Welcome to Stirchley (Take me; I’m yours)

Limited edition laser-cut plaques for those who know where to find them.

Welcome to Stirchley

Welcome to Stirchley

PostMarks: data collection

I’ve been commissioned by Ikon Gallery to work with a few different groups on various projects. The first of these is an established group that has been involved in an international project exploring mark-making and cities (I believe there are parallel groups in Germany and Italy).

I’ll be supporting their work with my GPS-related tools and strategies for documenting traces of spaces. A few days ago we began our first wave of data collection around the Austin Village between Northfield and Longbridge.

Austin Village data collection

Thursday was a dismal day with portentous dark clouds, intermittent downpours and the accompanying gridlocked traffic. Already loaded with prejudices, a cold, a less-than-positive mood and, having done our introductions in front of a typical Birmingham tower block, it’s fair to say I didn’t have particularly high expectations of a great evening.

I was wrong. It was of course thoroughly enjoyable and I learned loads!

And wow, Austin Village is an interesting place. The first sign that something different was going on here was another tower block further into the estate. This one was subtly not your typical Brummie block, however… Painted in pale greens it first caught our eye for being lighter than the ominous sky behind it but as we pondered more we reflected that it looked like it had come from some place other: somewhere by the coast? Somewhere within mainland Europe? Teleported in?

This is where we first had the sense that we might be inside some sort of conservation area. The history of the area is well documented elsewhere, so I won’t reproduce it here. Try Austin Memories and Stuart Whipps’ photos of the wooden bungalows (you need to scroll across the page to see them all).

For our research, we togged ourselves up with as many sets of GPS logging kits as I could muster and also the landscape-reactive sashes to link us together as a group.

In addition to gathering numerical data (“when we put the sashes on we felt like a slow-moving version of the Red Arrows leaving the data lines behind us instead of trails”) the group also did some drawing and mark-making onto postcards as first steps towards responding to some work that had been sent to them by the German group.

There was no plan for what route we took (in fact I was thoroughly disorientated for much of the evening!) and we tried to defer decision-making to the group as often as possible.

Here are a few things I came away with…

Austin Village data collection

I like the way the group combined elements of drifting with repetitive formulaic movements. Here they walked up and down a side track, prompting a resident to come out of his house and ask if he could help them at all.

Austin Village data collection

The distinctive road layout in the village includes 4 islands. Normally I’d demonstrate my non-Brummie origin by calling them ’roundabouts’, but in this case they really did feel like islands!

Large enough to be covered with lots of trees, there was a nice moment looking in from the side, watching people pacing around and absorbed in their mark-making that was very reminiscent of the human library scene from Fahrenheit 451!

Austin Village data collection

I’ve also read that originally 2 of the 4 islands also had octagonal shelters for children to play in. I like the echoes of that in this image.

Austin Village data collection

After the walking we had a fine treat from one of the people/participants/artists who had invited us into her home for an inside view of one of the bungalows and an amazing spread of cheese and other goodies. This was a completely different perspective on the landscape: thumping the original (close to 100-year-old) cedarwood window frames; listening to the trains go past; watching her eyes track the locations of the homes where deceased neighbours had lived.

The rest of my photos are in this Flickr set.

I think the main point of writing this post has been for it to act as a reminder to move past pre-judgement and assumption; to look beneath the surface. To dig deeper.

We’ll all be meeting up again in a week or two to look at the data we collected and try out different ways of transmogrifying it into something else.

Testing potential: Hedge Enquiry at Edible Eastside

I was one of a group of artists selected to join Hedge Enquiry test the potential of the Edible Eastside site: “a quarter of an acre of canal-side land, a former distribution depot, which we are converting into a ‘pop-up’ edible park using temporary containers and raised beds.”

concrete garden

The concrete garden starts to take shape

I’ve visited the site a couple of times before and been very excited by the concept of transforming the derelict brownfield site into an urban garden and shared community space. I’m yet more excited now to see the transformation starting to take place! The site has been cleared; beds raised; the tea urn plugged in; and chooks and cats installed.

