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

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The Expanded City. Roman Way, Rough Hey, Red Scar: ruins in reverse

Maps of the outskirts of Preston, and many similar towns I’m sure, exhibit little in the way of landmarks to latch on to when planning a site visit. Main roads criss cross areas designated for new construction, and lacking a reason that has to do with warehouses or offices, the only thing left to base a choice of destination on are names. Ranging from the oddly twee to the mysteriously grisly; Pudding Pie Nook to Red Scar, these names are sometimes derived from farms or woods that formerly existed at these sites, or from historically notable events that can be real, exaggerated or outright imagined. It is through the necessary naming of streets and buildings that the histories of an otherwise unremarkable area can be partially preserved. This aspect of municipal expansion and redevelopment is central to the artistic interests of Olivia Keith, who has been conducting research into the origins of local names, such as Hoyle, Blackleach and Cottam.

After a cursory scanning of maps, and keeping in mind that Preston’s guild wheel cycle path runs through many of the redevelopment sites, I settled on the semi-rural North East of Preston, recognising this as the area bordering Fulwood, where I went to school. Approaching this visit with an open mind, and consciously not looking for anything in particular, the aspect of the partially industrial, and partially rural landscape that stood out most peculiarly was presence of strange monuments, seemingly referring to nothing in particular, and unmoored culturally and historically. These take the form of outsize sandstone Viking heads flanking the entrance to Red Scar industrial estate, and a regency-meets-boom years wall that is completely adrift, hinting at  what has not yet been built.

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Whilst approaching this project with fresh eyes as a writer, the fact that Preston is my hometown can’t be ignored, and as such my treatment of the place will inescapably be tinged with nostalgia and the jarring recognition of change. In his photo-essay, A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey (1967) Robert Smithson writes with melancholy affection for the New Jersey landscape of his youth, and some of the tendencies that he identifies in his periphery of industrial decay and rural encroachment are present in the environs of North East Preston.

“That Zero panorama seemed to contain ruins in reverse, that is – all the new construction that would eventually be built. That is the opposite of the romantic ruin, because the buildings don’t fall into ruin after they are built, but rather rise into ruin before they are built”…[1]

The concept of “ruins in reverse.”[2] has become crucial to my understanding of how these areas function for those that encounter them; the way in which a freshly built wall backs on to a dry, bare field where boys circle around and around on dirt bikes in the early summer heat. Nothing here seems settled, and the few structures that look worn and old create discord amongst the bright corrugated warehouses and lush new shrubbery.

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Driving towards the ’employment area’ in the North East of Preston a road sign bears a poetic index, indicating the way towards the three industrial estates of Roman Way, Rough Hey and Red Scar. It is these areas that most clearly embody Smithson’s description of ruins in reverse, in terms of “all the new construction that would eventually be built.”[1] However, Smithson was writing about the post-industrial, suburban places of North America, where there is a very different relationship to history than in the North of England.

“Oh, maybe there are a few statues, a legend, and a couple of curios, but no past – just what passes for a future. A Utopia minus a bottom, a place where the machines are idle, and the sun has turned to glass…”[2]

This is relevant to Keith’s research, whereby a growing knowledge of the origins of place names bestows a chronology on to the streets that will come to reconfigure the land. This action could be seen to produce a bottom, and to fill in the ‘holes’, as Smithson identifies them, that pepper places like Preston; “these holes in a sense are the monumental vacancies that define, without trying, the memory-traces of an abandoned set of futures.”[3] In seeking a concrete explanation for the names of new places, and the strange ‘nowhere monuments’ that are created for them, Keith may be able to complicate the dizzy sense of forward momentum that is embodied by the ‘ruins in reverse’ of new development. In order to satirically illustrate and affirm the ‘irreversibility of eternity’ in his essay, Smithson describes a ‘jejune experiment for proving entropy’ whereby a child running in circles through coloured sand, cannot re-separate the colours by circling in the opposite direction. The perpetual circling motion evoked by Smithson is reminiscent of the boys who circle each other on their dirt bikes in Preston’s dusty fields, that will not be fields for much longer.

