Listen to the subtle shift in accent from place to place as thirteen giant steps took us all the way along the Leeds-Liverpool canal for the final part of my project to support the Canal & River Trust's bicentenary celebrations. Tell it to the Water gave nearly four hundred people the opportunity to share their hopes and dreams for the future of the canal directly with its watery surface and depths.
The film of the messages being placed into the water can be found here; can you hear the shifting voices?
Nearly four hundred messages were gathered from events along the Leeds-Liverpool canal, all written onto dissolving paper strips which were carefully wrapped around pieces of coal and limestone. During September 2016 they were gently placed into the watery depths of the canal.
My textile pieces in response to my residency with Art Gene for their Fort Walney Uncovered project were publicly displayed as part of an immensely rich showcase of work responding to the physical location of the Northern tip of Walney Island and the community archaeological dig and resulting research into WWI practice trenches and the firing range.
The table runner (floor display) and sandbags are all made using fabrics of war. A German Army Officer's dress trousers, a British Army trench coat woollen liner, a German army blanket and British blackout curtains; previous use and intentions unpicked and reformed to reflect on the research and dig findings.
I've started a new project this Spring, working with Canal & River Trust (CRT) along the length of the Leeds Liverpool Canal as part of their #LL200 bi-centenary celebrations and so far it seems to be revealing some interesting things about people's connection to place.
In celebration of the 200-years, CRT have been successful in gaining Heritage Lottery Funding to restore the mile markers along the canal to their original style, bringing the 127 (and a quarter) mile length of canal closer to how it would have looked in 1894 when the first Canal, Tolls and Charges Act was passed. The document is held in the Parliamentary Archive, which I managed to have a look through in May when I visited London for the Homeless Library exhibition opening at the Houses of Parliament.
The Act is a funny read, listing all the odd and curious items of cargo that could be transported, its passing activated a significant change in the canal infrastructure with the installation of mile, half mile and quarter mile markers along the full length. A mechanism for measurement and charging for each quarter mile section passed, the most significant cargoes transported were that of coal and limestone, and I'm using these for my this new project, Tell it to the Water which has been commissioned by CRT for 2016.
200-years is a significant milestone (forgive the pun) it feels important to stop and rest awhile, to reflect and look back on how our use of and connection to canals has changed over these last 200-years, as well as to imagine forward into future time; where will the canal be in another 200 years? What are our hopes and dreams for its future?
Tell it to the Water asks people to write their hopes and dreams onto a strip of dissolving paper, which is then glued to their chosen piece of coal or limestone. In a linear performance during late summer 2016 these stone-wrapped messages will be given back to the canal along its length, forever immersing memories, thoughts, hopes and dreams directly with the watery depths.
So far, the most curious thing for me is whether people choose limestone, or coal - it seems to be revealing something I'd not anticipated; I'm going to be watching this carefully over the summer to see how this develops.
If you'd like to take part then come along to one of the scheduled events, and don't forget to like the Facebook page to keep informed of this exciting project . . .
The dampness of this morning was brushed aside by the blustery wind, although lessened from previous days, it still ensured the clouds a scudded sky-journey above the undulating Manchester outskirts. My foot lifted and pressed and lifted and pressed, rhythmic and gentle against the car pedal, moving and slowing to manage the distances to brightening red lights in front of me.
I arrived early to the Wellspring Centre in Stockport and parked and unloaded my car on the quiet street outside. It's at times like this that my thoughts often become invaded with a series of what are now standard questions echoing through my head; do you need all this stuff, will you use it all, what are you doing today? I have to say now, I never quite resolve this one with a feeling of satisfaction, I'm not sure I ever will!
Inside the room is clean and bright, made brighter still by the newly added Christmas lights dangling from the sturdy cross-beams. It's still quiet and Lois, Philip and I find time to continue our conversation from last week . . . how will the whole 'library' look, will it be a series of boxes that need to be opened to see what's inside, or will the entire display be completely visible as the viewer encounters it? Will books be grouped or categorised by size, or shape, theme, or content? How will colour affect the final look - and is there a repeating colour throughout? These are important points for consideration for the final work, although we recognise that they don't all need answering today. We begin to look through the books and work we have so far, which is a lot; we make decisions about our focus and action for the day and get on with the task ahead.