With the first growing season about to gain momentum, Hedge Enquiry are investigating possibilities for the arts programme and had invited us lot in to have a good old poke around and imagine what might be.

Growing season

The first green shoots are starting to push through

I went along looking forward to an opportunity to spend some time with a space and allowing whatever revealed itself to trigger some creative propositions.

It was nice to have the chance to do this without agenda or expectations hanging over us. That said, I currently come pre-packaged with my own aims and objectives.

I’m still questioning what my practice looks like having absorbed the experiences of BARG and fizzPOP, wanting to make work that applies some of the thinking and skills I’ve gained through both of these. I very deliberately didn’t bring any tech with me though. This was time to be spent looking, sensing and working in my sketchbook.

I also had the Splacist manifesto in the back of my mind. Here are the bits that resonated for me today:

  • We will link and shift; across time, space, people, places and processes.
  • We will expose and re-see.
  • We will work on and across edges. We will push them. We will blur them.
  • We will reveal beautiful moments.
  • We will find our own energy sources.

Today I have been thinking about: revealing the unseen; biomass accumulation; solar power; canal power; secret gardens; weather stations; timekeeping; flows; encroachment; and flags. Lots of flags.


The Jewellery Quarter: it's full of it.

Future archaeology

In around 3,000 B.C. a henge was built, consisting of a circular array of 14 standing stones, surrounded by a ditch about 30 metres in diameter and 5 metres broad, possibly also including a causeway across it where the burial chamber now stands. It is not known what the purpose of this structure was, though as with all henges possible theories include a seasonal calendar, a temple to the heavens, ancestor worship or some other religious practice of which we have no conception.Description of the Bryn Celli Ddu prehistoric burial site

Henge and chamber on the Highgate / Balsall Heath border

Is it possible that this arrangement of henge-like mounds and central chamber could be excavated 5000 years from now? What hypotheses would the future archaeologists postulate about its function?

Uncertain Eastside – Document One: 2009

It’s a very great pleasure to be able to announce the release of my first publication.

Having a quick flick through the 112 pages.

As shown by the rather long list on the title page, other people have put loads of effort into this as well. Thank you to everyone who has supported this project.

Uncertain Eastside – Document One: 2009 brings together activity from my first year of investigating my relationship to BCC‘s ‘Eastside’ regeneration zone and logging the micro and macro changes in the landscape as time passes. It’s Eastside in three parts: past, present and future.

Bursting with goodness over three acts!

The book starts with a manufactured history contributed by the indescribable Ben Waddington: a day as seen from the perspective of a family living in Digbeth. Pay attention – this text is as much about the present day and October the 18th, 2009, as it is about November the 1st, 1860.

Next, now firmly in 2009, the book gives an overview of my alternative cartography of the regeneration zone’s perimeter and a selection of 83 lush colour photos selected from the 1000+ submitted by participants of the Walk and Talk event.

The book finishes off with a text from much-respected architect and urban designer Joe Holyoak and Tracey Fletcher from the Eastside Sustainability Advisory Group. Written 8 years ago it describes a day in the life of a family inhabiting an Eastside of the future. 2012 now seems both just around the corner and impossibly distant.

You can buy copies of Uncertain Eastside from http://www.magcloud.com/browse/Issue/131607 where there is also a link that allows you to preview the book’s contents.

Magcloud are running a special offer until the end of the year that means you only pay $22.15 (≈£14) rather than $28.00 (≈£17.50). Your order is then printed up and delivered to you within about a week, so there’s time to get some as Christmas presents!

Again, a special thank you to everyone who has taken part in the making of this publication: Pete Ashton, Karen Cameron, Mike Cummins, Ida Deodathsingh, Emma (editorialgirl), Tracey Fletcher, Joanna Geary, Nicky Getgood, Michael Grimes, Marian Hall, Libby Heighway, Mark Hill (cybrum), Joe Holyoak, Alex Hughes, Nancy Langfeldt, Ben Mabbett, Steve Scott, Tim Stock, Chris Tomlinson, Ben Waddington and Simon Whitehouse.

Plans are afoot for Document Two. Watch this space…

Photos from the MakeIt Zone

I went along to the MakeIt Zone open day last weekend.

