulate’, where you live, is it run like a co-op? What’s the deal?

Jon Davies: The deal is that we have a landlord, and he rents out his house on a general per month rent where he pays the council tax because it’s multiple tenancy – and he’s agreed to pay for the water as well.

LV: So it’s an ad-hoc agreement then?

JD: There’s a certain amount of trust involved.

LV: Since the rental market is so unregulated at the moment, even if you have a letting agent, sign all the contracts and pay all the fees, very little is guaranteed… It’s a case of working out which is the lesser of two evils.

And what about sharing the rent?

JD: We divide it in a tiered system between 16 of us. We’ve got three different tiers.

LV: Were you all living together before you moved in to this place – did you all know each other?

JD: Yeah pretty much, the whole house managed to move together, and before that a few of us had been living in the same place for around six or seven years. This meant that we were all pretty used to living together.

LV: Ah so it’s a long-term arrangement? Not something you’re considering as a stopgap on the way towards married bliss, for example?

JD: It definitely grew from somewhere to live while some of us were still at university, seven years ago when I wasn’t living there. It’s grown from being a bit of a party house to a more workable living space. We have individuals, we have couples and the balance of artists to not artists has really changed. At one point, nearly everyone was in a band, but it’s still really important to understand that there will be noise in the house, as we still have a band practising in the basement

LV: So do you guys have a lease or is it all on trust?

JD: No, there’s no deposit or anything like that, but we do have a contract that’s pretty much rolling as well, but with this one it’s a special case because the landlord used to live here. We all know how to live with each other and we’re not going to trash the place. We’ve also really negotiated it down.

LV: Was that easier because there are a lot of you, or did one person take the lead?

JD: When you’re in such a big group you tend to have people who are better at ‘the art of the deal’, basically. Personally, I don’t get involved with any of that stuff and just trust that the others are looking after my best interests.

LV: That’s interesting, because I did want to ask about…

JD: Hierarchies?

LV: Yeah, since it isn’t strictly a co-op, do the people who do the negotiating make more of the decisions that affect everybody?

JD: Sort of yeah, I guess so, but it’s not as formal as that.

LV: So it’s more of an informal, almost familial relationship? I’m interested in how these relationships develop in a situation where adults are living together.

JD: What’s really nice about this, in comparison to the nuclear family, is that nobody is given predetermined roles or hierarchies. It tends to be based on who’s lived there longest – if you’re new you’re not expected to go around demanding changes.

LV: It’s just interesting how these things fall into place. I think a lot of people, and certainly in my experience my parents, have little idea of what it’s like to live in a group with adults because they were teenagers who had children. Then, during this project when we’ve discussed demographics, it seems like people are simply considered as a child, and then part of a couple, and there’s rarely anything in between, so we need to consider this other demographic that we are part of.

JD: I think there is still a mutual understanding that you have to pull your weight in the house somehow, but just imagine all 16 of us arguing over how we should go about settling bills.

We do have regular house meetings about every two months, which will usually have to do with a certain issue, whether that’s money, or parties or boring stuff like cleaning up after yourself.

LV: With that in mind, space is also a big issue – that’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot because new builds tend to be really short on space. It’s something I wonder about in relation to the housing in Preston, and whether it’s going to allow people to live with, for example, older relatives, because it seems inevitable that with an ageing population and the costs of care increasing… we need to think about how we can fit more than four people into one dwelling?

JD: I think places like Liverpool are really unique in the fact that we’re living in the exoskeleton of wealth.

LV: Liverpool does seem like a singular example, but I suppose you do get this to an extent in all of the cotton wealth towns and cities. Like in Preston there’s an area called Frenchwood which I think is where a lot of the new builds are going to be, and is presumably where the mill owners for foremen would have lived in bigger houses which are still standing while many of the back-to-back terraces have been demolished. Anyway…

JD: I also really like living in a big group. When you’re an adult and start living in a group I guess traditionally that’d be first with your partner and then with your children where there’d be a totally different social dynamic; you’re already locked into this romantic contract with your partner, and then you’re in unbreakable emotional contracts with your children.

LV: You’re also then inextricably responsible for these people. Which is something I wanted to ask about actually, the dynamics of responsibility and care between people… I wonder if it works better with more of you because in a house of two, three or four things can become quite strained. I think people can expect more from other people than is entirely reasonable, for example expecting somebody to behave as though you’re in a romantic relationship when you aren’t. I wonder if there’s a sweet spot, say nine people, where it suddenly becomes a lot easier.

It brings to mind the pop-psychology of introverts and extraverts, whereby people slot themselves into these categories, and I wonder whether that would actually be quite useful in terms of housing and understanding how to get along and how to recognise patterns instead of taking people’s behaviour completely personally.