At 12 the lunch service begins; a hearty bowl of tomato soup with vegetables and pasta, chunky brown or white sandwiches and steamed pudding with custard. The queue forms quickly and then disperses to the surrounding tables. Conversation levels drop slightly as the focus shifts to sustenance and we join in too.
Over the day the levels of noise often shift up and down considerably, yet today seems much quieter than previous days, the television remained silent. Odd words catch my ears . . .
'Have I got your mobile number?'
A gentleman struggles in his pocket, clearly trying to find something that's set in deep, he eventually finds a packet and stands to offer a cigarette to his table companion with a lovely smile. It's not wanted, and the cigarette is returned to the packet. Eating continues to eat in silence; unmatched languages make for difficult conversation. 'I mean, what do you do when all your clothes are wet? I 'ave to be careful. Y'can't go out in wet clothes can you, and I can't dry 'em'.
There's been so much activity since I last worked with Lois and Philip; the Homeless Library has grown to become a vast array of words contained within many different and curious book forms in all shapes and sizes.
We decided to lay as much as we could out on the table to see what there was, the image below shows a small part of the collection so far. It really sharpened our minds to the scale of the future task and sparked a great conversation about the whole and its constituent parts; we talked ordering and sorting, display and interaction, particularly once it becomes it's final form; a travelling library.
The different physical shapes and sizes present a great challenge to how the whole will come together best. We talked around classification and the Dewey system in particular - how can these physical forms, be intertwined with stories and poetry in a way that doesn't become too complex to disconnect those who wish to engage.
Our discussion will continue today and I'm really looking forward to how we get on.
I'm off to Stockport in the morning to run another workshop at the Wellspring Centre, so today has been a creative prep day. I had thought about clam shell boxes, which would be a great way to store different forms of book together, but working through the prep I realised they have such a time consuming and fiddly construction process, I've gone for something slightly less complicated.
I've been to this centre before; last time I was showing people how to fold books into sculptural objects. After I'd gone Lois and Philip worked their magic on later visits to encourage the people who visit the centre to add words about their homeless experiences; ink printed slips of text, handwritten notes, sketchy images of encounters and situations, raw feelings and physical discomfort, human kindness, the solace of drugs and alcohol, disappointment and anger.
It was such a pleasure to do the last session, I'm really looking forward to going back. My bags are fully loaded with bone folders, glue, many rolls of book binding cloth and lovely handmade papers amongst a raft of other accoutrements! It will be interesting to see what we all create.
Early in September I spent a day working with Lois, one half of arthur+martha on the Homeless Library project. We were in Bury at the Red Door Drop In centre, part of St Joseph's Catholic Church.
The day began with unpacking my book making goodies from my trolley and boxes. Lois had a similar stash - we must have looked quite curious to the people in the centre when we first arrived - they'd seen Lois before of course, and Philip, but not me - or the huge rolls of book binding cloth I was carting around with me.
The centre was bright and full of chatter and busy activity, we sat in the main space, quite a small room in which it seemed most things happened. Quite a few people busied themselves in and out, it was a beautiful dry day, with the sun peeping through the white (and some darkening) clouds.
Lois and I sat inside at the central multi-purpose table so we could have a look and chat through some of the work made, and to do our own quick skills sharing session with some quick book making techniques.
There are many stories that have been shared so far in the project, some as poetry, some hand written, some typed. These have been intertwined within the folded pages of books, print work and other papery structures produced in earlier workshops. There is an excitement building about this project, I'm keen to see how it unfolds along the rest of the way, and to read more of the stories too.
For this session I took some of the already printed stories to explore book ideas with. Reading through any of the texts I find there are certain words that stand out - almost as if I was going through with a highlight pen - they needed to be said a little clearer and I played with ways of doing this.
Justin came to join me, he'd been working with Lois in an earlier session and had some of his own words already written, but first he helped me work through the idea with the bits I had. We shared thoughts and ideas as we went along. I do love the process of sharing something I can do with others, it's such a pleasure to see anyone's confidence grow as they pick up a new technique and working with Justin was just that.
