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
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/marchoftheartists/
Instagram @marchoftheartists

If you would like to join us on the walk  please email Amanda Hennessey at amandaatmota@gmail.com

Advertisements

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.

36-views-4k-px

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

IMG_6578 1

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
Walks
And surrounds
Walks
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

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

Expanded City Perspectives:Artist Olivia Keith

2-under-m6-on-fernyhalgh-lane

There are elements of Olivia Keith‘s work for The Expanded City that are familiar within socially engaged practices, such as using the unwritten knowledge and experience of local inhabitants to informally map an area. Keith has developed a way of recording this information, and her process is complex and considered, moving beyond the collecting of memories for its own sake. In order to facilitate her conversations with passers-by, Keith has developed a framework, whereby each of her days spent on site results in a large-scale multimedia landscape drawing, which in turn acts as a point of conversation, making Keith conspicuous within her chosen environment. She has described how it is important to communicate openness, but not to actually initiate conversation within the framework, and this self-imposed constraint is one of the ways in which Keith’s ongoing project differs from familiar forms of socially engaged memory collecting. Any knowledge that is gained during these days spent drawing outdoors is therefore offered consciously and deliberately, and as such also offers an overview of the information that people choose to go out of their way to share with strangers, which by implication is the knowledge that is useful, or too precious to keep to oneself.

1-valentines-bridge

The sites that Keith has selected for this initial stage of her work were chosen for their symbolic properties, as well as whether they are in the areas of Preston corresponding to the ‘expanding city’. The motif of the bridge is an important point of reference; of obvious significance in various contexts, here bridges are appropriated due to their proximity to the waterways and thoroughfares of a place, and as such often pointing to earlier configurations of inhabitance and movement. The site chosen for her symposium presentation was exemplary of this focus on bridges as markers of movement and change, forming a meeting point between suburb, countryside, motorway and waterway. There are also a number of variables that feed into how Keith’s framework plays out in each instance, such as the weather of course, but also the density of the current local population, and whether the site is one of leisure, or is used purely as a thoroughfare, with this affecting whether passers-by are likely to stop, ask questions, and offer new knowledge. The journey that Keith must take in order to locate her chosen spot further contributes towards the finished work, intuitively affecting the overall experience before she had even begun to draw.

8-avenham-park
Having selected a place from which to work, the next step is to deduce the orientation of the historical maps that Keith uses as grounds for her drawings. This will dictate the direction that she will face, and in turn the interactions that she will have whilst on site, which is why in some of her drawings the backdrop map will be rotated or upside down. The scale of the drawing is then chosen intuitively, with the intention for the underlying map to be treated as tabula rasa giving way to the inevitability of pareidolia, whereby Keith’s drawings seem to unintentionally correspond in meaningful ways with the maps on which they are delineated. Given the way in which Keith’s practice depends on an interchange between the land and the vernacular knowledge of its inhabitants, this project can be conceptually likened to plate tectonics in order to understand its mechanisms. The act of overwriting whilst simultaneously choosing to preserve, and the seemingly random focus on certain details, mimics the much slower changes that take place in the natural world. As with the geological movement of the earth’s crust, some material that was once on the surface is subducted below to be melted down and recycled, whereas other material is pushed to the surface either so slowly as to be unnoticeable, or with a violent and disruptive force.

7-st-ignatius-cathedral

Lauren Velvick

www.oliviakeith.co.uk
@Tracesofplace