Maybe that’s what I need to do with this project – develop a chart of ‘housemate types’ that you can fit yourself into.

JD: A total Myers-Briggs thing! There are always more domineering characters, who impose more in space, but then they can also animate the space in a good way. I don’t want it to be a case where we all drearily exist in our individual bubbles.

LV: Perhaps we need to accept the economic reality that for many of us living alone simply isn’t an option, and so you have to renounce a certain amount of control over your living space.

JD: You’re also reducing the level of private property, so in a bedsit situation everyone has to get their own TV licence, pay for energy separately, right down to each having their own bleach spray. In our house we share spices for example.

LV: It’s interesting to consider spices and food, whereby basic ingredients might be cheap but all the things you need to make them taste nice aren’t.

JD: And who as an individual needs a whole rack of spices?

LV: It’s ridiculous! In my house at the moment I’m the only one who uses them and have so much I won’t get through and will have to waste. These are little home comforts that it makes much more sense to share.

JD: You’ve had the nuclear family, thinking pre- and post-structurally, then you have this atomised individual way of life – this late-capitalist being who is a freewheeling cog in the machine, which is the more likely path that people are going to go down at the moment. In a capitalist sense, individuals spawn individuals and the experience of community isn’t taken into account. Whereas in shared living situations, you could potentially reconstitute the family as something else – a sociality that is post-familial but where social contracts still hold.

LV: Exactly, it’s these new forms of adapted social contracts. Friends who have become single parents, for example, seem to have very wide, loosely defined ‘families’ with social bonds that include lots of different people. This also brings me back to considering food and domestic culture, and how these registers of knowledge might be passed along in a social web rather than down a generational ladder.

To be continued…

Expanded City Perspectives: A starting point

Connected City

Writer and artist Lauren Velvick reports on an artists’ meeting for The Expanded City project…

Having previously considered the city specifically in terms of its edges and boundaries, for the forthcoming critical exploration of Preston’s ongoing development, In Certain Places has proposed connection as the kernel around which this year’s programme  will develop. For the participating artists, connection functions as a springboard for works and processes that range from the topographical to the digital. In an initial discussion, Ruth Levene and Ian Nesbitt, Emily Speed, Olivia Keith and Gavin Renshaw were joined by Ehab Kamel Ahmed, a UCLan lecturer who is investigating the potential for digitally mapping cultural history. Ehab described his plan to develop software with an interface similar to that of familiar GPS devices and apps, but that would allow the layering of different sorts of data. In comparison with the project’s previous stage, this constitutes a digital and collaborative version of deep mapping, rather than one that stems from individual experience, drawing and writing. Ehab’s work is especially relevant to those of the artists who have been concerned with mapping as a process, which was described by Olivia as “making tangible what is precious”.

Within the ongoing research conducted by Ruth and Ian, Gavin and Olivia, there has been an evident push and pull between a desire to legitimise their routes and findings through a process of mapping and misgivings about the way that mapping formalises knowledge. This issue was confronted by Ruth and Ian when all of the artists reconvened with In Certain Places, and they introduced forms of categorisation that are wilfully experimental, rather than functional. Ruth and Ian have also reiterated their critique of ‘the superhighway’, which could be a road or a footpath, but one that overwhelms and replaces existing pathways. The action of amalgamating all routes into a single way serves an ideological as well as an infrastructural function, effectively eradicating the possibility of being led by the land itself. This critique is also present within Gavin’s research, but is complicated by the issues around safety for cyclists; it is an unfortunate truth that using unfamiliar roads and pathways that are shared with motorists can be dangerous. This means that superhighways like Preston’s Guild Wheel are necessary in order for people to enjoy cycling in the city without fear, and there is an urgent need for clear, safe and known routes out of the city centre.

Alongside these concerns, Gavin has also made reference to the individual and personal maps that evolve automatically in the use of an environment, but has now become interested in the possibility of somehow influencing the city as it is developed over the coming years. Having Ehab present at this meeting was helpful when the discussion circled repeatedly back to the dichotomy between official and vernacular mapping, introducing the possibility of a multi-layered digital map that could hold a great deal more information than a paper illustration. In practice, this could mean that somebody moving into a newly built house would be able to easily and even offhandedly discover elements of cultural and social local history, and can be likened to the way that parentheses and footnotes function in writing, allowing for peripheral information to be embedded within the official text.