We cut a story into thin same sized sections, there was an odd pleasure in it dividing the story so evenly and we cut the same sized pieces of tracing paper to use together. Justin read through the story and underlined words he felt were important, that needed highlighting, that needed to be shared in a more visible way. There were cut out and stuck onto the tracing paper as a separate layer.
Conversations drifted on the air, "I found someone in me lounge this morning, I had to get out before I punched him. Why would someone be in my lounge? I came here".
Justin and I talked about reading other people's stories, about whether it was easy to find the right words to cut out, to in some way raise the status of. We agreed it was - things just pop up and feel important.
As he reads he intermittently tells me stories of his Mum and his twin sister, who has recently died. His Mum was a child-minder, but she also showed other people how to child-mind too; she shared her skills with others. He smiled as he explained they always had old cardboard, empty loo rolls and used tubs ready to make things, she was always making stuff with him. He seems to be really connected back to that time, he talks quite fast, an excitement about the memory perhaps.
Then, the now of the task in hand stops him short, "I need to concentrate, I'll shut up". We glue and cut in silence.
My ears again become aware of the others in the room, a tiny front room type space, a sort of flat with a living and dining area, as well as a kitchen. All one space, with a busy washing machine in too. Here folks sit and natter, watch TV, get help and advice from the staff.
I know I smell, I can't have a bath I'm not right, I'm not with it It's these tablets ...
We've cut out all the words and they are glued on to the tracing paper. I'm pleased with the result and Justin thinks it's a good idea too; we carry on. He makes the decisions on cover and inner paper we can use and we being to make the book covers. Making holes is hard, we could do with a hammer but it's not safe to have one so we sort of struggle along, but enjoy the challenge of a little bit of making do too.
After lunch Justin starts to work on his own text, cutting it into sections to go with his story. We talk about plans for his book and we work together on the table for quite a while, until it's time for me to go. His book isn't quite finished, but he is clear with what he needs to do and I leave him all the materials he needs and tools he can keep too.
He promises to finish his book; I hope he manages it!
A quirky engagement project took place on the Leeds-Liverpool canal in Blackburn this month, capturing the imagination of canal users who were asked to navigate their way along 100m of the towpath imaging their journey as a different canal user - pedestrians could be fisher-folk, cyclists or maybe boaters. Cyclists imagined their route as anything other than cyclists - and I took a quirky photograph to build a collection of instant images, which were pegged along the railings for everyone to see.
#sharethespace is a Canal & River Trust project engaging with canal users throughout the country, encouraging them to share the space they use with others - to be considerate, open to the needs of others, to be aware and to share.
Each person we met was given a small unique artists' book to thank them for contributing to the project, with hints and tips on what to look for on their 'different' journey - we even had someone who danced their one hundred metres! Thank
you so much for your brilliant support and
enthusiastic engagement, I think the project really
complimented our Share the Space event and the
Development & Engagement Manager, Canal & River Trust
. . . this was taken yesterday, a day of frenetic clouds scudding across the skies of North West England, filled with spitten raindrops which occasionally teased themselves apart from their grey structured form, falling ever downwards to connect with me, my bike and my panniers filled with food, cameras, water, spare clothing and bike tools. I must have thought I was on an incredible mission, yet I cycled about eight miles in all during the day.
I spent much time walking around the North Walney Nature Reserve, observing, delving, listening and recording; the background roar of the receding tide, an overlaid often fierce wind rustling the grasses frenetically, shrilling the water surfaces into shadowed peaks and troughs.
In the depths of the trenches I set the camera to record the sky, repeatedly moving along the guttered corridor, connecting connected views.
I've just caught part of a programme on BBC3 tonight about homeless people in Bristol. The interviewer, who has been homeless himself, spent time talking to people he has met as he had wandered the city with a camera and over time re-visiting them, tracking and discussing the stories of their homeless experience.
One young 17-year old lad, homeless since 14, talked about a place under a bridge that he'd lived in for about 7 months. They filmed him in the location, talking with three other young men who lived there too. They'd created a tent like structure from blankets, had a laptop to watch films; things had places, there appeared to be an order to the space, and it was dry.
