Why I’ve been talking about Eastside a lot recently

In September 2006 I made some work for an arty bit (the Anti-Talent Zone) in Channel 4’s TEN4 magazine (Issue 4: The Talent Issue). I’ll let curator Gavin Wade do the introductions:

In the Anti-Talent Zone anything goes, there are no laws, no morals, no identities, no property, no art, no profits only lots of pain[…] At the heart of the Anti-Talent Zone you will find an emptiness organised by Nikki Pugh[…] Pugh has wiped clean a section of our glorious city currently in the grips of a reality adjustment adding one new name to the mix. The site of Hewitt Street in Manchester, home to a successful contemporary art scene originated by local artists, is also the model of growth for Birmingham’s Eastside as overheard by Pugh in the halls of power.

welcome to the Anti-Talent Zone

The Arts Council and UCE’s (now BCU) plans to build a Castlefield-esque artist led space on Bartholomew Street fell through, however Eastside Projects (fronted by one Mr. Wade!) opened on Heath Mill Lane late last year. But what of the rest of the Cultural Quarter Digital District regeneration area? [Don’t worry: I’m not going to attempt to answer that!]

Meanwhile, back in February of this year I started doing a lot of GPS work in Digbeth. I noticed my equipment was giving me inconsistent results in a way that was quite interesting and planned to use this in its own right in a different piece of work.

For various reasons it seems fitting to go back and revisit the Eastside regeneration area with my slightly shonky GPS units. A few new shiny buildings have appeared in the 3 years since the Anti-Talent Zone, but reality has a habit of resisting adjustment and much of Eastside is still as I remember it. Though, perhaps the point is that I was mostly oblivious to all but a few corners of that part of the city…

I’m fairly familiar with the streets around the Custard Factory, and the Bull Ring/High Street just sneaks into the zone, but Eastside is a massive slab of what is, to me, generally uncharted territory.

Birmingham City Council's Eastside regeneration area

Spurred on by the glorious early Autumn weather we had last week, I finished tinkering with the code that logs the positions read by my GPS units and I started investigating the mysterious Eastside. At the moment I’m concentrating on the outer edge. I’m at once amused, baffled, frustrated, and in concordance with this demarcation: it makes perfect sense in terms of following the existing lines of major roads etc, but I’m galled by the idea that what was once intended to be the ‘Cultural Quarter’ (I don’t know if that’s still the case) can be defined by a staked out territory and then filled in. Of course departments and policies need to name and define, but I have trouble mapping that onto creativity and culture which I conceive of more as bubbling out from particular points where circumstances collude to allow things to transpire…

Anyhow, I’ve walked the boundary 3 times now and it’s fascinating to observe and ponder on the various fluxes taking place. In addition to the swathes of land being bulldozed and the flows of people either by car or on foot, I’ve also been thinking a lot about how this work relates to firstly my Anti-Talent Zone criticism of parachuting stuff into an area and, secondly, one of my Counsel for the Artist statements: make exchanges with spaces. That’s why I’m repeatedly walking the boundary, rather than just doing it the once. Since each orbit takes between 90 and 120 minutes to complete, that’s a lot of contact time – albeit of a transitory nature – and I can attest to the process starting to leave its mark on me.

As a by-product of compiling the GPS traces (I’ll post some images of those separately I’ve posted some images here) I also felt compelled to record something of what I’m seeing by way of documenting this moment in Eastside’s evolution. This feeling is particularly strong walking along the Dartmouth Circus and Lawley Middleway section of the boundary, where there is a lot of demolition taking place.

Here is a slideshow of some of my photos. What will I see when I walk this walk again in 3 years’ time?