The practical importance of this register of knowledge comes to the fore when Emily is describing her plan for topographical alterations, and Olivia notes that: “If you dig deep enough in that area, you’ll find water.” Whilst the reconfiguration of the city is a concern for Emily, as for the rest of the artists, she is exploring it in micro whilst the other artists are taking a macro view of the city as whole, or at least area by area. The inorganic growth of housing clusters, dictated by the market rather than any pattern or design, manifests in a minimum of green space (described by Emily as pocket parks) and seemingly little thought given to the use of these new spaces. In line with her wider concerns around how the individual human body interacts with, and reacts to, architecture and environment, in this context Emily is planning to explore how the action of digging and of breaking ground can manifest as a visceral and elemental form of play.

By taking part in this project we have each been encouraged to anticipate the future of the city, with some projects seeking to influence and others to subvert or simply record. In this next stage, it feels rather more urgent to either have an effect on the status quo or offer up an alternative, and in terms of my own research this has led to a consideration of unacknowledged realities. Casting back to the Expanded City symposium last year, the assumption that new dwellings will be occupied by individuals, couples or nuclear families becomes increasingly far-fetched as multigenerational, and communal, forms of household necessarily proliferate. It seems that for each of us there had been a hope of surety where there is only shrugging, and for answers where there are none to be had, so we are now formulating our own answers to the questions raised last year.

Lauren Velvick

Practising Place: Conversations about art and place

In 2013 In Certain Places hosted its first Practising Place event at Liverpool Hope University: a conversation between artist Rebecca Chesney and Dr Rosemary Shirley, Senior Lecturer in Art History at Manchester School of Art. The evening opened with presentations from the speakers about their own research and practice, looking at Chesney’s artwork ‘I’m Blue, You’re Yellow’ ­– two acres of meadow in Everton Park (see photos below) – and Shirley’s research into our relationship with and the history of litter in the countryside. A discussion between the speakers followed, which examined popular perceptions of the landscape and considered the ways that artists engage with, and reveal, the political, cultural and economic processes through which it is produced.

Rebecca Chesney - I'm blue you're yellow 2Left: I’m Blue, You’re Yellow in 2013
Right: I’m Blue, You’re Yellow in 2015

The structure of the evening allowed both speakers to share elements of their own practice before exploring the themes in their own and each other’s work and finding their common ground and areas for discussion.

There were nine more Practising Places events across the north of England, each considering a different aspect of the relationship between art practice and place, such as perceptions of the rural, language, nostalgia, typography, architecture, virtual places and urban noise. All the events featured an artist and humanities researcher who shared a common area of interest. Bringing together artists concerned with infrastructure, systems, the body, recollections, memory, the everyday, boundaries, cultures, history and politics with researchers from backgrounds including sociology, geography, art history, literature, design, history and archaeology generated a rich source of ideas and dialogue.

The artists and researchers were later commissioned to write essays that continued these discussions and looked further at the work and topics they have in common. These essays were published on online arts magazine, The Double Negative, and will be presented together in an e-journal later this year.

The artists and researchers formed solid partnerships that lasted beyond the events, leading to continued dialogue and collaborations. In Certain Places is currently working on a Practising Place publication featuring contributions from each of the ten pairs in different written and visual forms.

PP composite BTop: Rebecca Chesney, David Jacques, Victoria Lucas, William Titley, Joanne Lee
Bottom: Magda Stawarska-Beavan, Amelia Crouch, Jenny Steele, Emily Speed, Ian Nesbitt & Ruth Levene

All the Practising Place events were filmed and can be watched on the In Certain Places website:

  • Working the Land: Art, Landscape and the Everton Meadows (Rebecca Chesney in Conversation with Rosemary Shirley), October 2013, Liverpool
    Working the Land drew on examples from Chesney’s project ‘I’m Blue, You’re Yellow’ and wider practice to examine popular perceptions of the landscape, and discussed the ways in which artists engage with, and reveal, the political, cultural and economic processes through which it is produced. Watch the films of the event here.
  • Liminal Landscapes: Assembly, Enclosure and the West Lancs coast (David Jacques in conversation with Les Roberts), March 2014, Preston
    Liminal Landscapes premiered Jacques’ film, The Dionysians of West Lancs. Described by the artist as ‘a phantom ride’ along the West Lancashire coast, the film weaves together historical topography, rave culture and Greek mythology to examine the age-old tension between enclosure and freedom of assembly, which continues to shape this landscape. These themes were explored by Roberts, who presented his research into sites of liminality, including the treacherous terrains of the Dee Estuary and Morecambe Bay. Through conversation, Jacques and Roberts discussed the power struggles, both past and present, that define such places, and outlined a political reading of liminal landscapes. Watch the films of the event here.
  • After Castle Market: Salvaging the Urban Obsolete (Victoria Lucas in conversation with Emma Fraser), November 2014, Sheffield
    After Castle Market explored issues of urban renewal, gentrification, memory and value, through a focus on Lucas’s residency within Sheffield’s Castle Market – an indoor market and example of mid-twentieth century Brutalist architecture, which was closed in 2013 in advance of its imminent demolition and replacement by the city’s new Moor Market. Presenting her short film, After (2013), Lucas discussed her experience of working within what was once a vibrant market hall, as well as her interest in the wider theme of ‘failed utopia’. Additional perspectives were also provided by Emma Fraser, who discussed her research into the experience and consumption of urban ruins. Through conversation, Lucas and Fraser discussed the relationship between urban progress and obsolescence, and examined how creative practices can help to ‘salvage’ the urban obsolete. Watch the films of the event here.