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Lauren Velvick
The Expanded City
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[1]    Smithson, Robert. A Tour of the Monuments of Passiac, New Jersey (1967)
[2]    Smithson, Robert. A Tour of the Monuments of Passiac, New Jersey (1967)
[3]    Smithson, Robert. A Tour of the Monuments of Passiac, New Jersey (1967)
[4]    Smithson, Robert. A Tour of the Monuments of Passiac, New Jersey (1967)
[5]    Smithson, Robert. A Tour of the Monuments of Passiac, New Jersey (1967)

The Expanded City: Initial Artists’ Meeting

Photo 06-11-2015, 13 49 45

How to encompass a city, and which boundary line, image, or description is the truest? These have emerged as pertinent questions during an initial meeting between the four artists who have been commissioned for The Expanded City. Over the coming months Gavin Renshaw, Olivia Keith, and  Ian Nesbitt & Ruth Levene, will be developing new work responding to the housebuilding and associated infrastructure programme that has been undertaken around the outskirts of Preston as part of the government’s City Deal scheme. Preston as an urban centre is hedged by the rural, and envelops estates and suburbs that have cultivated individual identities through a combination of class, cultural and environmental delineations. As a one-time industrial hub and administrative centre, the architecture of central Preston combines the grand civic styles favoured by nineteenth century philanthropists alongside the swooping concrete of 1960s utopian brutalism and 1990s utilitarian breeze-block shop units, each in their own way designed for the use and/or edification of the people.

However, it is the outskirts and the edges that this project will focus on, and in the first stages of their research, each of the commissioned artists has endeavoured to navigate these areas of flux. Renshaw has photographed Preston from various points along the Guild Wheel, a 21 Mile cycle path that encircles the city, and serves as a legacy for the 2012 Guild celebrations – Preston being the only place that continues to celebrate this civic occasion dating from the rule of Henry VIII – producing images that constitute a decontextualised portrait of the City, often appearing to be ahistorical and timeless. In one image what appear to be primeval forests encroach upon the Deepdale Stadium, in an illusion created by Moor Park, that was once a moor on the edge of the growing town. Renshaw has an enduring interest in cycling advocacy, and audax cycling that was popular with the Clarion cycling clubs of the early 20th century, when groups would navigate the countryside by church spires and chimney stacks without the use of maps. By way of these interests Renshaw is investigating the perception of architecture in the landscape, and the notion of a romantic purity in navigating by the landscape and architectural markers that have become obsolete.

PNE

Similarly, Nesbitt who will be working in collaboration with Levene has previously undertaken journeys navigating by leylines, striving to make use of pathways that are invisible on maps. Renshaw and Nesbitt & Levene are engaged in ways of recording the landscape that subvert the official mapping and documentation that is drawn from political and infrastructural boundaries. Nesbitt’s practice is socially engaged, often driven by the people that he encounters, and in collaboration with Ruth Levene, the two artists have developed a process whereby they record journeys taken or pilgrimages made in parallel, being careful not to influence each other’s initial outputs. Levene has also previously produced work that records the landscape in a way that official maps do not, but her underlying concerns are to do with the environment in terms of climate change, making visual representations of social and economic interactions with environmental processes, such as the water cycle.

In 2013 Nesbitt and Levine collaborated on The Boundary Project, a durational walk around the official boundary of the city in which they were both based, Sheffield. Both artists felt that their separate practices had reached a point of convergence and the process of walking together and writing in parallel functioned as a way to start conversations and to ask questions. This project became a way to explore different kinds of knowing; that which is gained through orderly learning and that which is gained through experience. Furthermore, traversing this line which had been drawn by bureaucracy, rather than by tradition, leads to a questioning of the meaning of walking a path that may have little human significance, as opposed to the pure and romantic route taken on winding country paths from steeple to chimney stack. For The Expanded City Nesbitt and Levene are planning to conduct a similar walk around the current boundary of Preston, but have already run into difficulties in working out which is the most true and correct boundary, when the delineations of wards and parish differ.

 

DWainhomes stile

The simultaneity of official maps, and trails drawn with tradition and familiarity is central to the projects of Renshaw as well as Nesbitt & Levene, and is also important to work of Keith, who is concerned with the traces of tradition and historical context that are able to ‘make it through’ an overlaying by new development and bureaucratic re-drawing of boundaries. Keith has been walking the official public footpaths that cross through the land on the outskirts of Preston earmarked for new development, noticing and recording the idiosyncrasies of land that is in the process of transferral from public to private hands, and then back to public again. This often seems to result in what seem like glitches, where land is undesignated and waiting re-categorisation, manifesting in oddities such as a stile leading on to grass, upon which a sign reads ‘keep off the grass’. Keith is also interested in naming traditions, and the ways in which previous contexts and forgotten histories can be recorded in the naming of new street estates, pointing out that Barratt Homes’ new Canberra Lane is named after an aircraft that crashed on the site during a test flight from BAE systems, with an old stone gatepost carved into a pilot’s likeness. It is details like these that begin to form fertile ground for the creation of local myths and traditions amongst the inhabitants of these new developments.

Lauren Velvick