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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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:Artist Olivia Keith

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Lauren Velvick

www.oliviakeith.co.uk
@Tracesofplace

The Expanded City Symposium, June 2016

As a public introduction to The Expanded City project, a symposium held on June 16 2016 reflected the research concerns of In Certain Places and the commissioned artists through the structure of the event, as well as the content. As we have found through conducting site visits to the areas earmarked for the City Deal housing developments on Preston’s outskirts, a practicality that must be taken into account is the difficulty in reaching these areas using only public transport. One of the commissioned artists, Gavin Renshaw‘s work is partly based around the cultural history of cycling, and he has often made reference to the difficulty in safely reaching the recently opened Guild Loop cycling and walking path, which circles Preston for twenty one miles. Travelling from the centre to the periphery becomes an important issue as we consider how these new developments will relate to the existing citizens and infrastructure of Preston.

As such, the logistical difficulties inherent in the choice of venues and sites for the symposium was a framework around which the day was structured, and was a decidedly positive element, allowing attendees and speakers alike to experience the sites in question first hand, in turn facilitating a deeper appreciation of the topics discussed by the speakers. The day was divided into two halves, with an initial pick-up at Preston train station in a double decker bus, which then went on to transport attendees to the first venue; Woodplumpton and District Club, which sits approximately five miles outside of the city centre. As part of the new housing schemes in question, it has been deemed necessary to provide resources for leisure and culture within the new communities that will be formed. As such, the choice of the Woodplumpton and District Club as the venue for the first, more formal stage of the day is appropriate and poignant. The Woodplumpton and District Club is an old fashioned community club, with facilities for Bowls and Tennis alongside regular activities such as art classes, whist & dominoes and the Women’s Institute. Discussing demographics and regeneration within this context begs the question; what can serve the purpose of spaces like this within new developments?

The two invited speakers that presented during the morning session gave differing but complimentary views on what constitutes a community, of why and how change occurs, and to what extent this can be controlled or directed. First came a presentation from Carolina Caicedo of The Decorators, a multidisciplinary design practice who work with local authorities and public institutions to design and deliver interventions in regeneration areas. These interventions are sensitively tailored to the surrounding community, and often offer a critique of the regeneration in question. Caicedo gave the example of Ridley’s Temporary Restaurant, a project that sought to enliven a struggling market and to facilitate communication between vendors and users. Embedded within the project were certain safeguards, designed to ensure that the restaurant would constitute more than a fashionable eatery that had been parachuted in to a struggling neighbourhood. These included instituting a ‘no bookings’ rule which meant that the limited number of seats would always be open to whoever turned up on the night. Caicedo also emphasized the problems of ill-thought out design in new public spaces, citing a project based around a new public square that had been built in the centre of a development of high-rise apartment buildings, but was underused and desolate.

The pertinent question here seems to be; how can we, in advance, design communal spaces and structures that will actually be used and useful – that will represent something attractive to the local residents. This is where the data and analysis presented by the second speaker, economist Paul Swinney, becomes particularly pertinent. Swinney showed and explained a series of data visualisations that demonstrated, demographically, how differently sized cities are structured, and offered some possible explanations as to why. In considering the areas on the outskirts of cities that are the focus of the Expanded City project, Swinney explained that there is a trade-off between the excitement, resources and employment opportunities of inner city living, compared to the space, peace and safety of the outskirts. He went on to illustrate this point with the example of a young couple who may transfer from choosing a city centre apartment to a suburban house when they decide to start a family. Considering my earlier research into the newly designated employment area to the North East of Preston, where on a sunny weekend I was surprised to find a number of adolescents having chosen this area of relative isolation for their Saturday activities, it is relevant to consider the potential second generation of inhabitants of these new estates, and how they might make use of the outdoor spaces and leisure facilities in unexpected ways.

During this first part of the day Ian Nesbitt and Ruth Levene also presented an extract from their active research project, which has been informed by an earlier practice of collaborative walking and parallel documentation. Nesbitt and Levene deal directly with the question of whether land is public or private, and the points where this differentiation becomes uncertain. Their presentation consisted of a series of photographs taken during their walks, and the reading of extracts from their parallel diaries, written strictly without input from each other. One anecdote neatly illustrated the slightly ludicrous nature of public footpaths, some of which are purposefully blocked, or may not have been used for decades; in trekking along one of these little-used paths Nesbitt and Levene passed a house whose occupant rushed out to greet them, excited that somebody was finally making use of the track.

After the morning session sustenance was provided in the form of a personable pub lunch, and the second half of the day consisted of presentations from each of the remaining artists. The attending Counsellors, local residents and cultural producers once more boarded the double decker bus and were transported to the site of Olivia Keith‘s presentation. Keith’s site specific demonstration outlined her research methods, which involve an openness to chance and serendipity. Keith has been producing large scale, outdoor drawings at sites where older designations meet newer developments, and these are then overlaid with existing and obsolete maps. Keith pointed out the ways in which her observed drawings would match up with the maps underneath in interesting and unexpected ways. This practice also constitutes a way to facilitate conversations with passers-by who live in or make use of these areas, describing how at the meeting of a motorway bridge, country lane and suburb where Keith had chosen for her presentation, she had met a number of multi-generational walkers making a pilgrimage to Bluebell Wood.

Bussed onwards from the North West to North East of Preston we alighted next at my chosen ‘nowhere monument’ that even the Counsellors didn’t seem to have an explanation for. The way in which this de-contextualised wall was reminiscent of a folly or stage set inspired me to instruct the attendees to gather on the oval of grass and wild flowers in between the wall and road to hear a reading linking this area to Robert Smithson’s Passaic, New Jersey. This site is oddly atmospheric, with a scale that lurches between human and industrial amongst the jumble of warehouses and chain cafes.

Finally, we headed further East still for a roadside presentation from Gavin Renshaw. This site was decidedly rural, with encroaching hedgerows and a lack of pavements. Following our fluorescent jacketed leader we were led single file to a point where the whole of Preston City Centre is observable in the far distance. This capacity to visually encompass a large and complex site from a distance is an important concern for Renshaw, and is interlinked with his interest in the activity and cultural history of cycling. He spoke of how, from this distance it is possible to take a technically true impression of the City, but one that is also illusory, bringing wooded areas together in distant perspective when in reality they are isolated.

This focus on the nature of representation is a relevant strand that ran through each of the presentations given throughout the day. Nesbitt, Levene and Keith have demonstrated an interest in the disunity between bureaucratic visualisation of a place, and a more intuitive form of mapping based around memory and cultural history. Similarly, the earlier presentations from Carolina Caicedo and Paul Swinney point to the ways in which data and forward planning are useful, but can come unstuck in presenting an overly simplistic and static view of a place and its inhabitants.

Lauren Velvick

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

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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