  • In-Between Places: Class, Creativity and Contemporary Art (William Titley in conversation with Steve Millington), April 2015, Manchester
    In Between Places examined ideas of creativity, place and social class, through a focus on Titley and Millington’s individual research. In particular, the speakers discussed the value of vernacular forms of creativity, such as festivals, local crafts or domestic Christmas light displays, which often exist outside of mainstream definitions of art and culture but play important roles within the everyday life and traditions of a place. The event also explored how professional artists can help to uncover and communicate the value of such practices, by inhabiting the spaces between different places and communities, and acting as conduits for discourse and exchange. Watch the films of the event here.
  • Forms of Inscription: Surfaces, Patterns and the Typography of Place (Joanne Lee in conversation with Paul Wilson), February 2016, Sheffield
    Forms of Inscription examined the relationship between communication, meaning and landscape, through reference to Lee and Wilson’s individual research. Foregrounding the, often overlooked, ephemera of everyday places, such as ‘chewing gum constellations’, fly tipping sites and the typography of working men’s clubs, Lee and Wilson presented their own methods of ‘close looking’, and discussed the value of interdisciplinary approaches to engaging with a place. Watch the films of the event here.
  • Urban Vibrations: Selfhood, Sound and the City (Magda Stawarska-Beavan in conversation with James Mansell), May 2016, Nottingham
    Urban Vibrations examined the politics of urban sound through reference to Stawarska-Beavan’s and Mansell’s individual research. Discussing issues of memory, anxiety and personal/public space, the speakers examined urban noise as a site of contestation. Sharing their respective approaches to researching, collecting and editing city sounds, they discussed the complex spatial narratives revealed by urban soundscapes, and explored how art and historical methods can encourage different forms of ‘critical listening’. Watch the films of the event here.
  • Vocal Landscapes: Bodies, Language and Place (Amelia Crouch in conversation with David Cooper), June 2016, Manchester
    Vocal Landscapes examined the role of language within experiences of place. Referencing locations such as the Lake District and the West Yorkshire estate of Whitley Beaumont, Cooper and Crouch discussed how forms of language are used to govern, frame and re-inscribe particular places. Drawing on their individual research, the speakers also considered how place writing and visual art can expose the inherent tensions and hidden voices of landscapes, by attending to the intertextuality of place. Watch the films of the event here.
  • Nostalgic Landscapes: Responses to the British Seaside (Jenny Steele in conversation with David Jarratt), July 2016, Preston
    Nostalgic Landscapes explored perceptions of the British seaside, through examples of Steele and Jarratt’s academic and creative research. Referencing traditional seaside locations, such as the North West resorts of Morecambe and Blackpool, Steele and Jarratt discussed the significance of such places within the creation of individual and collective identities, and the importance of reminiscence to their enduring appeal. In particular, they examined the role of nostalgia within cultural constructions of seaside places, and discussed how this may be considered to be a productive rather than passive phenomenon. Watch the films of the event here.
  • (Dis)ordering the City: Buildings, Bodies and Urban Space (Emily Speed in conversation with Duncan Light), October 2016, Liverpool
    (Dis)ordering the City focused on the making and reshaping of urban space. In particular, it explored the relationship between official urban planning processes and the subversion of city spaces by the people who use them. Drawing upon their own creative and academic research, Speed and Light examined the ways in which urban spaces are performed, and how certain practices – such as walking, urban exploration and the creation of ‘desire lines’ – might be viewed as tactics for ‘disordering’ the city. Watch the films of the event here.
  • Inhabiting the Landscape: Art, Archaeology and the Performance of Place (Ian Nesbitt and Ruth Levene in conversation with Bob Johnston), November, 2016, Newcastle upon Tyne
    Inhabiting the Landscape explored ways of understanding the landscape through an immersive engagement with it. Drawing on their respective practices of art and landscape archaeology, the speakers discussed the idea of landscape as the product of human actions, with a focus on traditions of land use, boundaries and authoritative and unofficial forms of mapping. In particular, they examined how activities such as walking and oral history can generate alternative perspectives of landscape that challenge established narratives and reveal the shifting meanings of a place. Watch the films of the event here.