A very interesting space in Balsall Heath with traces all over the place of the printing company that operated from the site for a hundred years or so until about 18 months ago (iirc).

MakeIt Zone

It’s currently in the process of being re-purposed as a studio and workshop complex for makers of all sorts, including gallery space and a café. Get in touch with them if you’re interested in finding out more, renting some space or otherwise supporting the project.

It’s a massive site and I spent about 3 hours there looking around on Saturday. Here’s a slideshow of a few of my photos:

Uncertain Eastside at the Created in Birmingham shop

Yesterday I added some Uncertain Eastside limited edition prints to the stock of the Created in Birmingham shop in the Bullring shopping centre, Birmingham.

Uncertain Eastside in the CiB shop

Uncertain Eastside in the CiB shop

You can read more about the Created in Birmingham shop on their blog, although obviously it goes without saying that you should go and visit if you can. It’s a nice example of creative communities making use of what would otherwise be an empty retail unit.

Location: Bullring, Level 3 Upper Mall West
Opening hours: Mon-Sat 10am to 8pm. Sun 11am to 5pm

A bull in Balsall Heath

I’ve been threatening to use time over the Christmas holidays to get to grips with Scratch, a programming environment aimed at young people. I’ve been curious about it for a year or so and have recently had some conversations with people who have practical experience of using it in schools that has inspired me to actually get on and investigate it.

Coding blocks in Scratch

Coding blocks in Scratch

I’m thinking that to start off with I’m likely to apply it to animation-themed projects – you just don’t see briefs asking for people to come in and teach kids how to code! Shame that: beyond systematic approaches, applying mathematical concepts etc etc, I think there’s something particularly valuable in the process of debugging that can be applied to wider things. Fits in with my thoughts about protovation and creativity.

Anyway, as ever with these freestyle learning things, it can be a bit tricky to conjure up mini-projects to provide an impetus. Fortunately though I’ve had a huffing duck to work with and then an escaped bull went for a wander around Balsall Heath.

Balsall Heath, bull and the Shouty Lady

Balsall Heath, bull and the Shouty Lady

I lived in Balsall Heath last year, so I kind of got a bit distracted by the backgrounds and distilling some key landmarks into simple graphic form, rather than designing a game, as was the original intention. Still, there was a lot to be learned in just getting the background tiles to scroll as the bull works its way up Moseley/Alcester Road. [Addendum: This whole thing probably won’t mean anything to you if you don’t know the area. If that’s the case, here’s a link to the Google Street View to give you a toehold.]

Moseley baths

Moseley baths

After some wrangling as to whether I was going to make it a shoot-em-up in the style of the real-life story, I eventually decided that that wasn’t a route I wanted to go down (well, it is Christmas!) so the hazard comes in the form of the Shouty Lady.

One of my overall impressions of living in Balsall Heath was that there always seemed to be people shouting in the streets. Not increased-volume-so-my-mate-over-there-can-hear-me shouting, but full-on screechy argument shouting at the person stood right by them, or perhaps now walking on the other side of the road. After a few months I began to recognise that, more often than not, it was the same woman doing the shouting…

So, in the Balsall Bull ‘game’ the Shouty Lady will appear at random intervals and potentially scupper your overall aim of getting to the curry house.

Scratch isn’t set up for embedding per se, but I’ve put Balsall Bull on a separate page so you can have a play if you’d like to. If you don’t see it on the page, you’ll need to download and install Java to be able to run the applet thingy.

To play Balsall Bull, use the arrow keys to guide the bull along the road, click the green flag in the top right corner if it goes sqiffy and, above all else, beware the Shouty Lady.

Christmas posting

For those of you wanting to make sure you get your Uncertain Eastside limited edition prints in time for Christmas, please be aware that the Royal Mail’s advertised last posting day for 1st Class is the 21st December.

Uncertain Eastside prints tubed up and ready to go

Uncertain Eastside prints tubed up and ready to go

Detail from Uncertain Eastside print (B series: 6 overlaid circuits)

Detail from Uncertain Eastside print (B series: 6 overlaid circuits)

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