The comment that caught my attention and prompted me to write this note occurred later in the programme, when the young lad is again being interviewed after he'd not been since in the regular gathering places for a while, the interviewer had caught up with him to find out why. Sat on a bench, overlooking the river and near to the bridge he had lived under, he explained that there had been a fire, someone who had found needles was trying to get rid of them, but that action had sparked a larger fire.
Since the incident access to get under the bridge had been closed off with metalwork fencing and a lock. Paraphrasing his comments to camera:
"The thing is that's taken away some of my childhood. I mean I've lived there for about 7 months they've stoppedme from getting in now".
It appears to be a simple insignificant comment, yet could it be that even in the direst of circumstances we can still form an attachment to place? Can we still see a place as in some way 'ours', our home, our space that is our own, which is ordered, has a purpose, provides shelter with others. Could we even say there is some sense of community here, community of place and of a shared situation, which triggers and strengthens the sense of loss when access is denied.
I felt it was a significant comment that has provoked considerable thought for me and piqued my questioning even more about the significance of place in our lives.
Princess House in Seaburn is the latest care home location for the NE team's input to the Dementia & Imagination research project. Today will be my only visit to this care home location. It's a lovely place, right on the sea front, a lighthouse in view and the beach a short walk away.
Meeting the new people is always exciting, watching the careful way the Intervention Artists, Kate and Claire spend time with each person, shaking hands, holding eye contact with smiles and laughter intertwined with greetings and chatter is heartwarming.
The session is spent being expressive with faces first, then hands, as we pass an imaginary ball around the group. Care is taken to protect the ball which soon becomes a baby bird, a nest, a hedgehog. Hands reach out to join in. Others just enjoy the watching, silently, their faces tracking the movements of others.
A lady clutches a teddy bear tightly, a thing of comfort perhaps. She joins in with the activity, encouraged by the person sat with her, the bear sometimes becoming part of her extended movement; he is joining in too, or perhaps on behalf of her.
The session continues with green screen filming of residents moving and imagining different places. The image of these far off places are projected onto a screen at the side of them, with their own image layered in. There is much hilarity about the activity, and there is also difficulty for some in understanding they they can see themselves in the projected image on the screen.
"I don't know what's happening, I don't know what's going on".
I'm conscious that as I write these words for you to see, it is open to interpretation. What visual markers, what sounds, what body movement accompanies this uttered phrase? How does my use of language shift the reading of the situation, how do I influence what you take away? For now I leave the thought as an opening for further discussion.
The difference in how people are affected by their dementia is intriguing, each time I experience something new. And unexpectedly, now here I am being told off for being in someone's private home.
"all these people are in my house and they'retreating it as their own".
The flustered confusion is calmed by attentive staff and the raised voice quietens, for a while.
The session ends and as we leave I look out at the sea, the weather patterns creating a fragmented surface; mixed brown-blue water, clouds white with darkened shade scurrying past. The funfair is just setting up in the field nearby and the child in me wants to stay, to run in these open spaces, to play on the sand filled beach and take in these views.
I begin to wonder if those people behind me share any of my sense of wonderment. How do they see where they live, what is their perception of their place?
My final day of a week visit to Barcelona and I happened upon a series of lamppost banners with the name Sophie Calle upon them. I've long admired the way Calle explores her subject matter of self through a quiet, contemplative exploration of emotion and often raw personal grief; hers and ours.
I had seen 'Take Care of Yourself' somewhere else, perhaps Berlin or Venice, I couldn't quite recall. This smaller scale version, presented in the grander surroundings of the Palau de Virreina, with selected responses to the email from her lover as wrote to tell her of their relationship ending, gave a small sense of the enormity of the project as different women responded in their own professional capacity to their interpretation of the message received and its delivery method.
We could take no photographs, and because of the volume of language incorporated into the work, it was impossible to present any further translation alongside each work. Instead, a written guide was available to carry around. We didn't pick it up for speed, and so didn't see or hear the explanation of each work.
I was deeply caught by 'Last Seen'; a four film projection filling a single space, four people each stand facing the sea, imperceptible shifts in their body language suggests great concentration and thought, deep thought. Slowly the person will turn, their eyes somehow struggle to focus on the camera. Can they see? Have they been able to see and lost their sight? Have they lost someone at sea? With transfixed, wet eyes, I was unable to move for a very long time.